The New Spirits of Christmas – The Triumph of Irish Whiskey : Jobs and Presents Galore
While it always comes as a slight surprise to find out that you are now just one weekend away from Christmas, the incessant Christmas advertising, and the festive food-porn, that we have been surrounded by for the last two months, has surely lessened any genuine sense of astonishment.
Never the less the time is right to get out your alpine climbing gear and get ready to wade through the tin forest of special Cjhristmas editions of almost every whiskey on the planet. And as you enter that forest you will begin to notice that more and more of them are new, or revised Irish Whiskey offerings.
What you are surrounded by is solid walls of evidence of the unbridled success of near double digit, year on year, growth in sales of Irish Whiskey. These may not just be superb present for Irish festive shoppers, they are also a dazzling and much needed present for the Irish nation and economy.
The Best Whiskey Present Of All For Ireland This Christmas
The best news about all this is that, before we as consumers buy one of the wall of tinned whiskey that is now being assembled like metal forests in every off licenses and supermarket, the real gift for Ireland Inc has already begun.
Jobs and Investment have begun to flow in to towns large and small across the country as the Distillation revolution has now begun in earnest.
From Dingle to Dundalk, from Slane to Tullamore’s e200 million investment in a brand new mega distillery under construction by Scottish Distillery giant, Grants Whiskey, the revolution is now under way.
The Slane Whiskey story is particularly illustrative. Lord Henry Mount Charles, as he then was, he has now succeeded his father and is Henry, Marquess Conyngham, and his son, now Alex, Lord Mount Charles, began by buying in whiskey, having it blended to their specifications and then sold under the Slane Castle Whiskey brand.
This was quite typical of the story of Irish Whiskey between 1970 and 2011. Then, with the sale of Cooley Distillery to Beam and the loss of anyone selling whiskey to companies who might want to commercialise their own blend without founding their own distillery a lengthy and very expensive process with a wait of 3 years before you can sell the first drop as whiskey all seemed lost.
Happily, the year on year rise in sales of Irish Whiskey has convinced the world and the Slane owners to think again and in July this year, Meath County Council gave planning permission to Alex Mount Charles to begin construction on a multi-million euro, architecturally beautiful distillery at Slane. He will be joined in this project by very savvy Cognac producer the ancient family run House of Camus, another vote of confidence in the sustainability of this transformation of the Irish Whiskey industry.
It is a transformation in sales and production that is palpable on every high street. When you hear talk about 7% annual year on year growth in the brown spirits sector, it is impressive, but it does not really strike you what that means, until you look up from the wine shelves to behind the counters across the country.
There behind those counters you can now see the Everest like wall of brown spirits rise up behind the cash registers. Then hear about
While Japan and then China were the initial drivers according to Teeling, it is Brazil, South Korea, India and across Africa that is becoming the more exciting drivers of this trend.
This explosion of Irish Whiskey sales has meant that project after project is now getting under way to harness and surf that new demand. Which has lead to the present leap in the desirability and viability of the Irish spirits and distillery businesses.
John Teeling, after selling Cooley Distillery to giant multinational Beam International who make Jim Beam Bourbon amongst a massive portfolio, bided his time and has with his sons Jack and Stephen, started again, but this time on a vast scale, purchasing the entire former Dundalk Brewery of Diego, to transform it in 2014 into one of the largest distilleries in the country and have whiskey pouring from its doors as soon as legally possible in 2017.
In Dingle Oliver Hughes of the Porterhouse Brewery Group and a group of like minded backers has founded the Dingle Distillery and is a year or so in the run towards being able to release his whiskey on a demanding world..
These projects like the Tullamore distillery which will become the home of Tullamore Dew are employing thousands not dozens in their construction, manufacture, distillery operations, bottling, marketing and transportation not to mention farming for the raw cereal materials from which all this whiskey is being made.
It is feeding in nicely to Ireland as a green, foodstuffs world capital, because Whiskey and related spirit products are the ultimate value added consumable products.
You take Irish water and grain, process it, let it sit quietly in Irish cellars for 3 years and sell it for a dizzying multiple of the base cost of the agricultural materials.
The Meaning of Christmas Spirits
What has changed most in Ireland’s distillery scene over that last 8 years is that the resurgence in Irish brewing, Irish beer making has lead to an availability of raw material and a source of cash flow for anyone thinking about breaking into the Irish Whiskey market.
The mash of warmed crushed cereals from which dozens of local artisan brewery companies across Ireland have made beer for the last 5 years is of course exactly the base material from which we make spirits.
Whiskey, indeed all spirits are distilled from a base product that is usually rich in starch or sugars, cereals, root tubers, rise, fruit and grapes are all acceptable and depending on which one you start with and how you age the resultant spirit you get whiskey, brandy, cognac, gin, vodka, bourbon, sake or Poitin.
