All About our New Bonder’s Blending Room & Why Its Important Part 1

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!

What a lot of People Will Be Talking about at @WhiskeyLiveDub this weekend.

Well, ironically enough I won’t be able to make the first evening tonight of Whiskey Live as I am here on site in Clare awaiting delivery of our blending tanks for our Bonder’s Blending Room which arrive all the way from Ningbo today.  Meanwhile just yesterday we saw our very first shutdown of  a high profile distillery build, The Quiet Man Distillery in Derry. It is a bit of a shocker.

The Quiet Man was initially founded by Niche Drinks who have a good long track record in the lower end of the alcohol market, mostly trading in Irish cream liquors and sugary ‘Oirish’  drinks for the American market. Their Quiet Man whiskey when they launched  did well as they had a good distribution network and they were able to find a market for it. That alone would give them a good chance of success which is what is needed in the sinkhole of capital that is the whiskey business.

There are a lot of distilleries still in various stages of planning and construction around the country and the clock is ticking on that. Whiskey is a cyclical beast, you only have to look at the history of the more robust Scotch industry over the past 50 or 100 years to track the historic commercial trends and changes that our newly re-formed industry is going to be subject to in the coming years. Many would argue that now is not actually the right time to be building a distillery at all, if its not already in production its too late. I’m not sure about that but I think we are fast approaching that moment. The Quiet Man Distillery  I would have thought was just about on the right side of the curve.

Furthermore, they were in my mind one who would absolutely make in a large part due to the brands acquisition by LUXCO earlier on this year. The $15 Million distillery surely would be a goer given they had serious backing, planning permission, an established route to market and a decent brand. Of all the projects underway at the moment it seemed to me that this one was a sure runner. I followed along for a while and noticed that construction had started, and it was all go for The Quiet Man in Derry. It was actually nice for me to see an independent brand make it happen in this way.

It seems though that something may have gone awry in the Summer. The last post on their twitter feed is a picture of their Frilli stills in production in Italy dated 14th August and then there is radio silence on that particular feed, not a good sign. If our twitter ever goes quiet please will someone send in the police and the fire brigade because something is badly wrong……

So what happened?? How bad does it actually have to be to pull a distillery project smack dab in the middle of construction? I mean pulling it when its still on paper is one thing, several distilleries here with planning permission will never have a brick laid, but this was well underway. I mean the stills were being made!  Luxoco are no newbies to distillery construction having recently opened a $38 million distillery in bourbon country, in addition to a tequila distillery in Mexico.  A Luxco representative said to the BBC it was due to ‘commercial reasons’ which is about as vague as it gets. Is this a Luxco capital issue?? (I doubt it) or is it something else? Brexit? Lack of Mature Supply? Something more sinister? What could it be? Does it mean the end of the Quiet Man brand? Or just the distillery? Its not clear.

Furthermore, what does this mean for the rest of the industry? Will this spook investors out there currently eyeing up plans for shiny distilleries and will it make it more difficult for the many, many folks out there trying to finalise capital for their projects? This is a confounding one. I don’t see this as Attrition, I continue to believe we are not at that point in the rebirth of the industry just yet. I don’t know if this is a harbinger of things to come or just a blip. But it will most certainly be something I’ll be nattering about with my fellow producers. I’ll see you there on Saturday folks.

I have a Bonder’s Blending Room (not a distillery) to build today.

My Take on the New Notorious Whiskey

It was only when Conor McGregor won some big fight and came out on stage swigging a bottle of whiskey and talking about counting money that I discovered his existence. I focus mostly on my business and all forms of sport became blurry background noise to me a few yeas ago, I don’t have the mental space for them. But McGregor came very much on my radar as soon as he entered my world and it quickly became apparent to me that is incredibly well known among the millennial consumer bracket. He is a social media darling which is basically 90% of selling stuff these days. He also seems to be an interesting choice as the face of a whiskey brand what with all the questionable out of ring fighting etc. but hey what do I know? He landed the deal so that’s me proven wrong I guess.

