Brand Battle In More Ways Than One

So the electricity is off here, of course, and apparently will be for 2 days.Not ideal when I am trying to sign off final proofs of my label to send them to print so I can show them to potential customers in the U.S.A. And I need to print a load of documents  off so I can apply for a Leader grant to fit out our cooperage. which I think is actually due tomorrow. That means if the electricity comes back on tonight I’ll be doing that all night. Also the interior alarm has been going off all day due to the power outage and the dogs have had to sit in the car all day as they cant handle the noise..I am remaining calm though it all and I am wearing headphones listening to an AudioBook about Elon Musk. A man will arrive imminently I am told to silence the alarm. That would be nice.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the last push in getting whiskey into bottles. It was a prescient post….I’ve managed to track down my bottles, which are out of production until July. I went to some craft distilleries I know outside of Ireland and we are doing deals, so that is sorted almost. My empty sample bottles arrived late from Italy so I missed a key shipping deadline. So now here in West Clare have to figure out how to Fed-Ex a 6 pack of whiskey samples Post Haste I think the nearest Fed-Ex office is in Shannon Airport…Stick that on the list of things to do then.

I have some other bits and pieces that are maybe/maybe not going to happen on time who knows?  As predicted everything is going wrong in various unpredictable ways. So, I’m doing a Zen Calm thing which I am actually quite good at. I take a breath do a mindfulness exercise and try to solve the problem. This state of being however results in the dreaded 3.00AM automatic wake up call every night…I don’t enjoy that, I also have this weired low lying headache that only goes away if I ride the Horse or walk the dogs.

A lovely piece of news did come through, I’ve been awarded a spot at BRAND BATTLE which is a product pitch showcase at the Wine Spirits Wholesalers of America (W.S.W.A) in Florida in April. Many brands applied but we got a spot. We will have the chance to pitch our brand Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den Style to some key influencers at the conference on the main stage and possibly secure distribution opportunities. It will mean some good exposure for us on their social media and printed materials and makes going to the Conference a lot more worthwhile for me. Below is the video that won us the spot on Brand Battle. It was filmed one rainy afternoon by my husband with his Iphone on a Selfie stick….Consider it my Battle Cry….


David & Goliath Whiskey Style


Me Doing my Best David Impression

I spent the day in the car yesterday driving along one of Ireland’s worst mainline roads; the N24. A two lane windy road that at one terrifying point snakes directly through the centre of Medieval Tipperary town. I am a TERRIBLE driver, specifically because I really only started driving again about two years ago. I’ve always lived in cities and have never had the need to get behind the wheel. Also my car cost 1000 euros cash and is a total piece of shite has they say here, my thinking was I just need a vehicle that goes from A to B and God Bless the old rustbucket it has taken me all over Ireland with no problems so far. I’m not into cars at all I don’t get it, I paid more for J.J. my horse. Yes I named my horse after J.J. Corry because I am kind of sad like that….

My destination was Clonmel, a midsize Irish town nestled at the base of the spectacular Comeragh mountains. Clonmel quite accidentally has become the centre of the Irish craft drinks industry when it comes to labelling and bottling.I usually bring the dog with me on these trips but on this occasion left her at home as I was going to a bottling plant and a labelling factory two fairly sterile environments.

I did a tour of the bottling plant which is a great set up lots of different lines with various capabilities. They’ve just purchased a Chill Filtration system (which I won’t be using) for a large contract they just got in.The contract was running on the main bottling line which does about 6000 bottles per hour. Its a new Irish Whiskey by Multinational Brown Forman who also make Jack Daniels  and it rhymes with ‘Pain’ Castle. Their first bottling run is  going to take TWO WEEKS on the main bottling line.

My first run if it was on the same line will take NINETY MINUTES. 

