Tullamore DEW ~ An interview with Ambassador Eimear Kelleher

I sat down for a virtual interview with Eimear Kelleher, international graduate brand ambassador for Tullamore DEW, to talk about how the brand is being received in the land of opportunity.

Tullamore DEW which was bought over by Scottish giants William Grant and Son’s in 2010 has had an exciting 12 months. The spirit made its historic return to its home town of Tullamore in county Offaly in September, more than 60 years since the original distillery closed its doors.

William Grant and Sons have spent €35million rebuilding the distillery in its home town. The distillery, with an annual capacity to produce 1.84 million litres, puts Tullamore DEW as one of the largest distilleries in Ireland and very soon we will get to witness what they’ve got up their sleeve rather than what they got from 3rd party sources.

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The new Tullamore DEW distillery

So I had a virtual sit down with Eimear to see how the U.S. were receiving some of Ireland’s finest and how the market for Irish whiskey was developing.

As a brand ambassador Eimear has first hand experience with both on and off trade to see how the Irish whiskey market is progressing. As she says herself, there is no typical day for a Tullamore DEW brand ambassador. Officially a brand ambassador’s role is to educate consumers, bartenders and distributors on the range that Tullamore DEW offers. One day she is meeting with a key account the next flying out-of-state to host a whiskey dinner, as she says no tow days are the same.

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A tasting in the Tullamore DEW distillery

So what exactly are the consumer trends in the U.S. at the moment?

Eimear explains how there are a lot of popular trends in the U.S. at the moment. From craft beer to small batch bourbon its an interesting place for alcohol right now. Irish whiskey as a market and subsequently Tullamore DEW are both continuously growing. Consumers appear to be fascinated by the whiskey’s heritage, what makes it unique and how versatile it is!

I asked Eimear if the brand finally having a distilling home has made the sales pitch that bit easier and I was interested to learn that it most certainly helps. Eimear explains how it helps to complete the brand image. The idea of bringing the brand back home really resonates with the consumers.

Personally I think this is following the current trends of craft sales. More often than not consumers of the younger generations are buying into the story of the brand’s before they ever try the liquid inside the bottle. I can most certainly see how having a definitive brand home completes the image for the brand, even if consumers wont be trying any distillate from this distillery for a couple of years yet.

With these new trends, is the U.S. moving away from shots culture?

Eimear doesn’t think that the U.S. shots culture will ever go away, or at least not for a while, but consumer interest in the back story and culture behind the product is definitely strong and increasing.

So how do you see the relationship between Tullamore DEW and Jameson?

“Jameson is obviously the big dog in the market,” she explains. “I mean, they are MASSIVE but Tullamore are definitely not going unnoticed. The increasing amount of Irish whiskey brands entering the market is a great thing for the category. While we may have to watch our backs here and there, we’re going from strength to strength as a brand. I mean, you can only stay on top for so long. We’re enjoying being the underdog… for now!”

Photo credit: thewhiskeywash.com
Photo credit: thewhiskeywash.com

So finally, with the success of Phoenix do you think consumers are finding age statements less important than they used to in the U.S.?

So Eimear has been telling me that people LOVE the Phoenix. They can’t get enough of it. Its story definitely captures consumer interest but the liquid alone is enough to hook people. She thinks for people who don’t really know about whiskey, age statements mean a lot. They’re of the assumption that older is better and this is definitely not always the case. She ads that she’d personally take Glenfiddich 15 over 18 any day of the week.

So it seems that Tullamore DEW and Irish whiskey in general is being well received across the pond! Consumer sentiment certainly is shifting in the craft direction across all of the drinks categories. Hopefully the growth for the Irish whiskey sector continues and new innovative releases like cider cask and Phoenix will keep the industry on its toes for the coming years. Big thank you to Eimear Kelleher (@TullamoreEims) for her time and participating in this unusual interview format. I hope to continue a series of these interviews with ambassadors to see how Irish whiskey is holding up the world over. Keep an eye out for those! 

Aviators Whiskey Society and their “Surprise Guest”

Recently I was invited to attend a whiskey tasting evening out by the airport with the “Aviators Whiskey Society”.