I’m traveling here in the USA and got to taste the whiskey here a few days ago. It is a perfectly fine $23 whiskey its standard priced and rightly so for the liquid. He will do well with the whiskey thanks to his social following and to his distributor partners Proximo who I can already see here are just feeding it into their system in the run-up to Christmas. A sales guy I was working with here in MA described it as a Launch/Close Out brand, a cheap brand that comes in hot, sells loads and then is gone within 2 years but everyone made money so its ok. I don’t know if that’s what will happen here and this post is not about that. This post is about what this kind of pricing and consumption approach means for the Irish Whiskey Category as a whole.

The people behind the McGregor Category are the Beckmann Family. In the USA their company is called Proximo.  The same people who own Jose Cuervo and Bushmills. We know now that this new whiskey is out of Bushmills.  When I worked at Diageo in the Reserve Brands Group, Bushmills was added into our portfolio for a while. Nobody ever wanted to talk about it, focus on it, or even address it. The brand was an also ran in a company with a Huge portfolio of Rockstar Scotch Whiskey. It was an afterthought. It was under the eye of Diageo that the distillery sold off much of its stocks at the low point of the wholesale market. There was never a blockbuster ad campaign or indeed much love for Bushmills at the global office in London during my tenure. The sale then did not come as a big surprise and it all played out really well for Diageo in the end. See my post on that here. When the Beckmann family bought it, it seemed as if things might look up.

With all that astounding reserve stock and a new lease of life away from under the shadow of Johnnie Walker surely it was time for Bushmills to shine again. The expectation was we’d get innovative blends, finishes and a more modern outlook befitting the new age of Irish Whiskey.  Pernod have done a great job of reacting to the new indie scene by investing in and coming out with innovative new releases and creating a mini craft distillery down there, which is of course very annoying but a good effort nonetheless

Major upfront investment has certainly gone into launching Sexton and McGregor, its investment coming out of the same pot and it could have gone to a Bushmills rebrand and release, it didn’t. Whilst capital expenditure investment has been announced to up production capacity we’ve not seen a flashy new launch for Bushmills of late, which is odd and its having an effect. Bushmills showed declines of  2.5% to 190,000 cases in the USA in 2017 . Although they did manage to launch the Sexton coming in at $27 whilst this decline was going on so….priorities I guess?


Jameson built the Irish Whiskey category in the USA largely with the absolutely disgusting Pickelback which is now served on tap it’s so popular. For those of you unfamiliar it’s a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of Pickle Juice and it is just a vile as it sounds. Tullamore Dew has gone down the Shot route too to fuel its growth and in the USA proudly promotes itself as a Shot and a Beer (albeit an IPA) kind of whiskey. Its working well as the numbers don’t lie. Tullamore took is in double digit growth in the USA and is now 2nd only to Jameson reaching the million case mark in 2016.

My concern is that out here in the USA market there is still a lot of category education to be done. In the eyes of many new customers I speak with; Irish Whiskey is seen a cheap and for shots whereas Scotch is absolutely not. Often, I have to compare JJ Corry to a scotch whiskey for them to understand what we are trying to do here. We are making considered blended whiskey for whiskey drinkers, not stuff to wash down with a shot of pickle juice after work on a Friday night and then go look for a fight or score some coke.

Brands like Notorious do not help the premiumisation of the Irish Whiskey category in the long run.  Scotch whiskey is still kicking our ass in terms of category knowledge and sales by value.  We don’t want a long-term image problem developing in Irish Whiskey in the USA. Jameson and Tully are out there firing shots around to beat the band and encouraging it, now we have a huge and very loud launch of a $23 Irish Whiskey which is squarely aimed at what we in the business call  ‘Release Drinkers’ i.e. young people getting sh!tfaced in sports bars.

So will McGregor’s whiskey sell a lot, Yes. Will it outstrip Jameson 6.5 Million plus cases anytime soon? No. Will we see Bushmills finally getting the love it deserves from its multinational owners and raising the game? I’m not sure.

Luckily I think Jose Cuervo are the only multinational that have taken this white label downmarket approach so far. Bacardi, Diageo, Beam, and Disaronno have all headed down a different path, playing on  and investing in the narratives of heritage, provenance and craftsmanship. Everyone on the Indie side is doing that just by our very nature so there are more considered Irish Whiskey brands than gimmicky ones but we are not getting an equal share of voice just yet.

It remains to be seen if we’ll break out of the \shot and a beer pigeonhole we currently still get put in here in the USA but the Notorious release is NOT going to help that case in any capacity at all. Pass the Pickle Juice Please.

