The Problem With Irish Whiskey & Heritage

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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.

One thought on “The Problem With Irish Whiskey & Heritage

  1. absolutely agree with this. For quite some time I’ve been both celebrating and bemoaning the recent influx of new distilleries in Ireland. On one hand I am grateful to see the revitalization of the industry, but on the other I’ve seen either impatience, or outright greed rule the day. Impatience (and lack of funds) creates new distilleries who source all or nearly all of their whiskey because they don’t have the patience or the wherewithal to distill and produce their own spirit. Yes, there is an exception in Dingle, and bless them for doing that. They found a way to pay the bills (Gin and Vodka, and pre-sales) while waiting on THEIR OWN whiskey to mature. And look at how well they have been received!

    On the other hand is the greed of the big boys who strike while the iron is hot, stick a genuine Irish heritage label on the bottle, fill it with God-knows-what and pass it off as historical. Nonsense. Personally, I won’t buy an ounce of it. Watch these folks run the moment they get a wiff of a market adjustment.

    Somewhere in the middle are our new favorites. They don’t appear to be greedy, nor do I see in them a profit grab. But the impatience remains. What will be the explanation when these well-mean distillers finally have their own mature spirit to put on the market? Will it be exactly the same as the product they’ve been sousing and selling as their own. Nope. Impossible. So they will then be in a position where they have to either own-up to what they’ve been doing (nothing wrong with sourcing, but the general public will feel deceived), or slowly introduce their product to an otherwise unsuspecting public. In either case there will be more explanation than celebration.

    Simple solution, clear and honest labeling.

    Sorry if I got off topic, but damn.

    Like

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