Living The Dram: A Blogpost in which Blaise Heads to the U.S.A.



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!!!


The Dead Rabbit and A Live Dog 

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)



From Desk Job to This in 4 Months

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 excitingiconic, 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.

Brand Ambassador for Chapel Gate Whiskey at Cooraclare

Ready to Tell the World About Our Whiskey

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.


Launching in the USA: The Pointy End of The Stick

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The End of Prohibition but the Beginning of a fiddly system

I’m writing this on a train ( I love a good train) en route from Providence to New York Penn Station. Today I had my first REAL distributor meeting about J.J. Corry. We met the division head buyer and presented my whiskey  talked, roll-out, sales targets, marketing and PR support pricing. It was definitely one of the best meetings I have ever had in my life and I have been in probably close to 30,000 meetings. Not because of the content but because THIS is what ultimately my business is all about. This is the pointy end of the stick. I’ve spent two years creating a whiskey so that I could secure a meeting like this. The head buyer has hundreds of requests for these kinds of sit downs with new producers. As a new brand, getting the meeting is a big deal then you need to nail it as hard as you can. I have several of these meetings all this week in our planned roll-out markets.

The USA has the most complicated alcohol distribution system in the world. It harks back to the days of prohibition. When that ended, the Federal Government handed control of alcohol licensing and laws to each individual state. So every state is quite different. In some states the state government is the only body allowed to sell alcohol, everyone has to buy from the State Liquor stores, in other states when you sign with a distributor you can never leave them even if they don’t sell any of your product, there are states where you are not allowed to sample the product with consumers and states where you can. There are states that have dry counties entirely and others with 24 hour licensing. If you don’t want to fall flat on your face as a new producer you need to understand the nuances of each state. THERE IS NO GUIDEBOOK.

For a foreign producer like me it is even more complicated. I cannot sell direct to a distributor. I am obliged to sell to an importer, he/she sells to the distributor, the distributor then sells to the retailer or bar and they sell to the end whiskey drinker. As a producer I am 4 times removed from the consumer and my margin ends at the Importer level. Everyone else takes a margin too, so doing business becomes costly. You get one shot to launch in the USA, if you get it wrong, it is over. The system is so tight its unforgiving.

I’ve spent a good year plotting my entry into this market and weighing up various options. I have had to change tack a few times. In the end I partnered with an old colleague of mine from way back and we are knocking out these meetings together and it feels fantastic. From a business perspective, this is what matters. Closing deals and shipping cases, finding the right distributor partners so that we can build the brand together the right way. Everything has been leading up to this and I’m feeling a bit teary eyed about it all. There have been a few moments since I set up this business that I have felt pervous (proud and nervous.) The day our first casks arrived on site, bringing Blaise on board, the day we put the Gael into bottle, the day we shipped our first pallet to Germany. But today feels like the biggest achievement yet, the U.S.A. is the toughest but the biggest Irish Whiskey market and we are opening it. A little start-up Irish Whiskey brand from West Clare.



Even cooler is that today I got the keys to our satellite office right on Main Street and across from RISDI in Providence. I’ve not had any funding through yet from any state body in Ireland, a source of major, major effing and blinding on my part. However, kind of amazingly, my local Enterprise Office have hooked me up with the Irish West International Trade Center. A trade mission of sorts between Rhode Island and the West of Ireland. The function of the Center is to facilitate trade between their lovely state and our lovely counties on the Western Seaboard. Shannon Airport is now directly connected to Providence via Norwegian air so el-cheapo flight connections are possible. I can be door to door from my Cow-shed Office to my Providence Office in 7 hours, not bad. I see great potential for this in the future. Also, we have an office in the USA!! That is so cool.

When I was on the way to that office this morning my phone rang and on the end of the line was another old colleague of mine and one that I greatly admire as do many people in the industry. He is currently in New York and we were hoping to meet up, but could not make it work. He said that he was really proud of how far we have come which meant a lot to me. He went on to say that many people have lots of plans but never ship a single case and that what I’d managed to prove is “The Power of Doing.”  There have been rough times in this journey so far and I’m sure there are more ahead, but he is right. In the end starting a business is very simply about just doing it and more importantly continuing to do it every single day.

I finally feel like we are well and truly doing it now and that is a powerful thing indeed.

The Bonder’s Blend & Emerging from The Fog of War


J.J. Corry The Gael. A Bonder’s Blend

It has been quite a long time since I last wrote a blog post. This is mostly because I’ve been fighting a series of logistical battles in order to fulfil our first orders of J.J. Corry The Gael for export. The first batch of our whiskey The Gael is a small run, only 7000 bottles. There is a specific reason for this. I blend and bottle in small batches as I have a finite supply of mature whiskey.

Recently there has been a lot of talk in Irish Whiskey circles  about what Irish Whiskey is ALL ABOUT.  Various individual elements of the process have been put forward, wood, barley, maturation, water  etc. etc. I don’t think whiskey is about any one element of the process. If your wood is sulphurous you’ll have an iffy bad batch, if your barley is mouldy you will have poor distillate,  if you dilute it too fast at bottling you can get saponification etc. etc. There are 100’s of faults that can happen throughout every element of the process. Each part  is important when it comes to quality. In my opinion Irish Whiskey is not all bout any one thing, its all about the cumulative whole of the origination and production process contributing to the quality of the end product. CAVEAT: This is just my opinion not a statement of fact . 

