Industry figures from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis show Irish whiskey sales were 1.5% higher in 2019, following on from a strong year in 2018. Here, we take a closer look at the distilleries gaining new fans through high standards and moreish blends
1 September 2020 | 0
Irish whiskey has seen phenomenal growth over the last decade and new international markets are beginning to emerge, according to Irish Whiskey Magazine, which reports the number of distilleries has increased to 33 operational distilleries with many more planned. Whiskey tourism has also generated significant revenue for these distilleries and the national economy.
The strength of whiskey tourism also shows the level of consumer interest surrounding the category. Bespoke whiskey and food tastings, intimate cocktail-making classes and collaborations with local restaurants are just some of what’s on offer from Irish whiskey distilleries and visitor centres as they re-open in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions.
As William Lavelle, head of Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey, points out: “Irish whiskey visitor centres are not just for whiskey fans – they offer a cultural and historical experience, where visitors can learn about how whiskey is made, the history of the local area, taste whiskey and sample local cuisine.”
Q & A… Stephen Cope, founder and managing director of Grace O’Malley Spirits
Q: How does French master blender Paul Caris balance the demands of appealing to Irish whiskey traditionalists while also delivering something new that attracts the critics’ attention?
A: Paul is extremely respectful of the craft that is Irish whiskey making, which is clearly shown by creating a blend that sits comfortably in the Irish whiskey category whilst bringing his own flair to the products, garnered through his wealth of international experience.
His international approach brings skills from the world of spirits such as rum, cognacs, bourbons, along with wines and ports. These businesses bring hundreds of years of knowledge in cask management and blending. Paul has worked from Australia to South America and the Caribbean in all of these industries. Bringing Paul from Bordeaux to the Great Northern Distillery to work with master distiller Brian Watts on a regular basis has allowed decades of real world experience in the industry to flourish while we diligently captured all the gems to create outstanding whiskeys and gins.
Q: What flavour characteristics does 40% double distilled malt add to the whiskey and why is this important for the brand?
A: Traditionally Irish malt whiskey is triple distilled, with blended Irish whiskeys having a much lower percentage of malt content, while Scottish malt whisky is often double distilled. The number of distillations creates a higher alcohol content on the malt and a smoothness to the whiskey. A double distil on the malt leaves a lower alcohol content on the distillate with more flavours of the malts. By balancing our double distil malt whiskey at 46% with 54% of really great grains of various ages up to 10 years, Paul has managed to maintain the traditional Irish smoothness while delivering an array of flavours from malts, toasting notes, vanilla, and almonds.
Paul also marries the blend. Following blending, the liquid is put back into a cask for up to six months to allow marrying of the five component whiskeys. We consistently receive feedback from consumers that they feel like they are drinking a much more expensive whiskey than it is.
Q: How can Grace O’Malley Whiskey help retailers to market the brand in-store? How does this build on the exciting brand story and rich history of Ireland’s pirate queen?
A: With such a challenging, busy spirits marketplace we are committed to providing retailers with as many assets and the support that they need to draw in consumers both in-store and online. The last few challenging months have proved how much we can engage with consumers and store staff alike online and we can successfully run staff education sessions, virtual tastings, cocktail making classes and giveaway competitions across social media platforms.
In-store, we can provide customised point of sale material that fits to the needs of each store, and as a relatively small business we are agile and responsive to requests which is appreciated by our customers.
We are in the unique position of having the legendary Grace O’Malley as our inspiration, which in turn garners interest from consumers who are happy to support keeping the rich history and heritage of Grace O’Malley alive.
Q: Grace O’Malley Whiskey has won a host of prestigious awards. Which achievement are you most proud of to date?
A: We were delighted to receive a Masters Award at The Spirits Business – Irish Whiskey Masters Awards this year for our limited Rum Cask finished release. This is unique as it is a 46% malt blend with whiskeys up to 10 years old, finished in a Jamaican rum cask and back to a bourbon cask to allow further marrying of the whiskeys.
