Bord Bia, My New Best Friend


The Thinking House at Bord Bia

I’ve ranted quite a bit since I started this blog. I’ve posted lots of things raging against the machine about various governmental and non governmental bodies. In the spirit of fairness I would like to give credit where it is due. I first engaged with Bord Bia when I had a mere business plan. The first time I went to their 1970’s office by the canal in Dublin it made me a bit sad. The buildings architecture is sort of oppressive, it has one of those sad stories where they were just about to move into shiny new offices and the 2008 crash happened… The welcome when I walked in the door was however second to none. The receptionist at Bord Bia HQ is essentially  Ireland’s nicest lady. She is charming and chatty in a Late Late Show kind of a way and I have no doubt she was on the ‘Tele’ in the 60’s at some point. After a warm welcome I had a great meeting with the then newly appointed Sector manager for the up and coming drinks industry. It was informative and helpful and she finagled me an invite to the party for the Launch of the Irish Whiskey Association in the Jameson Visitor Center that night. Whilst there I bumped into John Teeling and the rest as they say is history in terms of my whiskey supply etc.

Fast forward a few years into my business plan and I am gearing up for export to the USA by the end of this year. I felt it was time to reconnect with Bord Bia so headed up to Dublin again. The world’s best receptionist was still as bright and cheery as ever but just about everything else had changed for the better.  The new consumer research centre called ‘The Thinking House’ had taken over almost the entire first floor. Gone is all the fake veneer wood, 70’s lino and 80’s furnishing and in its  place is an airy, well thought out and comfortable event and office space with a research library at its heart.

I cannot speak highly enough about this resource for a start-up business like mine. When I worked in the corporate world research reports were at my finger tips because corporations have budgets for those kinds of things. I am not going to drop $5000 on a report any time soon, but now I don’t have to because, God Bless Them, Bord Bia has every report I could ever want and is happy to share them with me. This resource is invaluable to me as I gear up my plans for export market penetration, particularly now with such economic turmoil and instability and ‘Black Swan’ events rapidly changing the alcohol market landscape.

Even better are their Graduate Programs, which I am availing of. These programs allow me staff up in those markets I am looking to export into. To be frank without that resource I would have a tough time forward planning financially as overheads would eat me alive in the early years. Even better again are the multitude of random opportunities that come my way whether its market visits, Embassy introductions importer conference opportunities etc. etc. . I could go on, but suffice is to say. Bord Bia is playing a crucial role in my business at the moment and I am really grateful for the great work they are doing with the spirits industry and with me.

So Thank You Good Ship Bord Bia and all who sail in you. .

Irish Rural Regeneration Won’t Happen Without Risk Taking


As Rural As It Gets….

I left Ireland 20 years ago to go to University abroad and I did not return until last year when I set up this business. I did a crowdfunding campaign, converted a cowshed here on site into an office, I launched a Mentorship program, subsequently took on one of our Mentorees as a part time employee and have plunged a lot of our working capital into the local economy. I built a rackhouse and am now maturing whiskey on site.  I’m bringing on two graduates shortly as brand ambassadors and I’m converting a 16th century barn onsite into a tourist attraction which will create a future 2 jobs. In addition I’m applying for planning permission for a bottling line on-site creating additional part time work right here in County Clare.  I could have set my office up in London where my husband lives and where I commute to and from via the wonderful Shannon Airport. If I did  many things would be different and if I am honest a LOT  easier.

I set this business up here in a rural Townland on the West Coast of Ireland. I did it because I believe in this place, in this community and I love it here deep down. From a business perspective though I despair at what I have moved home to. Whilst I treasure the pace of life, the culture, the people and the phenomenal sense of community here I fear all of it is in peril. This part of Ireland has been utterly neglected by the Government since I left 20 years ago, as far as I can ascertain. Our once thriving local market town is dying on its feet with close to NO commercial or cultural investment by public bodies, the local community are keeping it going through sheer force of will and hard work. There are no proper transport links in the surrounding rural areas meaning those who wish to go for a pint in the evening no longer do and are in danger of becoming isolated.  It seems to me that Public services are mismanaged with little accountability and liable to close at the drop of a hat as our local Childcare facility did quite suddenly a few months without an explanation…..

