The pursuit of all things whiskey takes me down many unexpected paths – like reading a book on Conor McGregor!
As the figurehead for Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey – now the 4th biggest selling Irish Whiskey in the world according to International Wine And Spirits Research (IWSR) – a greater understanding of the person behind this spectacular achievement drew me in.
Written by award winning journalist & author Ewan MacKenna – who has followed Conor from his 1st UFC victory in 2013 to the present day – it’s a no holds barred account of the Notorious phenomena.
In creating the Notorious character, Conor indulged in unorthodox tactics both in – and often more publicly – outside the ring. Trash talking before fights descended into racism, misogyny & xenophobia mirroring the ‘strongman alpha male’ attitudes of politicians like Putin, Trump & Bolsonaro. Despite projecting an anti-establishment aura – they are all part of the new establishment which has usurped the former incumbents.
The 13 second knockout of José Aldo in 2015 propelled Conor to the top of his sport & amassed a huge fan base.
Despite his off ring antics – which are fully explored in the book – Conor leveraged his position to gain lucrative sponsorship fees & appearances at subsequent UFC fights.
Ewan locates the cult of Conor among other sporting icons. Their dedication & determination to get to the top, their struggles to stay at the top & their inevitable decline afterwards.
Conor’s Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey was eventually released in late 2017 & immediately achieved record sales. Perhaps it’s a way to extend his career as a public figure after losing to Khabib in his last UFC fight in 2018?
Conor’s entry into Irish Whiskey certainly upset the establishment.
To launch a celebrity based brand with no distillery by such a vulgar character was greeted with derision & scorn. No one seemed to even contemplate the success it would engender.
Now placed at number 4 – behind Jameson, Tullamore & Bushmills – Proper Twelve outsells established brands like Kilbeggan, Paddy & Redbreast & leaves for dust newcomers like Teeling, Dubliner & JJ Corry.
It marks a major change within Irish Whiskey circles where the status quo of established names has been disrupted & the hegemony of ‘premiumisation’ is challenged.
For the most part the Irish Whiskey community is ignoring these changes.
It’s interesting to note Irish Whiskey also poured scorn & ignored a previous disrupter.
His name was Aeneas Coffey with the patented continuous still.
In doing so Irish Pot Still Whisky lost the lead they had & Scotch took over with blended whisky.
Ironically the current rise of Irish Whiskey is mainly being fuelled by the very same blended whisky – this time spelled with an ‘e’ – of which Proper Twelve is making such a large contribution.
Sometimes I wonder if the Irish Whiskey community is ready for success.
If anything – Irish Whiskey is late to this social media led personality trend – and I’d be more worried if there wasn’t an Irish celebrity wanting to get involved.
Right from the beginning however – even before it’s release – I posted a piece with the headline ‘We need to talk about Conor’ and got the following response;
“No we don’t”
Kind of sets the tone for what followed when Proper Twelve was launched.
“It’s barely legal”
Well at 3 years old it is legal.
Funny though – that issue never came up when punters were outbidding each other to get hold of ‘barely legal’ Dingle or Teeling whiskey when it was first released.
Then comes the condemnation.
“Heavily adulterated with caramel”
Yes there is added caramel – it says so on the label. Caramel is a legally allowed additive both within Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky. The same criticism can be levelled at virtually every Jameson product, Bushmill bottle, Johnnie Walker whisky and many others as they all contain caramel. Why single out one offender?
Then you start to get to the heart of the matter.
“See, Bono’s doing it right….he’s supporting the build of an ACTUAL distillery!”
Since when did you need a distillery to build a brand?
The Spot whiskeys started out from a grocers. So too did the best selling Johnnie Walker. Many a big brand of today began as non distillery producers – it’s a well trodden path.
And then you get plain old bias.
“I have no intention of ever trying it.”
Which is probably just as well – as blogger after blogger lined up to do a hatchet job on the liquid. The best described the whiskey as;
Now in all probability Proper Twelve was distilled at Bushmills for the malt content and Midleton for the grain. There is no law in either Irish or Scottish rules stating you must name the distillery which made the blend.
