Doughmore Beach 1 Mile Away

On Saturday night somewhat by accident we hosted a tasting of our 1.3 year old whiskey spirit and our upcoming release The Gael at the Irish Whiskey Museum. The guys there invited us along to host something as part of the Dublin Whiskey Festival and I figured, why not. Even though we were not quite ready, a toe in the water felt right about now. After 20 years abroad the drinks landscape in New York or Singapore is far more familiar to me than here in Ireland. Until I set up this business in 2015 I had never actually worked in Ireland before, except for waitressing and pony trekking jobs in my teens. I have been to Dublin probably about 15 times in my life most of those are in the past few years. I know where IBEC and Bord Bia are I can point out Trinity College to you but that is about it. I’m a stranger in a strange land here in Ireland at times, this is the plight of many the returned émigré. Plonk me down in the middle of New York, London, Paris or any number of other cities and I would be totally fine.

The Dublin whiskey scene is a vibrant one now, just as it was in the past. With all the exciting distillery openings up there and the Liberties coming alive again, it is easy to forget what is going on down the country. Once in Co. Clare there were FOUR distilleries, most of them shuttered after the 1761 act but there was distilling by the Paterson in Kilrush until about 1843. Then there was nothing and our namesake JJ CORRY the whiskey bonder would have sourced his whiskey from Limerick as it was directly connected to Kilrush by twice daily steam packets into the busy deep-water port of the town.

Close to me in Clare there are two small distilleries now under development, both will be gin focused to begin with. I’m rocking and rolling on the bonding side and am gearing up for our second batch of new fill to come in. Last week I kicked off the process of planning for our on-site blending facility and we’ll be exporting to Germany and the U.S.A. come September. On the beer side in Clare we have a quite brilliant craft brewery Western Herd close by in Kilmaley. This was set up by a brother and sister team. Their Uncle ran the shop beside J.J. Corry’s until quite recently in fact……We have a project on the go for old times sake…..Their Blue Jumper IPA is my go-to beer.

Meanwhile I’m involved now in a project to push forward the development of Clare as a foodie and drinkie destination. In Dublin on Saturday we served smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse an amazing export business run by an equally amazing lady based in North Clare. When I have guests to visit I make a point of serving them food sourced exclusively in Clare. Breakfast is usually Eggs from Rathlir Farm, Coffee from Anam Coffee,  Black and White Pudding, Bacon and Sausages from Meeres, Bread from Considines Bakery in Kilrush and Milk from my Dad’s cows!

Family&Neighbours - Copy

2 Neighbours, One Uncle, One Father….& Me. The Crew

People forget that over here on the West Coast farms are small, farming has never been intense and never will be. The food produced here is done so by individuals who are close to it and who are hands on in every way, just like my Dad still is.  The Whiskey, beer and spirits scene is shaping up to be quite similar. The distilleries planned in Clare are small scale, owner operated. I hope to scale up in the coming years of course but right now I’m constrained by supply. I’ll never be an intense operation anyway. I’ll be accepting tours next year, but only up to 10 people or so at a time, we’ll never be a coach tour business. Our blending and bottling will be done in batches maybe 2 or three times a year.  I’ll be personally involved in all of this to the point of occasionally doing the odd bit of painting, pegging out facility layouts and running future blends.

At our accidental event on Saturday, a lovely couple from Philadelphia came up to me. They said they’d been traveling around Ireland for 3 weeks and simply happened to stumble onto our event. They very kindly said that it was the best experience they’d had in Ireland so far as it seemed so “personal.” That really meant a lot to me, because it is personal. I have big ambitions and plans for this business, I didn’t spent 20 years working in multinationals and not learn about the importance of scale and for that matter not to have the ambition to realise it. But right now this business is personal. I didn’t buy a property for the business, I set it up on my family farm. I don’t have hordes of staff moving casks, my family and neighbours do it. If I need samples for an event, I go and pull them out of casks myself. If I open an export market its because I personally made it happen not an export manager. I am hyper focused on getting us to market and growing our global footprint in the same way that many of the bigger operations are. But the manner in which I make all of this happen is, well, personal.

