It was great to see so many friends last week at Whiskey Live, lots of you came up to me to say hello and most encouragingly let me know you enjoyed following our story and love our whiskey and what we are up to here. I have not been particularly good in the past year on Blog Posts simply due to the fact that we hit the market and I’ve not had the time. I’ve decided to correct that in the coming year and you’ll be hearing a lot more from me. Whether you want to or not.
The last quarter of this year has been utterly bonkers. I have not had a day off since sometime in late September, I’ve been blending and proofing like a mad person, in addition to labeling, boxing and shipping orders. Its been incredibly inefficient and time consuming, specifically because our Bonder’s Blending Room is not ready and neither are we in reality.
I decided to build the Bonder’s Blending Room the day we got the first bottling of the Gael in the bottle. It took me about 4 months to sort out bottling for Gael Batch one, because at a mere 7000 bottles the run was too small for any of the 3 commercial bottlers here in Ireland to take on. There was not a single bottler who could accommodate our blend as nobody had a tank small enough for it. So, the GND were kind enough to bring in a small tank for us so we could get it done. The tanks did the job as did the guys at GND but did not have external gauges and there was a moment during the blend we thought we had added too much 26 year old…..It was nail-biting.
Once we got the batch blended we could not get a time-slot for bottling as it was coming into September and busy time for the multinationals. In the end at the bottling plant there was a last-minute cancellation by another brand. I got in the car with my hi-vis vest on and drove down to the bottlers and refused to leave the floor of the bottling hall until the boxes started to roll off the line. I was there for 6 hours and I left as the first box came off the line as I had to go and do a tasting back in Clare. As I drove back I vowed that it would be the last time that I would not have total control over our production and I decided to build the Bonder’s Blending Room.
So, where are we now? Well….waaaaaaaay behind where I would like us to be. Like I thought we’d be finished by now, we are not, we are however tantalizingly close. Back in June, we were granted planning permission and I got in contractors to quote for it, they all quoted such INSANE numbers I decided to project manage the thing myself. It is not to be frank a complicated build, it’s a damn shed not the Taj Mahal. We are boot-strapping here not building a Tourism Center (Thank God). We needed a basic structure inside of which we could precision blend.
So, I got in all the various sub-contractors myself and off we went in July. I went to an Agricultural shed builders who built my neighbors new cow shed for the Steel Structure and then went on a mad learning spree about tri-clamps, flanges, Y bends and stainless steel. My technical knowledge tends to come from the USA, I spend a lot of time there and have good buddies in the craft distilling scene. The craft distillers in the USA are pro-risk and tend to just bash on and do things, which is what I like to do. They focus on over-speccing the right things and just making do on things that are less important. They understand you don’t need the latest piece of kit for absolutely everything and they are budget concious. Hence, their set-ups are far closer to what I am looking for here on site so I have learned a lot by spending time with small scale distillers in the USA and learning about their steam-punk set-ups. I gained enough confidence to spec the new blending tanks and put the order in direct to the specialist supplier.
I also started to realise that a lot of the kit I needed can be found in my local Farmers Co-Op or by poking around milking parlour set-ups. Food Grade stainless steel and filtration systems are also used in the diary industry. So, I have sourced quite a lot of kit (where appropriate) from agricultural suppliers. My disgorgement tank is a second-hand Milk Bulk tank that has been re-purposed, I use milk filter socks pretty liberally for removing cask char, they work and absolute treat like any standard 10 micron filter media unit, but instead of ordering them from a fancy Scottish supplier I can nip down the co-op buy a few packs. We are making whiskey on a Farm after all, so I feel its wholly appropriate we pull inspiration and work smart when it comes to kitting things out.
To really become a modern Irish whiskey bonder it is vital that I can control all production (except distillation) on site, for a number of reasons. I feel totally responsible for shepherding new-make whiskey stock from the moment it comes off the still. I buy my own casks and match them to the spirit profile, I mature on site and religiously monitor maturation conditions, it makes total sense then that I would have 100% control and involvement in all elements of blending our mature stock too. Some of the blends we have lined up are hyper complicated. I need to have full control of that it is not a job for a 3rd party. I’m hoping to ultimately get protection for the term whiskey bonding. This Bonder’s Blending Room is not only vital to us continuing to create great whiskey, it sets a standard for the term which is above and beyond Independent Bottling. More importantly it sets a standard that is utterly reachable for anyone actually serious about whiskey bonding. It did not cost the earth.
We’ve managed to win Best Irish Single Malt at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards with a whiskey partially filtered using 10 Micron Milk Filter socks after all…. Stay tuned in the next installment we’ll talk about how to unload a Shipping Container full of blending tanks using only your wits and by making a few phone calls to the local Silage Contractor….I bet the Jackeens don’t have those resources on call in the Dublin’s Liberties!