Irish Whiskey: Distilling Gem

How come? Teeling says that, having acquired a great deal of aged whiskey stock, they made it clear to Beam that they intended to stay in the sector. Beam wanted the Cooleys business enough to acquiesce on trying to exclude them.

Having seen the Teeling offerings in Drinks International’s Travel Retail Awards for the TFWA Cannes exhibition, you have to welcome their presence in the category. The Teeling Whiskey Small Batch, non-chill filtered, aged in rum barrels, in a Dublin traditional dark bottle along with the Vintage Reserve 21 Year Old Single Malt and the limited-edition The Gathering 11 Year Old, both single malts and all 46% abv.

Teeling is effusive – and he isn’t the only one. Benoît Batard, who is global marketing manager for William Grant’s Tullamore Dew, is equally enthusiastic. “Irish whiskey is booming,” he says. He trots out the 9%-10% growth but tempers it with the fact that Irish still only represents 4% of the total whisk(e)y sector. Nevertheless, in 10 years it has gone from 3 million 9-litre cases to 6.2 million.

Jameson is the giant, accounting for around 4 million cases, while Tullamore Dew is, it has to be said, a distant second with around 850,000 cases. Diageo’s Bushmills in Northern Ireland is third with approximately 700,000 cases (IWSR/industry estimates).

Up until fairly recently Irish Distillers’ Midleton distillery was making most of Ireland’s whiskey, irrespective of the brand and owner. That has always been an Achilles heel of the Irish whiskey story: its lack of differing provenances. This is changing.  

Building for the future

Work on building William Grant’s distillery for Tullamore has just started and the Teelings intend to build a single pot still distillery in Dublin’s famous Liberties district. There are several other projects in the pipeline. There is the Dublin Whiskey Company; a plan to build a Ä10m distillery on Horse Island producing approximately 300,000 litres of pot still whiskey; Echlinville and Belfast distilleries in the north, Slane Castle, West Cork Distillers and Glendalough Irish Whiskey.

According to business analyst Gavin Daly of the Irish Sunday Times, there are projects for Niche Drinks to build a £15m (Ä17.8m) distillery in Derry, plus others in Galway, Portlaoise and Longford. Dare one say it? From famine to feast, as regards Irish whiskey.

But back to the big one. Dan Lundberg, Jameson’s global brand director, says the flagship Irish whiskey is now a 4 million-case brand. Its top markets are the US, Russia and South Africa, apparently. Its link with films has worked well for the brand in the latter two countries. While most see New York and the East Coast as its bedrock, Lundberg claims the brand is big all over the US.

He acknowledges that Jameson’s ‘hits’ are patchy compared to the leviathans of Scotch. Nevertheless, once all the Midleton stills are underway, there will be plenty of opportunity in the likes of Asia. India loves whisky and South America needs to be shown there is more to ‘usquebaugh’ (Gaelic for the ‘water of life’ which became ‘usky’ and then ‘whisky’) than just the Scottish version.