The difference between the bright lights of Dublin our modern European capital and the West Coast remains as wide as it was the first time around in Irish Whiskey. The scene in Dublin is fantastic and great for Irish Whiskey. However, over here in the West we have something different to offer. We have our coastal climate, our slower and less whizz, bang approach, our still very unique and authentic culture. We are not the land of The Quiet Man and don’t need to pretend we are, you take the West as you find it. Pastiche is not necessary here.

We will do an ‘official’ launch in the future, but to experience it I’ll be enticing people over to the West Coast and County Clare to experience what we do and how we do it first hand. With several distilleries and whiskey companies either operating or planned up and down the Wild Atlantic Way, you can be sure you’ll be seeing  a West Coast approach to whiskey emerging in the coming years.

The Wests’ Awake people, The Wests’ Awake.

Keep Calm-Irish Whiskey Labels ARE Being Regulated..By the People in Charge of Hospitals


Scenes at This Weeks Dublin Whiskey Fest..

There has been a mad furore this week in whiskey circles about Irish Whiskey labelling and marketing messaging, everyone has an opinion on this and social media is abuzz. I predicted this whole thing would kick off this year in my blog post in January and it has. You know what? I am absolutely delighted. There is too much confusion over labelling in Irish Whiskey and if you don’t agree with me I am afraid you are very misinformed.

As a new whiskey maker you need to get across marketing and branding information so you can’t just write exactly what is in the bottle, well you can but it would unintelligible for the consumer. So you have to have some branding stuff going on, it needs to look nice and it needs to get some messaging across. This means you have to tell compelling stories,  ideally based in some for of truth and not in fantasy, which is what marketing is. But some in Irish Whiskey go too far and its starting to annoy people who care about the future of Irish Whiskey.
Everyone seems to think the IWA should be doing something about this. Technically,  they should not, that is not their actual job right now, they have no legal authority to do it. The IWA is a PRIVATE body, you pay to be a member depending on your market share you pay more, its function is an extension of IBEC its just category specific, they also have bodies for things like Medtech, Tech, Retail and all sorts.

Everyone needs to stop comparing the IWA to the SWA.  The SWA are not the greatest people in the world, they severely hamper innovation in Scotland.  Talk to any new craft distillery in Scotland trying to do something new and you will hear horror stories of products being pulled off the shelf, bullying and general weight throwing. This is why there are so many new distilleries popping up on the English/Scotland border. It’s tough to do anything innovative and call it “Scotch” if you are based in Scotland.

The IWA are still figuring out how to best benefit the industry, I don’t want them to become the SWA that is like inviting Godzilla to dinner and expecting the evening to be filled with lovely conversation.

So to be clear the IWA currently have no totally government sanctioned official Role in Irish Whiskey Labeling per-se, like they can’t take anyone to court over it, what they can do is report dodgy labels to the department of Agriculture or the HSE who do ACTUALLY have an official role in administering Irish Whiskey Labels. The HSE (Health Service Executive) will be familiar to you if you have ever been in a hospital or a restaurant their main function is to (and I’ve lifted this from their website)  “The HSE provides all of Ireland’s public health services in hospitals and communities across the country.”

So, they are mostly in charge of hospitals, midwifery, immunisation, workplace safety, and stuff like that. They also are now in charge of monitoring Irish Whiskey Labeling and Provenence and consumer protection. They do this on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, not on behalf of the IWA.

I’m super keen to be totally transparent about what I am doing and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who to talk to about my label. I called the IWA, then the Department of Agriculture, then I called the FSAI and I finally called the HSE to get my label approved.


Spot the offensive bit.

With all the furore recently about misleading labelling and my utter devotion and belief in transparency, I was apoplectic then last week when my local HSE officer pulled me on my label for potentially being misleading. I’ve been 100% honest and open with everyone including my HSE officer. She knows I am currently MATURING whiskey on site she knows I am building a blending and bottling plant but that I am currently blending and bottling offsite. My first release has not spent any time on the farm. She knows this because I told her.