I watched the bottles whizzing by and found myself asking that question I have asked myself often, “What the Hell Am I Doing? ” In a million years I can’t compete with the might of distribution and the budgets of the multinationals in the game.  My model is so utterly different, I cannot guarantee consistency in the whiskey that I release. I cannot be a Jameson or a Bushmills because my supply of whiskey is so limited. Once my casks classified as ‘Peachy’ run out that is it they are gone. That ninety minute batch run will produce a very different whiskey to the next ninety minute batch run and you know what? I realised on that bottling plant floor that maybe that is Okay.


Not Just Whiskey Folks!

I’m quite sure that J.J. Corry did not have consistency with his ‘Special Malt.’ I even went to his grave at the weekend with our mock-up bottle to kind of run it by him. I had a word and said a prayer and I didint get any bad vibes. I feel like if J.J. could do what he did in the 1890’s surely I can manage that now. His spirit products which also included Rum and Dandelion Wine were created for a very specific audience and I think mine are too…I just have to find THAT audience, whiskey drinkers who seek out the small and the unique the 90 Minute run as opposed to the 2 week run…I guess THAT is what the Hell I am doing here….

The Problem With Irish Whiskey & Heritage


Do U Wanna Buy Me Whiskey???

Mother Ireland. A verdant green land, with traditions going back thousands of years. A land of faerie folk, warrior leaders and a distilling past that pre-dates written history. And it’s the latter that is the problem. Irish Whiskey has a very particular problem on its hands which is completely unique in the world of Whiskey.

Our past and lost heritage of whiskey making is very real, this is not the first time that Irish Whiskey has been the fastest growing spirits category globally. This is the second time around. We all know the story, the booming and well respected industry collapsed in the 1930’s after prolonged death throes brought about by a combination of factors, including but not limited to; a lack of collaboration, innovation and the effects of geopolitical circumstance. With it died a lot of well respected family run distilleries with Family names that can legitimately lay claim to distilling heritage.

100% of Irish Whiskey makers on the market or coming to the market can lay claim to regional distilling history because there were once 100’s of distilleries all over the country. That is fine, kudos to anyone who revives a distillery regionally. The problem that we have is that this very real heritage unique to Ireland, can quite simply be exploited by anyone who buys or trademarks a lost Irish Whiskey brand that shuttered its production sometime between 1890 and 1940.

How? Simply, buy a trademark of an old brand, google search its history and when it was founded and then write on your new bottle that you had your agency redesign in 2015  “SINCE 1779” OR “FOUNDED 1833.” In this way you perpetuate an idea of continuity of whiskey distilling and family heritage that has some ring of truth to it, but is in reality a big fat lie. You will get away with it though specifically because the perception and reality of Ireland as a once proud whiskey making nation will protect you just enough.  But its FAKE NEWS, because the stock in the bottle is sourced stock form one of two distilleries and not from the one founded in 1779 which no longer exists.

This is a very very IRISH problem…. America does not have it because craft whiskey is only now exploding, there might be a bit of dancing around moonshining history but that’s about it. Other regions with comparable distilling history do not have this problem as they never stopped distilling. Scotland does not have this issue nor does Cognac or Japan.

Also I’m calling it out because above all else it is plain LAZY and shows a total lack of imagination. Rather than just dredging up an old brand and re-releasing it. Why don’t you look at the history and riff on it? Be inspired, if the guy who actually worked his socks off to found the brand you recently bought the trademark for was a cool guy then release a new whiskey that you have sourced celebrating him? Don’t just pretend everything has been continuing as normal since one of his ancestors had to shut down the distillery or brand down for some godawful reason like Famine or the War of Independence…… I can point to several revived brands out there who are doing this right now and it is infuriating. Those in the know call them out but your average consumer in the U.S. in particular WANTS to believe in Mother Ireland…..

We need to respect the past and learn from it in order to progress this industry into new territory. Our heritage should fuel our future not dictate it. Be brave folks, don’t just hijack heritage and pass it off as your own, create something new that takes inspiration from the past. I’d like the see the Irish Whiskey Association pay some attention to this. Whats in the bottle is really important in terms of how its made, but whats on the outside is too as that it what prompts the unsuspecting consumer to purchase. TRANSPARENCY MATTERS. Let’s not ruin our industries reputation for a second time.

