When is a Bucket Not a Bucket? When Its Used to Measure Whiskey for Tax….

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Appealing to the Whiskey Gods for Mercy 

I’m sitting at a desk writing this, when in reality I am supposed to be in a warehouse pulling casks for scaling up our first blend. There is a slight delay on that. When you revive a way of whiskey making that died out last century, you run into a lot of problems. I’m a whiskey bonder, right now I buy in mature stocks of whiskey and I blend them together to create something unique. I also mature new fill on my farm in the hope that our microclimate will result in a unique spirit. I’m obsessed with the unique bit. That means taking the limited stocks of mature whiskey we currently have which are from at the moment two distilleries and figuring out a way to differentiate our end product from everything else out there, who are also using the same stock. I want to do some crazy fun stuff but our first product THE GAEL is a blended Irish Whiskey, but one for real Irish Whiskey Lovers and it needs to deliver, or this entire endeavour is a failure.

The way to ensure our whiskey delivers is to forensically & sensorily analyse all of our  casks, get to know each and every one, through tasting and nosing. Then to create a blend, differentiated to the others  out there but one that can stand up in terms of quality and more-ishness to any of the best. We’ve done that and are ready to scale up the blend and make our first batch. I’ve got my empty bottles, I’ve got my labels, I’ve got my corks, my boxes and some customers and most importantly I’ve got  my blend. Now is the time to begin disgorgement of casks.

This is where I’ve run into a problem. My first run is 7500 bottles, only because that’s all I can make of this particular batch, I’m going to run out of some particular flavour profile casks so I’ll need to call the next one Batch 2. My blend calls for ‘Partial’ disgorgement of casks. So like I’ll be pulling 40 litres from a 26 year Cask A. and 50 Litres from 26 year old Cask B.  225 Liter cask for example (that’s not accurate but you get me). Here is the issue. Back in the day when JJ CORRY would have done this, he simply reported to the Revenue commission by ‘Proof Gallon’ measurements. Like he had an actual Bucket which was officially a Proof Gallon and he recorded every Proof Gallon or Quarter Proof Gallon he extracted from the cask to the Revenue so he could pay the tax on it and that was that.

Because Bonding died out in Ireland that practice died with it. Today, most people just disgorge 10 of X cask and 200 of Y cask and 400 of Z cask, the whole cask goes into the blend and there are weights and measures in place for that.  In Ireland there are currently no approved ‘BUCKETS’  for measuring partial disgorgement anymore, per-se. So, we have to invent them and we have to have them approved by the Revenue and THEN we can do our blend. Again its just a formality and one which I kind of relish, it makes me feel as if we are REALLY bringing something back from the dead. We are having to re-invent lost equipment.


No I Don’t Look Thrilled I know, neither Would you if you had to Invent a Bucket

So I’m not in a warehouse pulling casks right now….What I am doing (amongst way too other many things)  is trying to drum up votes for the #NissanGenNext competition, I’ve been shortlisted for. Nissan picked me and 20 others out of about 1000 to compete for the chance to be a Nissan Ambassador, if we win, they will lend me a vehicle for the business for a year. I could really do with this, I’ve written in the past about my piece of crap car…We are about to on-board our brand ambassador and she’ll need to start visiting accounts with something other than a 15 year rust bucket. I need the public vote to get over the line on this, so if you have a few seconds to spare, give me your vote please! You can vote daily…a lot to ask…but even if you vote once much appreciated. Vote HERE 

Once I do get that blend sorted, all that whiskey is not going to deliver itself…..#NeedThatNissan

A Note on the Rural Regeneration Scheme


We are VERY Rural…Those are our cows

One of my American investors always chuckles when I tell him about various Irish funding ‘Scheme’s we are applying for like the EIIS Scheme. He laughs because in the USA the term scheme means something that is not legit, something underhanded like Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme….I’m beginning to come around to his way of thinking. The 60 Million Euro Rural Regeneration Scheme was launched in Ireland to great fanfare and great welcome at the beginning of the year. Among its aims are to create 135,000 rural jobs, increase tourism by 12% and establish an Atlantic Economic Corridor. I was really thrilled by this announcement. I am very dedicated to rural regeneration and I view a key part of my business as ensuring that my local community benefits by the fact that we are based in West Clare. Right now, there is a big wave around Whiskey Tourism in Ireland. The Irish Whiskey Association and Failte Ireland are working on an all Ireland Whiskey trail and I want my local village of Cooraclare to be on that trail.