On the back of my label it stated “ We have brought back JJ’s way of Making whiskey on our family farm. We source Irish whiskey etc. etc. “  That statement “We have brought back,” was deemed misleading, as I don’t currently bottle or blend on-site. When I pointed out I had made 100% clear on the label that WE SOURCE OUR WHISKEY and that we HAVE actually brought back JJ’s way of making whiskey. We have 24,000 liters maturing right now, it fell on deaf ears.

At this juncture I offered to simply remove the offending statement. But then I became APOPLECTIC. There was shouting down the phone, there was Bile and there was vitriol. I am sorry for that HSE lady, you didn’t deserve it… I queried forcefully as to why that statement could be considered misleading when there are a lot of whiskies out there with the term or name distillery on them and everyone is using the same stock as me. I rattled off at least 7 of them.  I was super angry and yelled a bit, as I felt it was very, very unfair. When I calmed down I told her again I would remove the offending term and I’ve gone and done that now. I still feel like it is unfair.

However, I also feel good that someone somewhere is now paying attention, maybe this is a beginning.

The administration of Irish Whiskey Labels is ridiculous. There are too many departments involved, with the buck passing up and down the line in a form that is inefficient. My HSE contact is a nice lady, and to be fair to her is performing her job brilliantly. But when you have a government body whose job is to administer hospitals administering whiskey labels and provenance, and it is necessary to effectively SELF REPORT it feels like an alternate Universe. When I submitted my label to the TTB in the U.S.A. it was ONE department who looked at it for approval, not three.
I’m still not totally sure what the next step is, so I’m hoping I’m good to go. I guess my message here this week after all the madness that has been raging in whiskey circles about misleading consumers is that there could very well be a beacon of hope in here. The industry is going through natural growing pains, and label administration is one of them. Whiskey folks and whiskey consumers are not going to continue to tolerate what has been going on anymore. There are voices out there now who are standing up against misleading labels. So report to the HSE any labels you find misleading, it’s a start and THEY are the ones who can actually do something about it, like take the offending whiskey to court or pull the product.

If you’d like to discuss this or any other topic directly with me this week, please come along to our soft launch and tasting. Our Damn whiskey is not in the bottle yet as the label has to be changed now, but you can taste it directly from cask at the Irish Whiskey Museum on Saturday night. We are hosting an event with the guys there. Click HERE to get your ticket. No pitchforks will be allowed in to the Museum.

Women in Irish Whiskey #GirlGang

We hit a pretty big milestone last week. We welcomed our first team member ‘Blaise Kelly’ on board. Blaise is headed to the U.S.A. shortly to represent us over there. With the addition of Blaise to the team, we are now to the best of my knowledge, the only All-Female Irish Whiskey Company. I do not for a single second hold sway with the idea that women approach whiskey any differently than men. Neither do I think we should be pandered to with pink bottles or pared back tasting notes so that our poor feeble ‘female’ noses can grasp complexity of flavours. Being an All-Female team does NOT mean you’ll be seeing that kind of stuff from us. As an All-Female team, we’ll behave and do business no differently than any other Irish Whiskey Business. Yet inherently,  I have a feeling our organisation will be perceived as being different.


Photo Credit John Kelly

I will say in the past few years of working in Irish Whiskey, I’ve encountered some pretty spectacular gender bias. On reflection though it was ever thus though in my career. Once on assignment to France when I was 28 I was introduced as a ‘Belle Fille’ literally ‘pretty girl’ in front of the entire management organisation (mostly guys) there was whistling and clapping. I was standing up to give a presentation on a strategy I had spent 6 months developing for the brand…Look l know how to accept and appreciate a compliment, but the context was wrong,  the Pretty Girl thing got the biggest round of applause. .….I remember being on a business trip in my early 30’s  and meeting the 50+ year old Country Director of Marketing for a well-known multinational. We went out to a working dinner to a key account with a group. He proceeded to drink far too much, and then later after I had gone to bed back in the hotel he showed up at my door trying to come in. I politely and laughingly pushed him away he called the phone in my room so many times spouting nonsense that I eventually unplugged the phone, when he came knocking again, I just ignored him until he went away. It was never spoken of again.