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.

Is Brexit & The Looming Whiskey War Actually a Strategic Advantage for Irish Whiskey? #TradeWar Blogpost

I’ve had a few calls this week from various media outlets in relation to the possible fallout from the looming USA/EU trade war. President Trump announced late last week he would slap tariffs on EU Steel and the like. The EU had been readying themselves for this and are finalising their own Volley of tarrifs right back at him. American Whiskey is high on the list of products the EU intend to tariff to the tune of approx 25% I understand. There is a fear that the USA will counter volley and slap tarrifs on EU Whiskey of course the biggest exposure here is Scotch & Irish Whiskey.

I read with dismay Alarmist headlines stating that this would “destroy” the industry. That is super unhelpful for Indie brands like mine. We are in a constant state of either fundraising or belief raising in our businesses. Having extreme negative language thrown around about our industry is unhelpful and makes it a lot harder to do both of those things for a burgeoning business. Don’t get me wrong I am very concerned about tariffs and I am planning accordingly to mitigate my exposure and risk, that is what one does in business. Panic mongering may draw attention to the issue but it will not instil confidence in the category or those considering investing in it, and as an Indie producer I CARE about what those people think……


Trump Vodka No Longer Exists so is Exempt….

Whilst Geopolitical circumstance decimated the Irish Whiskey industry once before, it was a conflagration of War, Famine, More War, Prohibition, Economic War and a lack of innovation COMBINED  over about 50 years which destroyed the industry the first time around. Whiskey is a very, very long game, President Trump has a maximum of 6 years left in office..

I have another take on the current volatile geopolitical situation  I believe that, this time, we are on the right side of history.  Are you ready for a curve ball?

Our corporate overlords in the Scotch Whiskey Association have had it pretty sweet for a long time. By and large you can argue that they have done more good than harm in Scotch, they protect it like MaMa Bears for sure and they have made life a lot easier legislatively for Scotch producers than it is for Irish producers in-country. However your stance on that may be very different if you are a new Scotland based whiskey producer trying to innovate and release interesting whiskies in good faith. Even Diageo got the smackdown over suggesting Tequila barrel maturation recently. The reason I have to change my label to reveal LESS information about the components in my blend is because of an EU regulation the SWA defend like a pack of wild dogs. By telling you everything in my blend and its exact percentages I can be taken to court for MISLEADING the consumer thanks to EU  regulation 110/2008 that the SWA hold so dear, I am only allowed to tell you the youngest component….Go figure.

This reign of terror/benevolence however you’d like to categorise it is however about to end. Why? Well, after March of next year technically Scotland is not in Europe anymore and technically the SWA looses its seat at the lobbying table in the Hague. The SWA currently sits in the biggest baddest chair right now when it comes to spirits lobbying within the EU. Once Brexit happens they will be cut loose. This will leave a big whiskey shaped hole at the Lobbying table……Enter Ireland.

Now pile on top of that the fact that we have a trade war brewing and the next few years is going to be an “In the Thick of It” or “Veep” style scenario in the Hague between spirits lobbying bodies and MEP’s. The stakes have just gotten higher and EU lobbying intensity is about to kick into high gear and it is Ireland who will need to pick up the mantle and lead the European spirits industry though all of this as the SWA are buggering off in March.

Suddenly we have more control over our own destiny in many ways than we have ever had before. We could if we REALLY wanted to convince the EU to amend regulation 110/2008 to allow producers like me to fully list our blend components totally transparently. Already our Irish regs are a smidgin more progressive than that of Scotland we could if we wanted to lead whiskey into a bright new innovative and progressive future where its going anyway due to consumer demand. This time around it looks like its Scotch is the industry rejecting innovation and Ireland embracing it, a bit.

Now coincidentally the membership make-up of the SWA in terms of multinationals  is basically identical to that of the IWA.  So whilst the most influential spirits body at the EU level is about to change, its membership make-up and their agendas will stay the same. I’d like to think though that because the organisation is fresher & younger (I’m in it for a start!) that the status quo won’t be maintained. We have a real opportunity here to have a voice and to agitate for positive change in our category and to make life a bit easier for the upcoming Indie players who ultimately will shape the future of the  industry and keep it exciting for whiskey lovers.

tenorWith great power comes great responsibility, as Ru Paul would say “Just Don’t F@ck it Up.”




