In late 2015. J.J. Corry was started with all of my personal savings in a converted cowshed here on my family farm in the parish of Cooraclare; population 320. I quit my job, sold all my Diageo shares brought in my husband and some friends and we decided to contribute to the resurgence of Irish Whiskey globally. Today we’ve announced our new national USA deal with Trinity Beverage Group. This is a step change for my little business. Five years on from the cowshed days, we are exporting all over the world, have multi award winning whiskies and have done things in the Irish Whiskey industry that had never been done before, like The Chosen and The Battalion. This new USA deal takes everything to the next level.
I have always been very focused on the USA, it commands the majority market share of Irish whiskey sales globally, In order to have a successful Irish Whiskey business you have to be there. We launched J.J. Corry in the USA in 2018, I sent Blaise out to New York to be our boots on the ground and I probably spent 4 months a year over there meeting customers, distributors, bartenders and talking to anyone who would listen. What I learned during that time was something very surprising. There are two categories related to Irish Whiskey in the USA. Category one is Jameson and Tullamore Dew (and increasingly Proper 12) category 2 is everything else. The first category has 99% of market share the 2nd category is totally unknown, and under the radar. Furthermore the first category is a standard or premium product which is generally consumed as a shot and is often served on tap. The perception of Irish Whiskey in most of the USA is that it’s a fun cheap spirit.
Let me give you an example; I travelled to Boston to call on one of the most respected whiskey bars in the city. I walked in and as usual scanned the back bar, the menu etc. etc. What greeted me was a vivacious and varied selection of Scotch ranging from rare Johnnie Walkers to the wonderful Compass box. There was a lovely selection of craft American whiskies too like FEW, Balcones, etc. The only Irish available was one or two cheaper green bottles and a brand on tap beside the beers taps. I spoke to the manager and she told me they do really really well in Irish Whiskey as they fire it out on Tap for pickleback shots and in fact they had to add an extra tap such was the demand. None of the scotch or American whiskies in the bar were promoted as shots….none.
She was really surprised at the story of J.J. Corry and could not quite get her head around it. So I had to re-frame my story, this is what I said. “J.J. Corry is more like a scotch really than an Irish Whiskey, we have a similar approach to Compass Box in terms of transparency and method.” It was not until I wrapped my story in those terms that she understood. In her mind, Irish Whiskey was for shooting not for savoring and by the way she had some serious whiskey knowledge. On the same business trip, I called to various well known Irish Bars. At each account call, I poured a sample of the Gael and the buyer grabbed the glass and downed it in one to my total horror and that of the distributor rep. We make the Gael with layers of flavor in mind for the drinker, you don’t get to taste any of those if you just swallow it.
The reality is Irish Whiskey has by and large a bit of a perception problem in the USA. You don’t hear about that you just hear about how fast its growing and what a juggernaut it is, if you peek behind the curtain you’ll see that Proper 12 is on track to outsell Bushmills this year, it costs about $15-$19 and its consumer proposition is really clear its for fun and going out. Is this the ONLY growth story we want in future years? Lower priced celebrity led brands growing the category and building the consumption narrative around the category?
After boot strapping for several years in the USA and proving ourselves on the ground to some small degree we are about to take it to the next level. This new deal I have signed with Trinity comes with a national sales force and ultimately national reach in the USA for J.J. Corry. For me this means that over the next few years I get to tell the JJ Corry story on a much bigger scale and just as importantly I get a platform to reframe the conversation around Irish Whiskey. For me that story is not about comparing ourselves to Scotch but rather it’s a story of a heritage industries re-birth. It’s the story of all the wonderful small independent distilleries and makers I get to work with all over Ireland, the places they are based, their dedication to craft, the sacrifices they make to start their brands. I have an opportunity now to not only build the J.J. Corry brand but also build awareness of the Modern Craft or Independent Irish Whiskey Movement. I have always said that I quit a global business to build a global business and I’m going to do that. However I am not going to compromise on the WAY I’ve been doing that. So, you can consider this the relaunch of my little blog. The early posts were all about the trials and tribulations of starting a whiskey business. Come with me as I build that business, meet the new folks coming in to the industry and evangelize Irish Whiskey through the platform I’ve earned!
Stay Tuned and Hang On!