As I am a bonder, I don’t and won’t ever really (except for a few experiments) have total control over the entire production process. I will however totally control those elements that I can. My third party new fill, which is excellent quality, is filled into casks that I source myself, un-sulphured, juicy casks chosen to enhance our spirit over a period of many years.  Our wood program for the next few years is shaping up well,  I will always personally source my own casks in their country of origin, rather than buy from brokers. All my new fill is maturing in a specially designed clay floor rackhouse near the coast, the conditions of which humidity and temperature I monitor closely and naturally adjust where necessary.

For our first release a blended Irish Whiskey The Gael, my level of control is different. I had no control over choosing the new fill, casks or maturation conditions of the mature whiskey stocks that I sourced over the past two years. They are between five  and twenty six years old.  My control started when we tasted every single cask we before we bought it. Each cask was then classified into a particular flavour component.

We pull from those components and blend to create an end whiskey profile which we aim for. The thinking around The Gael was to create a complex  juicy fruit style of Irish Whiskey with low cask influence.  Its a 60% Malt-40% grain blend for the sake of complexity and it contains whiskey ranging from 26 year old sherry casks,  11 year old 15 year old and 7 year old grain.


From October 1st Sunday Times

With this first release, I wanted to show that just like the original Irish Bonders we are emulating, we can create something unique from the stocks we (and everyone else) have access to. For the next few years in terms of releases we’ll be focused on blending until our new fill comes to maturity. For us, it will be mostly about the blend but not ALL ABOUT anything per-se. I have the wonderful luxury of knowing each of our casks personally..some of the older stuff is tougher to pin down in terms of its life cycle but I know if its smoky, vanilla, grassy etc. etc. Each cask has s flavour personality. Once you quantify whiskey stock in this way, it makes creating unique whiskey a feasible reality. Our first review for The Gael came out this weekend in The Irish Times, we scored very well 92/100 ahead of many other newcomers and on a parr with Jameson Cask Mates, so I really can’t ask for much more than that in terms of proof of concept. I created a whiskey that at least for one reviewer is up there quality wise with one of the market leaders offerings.

However, the logistical production side of the Irish Whiskey Industry is (naturally enough)  set up for huge runs and 60,000 litre blends and 250,000 bottle runs. Getting a 7000 bottle run of The Gael blended into bottle has been prohibitively expensive and logistically difficult. I knew it would be, but I had no idea just how rough it would get.  Funnily enough just now, in the middle of writing this I had a phone call from a fellow whiskey maker to discuss this very thing I had no concrete answers for him to make it easier, as there are none.  I can say hands down coordinating bottling has been the most difficult part of the entire process, the logistical bottling infrastructure in Ireland simply does not exist for small players to bottle on a whim as it does in Scotland. I know a brave man working on a solution for this, but it was too late for my first run.   This is the first week in a few months I’ve been able to breathe, look up and assess what we need to do for the next run to ensure a smooth production pipeline.



The last few weeks have really taken a toll on me. I perhaps naively never expected the physicality of this job. People when they visit always expect me to have a staff, I don’t, Blaise is headed to the U.S.A. and not on site.  So when a pallet of empty bottles for storage arrives at the gate strewn all over the back of the truck, its just me and the driver who need to unload each individual bottle by hand over a period of 2 hours, until my neighbours  and 76 year old father came to the rescue. If a delivery of bottles arrives without the Government label on it and it needs to be shipped to the USA, you know who needs to unbox and stick that missing label onto individual bottles? Yeah, me. Sure I got some help in, but believe me, I spent a good 5 hour stretch last week performing a repetitive taping action on boxes in the Rackhouse, my back is shot.

It’s clear to me that this now needs to change. I’ve battled to get this whiskey on to the market I raised finance, sourced stock, uncovered the J.J. CORRY story and created the pack and brand, secured international distribution, blended the first batch and put it into bottle at gunpoint. I’ve proved the concept, and more importantly I understand every single element of getting JJ CORRY out of the cask, blended and into bottle. I know because I did it all myself.


A long road to get the first bottle off the line

This week we’ll be submitting planning permission for an on-site blending facility.  We have a lot of requests for small custom blends for customers and right now I can’t fulfil them no matter how much I would like to, it is logistically prohibitive without my own facility. It’s become clear to me that if we are to be true whiskey bonders in the spirit of JJ CORRY we need to be a lot more nimble when it comes to blending and bottling.  Furthermore, I need physical  help. My focus now needs to shift to selling and brand building not physically packing  or unpacking samples, accepting deliveries, and doing customs documentation.  All of that needs to still happen, but I need to bring in help. My aim has always been to create jobs here in rural West Clare and now is the time to start putting that into action.

Its time to begin the move from being a Solopreneur and to begin to scale up. Bring It On.