Postcards From the Edge


This is how you buy Weed in LA!, Pretty Nice

I’m in the U.S.A. on a business trip for a few weeks. We just launched J.J. Corry in New York with our partner distributor. I’m on the road with Blaise our sales & marketing manager which is great as we usually only see each other over Skype. After our NY launch we hopped on a plane and headed West to Los Angeles. Not a city I have spent much time in before. We rented an Airbnb in Downtown L.A. not a million miles from Skid Row. The Downtown area is clearly in the throes of gentrification and has that in-between feel to it. Homeless people shelter at night in the doorways of newly opened luxury stores and former theatre spaces are being converted to high end Loft residences.

As Blaise and I fiddled with the door code on our AirBNB we noticed what appeared to be an Apple store next door. It looked from the outside like a really slick retail experience with young people bent over ipads scrolling through products. On close inspection it turned out to be a branch of MedMen, a bunch of I imagine very wealthy marijuana entrepreneurs who have elevated buying Weed to a luxury retail experience. California of course has legalised marijuana for “medical” use. You can pop in to any of the MedMen stores and with the very professional help of some lovely staff purchase THC in liquid form, vape form, chocolate form, luxury truffle form, you name it, they even have a pet section with doggy doses for various canine gut ailments etc. Quite extraordinary and soon to be replicated in many states across the U.S.A.


The Future of Meat Eating

We went for something to eat and passed by an Impossible Burger restaurant. Those of us in Europe have not really been exposed to this concept yet. I understand Leonardo Di Caprio is an investor in the company. The start-up is being touted as a major solution to some key problems facing humankind.  The Impossible burger is derived from plant protein, but it looks, feels and tastes like beef. We both tried it and I can tell you it was at least for me a bit of an emotional experience. There are already too many meat eaters on the planet and not enough cattle to feed them. The cattle that do exist increasingly have brutish and short lives played out on vast indoor feed lots. As the human population grows animal welfare declines. The Impossible burger is   to this issue. It tastes fantastic and I would choose it over a regular burger any time. As a planet we need to eat less meat and the Impossible Burger is the first food I have ever experienced that could viably replace it. It is certainly preferable than Lab grown beef which I find kind of icky.

After a series of meetings with some pretty spectacular women in the Whiskey Industry in LA we hopped a quick flight to Las Vegas for the Wine & Spirits Wholesale Association Conference  (WSWA) at Caesars Palace. WSWA is not a trade show for the faint of heart. It is an expensive proposition even with Bord Bia support and It takes serious preparation and pre-work to ensure it is a worthwhile endeavour. We had some great exposure last year thanks to our Brand Battle success and this year we were fortunate enough to follow that up. We did quite a few interviews and had a lot of interest in our brand and for us it was a great show. Our U.S. strategy is really coming to life now and its very exciting,



It might sound like wonderful fun to go to Las Vegas for a conference, I can assure you it is interesting yes but it is the antithesis of a holiday. These kind of things are exhausting, its back to back meetings and networking in the very professional and formal environment that is the American drinks industry. Daylight becomes a distant memory inside a windowless conference centre and you are on your feet all day talking shop, the goal is not to have a good time but to be as productive as possible and take advantage of the fact that many heavy hitters in the distribution game are in one place for a brief period. For a brand like ours just kicking on it is well worthwhile. The non-JJ Corry business highlight for me was the keynote speech by none other than Madeline Albright. A great hero of mine and one who famously delivered my favourite quote of all time “ There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. “  Never a truer word spoken.

Madeline emigrated to the USA from war torn Europe at the age of 11. She did so at a time when the USA was a more welcoming place for immigrants than it is at this moment, perhaps and she rose in stature to one of the highest offices in American politics that of Secretary of State. She was the first woman to hold the position, and paved the way for both Condaleeza Rice and Hilary Clinton to do so after her.

There was a time I could not stay away from Las Vegas, but I’m not the biggest fan anymore, I’m not a gambler and as the conference days are long  and you need to be ON all the time, I made a pact to myself to be in bed by 10.30PM every night and stuck to it like glue for the most part.  We did hit one of Vegas’ best cocktail bars which was excellent. Whilst there we met the guys from WhistlePig and had a good chat, they were pretty prominently featured at the show. These guys have had a pretty metoric rise and  Other than that I left the market research to Blaise on this trip.