Q: How is the brand currently performing in the export sector? How has the Covid-19 crisis affected this area of the business; is there now a greater emphasis on online sales?
A: These are difficult times for so many people around the world. It must be very challenging for all governments to manage the health of their economies while keeping people safe. In March, we tightened our staff cost structures with a three-day week model, but very quickly through a combination of really strong staff commitment, ingenuity and the benefit of modern technology, our business development plans actually accelerated. With the embracing of Zoom and Microsoft Teams for export customer engagements, we have focused our efforts on exports in both online and off-trade opportunities. We are continuing to build our brands and sales in Ireland, USA and Germany through online and off-trade with strong interest and leads coming from many of the larger countries across Asia. We recently launched our US online shop and have seen significant engagement to date.
We have used the last five months to focus on brand building reach while staying highly focused on our internal systems on product quality and innovation. We believe if we deliver great whiskeys and gins with innovation, we will build on our loyal consumer base across the world.
Q: The brand has just announced plans to release an 18-Year-Old Single Malt aged in wet Cognac casks. How important are exclusive limited releases of this nature in building the brand’s reputation?
A: We are in a fortunate position to hold a mature cask bank of 10 to 21-year-old Irish whiskeys. This has given Paul the opportunity to bring real innovation to not just younger stocks but also to the super premium category. Paul sources our casks while on his international travels. This one he developed not far from his home in Bordeaux. The best cognac casks are difficult to source but he knew someone who knew someone. There must be a bit of Irish in him!
Irish whiskey has 1,000 years of tradition. In the latter half of the 20th century, other countries built their reputation for great whiskeys. In contrast, there is a shortage of older whiskeys coming out of Ireland when compared to our cousins in Scotland.
Having older whiskeys in our stable allows the Grace O’Malley brand to create premium limited editions that both domestic and international customers are crying out for. Exclusive limited releases are critical for building the reputation of the brand that has staying power and intends to make a mark in the industry.
For more information, visit www.Graceomalleywhiskey.com.
Paddy Irish Whiskey put in an impressive performance at this year’s International Whisky Competition (IWC), placing in two categories, earning both a gold medal and being named the Best Blended Irish Whiskey. Paddy also earned a silver medal and second place for the Best Irish Whiskey at the IWC.
The IWC brings the best whiskeys from around the world to be tasted and rated by a professional tasting panel. The complete results for the 2020 IWC can be found at www.whiskycompetition.com/2020-results.
For more information about Paddy Irish Whiskey, visit Paddy.ie.
Seven is heaven!
The Pearse Lyons Distillery has produced a range of award-winning Irish whiskeys. One favourite would be the Pearse 7 Year Distillers Choice which was named Category Winner of the ‘World’s Best Blended Irish Whiskey Under 12 Years Old’ at the World Whiskies Awards 2020.
The recognition of this award is confirmation that Pearse Lyons Distillery remains one of Ireland’s leading distilleries. Based in the Liberties, Dublin, an area famed for its brewing and distilling, The Pearse Lyons Distillery is a one-of-a-kind visitor attraction located in the restored historic St. James’ Church. The distillery was the winner of the 2019 Irish Tourism Industry Awards, Best Dublin Tourism Experience under 100,000 visitors.
Pearse 7 Year is a malt forward, malt and grain whiskey blend aged in a combination of former bourbon, Kentucky bourbon barrel ale casks and sherry barrels for 7-9 years.
Now available in stylish tubes, Pearse 7 Year Distillers Choice is the perfect gift for a loved one, currently stocked at SuperValu and independent off-licenses. If of interest, contact your local Alltech or Comans representative.
Q & A with… Conor Ryan, global spirits ambassador of Pearse Lyons Distillery
Q: Can you tell us a little about the background of the Pearse Lyons distillery?
A: Pearse Lyons Distillery is a one-of-a-kind visitor attraction which is located in restored historic St. James’ Church. The distillery was the winner of the 2019 Irish Tourism Industry Awards, Best Dublin Tourism Experience under 100,000 visitors.
