Giant steps: Irish whiskey

“This is a very exciting time for both Bushmills Irish whiskey and Jose Cuervo. We see this acquisition as a fantastic opportunity to continue to nurture and grow the Bushmills Irish whiskey brand globally, underpinned by the strong expertise and focus of Jose Cuervo as one of the world’s leading drinks corporations.”

The Teeling family may have sold Cooley, but Jack and brother Stephen Teeling, sons of Cooley founder John, have developed their own range of Teeling Whiskey Company products, and have recently commissioned Ireland’s latest distillery.

The Teelings are now offering a small-batch blended Irish whiskey with a rum-cask maturation component, a single grain, aged in Californian red wine barrels and, since last October, a single malt matured in five types of wine cask.

Their €10 million distillery and visitor centre in Dublin’s Liberties district is the first new distillery in the Irish capital in 125 years. It is equipped with three copper pot stills and the first spirit flowed on March 30 this year. It has an annual capacity of 500,000 litres. 

According to Jack Teeling: “We are proud to be at the forefront of an emerging craft distilling movement and will continue to introduce high-quality unique expressions of Irish whiskey to lead the expansion of the market in terms of depth and flavours.”

US-based Alltech is also planning to develop a distillery in the Liberties, once at the heart of Dublin’s brewing and distilling industry, utilising the St James’s Street Church, situated opposite Ireland’s number one tourist attraction, The Guinness Hop Store. 

Alltech already owns two Kentucky-built Vendome copper stills, which were installed in the Carlow Brewing Company’s premises in 2012, and it is expected they will be transferred to the new Dublin plant in due course.

The Teelings are not the only independent bottlers going down the distillery-building route, and with supplies of ‘third-party’ spirit from Cooley no longer being available, the impetus to develop alternative whiskey sources has grown.

Shane Braniff launched his Feckin Irish Whiskey brand back in 2005, and by the time of Cooley’s acquisition by Beam Suntory he had already started building his own pot still distillery on the Airds peninsula of County Down. 

Braniff says: “My decision to establish the new distillery, only the second in Northern Ireland, was influenced by the growth in demand for Irish whiskey in the US over the past few years. Irish whiskey is now the fastest growing brown spirit worldwide and demand is currently out stripping supply in the US and many other markets.” 

Last year, the company relaunched Dunville VR Irish Whiskey, one of Ireland’s best-known brands before the closure of Dunville’s distillery in Belfast more than 80 years ago. 

Another independent bottler heading down the distilling route is Bernard Walsh, whose Writer’s Tears and The Irishman whiskeys are now available in some 30 countries. 

Walsh and associates are investing €25m in the Walsh Whiskey Distillery in County Carlow, with construction having started last September. Once completed the pot and column still operation will have the potential to turn out 2m litres of spirit per annum. The venture is due to be completed early next year.

Bernard Walsh is also chairman of the Irish Whiskey Association, and he says: “Irish whiskey growth is currently focused on the developed markets of North America, Europe, Russia, Australia and South Africa. There is a whole new market opening up in Asia and South America which the Irish can seriously tackle once stocks become available following the expansion programme. 

“Irish whiskey is just entering a new golden era. We recognise we are but a drop in the ocean when compared to our near neighbours and friends in Scotland. The renaissance of Irish whiskey has a long way to run, there may be some growing pains along the way, but we see a very exciting future ahead.”