Irish Whiskey: Distilling Gem

“Currently available in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, 2 Gingers will now also be available in Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington in 2013,” reels off Gorman.

Artisan brands

Bernard Walsh, managing director and founder of The Irishman, concurs: “The Irishman’s top four states are Georgia, Texas, Colorado and California. For artisan brands such as the Irishman, they gain traction a lot quicker away from the Jameson ‘lime light states’.”

While virtually all of the players in Irish whiskey enthuse about the category, Diageo with Bushmills border on the reticent, bearing in mind that Diageo predecessor company Grand Metropolitan tried to buy Irish Distillers but was basically blocked primarily for ‘political reasons’ by the Irish government.

When Pernod Ricard had to divest itself of some of its whisk(e)y portfolio following the takeovers of Seagram then Allied-Domecq, Bushmills almost fell into Diageo’s lap. You would expect the company to be more enthusiastic about the Northern Irish brand, which lies in the area that boasts the oldest licence for distilling whiskey.

The fact is Diageo’s priority is Scotch whisky and Bushmills’ volumes and potential production capacity are not sufficient to make it one of Diageo’s priority brands, unlike Pernod with Jameson. So it suffers by comparison.

Nevertheless, Bushmills global brand director Kate Glenn is bullish. She says: “Global expansion presents a great opportunity for the category. There are many countries where consumers still aren’t that familiar with Irish whiskey, where we’d hope to replicate the success that we’re seeing in Russia, Bulgaria and other eastern European countries.”

Obviously with an eye to the success bourbon has had with adding honey to sweeten the whiskey, Bushmills has broken with the rest by launching Bushmills Irish Honey in the US, Ireland, Benelux countries, Bulgaria and the UK. It also relies on its Bushmills Live music event to bring younger drinkers into the distillery and into the category.

Walsh says: “As for Irish whiskey being a ‘one-trick pony’, that may have been the case 10 years ago but it is far from that now. Even ID realises this as it rolls out several new pot still whiskies each year and the beefing up of the Powers range. The consumer is looking for choice and authenticity and that’s what the Irishman has achieved by bringing its unique expressions to more than 36 countries with exports accounting for 95% of its business.”

In conclusion, going back to Stephen Teeling, he recounts his father commenting that as far as Irish whiskey is concerned, it used to be about St Patrick’s Day when you would have a pint of Guinness followed by a Paddy’s or a Powers as a chaser. 

Now he’s staggered to see Lady Gaga and Rhianna talking authoritatively and glowingly about Irish whiskey. Where will it end? Hopefully in tears of joy rather than sorrow.

As Daly concludes in his excellent Irish Sunday Times article: “Time will tell if there is enough room on the shelf for everyone, or whether the Irish whiskey dream goes sour.”

*2 Gingers was invented by an Irishman in Minnesota. It is a 40% abv blend of twice distilled whiskey, aged for four years, described as a “smooth, malty and slightly sweet taste followed by a tingle of honey and citrus”.