Irish Whiskey Society State of The Spirit Panel Round-Up & A Bit of Guns N’ Roses


Panel Peeps Photo: Nicked from Serghios from the Irish Whiskey Mag. Facebook Page….

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

  1. The Irish Whiskey Society State of the Spirit Panel at Wynn’s hotel Dublin.
  2. 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.


Not Dead Yet.

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.


“Hi! I have this Whiskey brand and all I need now is Some ACTUAL Whiskey, Can you help?”

I got the most bizarre email last week. I’m just going to copy and paste it below with the senders name redacted.

“Hi Louise,  not sure if you can help but though we would give you a shout,  we have developed a new Irish whiskey brand called REDACTED see attachment. We want to test it any chance you could give us a price for a minimum order of your youngest whiskey bottleled as we may have a UK distributor who wants to give it a try. Your help is much appreciated.”

I responded Thus.

“Hi REDACTED  I’m afraid I don’t wholesale. There is a scarcity of mature stock at the moment, so I’m hanging on to everything I have. But good luck with it.”


They Make it In the Congo, So it is in conflict with the Technical File….

But what I actually meant was. “Wait, What?! You have created a whiskey brand, and have a distributor in the UK, so now all you need is some pesky whiskey?? Well that is a pain isint it. What a shame you can’t just bang some Um Bongo in there and release it, that would be so much easier all round wouldn’t it? “


Am I being too harsh here? No, I don’t think I am actually. Call me naive or better yet, well intentioned  but,  who goes and develops a whiskey brand and then as an afterthought goes looking for whiskey to put in the bottle when they find a customer????  This sort of carpet bagging is bad, bad news for our category. In a follow up email they mentioned that 3 year old would be grand. There is nothing wrong with three-year old whiskey, but we can all 100% agree, it is not as good as it could be. You can make a good effort to make it better by working with a skilled blender, but you have to make that effort, the lads at Dingle have a great young whiskey, but they made it themselves with love and effort.  I felt like this person will be releasing a whiskey that they clearly have little interest in as far as quality goes.

I have no respect for this approach AT ALL. The end result is that the consumer who buys this has a bad experience with a fakey brand with any old liquid in it at all and they associate it with Irish Whiskey. Enough of those experiences and you loose people, they will just go over to Scotch, American, Canadian or Japanese whiskey, we are not the only game in town. Its infuriating.

I’ve always said I will help out people who are getting into the game, but not like this. If you are living the struggle and trying to do something good for the category, maybe you have an innovative idea or are micro distilling or bringing back something that is lost in an authentic way, then I will help you any way I can by sharing information, contacts and experiences. I can’t in good conscience help this project out, as I don’t think it is right for our category.

I’ll give this person credit for entrepreneurship and obviously they have worked on creating the brand, but I just can’t agree with the approach. Creating a new Irish Whiskey starts with the Whiskey, not with the brand. Sort out what is going into the bottle first then develop the brand alongside that with a bit of integrity. At least it should if you are a newcomer in my opinion. This is a lazy way into our category and it is not good for any of us. This is the sort of topic I’ll be discussing as part of a panel  at the Irish Whiskey Society The State of our Spirit: A Still-Side Chat on May 30th. I’ll be in good company as the panel is made up of some important modern Irish Whiskey voices from the ‘New Guard.’ Its an important discussion to have. We are at a critical point in the road for Irish Whiskey.

Let’s not mess it up (Again).

The Amazing Potential of Regional Irish Whiskey Styles & the One Thing that May Hamper It


Pick a Style Any Style

One of the best parts of being involved Irish Whiskey at the moment is the huge plain of potential that spreads before us. The new guard big and small are inventing new styles and resurrecting lost methods for creating Irish whiskey and will ultimately shake things up beyond recognition. One of the concepts I find utterly spine tingling is that of Regional Styles  of Irish Whiskey. This is something scotch nailed down quite a long time ago. Anyone who is into their whiskey will have seen a Scotch flavour map. Scotland realised they needed this because there are a few hundred distilleries up there. In on order for the consumer to be able to grasp the category they invented a guide which visually delineated the various styles of Scotch. A simple and effective concept which translates nicely the effect that locality can have on whiskey styles.

We don’t have such a thing in Ireland YET for many reasons. Most of us newcomers are no-where near releasing a regional expression yet, as we are only getting started. The Dingle guys are closest to this, but its still early days. Honestly this really won’t emerge for about a decade or so, if it emerges at all and I’ll get to why it may not in a moment.

Waterford Distillery have taken the concept of Regionality to its ultimate conclusion which is HYPER LOCALISATION. In my opinion this is how all whiskey actually should actually be made in a Utopian society. Go into a field, choose a strain of barley that suits the soil type, plant it, harvest it, distil in together in one batch and then mature it locally in one batch. Then release this whiskey as Mr. McMahons Back 20 Acres Whiskey 2015 or whatever.  Single field, single origin grain to glass whiskey. This is the absolute ideal. Good Lord we should all be making whiskey like that, I would LOVE to do this.

