The Term Irish Whiskey Bonder Must Be Protected Before It Becomes Meaningless #IrishWhiskey

I am currently in discussions with three different entrepreneurs who are hoping to become Whiskey Bonders.  They heard of my story and reached out to me to talk about the practice. I share what insight and knowledge I can with them and we talk every few weeks or months about how they are getting on. All of these entrepreneurs  have plans for Bonded warehouses that they are either constructing or converting. They are working through the issues of securing a bond and all the Mad Stuff that you need to do to become a Modern Whiskey Bonder here in Ireland. It’s a really long road and one that can drive you to distraction. I am really happy that we will soon have more Bonders on this Island, I’ve always said that we would not be the last and I will soon be proven right. Furthermore the company name Dublin Whiskey Bonders has recently been registered so we can conclude this is a bit of a serious  trend.

We are Ireland’s First Modern Whiskey Bonder in living memory, what exactly does that mean though? Well, first off the bat it is NOT simply a marketing term, if it was I would just have rented space in a bonded warehouse and called myself a Bonder and used it exclusively as a marketing hook.  That would have been way easier and cheaper. No, Bonding is key part of the very bones and heritage of the Irish Whiskey Industry. When I decided to bring it back I genuinely felt a responsibility on my shoulders to ensure it would mean something to our industry which is in an unprecedented resurgence. It is a clever business model and yes it does make a good and unique selling point. However for me, it is all about being open and honest about sourcing whiskey and dedicating myself to the care and production of that sourced whiskey to create something the Irish Whiskey Industry can be proud to call its own. Further more I am of the firm belief that we need varied and diverse maturation and production locations to foster a sense of regionalism that is so vital to Scotch and that has been all but lost here in Ireland.

Back in March I went through the Airport and picked up some printed information on a brand  who make pretty good whiskey but had been called out in the industry for citing work by a Master Blender and a Master Distiller whose existence or qualifications were questioned.   I was really dismayed to see that the brand had now pivoted to Bonding as their new backstory. They are now claiming the heritage of Bonding and the story that I brought to the world out of the dark as a core part of their brand essence. To the best of my knowledge the brand did not mention it until AFTER they were vilified fairly publicly about false labeling. Annoying for me? Yes but is to be expected, of course, Imitation is the highest form of flattery, it means you are on to something. What really riled me though about what I saw written down is that it seemed like for that brand “Bonding”  was easy pickings. Bonding, because it did not exist for a few generations has no definition or legal protection and I think we need protection. So, I wrote a letter to the powers that be back in March asking for assistance. Below is the basic content and definition of Bonding that I would like to have properly defined, this is paraphrased directly from the letter sent back in March.

My business model as you know is that of Whiskey Bonding. This is landing well in the USA, UK, Germany and other markets we are opening. American Bonded whiskey has a specific protected definition and is a growing trend in the US. Currently in Ireland there is no protection or definition of quality around the term Irish Whiskey Bonder. To that end there are independent bottlers  who are claiming to be Bonders although they do not possess a Bond.
This is the equivalent of claiming to be a distillery without a distillery. 
Our business model and definition of Bonding stands for the following.
  • We are a Revenue Verified Irish Whiskey Maturation Facility
  • We do NOT distill our own spirit
  • We source casks with particular flavour profiles 
  • We source spirit from distilleries 
  • We match cask to spirit
  • We mature it in our own controlled bonded warehouse and oversee the maturation process
  • We blend it and bottle it on site 
  • In the case of mature whiskey releases we source WE SOURCE LIVING CASKS NOT BULK INERT WHISKEY and we blend and bottle on site 
In essence in terms of quality we Shepard the spirit in every aspect from the moment it comes off the still until it is bottled. In the case of mature whiskey we source living casks not bulk whiskey for bottling.
I am currently in discussions with THREE other businesses who are in the process of setting up Bonding Businesses (with their own bond) . This sub category of whiskey is going to grow and we need to protect it. As you will know it was once the most common business model for whiskey in Ireland until the 1930’s we can expect it to grow again. 
I would like to see protection and definition for the term BONDED IRISH WHISKEY in the technical file. If we don’t protect this sub category which is going to grow significantly  the term will be meaningless and abused. ” END 
Now many of you will know I myself am not yet doing all the things I list above, my blending and bottling line is not yet finished for example. But I am working towards all of these things, I expect it to be ready in Q4. Why? Because all of these various elements are a mark of QUALITY CONTROL outside of distillation. I do not distil my own spirit so I better be damn sure that from the moment it comes off the still until its put into bottle that its well looked after and I have influence on it, otherwise why bother? I can just become an Independent Bottler which is TOTALLY FINE. Some of the whiskies I admire most are from Independent Bottlers in Scotland. Here is the difference though. Irish Whiskey Bonding is a part of our heritage. It is as unique as Single Pot Still and for Irish Whiskey to compete properly in the global market we need sub categories that are well defined and stand for QUALITY and uniqueness not just marketing Bumpf.

This where I stand on this subject, if I rail a little on social media about it as I have in recent days, its because I know the struggles those other entrepreneurs are going through to set up their businesses, I know that in spite of the sleepless nights the nail-biting and the fact that I put my house and my horse up as collateral for my bond I would put it all on the line as I do every day and do it all again.

Because I brought Irish Whiskey Bonding back, I opened a door that I hope will bring our category to a wider audience and that will help make the marketplace more diverse and modern an appealing to new whiskey drinkers. I’m holding that door open for other Bonders who are willing to make the effort and hold themselves to a quality and production standard.

For anyone simply using the term as their heritage pillar in their marketing materials; the door is firmly closed.