For brown spirits like Whiskey, Cognac, Armagnac or Bourbon you need to place the clear white spirit into barrels to age and draw their signature amber colour from the barrels. For gin, vodka or Poitin, you are almost ready to bottle as it flows from the still.
A Damascus like revelation that a distillery should be the at the heart of a suite of products which could be earning money from day one has been the key wake up call.
While your whiskey is in barrels getting its statutory 3 year sleep, you can be selling gin and vodka made from clear distilled spirits and the beer from the brewery part of the process that enabled you to gain the expertise and funding in the first place.
The only thing anyone will ask in 20 years time is, what took us all so long to see this as a systemic, sustainable, jobs rich, spatially diverse businesses that these distillery business will have become.
Did I mention tourism. Every county and town with a distillery will and can become as they are in Scotland, Cognac and Kentucky a source of artisan pilgrimage and tasting tourism.
The Christmas Spirit Gift Scene
All this activity has meant that in addition to the usual suspects we can begin to see in amongst the throng of Irish Whiskey presently produced a raft of ancillary products that are the flickering of the next generation of Irish distillery life, Poitin and Gin, small batch start up Whiskey and my personal favourite the test tube packs of spirit, not legally able to be sold as whiskey, but evidence of how the spirit is evolving. Kilbeggan Distillery pioneered this in Ireland when it released pre-legal Whiskey releases of the Spirit of Kilbeggan a sampling of one and two year in barrel spirit.
This year we see that adventurous spirit in something like Dingle Gin, the entirely standalone product of the Dingle Distillery, but a hint of the kind of quality we can expect when the whiskey is ready to be sold in a couple of year’s time.
In Poitin it has been a transformative year with Teeling’s Poitin, perhaps the best, most rounded and ambitious Poitin every released being joined by half a dozen new Poitin players. If you have not tried Poitin since someone produced a red lemonade bottle with a sticker on it containing firewater back in 1987, you need to drop your prejudices / emotional scarring and have a look at the well made, complex flavours ranging from the uber smooth like Teelings to musky Ban Poitin or the genuinely spicy Glendalough Poitin.
The only thing we might need to argue about is at what point an amber coloured, barrel aged Poitin is in fact an Irish Whiskey and you can debate that point over a glass of Glendalough Sherry Cask Finish Poitin.
Beyond these upstarts of course the main players in Irish Whiskey have wisely and confidently gone back to their roots with the continued resurgence of Pot Still Whiskey offerings to compliment the now world dominating brands like Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Powers and Bushmills.
These Pot Still Whiskeys represent for me Ireland’s first classed growths, they are increasingly recognised as the peak of irish whiskey production and of course are charged for on that basis.
What is most interesting is that they are now recognised as such, so the issue I mention and whine about each year that really most of we gift giving and receiving consumers would be hard pressed to know if a 10 year Old or 12 year old or 18 year Old whiskey is a e50 gift or a e250 gift, something no one wants on either side of that interaction.
Hint, Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt sells for around e45, the Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Malt is e138. That is a wide difference and if the recipient simply knows that single malt with an age is a good thing, without the gulf in differentials between ages then the whole hierarchy is under threat.
Pot Stills have liberated us from this, they are superb richly textured whiskeys and apart from ridiculous super cuvees issued as 25 or 30 year old Pot Stills, the normal Pot Still is now running to around e50-e80, just enough wiggle room for both sides to enjoy the ambiguity benefit, an ideal business and client gift then.
Here Then is the quick guide to this years most interesting spited purchases.
The Classed Growth Quality Spirit Gift
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey 2013 around e160 widely available (92)
Dungourney 1964 Pot Still around e799 (I have not tasted this whiskey, but it is in essence a Middleton Very rare from a 1964 Cask and is probably going to make some 50 year old next year a very happy person if someone plans to make this the centre piece gift)
Hennessy XO around e130 widely available (94)
Remy Martin Excellence XO around e140 (93)
Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey around €57 from Mitchell and Sons (93)
Tyrconnell 10 Year-Old Sherry Finish Single Malt around e75 (93)
Jameson 18 Year-Old Limited Reserve around e130 (94)
The Pot Still – Executive Level Spirit Gift
Powers John’s Lane Release 12 Year Old Single Pot Still around €63 (94)
Paddy Old Irish Whisky Centenary Single Pot Still around e78 (93)
Redbreast 12 Year Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey around €59 (94)
Redbreast 15 Year-Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey around €97 (95)
Yellow Spot 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey around e75 (94)
The Leftfield, Go On, Go On Poitin Selection
Ban Poitin by West Cork Distilllers around e38 (91)
Bunratty Irish Potcheen around e28.50 (90)
Glendalough Poitin around e36.99 (92)
Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin around e32.99 (93)