Interestingly at the Bord Bia stand this year there were more new Irish Gin companies than whiskey by my count.  Gin is popular in the U.S.A. but not dominant in the market as a category as it is in Europe. However, it is still Irish Whiskey that distributors get very excited about. It was great nice to hang with the Irish spirit producer gang and to share war stories We had a good show, it was our second time there and we had some good visibility in a large part due to our success the year before at Brand Battle.

Here is an interview I did during the show, Next up is our NY media Launch.

Irish Whiskey Tourism: A Reality Check


We need this kind of thing.

There is absolutely no doubt that Irish Whiskey Tourism is on the Up and that is a wonderful thing for all of us.  In my mind the ideal situation we will have on this Island in about a decade is a tourism system that emulates Scotland or Kentucky. Both have scenic winding Whiskey Trails, which snake all over the lovely state of Kentucky and Up hill and down dale and over ferrys in Scotland. The reality is though that we don’t have that right now. We have a concentration of tourism sitting with a few large scale attractions or concentrated in Dublin.

Let’s just look at the stats for a moment. A Note here: the distillery specific stats I have quoted are the most recent on public record and taken from a Drinks Industry Group of Ireland Report published in Sept. 2017. Therefore some of the below stats are 2016 and not bang on date. This is then an illustrative exercise rather than a literary one. I am open to corrections on the below numbers for 2017 but I imagine they will be upward revisions rather than down. For the purposes of this post I am assuming 2016 visitor stats stayed flat rather than speculating.

The Stats

  1. Total Irish Whiskey Tourism visitors in 2017-—814000
  2. Total Visitors to Bow Street Experience Dublin 2017—350000
  3. Total Visitors to Jameson Distillery Midelton —150000

Ok that means about 61% of all Irish Whiskey Tourist visits are to Jameson. I’m not saying that is a negative thing, both of those experiences are wonderful representations of Irish Whiskey there is no doubt about that. Pernod have done a great job, they are good at experiential. They are of course though not the full picture of Irish Whiskey today., nor are they supposed to be, they are brand led experiences through the Pernod Ricard lens.

That leaves 314,000 whiskey tourists outside of Jameson visits. Lets look at how they are spread.

  • Teeling Dublin 100,000 (2016 )
  • Irish Whiskey Museum Dublin 56,000 (2016)
  • No stats available for Pearse Lyons so not included here

OK, that means then 80% of the 814,000 Irish Whiskey Tourists visited an attraction either run by Jameson, which has powerhouse draw, or one in Dublin our capital city,

The other big powerhouses Beam Suntory & Grants can’t get close to Dublin numbers or compete with the lure & global recognition of Jameson.

68,000 visitor to Kilbeggan (2016)

37,000 visitors to Tullamore Dew  (2016)

That leaves 53,000 tourists left for everyone else. The other tourism offerings that I know of right now are spread around the country and total Four, that would leave an even distribution  of visitors of  13,250 each let’s say. With an average spend per visitor of 20 euros that is about 265,000 in revenue per annum, minus overhead, minus marketing spend, minus running costs, licenses, fees etc. it is a tight business.


This Sort of Thing Please

I can only speculate that as Whiskey Tourism Grows to the predicted 1.9 million per annum, so will the Jameson Bow Street visitor figures. I can further speculate that once Diageo open Roe & Co. beside The Guinness Store house (WHICH 50% OF DUBLIN TOURISTS VISIT!!!) concentration of whiskey tourism in Dublin will also grow. Remember too DWC and Pearse Lyons are coming into their own, so Dublin tourists will be spoilt for choice but Diageo & Pernod will ultimately dominate that market.  No doubt Brown Forman will kick into high gear this year with the irresistable attraction at Slane which is within striking distance of Dublin so we’ll some numbers spread there, but only due to some serious marketing spend and advertising.

Any rural distillery off the beaten path will tick along but could really do with help to maximise this opportunity. As tourism numbers grow so do distillery offerings if the current uneven spread of tourism continues there simply won’t be enough tourists to go around to make tourism truly viable for a multitude of rural distilleries.

