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! 

Macallan Gold – A Review

MacAllan

So I have sold a tonne of Macallan gold but never actually tried it myself. Macallan’s 1824 series sees the Gold officially as the baby of the group. They brought back the sherry finish/maturation that made them famous after the awful reputation that the fine oak series awarded them.

The gold replaced the 10 year old on price point. Not officially a ten year old since Macallan have opted to denote the quality of this NAS range by colour.

Colour: Golden (as the name suggests)

Nose: Strong citrus and vanilla tones, light sherry, wood spice and a slight hint of nut buried deep.

Palate: light wood spice, sweet fruits, sherry and oak coming through and finally nuts and malt cover the palate.

Finish: Strong wood spice, nutty and fruit taste remains.

Score: 85/100

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by this low end NAS offering. Nice dram. Good flavour profile. Its got the burn of a young whiskey but that is to be expected with the replacement for the ten. Bottles retail here in Ireland for 63.99. Probably not going to buy a bottle for myself but definitely wouldn’t turn my nose up at a glass

Non-age statements

Non-age statement whiskies are very much a hot topic right now. This is a trend of releasing bottles of whisk(e)y with a fancy name instead of a year statements that has been becoming more and more prevalent with the global boom in whisk(e)y sales.

This new/not so new trend, is causing lots of controversy and discussions amongst the fans of the water of life. There are claims that distilleries are just dolling up fancy boxes with very young stock, coloured and chill filtered to the hilt to cash in on the boom in the whisk(e)y market. The distilleries are claiming that they are simply running out of older stock that would allow them to continue to make premium age stated bottlings.

I’m inclined to believe a little of both. Remember that for a distillery to release a 12 year old whisk(e)y there much be a cask maturing in their warehouses for at least 12 years. Seems simple. But whisk(e)y production takes some serious foresight on the behalf of the distillers. They need to gauge how much of the spirit they are going to need in 5, 10, 15 maybe even 20 years time. Not many people would have been able to predict this global boom in the whisk(e)y industry 15 years ago. So my opinions on this leads me to lean slightly on the side of the distillery not having old enough stock to bottle a premium age consistently. A lot of these distilleries have been using the finite amount of space in their warehouses to produce age statements for a much smaller market for years. Now that push has come to shove nearly everybody is in operations to build and expand to meet the market demands that this new whiskey industry holds.

Personally I think that it matters much more what your whisk(e)y tastes like than what its aesthetics on the box are. But that said, I have come across a lot of people who use the age statement on whisk(e)y to gauge a rough subjective quality, in their own heads. Their theory goes 18yr/o > 16 yr/o. Which I suppose empirically makes sense. Although in no way do I really believe that the larger the number equals the better the taste. I have had some really great 3 year old samples of Scotch that have rivaled other 12 yr/o. But like most things related to whiskey, it’s all down to personal taste.

I personally think that we are going to see a lot of NAS bottles replace bread and butter whisk(e)y like the Glenlivet 12, that was recently pulled. I think that distilleries will be able to sustain their growth more and for longer rationing what stock of older whisk(e)y they actually have left.

What I hope I don’t see is a surge of fancy packaged NAS whisk(e)y that have lots of fancy marketing jargon but taste worse than the age statements they replace. As many people have pointed out to me, these fancy NAS bottlings can essentially bring bigger bucks for younger whisk(e)ys for distilleries. So I’m sure the temptation is there with all directors to push younger more coloured spirits onto markets for huge mark ups. This would be a sad state of affairs. I will hold out hope that their pride in their brand name will at least keep some of the big names producing quality spirits and not skimping out to make a few extra bucks while de-grading a great taste.

I think this will be an interesting period of progression in the industry as a whole. I think the entry level of the market will buy in very easily to the fancy labels claiming “limited supply” or “rare” to show off to their friends in lieu of a big age statement. For the rest of the market, the people who do their homework, I think they’ll be divided. I think those who are already converted by the likes of Laphroaig Quarter Cask or Abelour A’bunadh will be more accepting to the changes and I hope they won’t be disappointed. The rest of us will remain skeptical. Do our homework and hope that we won’t be disappointed with whatever rounds the bend.

TL;DR: NAS bottles are here to stay. I hope they aren’t going to be sh1t.