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!
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.