It is clear and has been for some time that in order to truly strategically approach the long game that is Irish Whiskey Tourism we need a joined up approach. The IWA has laid out a great whiskey tourism strategy for the Island. It is a great read and is basically bang on. The problem is though that we don’t really have the might of Failte Ireland behind said strategy and that is absolutely vital to its success. There is no mention of an Irish Whiskey Tourism Trail on the Faite Ireland website at all just a disparate number of whiskey related events.

Let’s compare that to the equivalent body across the water ‘Visit Scotland’s approach. For quite a while now The Scotch Whiskey Trail has been a core offering and program for them. Its internalised studied and reported on and owned by that particular state body. They champion its success and publicise it globally. As a result Scotland is a global destination for Whiskey Tourism. 1.7 Million visitors to 40 distilleries in 2017 according to the most recent figures. Those 1.7 million visitors are not concentrated in cities they are spread around the country, they are all basically rural. I can say from experience that Scotland’s distilleries are even more remote and far flung than our own, yet 1.7 Million people toured them in 2017. People are more than willing to leave the city and hit the road to visit far flung distilleries, they just need to be made aware its possible and some infrastructure or guidance needs to be provided in the form of guides etc. There needs to be a decent impartial budget behind the initiative too and only the state can really do that.

In short we need a Wild Atlantic Way style branding and publicity exercise for an “All Ireland Whiskey Trail” and very specifically we need Failte Ireland to lead this initiative in consultation with the IWA and vitally rural independent non-members. Otherwise we are really missing a trick here and depriving rural areas of much needed employment opportunities.

Sadly the current political climate in Ireland is not massively conducive to the above suggestion. If the attitude that all alcohol is bad alcohol is pervasive throughout the Irish Government in line with the Health Bill then I fear the above is a pipe dream.


The Irish Government Wants to Tell People That Irish Whiskey Causes Cancer (Only Irish Whiskey Though)

Ok, folks I’m finally weighing in on the Public Alcohol Health Bill. I am doing so from the perspective of being a rational human being and an independent spirit producer. Let me caveat this entire thing by saying that Alcohol misuse, addiction and abuse is a terrible malady and tragedy for many. I think its correct that the government is stepping in to try to help, but I can’t agree fully with this approach.

This bill as a whole is really a risk averse knee -jerk reaction to Ireland’s old fashioned former not so grown up attitude to alcohol. Having lived abroad from 1992 to 2015, I can confidently make that observation. That attitude has changed in the last decade or so, to a good degree. Overall consumption is down with youth and in general we have become more discerning. The fact that so many independent drinks producers have sprung up in the past few years shows the change in attitude. There are certain factors though that have exacerbated problem drinking and the puritans have latched onto that. Cheap alcohol is an issue. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that minimum pricing laws are a good idea. Making alcohol more accessible than ham sandwiches in terms of pricing is not a good idea, it enables misuse and nobody will convince me otherwise, I can agree with that part of the bill. I place the blame for this with Supermakets and loss leader pricing, they forced that issue and something needs to be done about it.

There is also an Ad in my local off license which really bothers me, its for a well known red-top vodka and it literally says “20 Shots Per Bottle!”That is just stupid and is irresponsible advertising on the part of the manufacturer. It is promoting quantity over quality to shift bottles and its that kind of advertising that has put us in this mess,  along with low supermarket pricing.  Those two factors mean this Bill is now actually realistically on the table.

However, show me a single independent producer who would put more emphasis about the amount of “Shots” in a bottle over the care that went into making the liquid and the quality of its ingredients. There is not a SINGLE ONE who would advertise like that. But here we are. Lumped into this catch-all  bill that will affect our bottom line exponentially greater than our multinational Overlords. The independent spirit producers in this country are out quite simply to survive for the next few years, we are not out to hit the Million Case Mark globally. We need every advantage we can get.

This proposed bill will take away most of them.

If you are NOT  a multinational spirits producer in this country getting shelf space is already very difficult. This has been well documented. There are a few big players who have established in-house strategies of pushing out smaller brands with cold hard cash. So for example Busy Bar X in Dublin will have a cash and free booze deal with their beer or spirits supplier. Written into or agreed as part of this deal is that small crafty competitive set brands are kept out. Or Diageo for example will pay for the refurbishment of a bar and in return they will own all the beer taps and let’s say the, whiskey, Gin, and vodka categories in the bar for two years  or so. The guy behind the bar who is your biggest fan is simply NOT allowed to take your product on until the deal runs out. This is impossible to compete with for new small brands as you can imagine.

