Irish Whiskey in America: the underdeveloped market

Irish whiskey is exploding at the moment but the market for Irish whiskey in the United States focuses primarily on blended whiskeys and a lot will need to happen before the category is able to chip away at the incredible lead that our Scottish cousins have in the single malt category.
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Boann Distillery

Boann is one of Ireland’s newer distilleries, nestled in the Boyne Valley just south of Drogheda. The distillery sits in a former car dealership making it possibly one of the most aesthetically pleasing distilleries in the country, with wall to ceiling glass surrounding the entire building showcasing the gleaming copper pot stills within.

Boann Distillery is the brainchild of the Cooney family, who are by no means newcomers to the Irish drinks industry. They have built an extensive portfolio of products across several drinks sectors over the years, and now they have turned their gaze to the creation of their own whiskey, gin, and beer in Co. Meath.
What I love about the Cooneys, is that they take the term “family business” to another level. Almost everyone within their organisation is family, from management to marketing to sales everybody is family in one way or another and they all seem more determined than each other to make Boann a big success.

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The Cooney family. Source: boanndistillery.ie

The pleasurable aesthetics of the distillery are also continued inside. Its not only the pot stills that are designed to be eye catching but the rest of the distillery floor has been designed to be a welcoming space to distillers and visitors alike. They’ve gone the extra mile to create a great looking distillery, which when opened is planned to host thousands of visitors a year. Distillery equipment can be quite cold and industrial but Boann have managed to make their distillery floor a warm and welcoming space, that looks over the colourful fields of rapeseed planted right outside the windows. For example, the mash converter and the mash tun are both clad in Irish oak which complement the exposed oak ceiling beams very well and the distillery floor must be the only one in the world that boasts Italian marble!

Looks don’t make a distillery, so whats the operation actually like? 
Simply put, its exciting but incomplete. The stills are the heart beat of any whisk(e)y distillery and as can be seen in the photo below the Boann stills are in place but their lyne arms (pipe bringing vapour from top of the still to the condenser) are waiting patiently to be attached. That’s it. That’s all that’s “incomplete”, now onto the “exciting” bits.

Distilleries take great pride in designing their stills, the shape of the stills and angle of the lyne arm are going to be major components in the type of whiskey that they produce.
So when the guys in Boann were designing their stills they decided that they wanted to take inspiration from the old Dublin distilleries that helped make Irish pot still whiskey so renowned. Thus they designed squat and bulbous pot stills, which you can see below, with descending lyne arms. Not only this but they have specially commissioned these stills to have nano-reflux inducers, increasing the copper contact within the stills to six times that of a traditional still. Using these stills the Cooney family are hoping to create hearty Irish pot still as well as a range of full bodied single malt whiskeys. I think it is great to see another distillery specifically design its set up to create quality pot still Irish whiskey. I personally can’t wait until these stills are fired up and we get the first look at the liquid future.

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As if the nano-technology stills, floor to ceiling windows and marble floors weren’t unique enough, the team at Boann have also decided to add another feather to their cap of doing things their own way by putting the maturation warehouse right beneath their feet! They’re going to be using the space right under the stills to mature the thousands of barrels of whiskey that they will produce every year! Adding to the visitors’ experience, the guests of Boann distillery will be able to journey into the bowels of the building and see, feel and most certainly smell the whiskey ageing in a menagerie of casks, such as bourbon, sherry, burgundy, marsala, Tokaj (wine from the Torkaj region in Hungary or Slovakia) and many more.

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Artist’s rendering of the maturation warehouse below the floors of Boann distillery.

What about the present I hear you ask?
Well presently they are in the process of releasing their own range of single malt whiskeys called “The Whistler”. The range will consist of a seven year old (a.k.a. the blue note), a ten year old and a seven year old cask strength. I had the privilege to try these new expressions, while in the distillery and here’s what I thought.

 

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The spirits are coming from another distillery but the guys in Boann have transferred them into oloroso sherry casks where they have spent the last two years maturing away. This makes for a seriously long sherry finish for current standards and it really shows through beautifully in the whiskey.
The Irish market at the moment is currently awash with independent brands but in my opinion “The Whistler” series is seriously one to look out for.
I will make special note of the 7 year old Blue Note, which was definitely my favourite and I would not be surprised to see it rack up some serious awards in the years to come.

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The Whistler single malt whiskey range.

The guys at Boann have serious drive to make the distillery a big success. I think that they’ve definitely got the ambition and the experience to make something good there! This is a project that I am particularly excited to see begin. So I’m definitely gonna keep an eye out for!

Sláinte

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! 

The Honeycomb Sour – An all Irish Cocktail

For the weekend that’s in it I thought I’d post my favourite self created all Irish cocktail! So even your drink can be Irish for a day! Whiskey sours are by far my favourite cocktail. So I’m always making them up at home. But I like trying to personalise my cocktails to my tastes. I came across Muldoon Irish Liqueur at Whiskey Live in Dublin last year and I instantly fell in love. Delicious doesn’t do justice to how good it tastes. So an idea sparked: Honeycomb Sour. I dabble between bourbons and Irish whiskey for sours, both offer so much. But for this Sour it’s Irish all the way. Jameson Black barrel. A good compromise I think. Although regular Jameson definitely still gets you to where you need to be. Ingredients:  (I was trained in Canada so ALL my measurements are in ounces, Europeans don’t hate) 1/2oz Simple Syrup 2 drops Angostura Bitters 2oz Whiskey 1/2oz of lemon juice OR half a lemon squeezed. 1/2oz Muldoon 1oz Egg whites (if you haven’t tried before try. Fo’realz) Shake VIGOROUSLY over ice. Strain over fresh ice or just dump contents into glass. Result: A smooth and delicious honeycomb flavoured whiskey sour. All Irish (i swear I saw lemons growing in Ireland once…..) all delicious. The sweetness from the Muldoon complements the Black barrel beautifully. This is a really fun twist on the absolutely beautiful classic. Note: 1/2oz Muldoon will deliver a lovely light honeycomb taste but like all cocktails make to taste. Rack up the muldoon for a big honey explosion! Why not? Try it out and lemme know what you think! =D sours And here is a lovely artsy shot of whiskey sours that I stole because the files of my ones corrupted big times! Shout out to reclaimingprovincial.com for that!