To do this though takes three things

  1. Guts
  2. Vision
  3. Capital

Most of the guys i know in the Indie Irish whiskey crowd have the first two, not everyone has the latter. The announcement this week that Mark Reyiner has raised an additional £5m in private equity on top of the approx £20 million that has already gone into the business is illustrative of this. Waterford ain’t making no Gin or Vodka to keep the lights on. They will come out of the gate in several years when they feel they have a whiskey worth releasing and when they do it is going to be like a Bomb going off in the category, which I am very much looking forward to. The amount of capital going into this venture shows what it takes to pull off something as brilliant as this.

Ok, you ask Why can’t the smaller guys just do that on a smaller scale? Here’s a key reason Why Not.


What is a bond? In order to store whiskey for maturation you need to be a Bonded Warehouse keeper. This means your whiskey is tax exempt whilst its sitting in your bonded warehouse.

A bond is an archaic means of assuring the Revenue Commission that they will get paid their duty should your whiskey get stolen.  If all my whiskey gets stolen, I have to pay the duty on it to the Revenue within 7 days, as they consider the whiskey to be on the open market so they want their duty. Ok, so you just get an insurance policy so what right? Wrong. You have to get an insurance policy but you ALSO have to get an an ASSURANCE in the form of a Bond. Here is how you get a bond. Let’s say if you have a tiny bond of 250,000 euro (this would be small).

  1. Deposit the €250,000  bond in a bank account and leave it there forever. The bank will then write you a bond note for the Revenue. You will never see this €250,000 again its just sitting there and you can’t touch it.
  2. Go to a state certified Bondsman and convince him that you have 20-40 times the value of the bond in assets which you could sell to cover the bond if you need to. You’ll need a minimum net worth of €5000,000 to acquire a bond this way, and even so you might need to put a deposit down of €100,000, just to be sure.

That is it, those are your options, good luck with that.  This goes back to my point about capital. Anyone opening a €25 Million euro distillery here in Ireland does not have this problem, because they’ll have the backing of someone somewhere who can cover the bond, or maybe the bank will write it for them anyway. I don’t think Pernod even HAVE a bond as they are a multinational and the Revenue figure they are good for it, and they are.  It’s the small, indie guys who struggle with this, also there is no duty relief for small producers, we pay the same amount of tax and duty on our whiskey as Diageo, Pernod, Beam & William Grant. This is different in beer craft producers have relief.

A horrible solution to this has been floated around this problem which is CENTRALISED WAREHOUSING. This is bad solution to this problem. With centralised warehousing you get homogenised maturation. You also remove a potential competitive advantage from a small producer. If you are making whiskey in a 500 liter still up the side of a mountain in Mayo, you want to be able to tell people that you are maturing it there too, not shipping it to Cork to mature with everyone elses whiskey in a big Airplane hanger with concrete floors on stacked pallets.

The actual solution to this is to CHANGE THE LAW by making an exception for small producers. In Scotland if you are a distillery and you need to take out a bond no matter what size you are, you just get an insurance policy on it. job done.  Why is that not enough here? I have an insurance policy on my insurance policy and I had to sign my life away to get my tiny, tiny bond. I am not even joking when I tell you I had to list my, house, car and horse JJ as my assets to get my bond…all my investors and my husband had to do the same.  The messed up thing is that the bond will NEVER be called upon, because if I do get robbed then the insurance policy pays out. It is a moot point but I could not put my whiskey into the rackhouse without going through the whole rigmarole.

Whiskey takes its regional style from a few key elements. The Barley or Grain used to make it, The in-house distillation method and water used in same, and a core factor that I’ve focused on here is the environmental maturation conditions. Take for example Talisker, Ardbeg, Oban Bowmore, these are often classified as ‘SALTY’ scotch whiskies due to the coastal climate where they are matured. This is a well established trope in whiskey. Waterford have built big bonded maturation facilities which will have a unique effect on the maturing whiskey. I am betting on this too, my whiskey is maturing nicely less that a half mile from the Atlantic Ocean on our family farm, where your whiskey matures MATTERS when it comes to regional styles.

So, what is being done to address this issue? Nothing yet, but something needs to happen.  some form of relief for small producers is necessary on all things tax related. The craft drinks bill does not address any of this stuff. This issue around securing a bond has the potential to stymie the category and the insane duty we pay does too, why are the craft beer producers getting a break and we are not?

We might have a regional map in a few years but it will be populated by 5 or 6 multinationals and 3 or 4 indie BIG distilleries who can afford massive bonds. But wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if it resembled more the Scotch map? I think so and I think the category would be better off for it.