Let me make clear, in the olden days I did quite a few of these deals myself, mostly with Champagne in  New York Nightclubs its just the way business is done in Booze; Twas ever thus. The issue is here on our tiny Island of Ireland and our tiny capital city where most of the booze on this Island is sold,  is that there are in reality not THAT many high volume  bars/off licenses. So if you can’t pay to play you are out in the cold and you are selling individual bottles to pubs and shops outside of Dublin. Revenue-wise in a high cap-ex business like whiskey that is a long road but it is a harsh reality and one that is not going to change.

Similar things happen across the pond, but  in the case of USA for example if you do get shut out of an account you can just go to one of the several million others there are. There is enough room for Multinationals (just about) and Independents to live side by side. Then you have the excise issue, making this country one of most expensive in the world to buy Irish Whiskey, for a small high-end  independent brand Ireland is one of the toughest markets to do business already.

In good conscience you have to  sell your product in Ireland locally surely to be truly Irish? Ireland is our shop window, but the curtains are about to be drawn.

For a start, this bill will be force all spirits produced here to have labels with Cancer Warnings on them. It is unclear at this time whether these would be required just for selling in Ireland or also for exports. Irish Whiskey will become the only whiskey in the world with a cancer warning on it. Scotch, American, Japanese, Australian, New Zealand, German, French, none of those whiskies will need cancer warnings.

Our Government is about to pass a bill to highlight to people that Irish Whiskey specifically may cause Cancer. That is the message we are sending. Line up an Irish, Scotch, Canadian and American Whisk(e)y and the Irish will be the only one with Cancer on the label…..To make that 100% clear; The irish Whiskey renaissance is being “supported” by our Government by a requirement to be the only whiskey in the  world obliged to put MAY CAUSE CANCER on the label.

For independents this hits hard, not only because at the micro level we have to pay for new labels (its expensive in small volumes) but also because independents unlike Multinationals don’t have a global portfolio of spirits that can compensate for sales dips caused by something like this. People are scared of Cancer they just are  it is a nuclear option  to put the word on a product.

Secondly, the wonderful (and I mean that) Craft Drinks Bill currently snaking its way simultaneously though the Dail will be largely negated by the Public Health Alcohol Bill. The former bill allows small producers to sell alcohol legally to tourists without forking out for a 120K license. It is a game changer. It will allow rural distilleries to make a real crack at their tourism business model with a negligible start-up cost. However the public Health Bill will forbid them from advertising their tourism offering…..

Bit of an issue there lads. Rural distilleries are not in the center of Dublin and are not served by drop-in city coach tours. Many will need Wild Atlantic Way Warrior style spontaneous tourism to get going. They need billboards at Shannon or Cork Airport and signage on various routes to create drop-in footfall in the vital peak tourism season.

Also advertising & promotional images that have people in them and evoke place other than that of production and specific provenance like these below will be banned. This is a disaster for independents. One of the elements that makes independent spirits special and appealing to consumers is that they are produced by founders and interesting people on a mission, often on very unique places like my family farm. That passion and that inherent authentic provenance  is our ONLY competitive advantage over industrial scale producers. We need those images to be able to tell our unique stories. Showing a generic copper pot still or a generic barrel as provided for by the Health Bill, won’t hack it for independents. We can’t afford  2 Million euro campaign and a full creative and media buying team at Publicis to dream up a solution to that ban.





There is only so much hassle I will put up with to do business here in Ireland. I’ve moved home to set up a business devoid of broadband and cellphone coverage, I constantly wrestle with disorganised labeling enforcement, I had to put my house on the line to get a bond and had to become an expert in  alcohol laws  that were written in 1840 to do so. My focus has always been leant towards export because that is where the potential lies for a brand like mine and also quite frankly it is simply easier. I had hoped to expand out in Ireland once our revenues were really moving for no other reason than a sense of Pride.

From my perspective I can tell you, the health bill has made me totally re-think our tourism plans, which means totally re-think our local  employment plans. Furthermore any in market sales staff I was planning on will likely be shifted overseas and lastly if the cancer warning comes in, I may just pull my whiskey from the Irish Market entirely. Nobody in Ireland will get any advertising revenue from me either once it becomes generic.