It is a beautiful village tucked neatly in a river valley just a stone’s throw from the coast and perfectly situated to welcome tourists along the Wild Atlantic Way. I love it, it has a church, three fantastic traditional Irish pubs, a local shop and about 300 inhabitants in the parish. It’s a picture-perfect place. Ideal for a little Irish Whiskey tasting room. A small scale (no coaches) niche high end tourism offering. So, when the rural regeneration scheme opened its call for applications to its Town and Village renewal fund I went ahead and applied for some match funding. I wanted to open a little tasting room with a retail outlet attached showcasing local food, drink and craft products. The thinking was it would be open from about 10AM-6PM and tourists could book ahead for whiskey tasting classes and the like. It would be a recreation of JJ CORRYS original shopfront and interiors (which still exists at Bunratty castle) and would create 2 full time and about 8 part time seasonal jobs, that would be 10 jobs out of that 135,000 they are aiming for. In addition, it would lure tourists into our little village, and put it squarely on the Irish Whiskey Trail map which will be heavily promoted globally in the coming years.

Those tourists would need to eat, drink and they’d need places to stay, perhaps they’d want to go riding at the local riding school afterwards. We’d run events in there and catering would be necessary etc. etc.  There would be definitive knock on economic benefits for the local economy and we would help to add to that additional 12% of tourists they are after.  The proposal would allow me to really root our business in West Clare, beyond just maturing and blending whiskey this is important as my core markets are export markets. So, this would place my business squarely along the Atlantic Economic Corridor.

I submitted my proposal and was asked to elaborate on it. Sounds like a go-er right? WRONG. The day the final proposal was due, I was told that it was VOID. Why? Because it had been submitted by a PRIVATE BUSINESS. The fund will only consider applications by community groups. No businesses need apply. The department of Arts, Heritage, Regional Rural and Gaelteacht feels, I was told, that I could just “GO TO THE BANK AND GET A LOAN.”  That is a direct quote by the way. I wrote a blog post about why that is especially difficult for a whiskey business here.

To be clear here, I am not asking for a hand-out or complaining that I personally can’t have access to this fund its not the end of the world for me. I am questioning the department’s strategy of apparently randomly deciding to only allow community groups access to this fund. I think its wrong headed. I also think it shows a lack of strategic thinking around the scheme.

I am going to make this tasting room happen, anyway but  with out any support it will take a lot longer. I’m running a business at the end of the day. No matter how dedicated I am to rural regeneration, I have to ensure our business functions properly first and foremost. I applied for the scheme mostly to help with the set-up costs. I need a liquor license to sell my own whiskey to people. There is no relief for small producers, so this project gets kicked into the back burner until such a time as I can blow 110k of dead money on a license that will allow me to sell small samples of my own product that I make myself to tourists. Even if the craft drinks bill gets passed it won’t apply to me as I don’t distil myself. That kind of capital is not realistic for a pre-revenue export business like mine the payback on that is several years in our part of the world with seasonal tourism.  So, I was hoping for some help to make it happen. Tourism right now is a ‘nice to have’ for my business model, we won’t create a going concern from it until we have good market penetration and to do that takes the all  of capital I have right now. But it would. like I said root the business really well in west Clare and create local jobs along that Corridor they are trying to build.

I am very well placed to open and run an Irish Whiskey Tasting room as a valid commercial concern. I have been heavily involved in the drinks industry for 20 years. In Champagne I worked closely with the Visitor Center Team, I’ve developed and worked on retail offerings for many global brands and I know a thing or two about design, marketing and communications and managing people. My experience as a business person lends me the skills to be able to pull this off, to create jobs and increase tourism. Rural Community groups are heroic, but they are volunteer forces with time restrictions and families and their own jobs to concentrate on. As a business, I would not only fund the ongoing running of this, I would be totally focused on ensuring its success. Community groups ALONE are not going to create 135,000 rural jobs, increase tourism by 12% and create an Atlantic Economic Corridor. Only the combined efforts of Community Groups and Businesses will do that.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m coming around to my investors way of thinking on Schemes. There is 60 Million euros tied up in this Scheme. If none of that is being allocated to rural businesses in competitive bids, you have to ask yourself, how will the scheme deliver on its core aims of increased jobs, tourism and a new economic region?  I’ll give the department the benefit of the doubt and wait until they announce the next call for applications, only next time, I’ll be sure they clarify PRIOR to the deadline day whether or not businesses can apply.  I have no intention of wasting another 2 days writing a proposal that is deemed void due o the fact I’m a “Private Business.” and therefore cannot be considered. Rural businesses are part of the community too, we face challenges  Dublin businesses don’t even have to consider.  If the Department does not wake up to that, this scheme will struggle.