But Sweet Mother of Moses,  the Broadband situation is unfathomable. I’ve travelled all over the world and in particular some poverty stricken villages and bits of jungle in South East Asia, I’ve had better internet connections in rural Filipino villages  than I do here in my office on the farm where my business is based. I’m calling bullshit on that. The reason our broadband is bad and that  it is totally fine in Dublin is because rural Ireland has been ignored.  We have less than 3rd world Wifi here, its a nonsense.


The Townhall the Unused Upstairs Portion of Which will Someday be a Co-working space 

I was happy to hear that as part of the Irish Governments rural regeneration program a co-working facility was announced in my local town of Kilrush. For me this is great news, it means I can hold meetings in a nearby easily accessible town. I can put some of my desk based employees there sometimes  and not have to cram them into our tiny converted cowshed. It should take about 2 months to make this happen. The upstairs of the Local Town Hall has been identified as the space, it would be great.  A co-working area needs a WIFI connection a printer, some desks and plugs, that is all. I created one in a cowshed, I know what it takes. I understand however that in fact it may take some time, like a LOT of time……Co-working  has just started to spread here in Ireland and you’ll see lots of facilities up in Dublin and in Galway, Cork etc. Its a new idea here and a new idea which is unproven means the idea could fail, someone would get blamed and that would be a RISK…

That level of (minuscule) risk is not acceptable to some it seems and therefore this project must now drag on forever until potentially it gets shelved when there is an election or some such.

I have no doubt committees will be formed and meetings will be held to discuss all of this in addition to fire safety, radon pollution issues, (HA!)  health and safety in the shared kitchen, if its even possible to have one SAFELY!!! and insurance. The thinking is that here in Rural Ireland exists a Claims Culture.  I lived in the USA and people over there sue Starbucks if hot coffee spills on them THAT is a claims culture. Before you worry about the  a claims culture, you need to assess the RISK of a bunch of entrepreneurs working in a co-working area.  Unless a strain of Ebola is let loose in the space on purpose as a government experiment, I won’t be making a claim for any injury sustained in a 3rd party co-working space, neither will any other business person. Also think of the benefit weighed against the risk. I would love nothing more than to meet like minded County Clare entrepreneurs for a  chat about potential collaborations in a space like this. It would fuel growth and potentially create additional jobs and export opportunities. I’m already doing this without this space, but this would make it a lot more efficient.

Progress does not happen without risk. Rural Ireland needs progress or it is going to die. Communities are going to become cut off and wither without transport solutions, businesses like mine will base their employees elsewhere due to lack of services and facilities. Entrepreneurs  won’t even CONSIDER basing themselves here without decent Broadband. The heart of this country lies in rural Ireland, it always has, this is what the world looks to when they think of this country. We need to preserve it. As an entrepreneur I am going to continue to do my part broadband or no…..Although there are days like today when I was trying and FAILING to SKYPE a potential customer in Sweden that I seriously consider leaving….

My ask is for our public bodies to have courage take the Risk on moving things forward we need that bravery to ensure Rural Ireland’s future. This Rural Regeneration program is a great initiative. Let’s Not Mess It Up….BE BRAVE.  



Why Does the Irish Whiskey Industry Not have Coopers?


Eugene Quinlan Master Cooper With His Cousins Tools

I was at the Box Distillery in Sweden last week for the World Whiskey Forum. It was a gathering of those of us looking to push the boundaries in regard to innovation in whiskey. Between us we are shaping what the future of whiskey is going to look like and its pretty exciting stuff. I was the only person from Irish Whiskey in attendance, which was a surprise. All the other modern whiskey producing countries, Japan, Scotland, USA, UK, Sweden, Norway and even Iceland were well represented. It was a tremendous gathering of producers and I came away with some great new friends and some fantastic inspiration which I’m putting into action this week. Every single one of these whiskey producing countries has something in common. All of them have a thriving cooperage industry to support their thriving whiskey industry. All of them except my own fair Isle; Ireland.


