It is nigh-on impossible not to get swept up by the enthusiasm for Irish whiskey. The sector is booming, with volume up approximately 10% and value up 17% (IWSR/industry estimates). Basically, the distillers and brand owners cannot make enough of the Emerald Isle’s amber nectar.
As well as the enthusiasm there is the bonhomie, seemingly genuine interest in each other’s progress. At the recent official opening of Irish Distillers’ new still house (more of that later), Brendan Buckley – Irish Distillers’ haughtily titled innovation & category development director – quipped: “This is the best job in the world – but don’t tell anyone.” Apologies. He was talking to a journalist. He went on: “We’re in an incredible position. There is a dynamism and investment behind Irish whiskey. Also we have got William Grant with Tullamore Dew, Diageo with Bushmills and Beam now with Kilbeggan.”
Now normally marketers and brand managers, particularly representing the big corporate companies, would rather have their finger nails pulled out than mention their arch rivals. Not in Ireland. Not in Irish whiskey.
Stephan Teeling who, along with father John and brother, Jack, sold the Cooleys business with the Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Greenore and Conamarra whiskey brands to Beam for a cool US$95 million, positively oozes with appreciation of Irish Distillers’ Housewarming, the name of the official opening of the Garden Stillhouse at its huge Midleton distillery outside Cork. A Ä200m investment to double production and maturation. Thank you Jameson, from one and all.
You do not usually invite your rivals to a major launch or opening but the Teelings were at Midleton along with hundreds of other people, including the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), who opened the extension, the agriculture & food minister, plus journalists and bartenders from around the world.
You have to hand it to Pernod Ricard and Irish Distillers – they know how to put on a party. They emptied and dressed one of the huge maturation warehouses and got the legendary Chieftains, along with two other bands, to entertain the throng. A splendid time was had by all.
Stephen Teeling eulogised to Drinks International about how good ID’s Midleton Housewarming was. Apparently father John, a well-known figure in Ireland, could not get over the size of the grain silo, describing it as a ‘skyscraper’.
Another slightly incredible development about Irish whiskey is that the Teelings are back. Normally when you sell your business, particularly for serious money, you have to sign an agreement not to come back for a stated time. Yes, Beam bought its business but the family, which goes back to Walter in 1782 selling his distillery to William Jameson, brother of the new famous John, is back as the Teeling Whiskey Company and has just concluded a deal with Diageo to buy the old Harp & Smithwicks’ Great Northern Brewery site in Dundalk and convert it into a malt and grain distillery.