The last few weeks have been a bit nuts here or rather not here. I have been away first in the U.S.A. sorting out distribution for our launch there, then in the U.K.with Blaise doing a press launch for The Gael. Then I flew back to Clare to sort out a delivery and took a train up to Dublin to accept a Gold Medal for The Gael and the Irish Whiskey Awards. Next morning I took a train back down to meet the guys from The Dead Rabbit and also Ger from Midelton who as it turns out Pipped me to the post for Best Blended Irish Whiskey Over 60 Euros with his Cooper’s Croze blend at the awards. Much friendly rivalry conversation was exchanged during his time here and Yes Ger, I am COMING FOR YOU NEXT YEAR!!!
Anyhoo its back to normal now and I’m back in the little cowshed office on the farm. But whilst it might be normalcy for me, it is anything but for Blaise Kelly, who is heading off to the USA on Friday to begin her role as Sales & Marketing Manager for us. I recruited Blaise from the IBEC Global Graduate Progam a brilliant Bord Bia initiative. It is her first role in the Drinks world, but I feel confident she is now well prepared. First I sent her to London to do a IWSET spirits course, then she went all over the country visiting new distillers and spirit makers, then we honed a presentation she’ll be giving 100’s of times over the next few years. Of course she learned how to open a cask, sample directly from it and generally hulk things around on site too. Its not all blonde hair and glamour you know….I am kind of nostalgic watching her take off. I did a very similar role in NYC many moons ago and I know the wonderful things ahead for her. Of course when I went there was no internet per-se so things will be very different for her, but I doubt they will be any less life changing or magical than they were for me in my 20’s. I’ve asked Blaise to pen a little post before she heads off we’ll get her to do this every now and then to see how things go. You can follow Blaise on Twitter @JJCorryLady (she hates that name..but we are stuck with it now)
LIVING THE DRAM
I’m writing this on a train to Limerick, from where I’ll get a connecting train to Ennis, from where I’ll call Seán, the local taxi man to drive me the forty minutes to the Safe House, Cooraclare – Chapel Gate HQ. When I’m there I’ll need to walk to find somewhere where Google will allow me to drop a pin – the farm is that remote. I’ll be dropping the pin for the guys from the from the Dead Rabbit, twice winner of the best bar in the world, located in New York City, the most exciting, iconic, multi-cultural and relentless city in the world. Thinking about it now, it’s mildly ironic that they’re following us to this most remote of spots, when next week, I’ll be heading to NYC to seek out their back bar for J.J. Corry. It’s also something I can barely believe, when I remember just how far away from this place (geographically and all kinds of figuratively) I was just four months ago.
Four months ago, I was working in the legal department of a multi-national software conglomerate. Financial software, to be exact. A combination for the two things I care the least about in this world. I was there because I studied law, did alright in my degree, had some extra-curriculars and was deemed fit to embark on this completely unimpassioned career ladder. I wish I could say that I was there because almost everyone else in my family had pursued law as a career, and because I was cajoled in to it. But that’s not true. I guess we can blame the Irish second level education system, and the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do (though I always knew it wasn’t law), and that impending sense of fear that if I didn’t decide what I would pursue immediately, that I’d be left behind, wasting all of my potential, of which I was cautiously confident. I could also put a lot of the blame on the West Wing – in which everyone studied law and went on to lead amazing careers, inspiring in the way only Aaron Sorkin can impart with his strongest dose of idealism. So, I studied law, but instead of changing the world afterwards, I just slipped in as a cog in the machine, and in doing so became, quite frankly, miserable. All I can think to attribute my escape to, at this time, is that I’m an entitled millennial, and so one day I decided that I couldn’t let this be my life. I knew I had more to offer an employer than exasperation and despondency.
25 years in Dublin left me with a strong dose of cabin fever, so I knew I wanted to move away. What I wanted to do career wise was trickier to pin down. I had worked in hospitality in some way, shape or form since I was 15. I kept up my college waitressing job at weekends for the first two months into my graduate job because I knew quitting would mean saying goodbye to an industry I loved so much for the last time, in exchange for pursuing a career in law – stupidly, at the time, the contrasting levels of enjoyment I derived from each was immaterial in my eyes. I thought about how I could turn my love for food and drink into a slightly more challenging career journey, and this is when the IBEC Global Graduate Food & Drink programme sort of dropped in my lap. A few months later, I was handed the Job spec for a brand ambassador role with the Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Co. I had never heard of Chapel Gate before, but as soon as I looked it up, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. Thankfully, I was able to get this across and in I came as employee number one. I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ at the time of interview, and he had a chapter about how “three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.” I can now say that Chapel Gate has given me these three things in droves. Being the only employee kind of guarantees autonomy, at times, even more than I thought I’d want – the role has evolved a lot from Brand Ambassador already. And everything is complicated when you’re a start-up. But that fact also lends itself to guaranteeing the third factor; when you’re doing everything for the first time, you get the satisfaction from tonnes of little achievements. But mostly, the knowledge that I’m going to be responsible for launching our first product in the US – nothing drives more than this knowledge that ultimately, the initial success of the brand depends on how hard I work. And yeah, sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure, but I’ll take the pressure when the reward is this big. And I honestly couldn’t be more supported in work, as well as receiving training that’s been second to none. Plus, hanging out in the rack house has an awesome meditative effect which counters any stress – sort of like the Chapel Gate version of a corporate wellness scheme.
This entrepreneurial/start up mindset is rife amongst the new breed of Irish drinks producers. For my first month in the job, I drove around Ireland visiting new distilleries and people trying to make it in whiskey. This industry is so inspiring, full of people who have left steady jobs in finance, IT etc. to pursue their passions. That gives me such a buzz. There was a time after I graduated, and after I entered the corporate world, that I was hit with this sense of realisation and disappointment: “Oh, this is what being an adult is about…ok, yeah, I guess this is fine for me.” I had always regarded doing what you love every day to be a privilege reserved for people with concrete natural talents and one that would never apply to me. I can’t believe how narrow minded I was in this belief and I’m so lucky that I copped on early enough not to accept it. I’m now part of an amazing renaissance period in an industry I love. I feel both knowledgeable and qualified, yet I’m learning every day. My job incorporates some of my favourite things – hospitality, travel communications, whiskey, with a little bit of nationalism thrown in. I get to be an ambassador not just for a product and brand that I’m proud of but also for Ireland and this awesome industry. And next week, I’ll fly out to live in a city I’ve obsessed about since I first watched James and the Giant Peach, to bring people whiskey.