Hanging With The Coopers

To rub salt into this wound, Diageo randomly decided last week that February 10th was International Scotch Day…To celebrate it they got some 20 year old celebrity girl (Sorry I’m old I don’t know who she is…) to pose in a beautiful gown with a gaggle of manly looking Scottish Coopers. On social media the celebrity girl waxed lyrical about the generations of Coopers in the Photo and how wonderful they are and what an important element of scotch coopering is. This is not a photo we could replicate here in Ireland, not even if I put on my best ballgown ( I have a few Vivian Westwoods’ Myself) and did a ring around among all the coopers I know, which is two by the way. Those two are 50% of all the Master Coopers on the Island of Ireland.  For those of you bad at math, there are FOUR master coopers working on the Island of Ireland. Two work for multinationals so cannot offer their services to others formally. One John Neilly works at the small but nimble Nephin Cooperage which is a great initiative and the other Eugene Quinlan works with me. Eugene comes from a long line of coopers; six generations in fact. His advice is invaluable to me as I plan out my wood program for many years to come. I don’t know how other whiskey producers work without him or someone like him. (Eugene if you are reading this, your phone may begin to ring this week…..)

Bearing in mind we will soon be exporting half a BILLION euros worth of Irish Whiskey. Do we really think we have enough Master Coopers or apprentice coopers to tend to all the casks involved here in Ireland?? How does Irish Whiskey expect to continue to be taken seriously without a functioning Cooperage Industry?  Why are most new companies ignoring this essential element of whiskey production? So many questions folks!

None of the new multinationals in the game have started Cooperages’ to my knowledge…Diageo did NOT announce a cooperage alongside its George Roe distillery. Beam Suntory, William Grant, Brown Forman, Quintessential Brands, Sazerac;  all of these multinationals are building distilleries or releasing Irish Whiskey, NONE OF THEM ARE BUILDING COOPERAGES.  Why? Why? I need  cooper to advise me on cask quality, selection and ongoing care. I could decide to eyeball this, but would rather ask someone who has completed a 6 year apprenticeship and has 40 years of experience…Why is Ireland so special as a whiskey producing nation that we don’t need  coopers? The simple answer is we are not, and we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

As whiskey makers in Ireland we need to decide if we are in the game simply to capitalise on the growth of the category and to grow a business and make big bucks on the back of fleeting consumer demand, some players are; that is clear. There is a bit of a Property Boom, Celtic Tiger thing going on it seems like…..

OR are we in it to, yes build a great business and brand, but also to build the industry and its supporting industries’ back up and ensure we are all future proof?

I have put everything on the line to acquire my whiskey spirit and I need to be Damn sure the cask the liquid goes into is the highest quality possible and that it is properly cared for. I need a cooper and so does anyone else who is making whiskey on the Island of Ireland in my opinion. No its not cheap and its an extra expense as a start-up, but I would rather pay for a skilled craftsman to care for my casks and plan my wood program than  cut corners for accountancy sake and just to fire some Cooley Stock out there without any thought. My heart and soul is in this business. I gave up a Six figure salary for a Zero figure salary, and God knows in addition to my long suffering husband at the end of his financial tether knows that I need to make this business work on a fiscal level, but I still want to do it right.

I believe in it so much that I am converting a 16th century barn on our site into a working cooperage for our ‘Journeyman’ Cooper. I brought back Irish Whiskey Bonding to this Island and now I will bring back the Journeyman Cooper Trade. Eugene’s 85 year old cousin sold us his cooperage tools, some of which are 150 years old. We’ll restore and use some of these and display others in our little cooperage. We’ll use these historic tools to educate people on the history importance of Coopering to the Irish Whiskey Industry. The tools are in a bag in the office right now. They embody 200 years of coopering and Quinlan family history. I’m glad we have them but its bittersweet. It is sad that Eugene’s cousin could not pass them down to his sons like this father, grandfather  and great grandfather before him. He had no-one to pass them to because cooperage is close to extinction in this country.

I want to build a great business and a great brand, but I also want to see this industry thrive in the long term. We need to innovate to ensure Irish Whiskey has relevance moving forward. But innovation should not happen for its own sake, it should have its roots in tradition. For me it means some Ninja Coopering and for that I need a Master Cooper.

Watch this space, if I have my way I’ll be posing in a ballgown with a  whiskey in hand in front of the next generation of Irish Coopers within 5 years.