Pearse Lyons Distillery at St. James is a new chapter for The Liberties, Dublin. Family history, a personal passion for brewing and distilling, and an entrepreneurial spirit has inspired the restoration of St. James’ Church.
At Pearse Lyons Distillery, whiskey is only part of our story. Whether you are an intrepid whiskey enthusiast, culturally curious or just an inquisitive Dubliner, you are sure to enjoy a journey through 800 years of history at St. James with our local storytellers.
Q: Pearse 7 Year Old Whiskey has been crowned the Best Blended Irish Whiskey under 12 years 2020 at the World Whiskies Awards. What are the distinctive characteristics that make this whiskey stand out?
A: Our Pearse 7 Year Old is a malt forward, malt/grain whiskey blend, aged in a combination of former Town Branch bourbon, Kentucky bourbon barrel ales casks and sherry barrels for 7-9 years. It was an incredible honour for us to have won this title, as the quality of Irish whiskey available throughout the whole category is world class.
We are in the rare position to have started out with previous life experience in the Irish whiskey industry. Dr Pearse Lyons was already a veteran of the Irish whiskey and brewing industry when he came back to distilling in Ireland in 2012. At that time, we were only the sixth operational whiskey distillery in Ireland. Pearse Lyons being one of the early pioneers in the re-evolution of Irish whiskey means we now have our own distilled quality stocks of aged whiskey. Having this whiskey means we are not reliant on sourced whiskey and allows us to use our own whiskey in our releases. Using this whiskey that has been distilled using our own in house cultivated yeast and aged in our sister distilleries – Town Branch, Kentucky barrels means we have a unique and distinctively different offering to bring to the Irish whiskey market. At Pearse Lyons Distillery. it was decided to take a natural approach to all our Pearse Whiskeys by releasing them all non-chill filtered and at natural cask colour.
Q: In recent years, the whiskey market has been reinvigorated and the category’s perception has shifted from being suitable for an older market, to being young and on-trend, with many celebrity fans. How do you intend to build on this development?
A: We are building on the hard work put in by the whiskey brand that came before us and collectively the Irish whiskey industry has embraced a multitude of ways to get younger and wider demographic into Irish whiskey.
We at Pearse Lyons know there is a huge variety and diversity of Irish whiskey drinker. Some like to sip whiskey neat, some like a whiskey cocktail and some like to include whiskey in their dining experiences. With that in mind, we have crafted a very versatile range of whiskeys to suit all palates and uses. Our range are all excellent sipping whiskeys in their own right. We also do a lot of brand training and events around food pairings.
Cocktail culture has also given us at Pearse and the whole Irish whiskey category a huge platform to shine on a mass scale. The versatility of Irish whiskey cannot be over emphasised and especially in mixed drinks; our Pearse Whiskeys are no exception to that. Building advocacy within the on-trade, off-trade and to connect with our wider customer base is how we want to develop our Pearse Whiskeys’ position in the market.
Our goal is to affirm Pearse Whiskey both at home and internationally as a known premium brand that constantly delivers a high standard quality offering of Irish whiskey. Organic growth, building relationships and with quality, transparency integrity being the core focus of all Pearse Irish whiskey releases.
Q: To what extent are local trends influenced by the wider global trends in whiskey?
A: In reverse, Ireland for centuries on a wider scale and for the most part is a trend setter on the global whiskey scene. Other countries have always been heavily influenced by Irish whiskey and Irish whiskey trends.
Whiskey itself was created in Ireland. The fantastically unique Irish pot still style of whiskey is an Irish creation and more recently Irish distilleries being able to age whiskey in any type of wood has made Ireland the envy of many for their wood aging and finishing programmes.
Q: What innovations are currently in the pipeline?