For God’s Sake Don’t Bottle it Now…


Should Have Bought One of These…

After two years of highs, lows, joy, and panic, I have a final first blend of our sourced whiskey and I’m gearing up to get it into bottle. I’ll post something about the actual blend later on. Safe is to say, I’m thrilled with it. It has classic juicy Irish Whiskey Characteristics which I was after, but a lovely complexity too. Innovation is our middle name here but I want to come out of the gate with a proper Irish Whiskey that begins to build our house style and we can start to riff on that over time. It will have a finite run due to the fact that I can’t get my hands on much more of the sourced older whiskies in the blend…And therein lies the rub.

We are a small operation, we actually do make Small Batches of whiskey, and in my definition what SMALL BATCH means is that we choose a few casks, we blend them together and we bottle the result. That is my definition of a “Batch” it will taste different to the next “Batch” because the whiskey I am working with is rare, and in limited supply. I’m looking at no more than 6000 bottles for our first run in total that is about 500 cases. Jameson sells 5.7 Million cases per annum to give you some perspective.

I now need to get my blend scaled up. This means pulling all the casks, vatting the base blend together and topping it out. Then I have to transport that to a bottling facility give it a run through a filter, (NON-CHILL) load our labels into the machine, load our bottles into the machine, load our outer cases into a machine, press a button and within 5 hours we’ll have our first batch ready to sell…. There are not that many facilities in Ireland that will take a tiny run like this. These places are set up to run tens of thousands of bottles at a time. They are almost doing it as a favour but with a cost attached. I have plans for much smaller bottlings but I physically can’t make them happen at the moment. That is why all of my far more sensible small scale compatriots have their own small scale bottling lines.

Why don’t I have a lovely bottling line? Well in 2016 I was really focused on getting approval to become Ireland’s first Whiskey Bonder in several generations. I had all manner of licensing issues so I just cut down our application to the most basic. I’m in the throes of applying for planning for a blending/vatting facility and bottling line on site but that will take several months of course. I run a Super tight budget too we have no debt, we’ve had no grant aid to date and I wanted to keep our Cap-Ex low. That may have been a mistake in retrospect.

I’m running out of hours in the day too. It is still just me here in the business and my core focus is opening our first export market. The on-site day to day stuff is becoming harder to manage, particularly when working on West of Ireland time. Usually meetings here are arranged as follows;

Me: “Hi I need to have X done can you come on site on Thursday at 3PM”

Vendor: “Yeah Grand text me the day before.”

Me: “ Ok, but can you come on Thursday at 3PM?, I just need to know as I have a few other things going on site that day.”

Vendor: “Text me on Wednesday morning and we’ll take it from there.”

Me: “Can we just agree on Thursday at 3PM?”

Vendor: “I’ll call down Thursday but text me on Wednesday.”

Me (Defeated) “Ok fine.”  (Cue rearranging a load of stuff only to have the guy rock up at 10AM Thursday)

My point here is, that of all the great things I’ve managed to sort out in the last 2 years like building the Rackhouse, getting whiskey into it and bringing back Irish Whiskey bonding, and nurturing  Journeyman Cooper trade back to life, It all comes down the next few weeks. It is not going to be glamorous but it is going to make or break us. I need to get pallets of whiskey ready to ship.

The multitude of things that can go wrong is enormous, remember I don’t have a logistics manager, I have ME. Our first problem is that at about 5.30PM on Friday I was told our bottles are no longer available and won’t be produced again until August…I need to be shipping no later than June…..This week I’ll be in the weeds with printing labels, coordinating with the bottler on how those labels fit on the labelling machine (bound to go wrong) Getting corks produced, outer cases printed, final label approvals and most importantly ensuring the blend scales up properly. I’m expecting the worst as this is our first run and I’m up for the challenge to be honest.

I’m an entrepreneur I’m a problem solver, I just need to take every problem that comes up as something to be solved and focus on the moment that first bottle of J.J. Corry, The Gael rolls off the line……