I just got back from the USA again… I was on a trip with the Local Enterprise office, a subject for another post. I flew into Dublin on the Redeye as I need to be here to interview our first Brand Ambassador candidates in association with IBEC and Bord Bia. We are recruiting people to deploy to the USA in September to support our marketing and sales over there. This nicely coincided with two other Dublin things
- The Irish Whiskey Society State of the Spirit Panel at Wynn’s hotel Dublin.
- The Guns N Roses concert at Slane, which I originally went to 25 years ago and simply had to go to again to prove to myself that I am not dead.
Wynn’s hotel is a really historic spot. It played host to most Irish Nationalist Icons at one time or another and its where Cumann na mBan (the female branch of the Irish Nationalist Movement) was founded. It burned to the ground during the 1916 rising as a result of incendiary bullets catching fire but was reconstructed in concrete and it essentially rose from the ashes. A fitting location then for the Irish Whiskey Society’s meetings as they celebrate all things Irish Whiskey revival. I was kind of psyched to be asked to be part of a panel to discuss the sea changes taking place in our industry. The panel was called ‘The State of The Spirit.’
It was an unusual balmy Dublin night and the sweltering room was packed with about 100 attendees all IWS members. On the panel were me, Peter Mulryan of Blackwater, Serghios Floridas of Irish Whiskey Magazine, Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry from the famous The Dead Rabbit in New York, Kevin Hurley BA from Teeling and Tim Herlihy BA from Tullamore Dew So, a really comprehensive cross section of the industry, multinationals, small distillers, whiskey makers, brand ambassadors, bar icons and little old me.
Fionnan O Connor pretty much expertly chaired the panel it has to be said. Fionann is emerging as a leading voice in the industry. He pretty much wrote the book on Pot-Still and is an all round great advocate for the new guard of Irish Whiskey. He lead us on a merry dance around such topics as Provenance, Market Share, Transparency, Innovation and how the future is shaping up. The thinking around this panel was to have frank and open debate and discussion on what the hell is going on at this phase of the rebirth of the industry.
Everyone on the panel had strong opinions about one thing or another. The Dead Rabbit guys are essentially reinventing the Irish Pub for modern consumers. Peter is vocal about the Technical File and about who should and who does control the narrative of our industry. There was a big argument around innovation with Serghios flying the flag for Pernod Ricard and some of us me included me maintaining that true innovation will really come from the smaller guys moving forward. I sort of loved hearing Jarlath master distiller up at Ehinvile speak. He, like Peter, is a distiller right in the weeds and doing really interesting and proper actual CRAFT stuff up there in the North whilst being pretty clear on their sourced whiskey releases. Tim and Kevin also had interesting takes on the USA market and what is going on at the ground level with bars and consumers.
Everyone got to share a whiskey with the crowd and to talk through it. I didn’t serve my own whiskey or anything Irish for that matter. I chose to serve Balcones Brimstone which I had picked up in Rhode Island that week. I served is because Balcones are an iconic USA indie brand, with a storied investor/founder narrative but a penchant for innovation that I consider to be second to none. These guys push the boat out. Brimstone is a smoky whiskey that embodies the regionality of the American South West, it uses Texas Scrub to smoke the 2 year old spirit in a ‘secret’ process. It tastes like Texas and I Love, Love, Love it. Not everyone does though, even Jared the distiller I met a few months ago admitted that, its an all in or all out whiskey. But I used it to illustrate a point around the potential for innovation within the confines of the (roundly despised) Irish Whiskey Technical File(except for the 2 year old bit) .
At one point as I yammered into the microphone, someone in front of me rolled their eyes and tutted when I said I hoped to make Whiskey of as good quality as that of the established Irish brands..I thought that was weird. I mean I bang on about some of the opaque, cynical commercially driven stuff multinationals do, but no-one can deny Jameson and the Tullamore Dew guys know what the hell they are doing when it comes to making good whiskey when they put their mind to it…..Falling into the trap of thinking that smaller is intrinsically better is not a good idea. There are a lot of crappy craft spirit producers out there all over the world along with all the great ones. Craft does NOT mean quality, in fact it does not mean anything anymore due to the overuse/misuse of the term unfortunately, a hot discussion point on the night.
My husband who I had not seen in 2 weeks flew in for the tail-end of the talk and to hang out a bit with me the person he rarely sees who he is married to. As the night ended, I met some lovely IWS members and had some nice chats and then he and I walked off into the Dublin night. As we strolled up Grafton street my husband said “That was a lot of navel gazing really wasn’t it?.” I bristled when he said that and then I thought about it and I said “Yeah actually SOME of it was.” There is in reality absolutely NOTHING any of us can do about the whole Cooley & Sourced stock thing, we are all going to be treading those boards for another few years. None of us small guys can magic up ancient supplies of mature whiskey NONE OF US. That is our current situation we have to live through it. We are where we are. The only thing I can do the counter the resistance to that is be transparent about what we are up to.
The next wave of outrage will be at the young whiskies many of us will shortly be releasing using small casks and other methods of enhanced maturation. Them Days Is Coming Folks, Have NO Doubt About It, Gird your Loins. Peter announced he has a project like that on the go and I am working on a thing along with many others I imagine. That will be the big Shitstorm of 2018-2020 I predict. After a few years it’ll all settle down and these exciting days will be long forgotten. There will come a time when Irish Whiskey is not the fastest growing spirits category globally, a time when a new distillery does not announce its planning application every few months. But WOW what fun times it is right now. How often do you get to be a part of the rebirth of an ENTIRE industry, either as a maker or as a consumer? Once in a lifetime that is how often.
Similarly how often do you get to see Guns N Roses in the same venue 25 years apart with the exact same friends from 25 years ago like I did on Saturday? Just the once my friends, just the once.
So, let’s all keep on fighting the good fight and vent and rage against the machine and hold the industry to quality & transparency standards now in these early days. Open and honest debate opinion and discussion should continue to be encouraged. The industry is going to become a bit less exciting once the dust settles.
Welcome to the Jungle, let’s enjoy the chaos while we can, because just like Axl Rose in 25 years the category won’t have as much energy and excitement and glamour surrounding it as it does right now, but if we look after it properly it will still be kicking Ass.