There are two approaches to making Irish Whiskey that have emerged in recent years:
- Sink 25-50 Million Euros in the Thing at the beginning and hope for the best
- Sink 500K-5Million Euros in the Thing at the beginning and hope for the best
Both have equal chance of failure and success and I’m not advocating one over the other here. I’ve chosen the latter and I am really glad I did, so far anyway…. I looked to the craft distilling movement in the U.S.A. when I founded my business. Most distilleries over there of which there are now thousands, tend to start small and grow organically and that is what I have chosen to do as a whiskey bonder. When it came to our first major infrastructure expansion I decided early on not to over-complicate things and to manage the whole build myself. I did this to save money, yes but also to ensure that I am 100% au fait with every nut, bolt and widget and the function of every single thing. This won’t be our last expansion so I wanted to be 1000% hands on with this one. We may do this at a bigger scale in the future so best to have some experience this time round.
I called a few contractors to get quotes for the build, they were all so outrageous I could not justify them, so instead I just went directly to every single supplier myself and project managed the whole thing. The steel structure, the roller doors, concrete, electrics, plumbing the food-safe flooring the whole lot. I built the thing for 40% of the lowest cost I was originally quoted. The cash I saved I ploughed into our distribution efforts.
The bonders blending room is a pretty simple affair, I designed it based on my (not great) experience of blending Batch One The Gael. I learned a lot from that. I also sense checked it with some industry bods, because I’m not full of hubris…though some retirees think I am…more of that later. The main kit in the blending room is comprised of a Vatting Tank, Blending Tank and a Proofing/Marrying tank. Think three tanks in a row, so I was after 3 stainless steel tanks of varying sizes one of which had a mixing blade.
I called a few manufacturers in Ireland for pricing and the like and was asked by all of them for a detailed engineers schematic of three tanks in a row. I said to them, “just imagine three tanks in a row, that’s it.” But it didn’t compute, so I drew three circles on to our floorplan scanned it and sent that over, that did the trick and I was able to get quotes. In the end I bought my tanks from a manufacturer overseas I met at a distillery conference. I called around a few mates who had also bought from them to ensure they were Kosher and 7 months later the tanks arrived on site. All shiny and lovely. Then I lined them up in a row….with the help of my local agricultural contractor, my Dad and a few neighbours.
Soon, everything we make will be end to end done on site from Maturation, Disgorgement, Blending, Proofing, Bottling and DRINKING! I will have 100% control over every aspect of what we do without having to worry about booking a timeslot for bottling, or scrambling for a place to blend. I’ll be self-sufficient, my husband will attest to the fact that this is how I like to be…
My business model is not a whizz-bang/tourist offering/ shiny copper pot still/ type, which is a great business model for many. Rather mine is the small but mighty type. I plough money into sourcing whiskey and investing in its distribution, not in Infrastructure at this early stage. One of the great joys in my life currently is the fact that I learn all the time. I was the consummate corporate drone before I took the leap to do this and after 20 odd years the corporate world, you can plateau in what you can learn in that context. I’m kind of a geek at heart so for me choosing to learn about grades of stainless steel is really fun…
I occasionally get a bit of stick from people who go out of the way to tell me they have loads of experience in the industry. I’ve been called a “New Girl” in the comments by one of those delightful auld fellas who also let me know he is about to retire….. Their thinking is that there is only one Way to make whiskey and one way to go about technically doing so. That might have been true here in Ireland for a long time, but its not anymore. There are quite a few others in the Indie scene who have approached their build in a smart rather than a spendy way out of a simple desire to do so and to be hands on.
I’m glad I took this approach, I now know every Tri-Clamp, fitting, grate and hose in the place. My business is growing exponentially we are exporting all over the planet now, and soon all my efforts will need to go into managing that expansion. I won’t always be on-site bottling and attaching hoses and all the rest, but I will be for a time to come and I’ll be loving every minute of it.