Irish whiskey: Sky's the limit

21 November, 2014

From a monopoly with Irish Distillers owning Bushmills, a revival began in the 1980s. Fast forwarding to today, in the last two months William Grant has opened its e35 million distillery at Tullamore and Walsh, backed by e15m from Illva Saronno, has ‘turned the first sod’ on a e25m distillery in County Carlow, which will produce 500,000 cases (2m litres of pure alcohol, LPA’s), or 6m bottles of pot, grain and malt whiskey annually.

Founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery Bernard Walsh said: “This is a significant day for everyone associated with Walsh Whiskey and our goal to be recognised as the leading independent distiller of premium, craft, Irish whiskey in the world. We are now 15 years in business and we are very grateful to the thousands of people across the world who choose our whiskies and also to all of our international partners who make sure that Irishman and Writers Tears are available in 30 countries and growing.”

He added: “Royal Oak is a special and wonderful place to create world-class whiskey. I look forward to us commencing production in early 2016.”

At the other extreme, there is Dingle in County Kerry with three pot stills and an output of three casks a day, and Echlinville at Kircubbin in County Down in the north, claiming to use barley grown on its own farm to produce pot still and malt whiskey, a limited edition of 144 casks using three sizes – 200-l, 120-land 60-l. Its brand is Patron’s Promise and managing director Shane Braniff has Patron’s coming in pot still or malt, in a number of cask finishes.

In between, we have the Teeling family, flushed with 51% share of the US$95m the company got from Beam for Cooley. Stephen and brother Jack are running the Teeling Whiskey Company, which is building a boutique distillery in the once notorious Liberties area of Dublin. Meanwhile, father John is retro-fitting the former Diageo-owned Harp brewery in Dundalk. Stephen tells DI they hope to commission TWC Dublin in January and are looking to open around St Patrick’s Day, 2015.

Father John, who has immense plans for Dundalk, hopes to have 3.6m litres annually from three copper fermenters, which are being converted into pot stills, and 8m litres from a column still.

According to various estimates, more than 20 distilleries will be coming into production over the next few years – most will be smaller, boutique pot still operations. Teeling is convinced that estimates of future demand for Irish whiskey are at best conservative and there will be a significant shortfall of grain spirit. He intends to supply that.

“I do not think we will have enough capacity,” he says. “I think we have underestimated. Irish whiskey is growing very fast in western markets but there is opportunity in Russia and eastern Europe, countries where scotch is not so established. There are also the likes of Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines.”

ID’s Buckley agrees: “This growth is basically from a handful of markets – US, South Africa, Russia and global travel retail. There is also potential in mature markets and emerging markets, such as China, South America and Brazil.

“The US is the east and west coast but there is considerable headroom for growth, as there is in middle America. The potential is enormous. Jameson is ahead of scotch in Russia. It comes back to the taste: the smooth delivery.”





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Tess Posthumus

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Having recently returned from the US visiting both Oakland and Arizona Cocktail Weeks I was amazed by the differences in approach. In Oakland there was a much bigger trade focus and it felt more relaxed, whereas in Arizona it was one massive party for consumers.

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