A: Pearse Lyons himself was known the world over as being one of the great innovators of his time. That mindset of innovation is at the core of everything we do at Pearse Lyons Distillery. When Pearse Lyons founded and started distilling in 2008 at the newly purpose-built Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, he was the first to produce single malt whiskey and in Kentucky in nearly 100 years. In Dublin when we released our Pearse Coopers Select limited edition, it was the first known barrel aged blend to be released in Ireland in living memory. Then more recently last February, when we released our distillery edition – Pearse, Marriage of Malt, this was one of the first known vatted malts to ever be released in Ireland.
We have many future innovations in the pipeline and all we can say now is “watch this space” but one we can mention is that as Alltech is an international yeast specialist, we have of course various whiskeys distilled using our own proprietary strains of yeasts yet to be released.
Q: How has the business been affected by the Covid-19 crisis and how have you worked to continue to drive sales throughout this time?
A: Everyone the world over has suffered through this very difficult time and we are no different. The Irish drinks industry all round has shown great unity and comradery throughout the last few months. We have always been incredibly well supported by our customers both at home and abroad. Our hearts go out to the hospitality sector globally and at home here in Ireland. The on trade for us was always a very strong part of our business and we hope for everyone normal business can resume in the near future.
The Irish hospitality sector has been a driving force behind the success of our Pearse whiskey. The support for Irish products and the pride in which the trade has taken to everything Irish is something to be admired and commended.
The safety and well-being of our staff and customers is paramount. We naturally embraced technology as a way to keep up constant communication with our own team and customers both in Ireland and internationally.
We put up a free 360⸰ virtual tour of the distillery on www.pearselyonsdistillery.com for people who couldn’t make it in person during the lockdown. We have run countless online training and tastings sessions. We also kept a personal connection with our online followers by running a series of ‘Whiskey Shorts’ where we tell people through video what we are doing in the distillery and about specific aspects of our production.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a multi-award-winning blend that is triple distilled for smoothness and triple-casked for character. Matured in a combination of American virgin oak, seasoned bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, Slane is a smooth, complex and robust blend that is rich in colour and full of flavour. Its striking black bottle calls out its distinctive flavour and unconventional approach that embodies the trail-blazing spirit of Slane, setting itself apart from other brands. It has received multiple awards since launch at a local and international level, including Best Irish Blended Whiskey (RRP of less than €60) at the 2019 Irish Whiskey Awards*.
The Distillery and Visitor Centre is on the grounds of the legendary Slane Castle.
Slane can be enjoyed neat, in a cocktail, or on the rocks #SlaneRocks.
The whiskey is distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon & Co. Ltd. A 700ml format is widely available across multiples and off-licences nationwide, with a 50ml format also available. Slane Irish Whiskey has 40% ABV with an RSP of €33**.
**(RSP is at the sole discretion of the retailer)
Embedded in Irish history
Writers’ Tears Premium Irish Whiskey is a unique style of whiskey, embedded in Irish history. The marriage of single pot still and single malt Irish whiskey, it’s distilled entirely in copper pots from 100% barley. A style of whiskey liked by many of the great Irish writers of the 19th Century. Writers’ Tears is a critically acclaimed, award-winning recreation of the fabled 19th century whiskey, crafted in homage to Ireland’s creativity – past, present and future.
Writers’ Tears Copper Pot is a blend of single pot still and single malt Irish whiskey, aged and matured to perfection in American oak, flame-charred bourbon barrels and bottled at 40% ABV. Multi award-winning, its celebrity fans include Katy Perry, Marta Kauffman and JK Rowling, to name a few.
Writers’ Tears Double Oak is the latest addition to the Writers’ Tears Premium Irish Whiskey range. Two styles of whiskey married in two types of wood – Writers’ Tears Double Oak is the perfect marriage of single pot still and single malt Irish whiskey, matured in American oak bourbon barrels from Kentucky, and French oak cognac casks from the Allary Cooperage in France. Non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV. Launched in May 2019, it has received critical acclaim since release, most notably by Whisky Advocate Magazine who awarded it one of the ‘Top 10 World Whiskies’ to try in 2019.