If my bonded warehouse is robbed, technically I will have to sell my Horse, House and car to cover the duty owed to the Revenue on the stolen whiskey. That is not a Typo. In order to secure my bond for my bonded warehouse I had to agree to sell all my assets to pay the Revenue in the event of a theft. In reality of course I will just have my insurance policy pay this should anyone make it past our Skynet security system and my neighbors with shotguns (its rural Ireland, we ALL have shotguns).
The Revenue however will not accept an Insurance policy ALONE as assurance that the duty on stolen whiskey will get paid. So for a small business (right now) like mine you have to put your personal assets on the line. I don’t have many personal assets, I sold all my Diageo shares to start the business, and also used all my savings, but I do own Ireland’s Home of the Year 2017, a piece of crap car and a Lovely Lovely Horse called J.J. So I went to the Bondsman and technically signed those over. Satisfied that this would cover the duty on my sleeping whiskey, he issued me a bond and I handed it over to the Revenue who gave me a warehouse keeper number which allowed me to fill my Rackhouse with whiskey spirit for maturation in our little microclimate by the coast.
Not everyone is in a position to do that. For the larger whiskey enterprises backed by corporations this is a non-issue. But for us regional guys its a massive issue. In Scotland Insurance is simply accepted to cover the bond so it is a NON Issue. Ok, so major hurdle No. 1, pretty bad right? Now on to major hurdle No. 2.
There is no consistent planning regulation on maturation warehouses which takes into consideration scale and location. For my bonded Rackhouse (I call it a Rackhouse, get over it) is in County Clare. I dealt with Clare County Council and the local fire officer. I satisfied them that what I was doing was cool and I got all my various approvals and built the thing, They were not working to any code exactly. but I over specced everything anyway as I am protecting my whiskey and my livelihood. Therein lies the problem. I’ve had quite a few calls from fellow producers around this. Regulations are not hard and fast when it comes to whiskey maturation warehouses. In most cases County Councils are dealing with applications for the first time in living memory. There is no precedent in the County so arbitrary regulations are thrown at the plan. Sometimes these are punitive and oftentimes they stop the build before it has started. Being asked to install a 30K Fire prevention system or to dig a Moat around your tiny warehouse in the middle of a field to prevent fire spread is quite common. Now on to Major Hurdle No. 3
The Possibility of a Terrorist Attack, Fear of Fire, Fear of Flood, and/or Fear of roads being clogged otherwise known as NIMBYIsm. Due to the fact that small rural distilleries and producers find it so tough or impossible to get a bond,. Many are all being forced into centralized maturation facilities. Massive buildings in industrial parks like the desolate Nun’s Island one, with concrete floors and palliated warehousing. Homogenous maturation for all. Irish Whiskey is on track to hit 20 million cases and we need a place to store it all, even the multinationals do. So where do we put it all. The guys at The Vault (cool Name) came up with workable plan. They presented said plan at a public meeting and locals came out vociferously against it using all the objections noted above. When asked about the risk of fire the project developers explained there would be a big tank of water on site ready to put it out at any time, then someone else piped up and said that there was s risk of flood. You can’t win in a room like that, and in the end their plan was rejected by the council. They are I understand planning their next move on the project.
So, in the meantime, will someone please explain, where is everyone supposed to mature their whiskey? It is currently unclear.
What bothers me most about all of this is the fact that this will stymie the re-emergence of regional styles of Irish whiskey. Small producers need every competitive advantage they can eek out over behemoths. There is no point in growing your own organic barley in field No 6, harvesting it, distilling it and then maturing it at the other side of the country because you can’t afford a bond or could not meet random regulations without breaking the bank. I don’t love the homogenised maturation facility move, I think its fine and necessary for multinationals and huge players, but for Indies I don’t think that it is the right solution, just my opinion mind you. The solution to that is super easy, we just need the Revenue to agree to accept insurance policies on Bonds up to lets say 500,000 euros or so as a start. That would allow all of us indies to mature our own stock. We also need commercial bond insurance companies to enter the Irish Market and facilitate that.
Currently there is not a single trade organisation looking to pursue this route to the best of my knowledge. Its not on the multinational’s agenda and so its not on the trade body agenda. The solution put forward and lobbied is that of large scale homogenised maturation, a one size fits all approach. It’s not the right solution for small producers. Maturation location MATTERS for regional styles of whiskey.
But more importantly being able to steward your casks through the maturation process is really important for someone like me. I get to manage on an ongoing basis the humidity levels in my Rackhouse. If a cask is leaking I can see it and fix it. I don’t have millions of casks so I CARE about leaks, its money dripping onto my clay floor. If your casks are sitting on pallets stacked 40 ft in the air in a 3rd party warehouse, good luck finding leaks, good luck sampling your distillate without disturbing everything and paying through the nose for warehouse workers time and the hire of forklifts etc. its expensive trust me) an lastly good luck explaining to visitors why they can’t visit the casks…”They are in a concrete warehouse in Wexford with everyone else’s” won’t cut it.
We need a Commercial Bond trade and Revenue allowance in Ireland for small producers and we need lobbying for same by trade bodies. The 2% of us who make the rest of Irish Whiskey that the multinationals don’t make need it,we’ll just have to lobby for it ourselves. Oh and by the way, if my whiskey does get robbed, you can take my house and take the car, but you are NOT taking my horse.