Irish Whiskey in Asia: Uncharted Territory

IMG_0103I’m whizzing along in the back of a taxi at the moment making my way from Seoul airport into town, its miles away apparently so I have time. I flew in this morning on the red-eye from Singapore managed about 3 hours of sleep on the flight, but I’m feeling energised nonetheless. I’m here with several of our fellow Indie whiskey and drinks producers on a trade mission with Bord Bia. The function of these trade missions is to bring Indie producers to potential markets and to assist in making introductions to potential customers and distributors. Its much more powerful traveling in a group, and we usually get the weight of the state behind us, with Irish Ambassadors in attendance and the like. I find great value in these trips and at the moment there are few things that make me happier than opening new markets for our whiskey and telling the story of Whiskey Bonding and our approach to it. Its also good fun to hang out with the guys from Clonakilty, Tipperary, Boann, and Drumshambo, its a fun group.

The first leg of the trip was a (relatively) big success for  J.J. Corry. I lived in Singapore for a few years and know the market pretty well so I had organised several meetings around the core Bord Bia event. I lined up an importer prior and threw a consumer event at a beautiful whiskey bar on Club street called Tipple and Dram. Ours was the first ever Irish Whiskey event they had ever had, we sold two bottles and after checking IWSR data we figured out that J.J. Corry now has about .03% market share of Irish Whiskey in Singapore…..That is to say guys, from a volume perspective Irish Whiskey is not a thing in Singapore… Yet.

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Our First Two Customers in Asia!!! 

Much of Asia  has a long, long history with Scotch, its tied to the colonial past and entrenched by the long term strategic  focus of Diageo and LVMH and Grants et al, on the region. I met several whiskeyphiles in Singapore at my event who go to Scotland at least once a year to whiskey festivals and have done for about a decade. They are avid collectors of Scotch and money is no object, not a single one of them had ever even considered hopping across the pond to Ireland to try our own wares.  I have always maintained that category education is not the job of Indie producers, we don’t have the resource or time for it. That is Pernod’s job, but unfortunately in Asia; Pernod has not focused on doing that, instead they go hard on Chivas and Ballentine’s both of which do pretty well here given the status of the scotch category.

In a way its sort of refreshing to stand in front of a crowd and tell the narrative of Irish Whiskey from my own perspective, which by the way is VERY BALANCED…. I might rant occasionally on the blog here but I present Irish whiskey in its best possible light at all times with the pubic. Its sort of nice here too that  I don’t get people asking me how my whiskey compares to Jameson as most people have not tasted Jameson anyway. Whiskey palates here are very, very sophisticated due to the entrenchment of scotch, so its nice to introduce people to a higher end Irish Whiskey as their first foray into the category. These guys would not be lower end whiskey drinkers by their nature, Proper 12 won’t fly here….. They are into distillery only bottlings, single casks etc, all from Scotland of course. Another key thing I’ve noticed here is American Craft Whiskey, there is more damn American craft whiskey on shelf here now than there is Irish, I’m a bit flummoxed by that to be honest…

Anyhoo, another reason I’m feeling energized, although less so that when I started writing this, is that I released as we were driving along, that whilst I’m here in Asia, Niamh our UK brand Ambassador is in Germany doing a whiskey show and Blaise our USA based manager is doing tastings in New York. We are all out and about telling the J.J. Corry story and the story of whskey bonding on 3 continents at the same time right now. Jaysys its like we are a bona fide ‘international’ whiskey brand. I kind of can’t believe it and it gives me a slight lump in my throat. Having said that selling 2 bottles in Singapore won’t keep the lights on, so I better sign off here and get back to work. We are in Seoul for a few days repeating what we did in Singapore and then off to Japan, where I’ll be meeting out importer and talking to lots of trade. Onwards and Upwards!

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