This unbalanced bill may be the last straw for me and the worst part is, it still shows an old fashioned immature attitude to alcohol in this country, except this time its by our own Government.



A Clare Woman, A Kerryman, Some Antrim people walk into a bar in Beirut…Craft Collaboration Comes to Life in the Middle East

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Welcome to Beirut

Co-Opetition is a ridiculous word. Its one of those words that some consultancy was paid a ton of money to come up with and now dines out on. It appears in trend reports and Government body Industry powerpoints all the time. Words, however are powerful, and even though this one is a bit of a Frankenstein, I’m all for what it stands for in spirit. Any Indie drinks producer worth their salt is too. It is on the back of co-opetition that I’m writing this post from seat 36A of a Middle Eastern Air flight en route to Beirut. A dozen rows ahead of me are the forward-thinking disruptors from Ireland Craft Beers Bringing up the rear (due to a late connection via Dublin)  are 3 other Indie spirit & beer producing houses from all around Ireland. We are in Beirut for St. Patricks weekend together. If you work in the Irish Spirits Industry St. Patricks Weekend is a bit of a thing, it’s a great marketing opportunity a 48 hour period when everyone is Irish and everyone wants a little piece of Ireland in their glass.

Lebanon has a long winded, complicated relationship with Ireland, this is due to our armed forces  involvement with U.N. peace keeping. My brother served there several times as did many people from the parish of Cooraclare. Chateau Musar, one of Lebanon’s great wine houses exports a disproportionate amount of wine to Ireland.  The soldiers serving in Lebanon over the years there picked up a taste for it and carried that back home.

Now it seems The Leb is ready to reciprocate. Independent Irish Beers and Spirits are a bourgeoning sub-category in this part of the Middle East. The affluent nightlife driven consumers in magical Beirut want to know our stories, hear about our approach to production and at this time of year, they want a few authentic Irish People around. Who better than a bunch of irish beer, gin and whiskey makers to tip up to your St. Patricks Day celebration? It does not get much more authentic than that. We are here over the weekend meeting buyers, and media, hosting events and getting to know our distributors. We all came as a block you see, because there is power in numbers. For new independent brands opening export markets is expensive and logistically challenging. I have quite a few contacts from the old days that I use to kick down the doors of various markets, but even that is finite.

When an opportunity arises to enter a market under the Umbrella of ‘Independent Irish Beer and Spirit Producers’, you can be sure as hell I take it. Going into a market like this as a group does two things, first of all it validates the independent producer scene in Ireland, it provides a platform for all of us to launch from, its up to us whether we sink or swim in the long run but that platform is vital.

Second of all it distinguishes us from the Old Guard and the multinationals that own 98% or so of the market. I always make clear to people that Jameson and Tullamore Dew and those kinds of brands are NOT in my competitive set. I can’t compete over there with them, and neither can the rest of the Indies. But we can put up a decent fight as a sub category  . Everyone loves Jameson an they will always drink it, but there will come a time when they want to branch out of the Jameson, Bushmills, or DEW universe and that is where the Indie sub category kicks in.

I’m over here with the other indies and we are slowly growing our 2% market share and eeking it out between us. Establishing sub- category awareness and appreciation of Independent Craft Production is vital for that share to have any chance at growth. That is why quite a few or us get Testy about transparency and honestly with new brands. We care a lot about the reputation of Irish Whiskey and in particular the contribution new brands make to it, if there are a few bad apples in our cart someone could end up tearing down the proverbial Lidl with a stolen forklift if you get what I’m saying. All of here in Beirut this weekend are representing that sub-category we are not promoting Flaming Pickle Back Shots ,Guinness Hats and leprechaun outfits, we are promoting the provenance of the liquids we have given our heart and soul to produce. We tell the stories of where they are from and evoke all that is special about Ireland’s independent spirits. We have a louder voice and make more of an impression if we do that together.


Guys, We need to talk about the Looming Irish Whiskey Maturation Crisis


Rural but Secure

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


Brand Ambassador for Chapel Gate Whiskey at Cooraclare

You can’t do that if your casks are 40 ft in the air, 

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.


When I want to check my casks I just walk the lines. I look under to check for leaks

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.