Then there was the time I was on an overnight business trip at a food and wine festival with a sales rep. After another working dinner, where he proceeded to drink too much, he climbed from his hotel room window ledge to my hotel room window ledge two stories up. He rapped on my window pane and I was faced with the choice of letting him in, in his bathrobe, or pushing him to his death. Thinking fast, I jammed my hotel room door open with a chair let him in off the window ledge and kicked him out of the hotel room door with one swift movement.

Now that Blaise has joined the business at almost the same age as I was when I started working in the drinks industry, it puts those memories in a very different light. I’m a pretty tough character, but looking back at those times and me in my 20’s and early 30’s I have recently reflected as to why I didn’t report any of those idiots for that nonsense. The answer is really simple, back then if I had it would have hurt my career. The most important thing to me back then was my career, and I would not have jeopardised it for ANYTHING. Who would I have reported it to? Who would have listened to me over a senior executive? I choose to not say anything and to rise above it, and to attempt to show that I could take the flack that was simply a part of the job. I should not have been presented with that choice in the first place.

If you think I’m coming over all militant feminist, just imagine your 20 something daughter or sister in any of those situations……

Times have changed and I believe that the drinks industry has in the most part radically changed its institutional behaviour towards the young women who work in it. Much of that older guard who tolerated and engaged in that behaviour are gone now and good riddance, I have a bag of other stories that would curl your toes…… By the time I left the cocoon of drinks multinationals there were strict policies and reporting structures in place to safeguard from this kind of thing. Let me be clear though that there are still plenty of industry shows and in-house events with girls in skimpy outfits giving out shots, that will never go away……

Gender diversity in Irish Whiskey is, how should I put this, not the greatest. Granted industry bodies like IBEC make an effort as do the multinationals as part of policy. However, every single person I deal with in the old and newish guard Irish Whiskey industry currently is a dude.  Blenders, coopers, Warehouse keepers, wholesalers, brand owners, Bottlers, potential Investors, the list goes on. The Irish Whiskey Association meetings are a bone fide SAUSAGE-FEST folks. There are of course some Husband & Wife teams that are coming on strong and my hat goes off to them, women’s presence in the industry is increasing slightly, but next time you open a weekend paper to read about the surge of the Irish Whiskey industry Count the quotes from the dudes vs the ladies, you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, why there is an imbalance there. The drinks industry is a fantastic rewarding and fun industry to work in. Contrary to popular belief in Ireland a job in the industry is NOT about ‘drinking.’ It’s about whiskey or product/category knowledge, understanding production & flavours, marketing & sales skills, negotiation skills, logistics, finance, branding, Communications and relationship development to name but a few skills. Your gender is irrelevant as far as I am concerned, you just need the focus and the drive to work on those skills to be a success.

I don’t think Blaise will face the kind of intolerable behaviour and overtly sexist attitudes to women that I once did in the industry. For one thing, I would not tolerate a single sniff of that around her by any customer or distributor or anyone for that matter. When I started in the industry you just had to go along with misogynistic behaviour, I sure as heck don’t feel the need to do so these days.  I know though that it is still out there in pockets. I can spot it a mile away, even over the phone, and it reveals a lot about the person holding that attitude, which can ultimately be used to my advantage.

Mansplaining is a VERY real thing in my world folks……

There is a reason for the rise of the terms  #GirlGang and #Girlpower. These days women know exactly what we are capable of, we have no doubts even though others may continue to harbour them. Bring back the lost art of Irish Whiskey Bonding? Can Do. Travel the U.S.A. alone telling the J.J. Corry brand story? No bother. The only significant thing about us being an all-female whiskey company is that we have zero ambiguity as to what we are capable of achieving together. Women helping Women is a powerful thing and in spite of all the progress made in the past two decades in the industry, we still need that to ensure our mutual success.