Got Wood?


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A Map of Kentucky Made from Barrel Staves on Tim’s Wall. I ordered one in the shape of Co. Clare!

The beat goes on here at our little whiskey company and this was a bit of a seminal week for us. Our Whiskey order is in, our contractor is lined up to start ground works on our Rackhouse and our barrels are on the water. As a non-whiskey related side-note, we also got long listed for the AIB and IRISH TIMES Start-Up Academy which is a kind of business accelerator scheme. The guys over at Blackwater Distillery are on the long list too so we are in good company. If we reach the final there is a pretty significant prize of cash and services, which we could really do with….. But that is not what this post is about, this post is about our barrels which I am becoming increasingly excited about. Let me make clear that there is, believe it or not, a global barrel shortage. The rise of craft distilling in the US, in addition to increase in production here in Ireland means that normally when you call a barrel supplier they will :

A. Either not return your call or

B. Laugh at you and tell you there is a 2 year wait.

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My Hero Tim & His CFO

I know this because I spent about 6 months doing the rounds in the U.S. and various places trying to wheedle barrels out of people for a decent price to no avail. This is also because if whiskey sales are up the big guys like Pernod, Diageo, Jose Cuervo, will just up their order from 350,000 barrels per annum to 500,000 or whatever. So when I rock up and say, I need 120 barrels this year and 150 next, they are simply not interested. How can I possibly compete? Furthermore, the price of barrels like the price of oil, fluctuates according to supply and demand, so when I started looking they were about €220 per unit not including delivery, they have come down a little since then as Scotland have pared back production recently and thus some additional supply has come onto the market. However at any moment they could spike again… Our whiskey supplier offered to sell us some but I declined as I would did not feel that I would have enough control over choosing them. If I’m making whiskey based on the fact that 80% of its flavour comes from the Barrel its aged in and the place where that barrel is aged, I need to be DAMN sure about my barrels, their exact origins, the grade, the char levels etc. etc. So buying barrels with a supply chain I could not trace 1000% was much less hassle but absolutely NOT an option.

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Staves Ready For Action

Anyway after going around in circles and in desperation I started to reach out to industry contacts via Facebook of all places and it actually paid off. A friend of a friend of a friend put me in touch with a small supplier in Louisville Kentucky and I got on a plane within a week to meet the man and visit his facility. Tim the Barrel Guy turned out to be some kind of wonderful. He has a really small operation, does not advertise and has a direct line into Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and a few other smaller distilleries. He can trace every barrel right down to the exact liquid that was in them prior. I spent a chunk of time with Tim in an effort to learn as much as I could about his operation. Tim has his own cooperage on-site and he sells ONLY Grade A barrels. There are multiple grades of first fill barrels and Grade A are the best. If he gets iffy barrels he reconstitutes them on-site replacing staves etc. to bring it up to Grade. I was really impressed with how he operated and his eye for detail.

Most importantly I trusted the guy he was open and honest and looked me in the eye when we shook hands. Tim is the kind of guy who I hope to be doing business with for years. We are his first Irish customer, and I have passed his info on to a few of the up and coming Irish Distilleries so maybe we wont be the last.

Neither will this be my last post about barrels…….It’s becoming something of an obsession. Thanks to Tim we have our ex-bourbon barrels in the bag for our new fill to rest in for a few years, but I have several other small distilleries and wineries in my sights who will be supplying me with interesting barrels for our whiskey finishing experimentation. Watch this Space.


New Year, New Fill, No Bull

snakeoil2016 is full of promise here at The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Co. It’s an important year for us in that our production is about to begin.  I want to take the opportunity at the start of the year and the start of our production to lay on the line with 100% transparency what we are up to here. I think its important to do this for a few reasons. First of all this industry is in ‘Resurrection’ phase. It’s been about 120 years since there have been this many players and prospective players in the category. The industry has a touch of the Wild West about it right now and that is OK, its to be expected. We need disruptive brands in the category to move it forward and to challenge the status quo and more and more the IWA…..

With the Wild West come Snake Oil Salesmen..again to be expected. I don’t want to be one of those.  I don’t want whiskey lovers to think that we are disingenuous but I fear there is a real danger of that. The way we are making our whiskey is an old business model brought back to life, but such an old business model that its new again and therefore open to criticism/confusion.  The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Co. is in my mind pure and simple a Start-Up. Sure,its not a glamorous Tech Startup with a killer App, but in every other capacity we need to behave in exactly the same way, both in terms of our product development, business model and the Passion behind what we are trying to do. This means we can’t operate in perhaps the Holy way that many WhiskeyPhiles would like us to.

I don’t have a grain to glass operation at the moment because I don’t have a few million euros in my back pocket to build a distillery. Neither can I wait 6 or 7 years to go to market with product I have made myself from organic Ninja barley I have sprouted personally, I wish I could do that and I am working towards the day I can. Instead in order to get  going I am working with an Irish 3rd party distillery to create a mash bill to my own specification. I will be there to cut the Heart from the Heads & Tails and I will sign off every batch that makes its way into our barrels. These are barrels that I travelled to Louisville, Nashville, Portugal, France and a few other places to personally pick out. (I’m only being coy about who our distiller is as we are finalising contracts just now, I’ll share the whole process with you as and when.) After filling and having a few days to rest,  I’m having those barrels delivered directly to our specially designed Rackhouse on our family farm on the Wild Atlantic Way where the whiskey inside them will age for as long as is necessary in our little microclimate by the ocean. That is how we will be making whiskey for quite few years until we get to the next level of building a distillery.

Right now we are ‘Whiskey Makers’ we can’t call ourselves anything else really, we don’t distill whiskey ourselves on-site and we won’t be doing for for at least 6 or 7 years maybe more depending on how things go. In that regard we are exactly the same as almost every other new whiskey company in Ireland. Its its not made by  Jose Cuervo  or Pernod Ricard, this is the model used by everyone else on the market. The one exception really are the guys down in Dingle who just released their first whiskey distilled and aged right there just as they said they would & Fair Play.

Now, I am all for the purity of the Grain to Glass ethos believe me I am and as I said above I want to get us there within the next decade. However, I feel NO shame in our current model. This was the whiskey making model used by our namesake J.J. Corry in the 1890’s to early 1900’s so we are in effect just resurrecting his work. Let me remind you of a few other famous whiskey makers  from the past and present who did or are doing this:

  • Redbreast
  • Kinahans
  • Millars
  • Burkes
  • Teeling Whiskey Co.
  • Glendalough
  • Walsh Whiskey
  • Wild Geese

These guys were once upstarts just like us and all of the modern guys have gone on to build their own distilleries some of which have gone into production.The model is a common one in Scotch with Compass Box, Masters of Malt and a number of other companies making award winning whiskies without distilleries. I appreciate we don’t have as much whiskey on the open market here in Ireland but its getting better, trust me & watch this space on that….

I’m putting this out there now for one very simple reason. Transparency is one of our Core Pillars here at Chapel Gate and by laying this down now  I can be ultra -clear with everyone as to where we stand. I have nothing to hide, I believe in our model and don’t mind talking about it. Happy New Year and Here’s to a Great 2016 for Irish Whiskey!