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……