The Aviators are a society established in October of last year for the employees of the airport duty free areas that had an interest in whiskey. The event I was invited to was promising a presentation from Michael Cunningham (A senior IDL sales manager) and a tasting of the Redbreast Mano a Lamh, “plus special guest”.

Quite frankly I had no idea what calibre of special guest would be appearing but the headline billing had me there already. What I didn’t expect was one of the best evenings of whiskey related entertainment and learning from just the promise of the new Redbreast. The society members were incredibly welcoming and quickly began setting up the room for the 40+ guests that had RSVP’d for their monthly meeting. The fears of being the only non- airport staff member being present were quickly eradicated as I was introduced to a woman who had travelled all the way from Mayo that day to attend the evening’s meeting. She had told the guests who were lodging in her B&B that it was bed and no board for the morning and to the road to Dublin she went. Apparently thinking that my long journey from Shankill to ALSAA was the longer of the journeys being made that night was quite naive.

Having arrived fashionably early due to some sporadic Dublin bus schedules I began probing the committee members about the previous meetings and from their beginnings in just October of last year they have had a hell of a run. The members don’t run the tastings themselves, they bring in the ambassadors from international brands such as Tullamore DEW, Beam Suntory, Teeling and of course IDL. This evening was not going to break the trend and Michael Cunningham was not going to be the only face appearing from IDL. Ger Garland, International Whiskey Ambassador for IDL arrived bearing gifts of not only the Redbreast but also Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton and Midleton’s Dair Ghaelach hot off the press. As if an evening tasting and learning about the new innovative ranges from IDL wasn’t enough there was one more surprise in store from the Society Committee, Ger Buckley, Master Cooper from Midleton and a beautiful B1 (soon to be B2) bourbon barrel arrived to kick off the evening’s festivities.

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The history behind each of the new innovative releases was explained by all three members of the IDL staff one by one. Ger Buckley taking the reins on the Dair Ghaelach, a whiskey project that he has overseen for the last six years. He told us of all the trials and tribulations that were faced when trying to fell cooper grade oak in Ireland, while maintaining that the trees were sustainable. Dair Ghaelach is certainly one of the most anticipated releases in the IDL portfolio at the moment with every one of the 9 trees felled (10th was not cooper-able quality) creating 5-6 casks each that were numbered and fully traceable. This allows each bottle of whiskey to be traceable all the way back to the stump where the tree was felled. The plethora of information about the Dair Ghaelach creation and maturation was only boosted by the invitation I received to attend its official European launch this coming Tuesday so keep the eyes peeled for the round up on that mid next week!

IMG_5827Apart from the glasses of expensive whiskey being dispersed through the room, Ger used his time in front of the society to explain how his craft has been unchanged for generations. He was very fond of using the analogy that a Roman cooper would be able to walk into the room and continue the job he was doing, saving a moment for the metal bands instead of wooden ones from ancient Rome.
He proceeded to tell us how the tools of his craft haven’t changed in the last 9,000 years and he wasn’t shy showcasing his large coopers axe.

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But Ger wasn’t sated just explaining how his tools helped his trade, he was going to demonstrate to the room also. He proceeded to take apart the barrel hoop by hoop and stave by stave until the barrel was eventually shook in a bundle on the floor. He wasted no time in raising the barrel once again. With running commentary the raising of the barrel took approximately 5 minutes, this is where you can really see where the years of apprenticeship came in to use.

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Overall this was a phenomenal night. The range of whiskey on offer was top class. Getting to try the new Green Spot before its official release date was fantastic and witnessing Ger Buckley try it for the first time too was mind blowing. It was a poignant moment to be apart of watching one of the masters sampling the product that he had so closely supervised for so long. He loved it, I loved it and the rest of the room seemed to go mad about it. (Don’t worry full write up coming in the next few days too!)

I went into this event expecting to try Mano a Lamh and left thinking that the Redbreast was actually the tamest part of the night! A bonkers statement for a whiskey of such calibre to be dwarfed by the whiskeys that succeeded it along with the best live show I’ve ever witnessed.

10/10 would attend Aviator whiskey society again! Was unsure what to expect going in, now I’m left with no doubt in returning. What this club has achieved since just last October is phenomenal! Clearly the new big players on the block! Their next event is an American Whiskey special plus BBQ in ALSAA on the 4th of July! Check out http://www.aviatorswhiskeysociety.com/ for more details!