So effectively the same teams that make all Bushmills product – from the White Bush blend to the lauded 21 Year Old Single Malt – as well as the folks that make all the Jameson, Powers, Paddy’s & Midleton products have somehow dropped their standards to allow ‘toilet cleaner’ to be made in their stills, stored in their barrels and blended in their tanks?
I don’t think so.
What I found on tasting was a very easy going, approachable blend with a slight charred cask influence and a hint of spice.
It sits very well among the other Irish whiskey blends out there.
But then what is getting people irate – from what I can see – is not really the whiskey – it’s the man behind it – Conor McGregor.
The idea that a somewhat colourful & controversial kid from Crumlin can just swan in with his millions and release a whiskey that has the whole world talking – buying – and drinking – is obviously too much to bear .
It upsets the cosy consensus that assumed ‘premiumisation’ was the way to go – or that ‘transparency’ is key.
For a whiskey that sold out 6 months worth of stock within a matter of weeks – I think it just proved there was a vast untapped market out there waiting to be filled. It’s a marketing master stroke and something of a social media phenomenon.
But of course – when all else fails – slag off the customer.
“There are just enough rednecks and hooligans out there that will actually make this crap a success.”
I find it ironic that those who criticize Mr McGregor the loudest seem to descend to his level of pre-fight ritual lambasting.
Which is a pity.
As Mr McGregor and his Proper Twelve brand have just pulled off a massive publicity stunt that is getting Irish Whiskey instant worldwide recognition and potential sales far beyond anything that has gone before.
It is without doubt my Irish Whiskey of the year 2018.
All quotes in italics are from social media posts by various whiskey fans. They are by no means the only ones. I have chosen the milder variety.
I received a Press Release today from none other than Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
Conor McGregor issues apology – Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey out-of-stock situation soon to be remedied.
Proper No. Twelve sold more cases in less than one month than many whiskey brands sell in a full year. This amounted to hundreds of thousands of bottles. Prior to unveiling the new whiskey blend on 17 September, the distillery bottled what was estimated to be enough product for six months of sales in Ireland and the United States. Thanks to consumer demand, this forecast was far short of the mark. Today, the team is working feverishly to bring new product to market, and first wave solutions are in place for early December in Ireland and the United States.
“I told everyone as the company Founder that I was going to give it my all and take the whiskey market by storm”, said McGregor. “I am energized by the incredible reaction and am looking forward to being back in stock in the next few weeks. The Irish whiskey market has been dominated by one brand, but people want choice. People want brands that have true meaning to them, that give back to the community and that taste great. Proper No. Twelve checks all of those boxes”.
McGregor continued, “Over the past weeks, I have had the honour to visit many of our key distributors, customers, bartenders and consumers in Ireland and the United States. The feedback on our liquid and brand is outstanding and the support from people around the world has blown me away. I was thanking many and apologising at the same time for running out. I don’t usually see reason to apologise but in this case I want to take this chance to apologise to absolutely everyone for our out-of-stock situation. You have shown great support for Proper No. Twelve. I was at the distillery last week and we have plans in place to be back in stock in Ireland and the United States in early December and onward. We are producing many hundreds of thousands of bottles now. We will ship via air instead of by sea to deliver in time for the holidays for the many loyal customers who are asking for Proper No. Twelve for celebrations and gifting”. McGregor added, “We are also planning to launch in more countries in 2019 including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Canada and others. We will continue to expand as quickly as possible to meet the global demand. We are also working on additional expressions for the future and will launch them when they are proper ready for release”.
It seems sales of this whiskey far exceeded expectations and 6 months of stock sold out in a matter of weeks.This is nothing short of a whiskey marketing phenomenon.
John Quinn – Global Brand Ambassador for Tullamore DEW – told an amusing story at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards 2018.
Out marketing Irish Whiskey in Japan back in the 1980’s when Irish Whiskey was virtually hanging on by a thread – the then Brand Ambassador pulled a stunt which made the whole audience pick up and take notice.
Well Conor McGregor has certainly pulled off an even bigger stunt and made the whole world take notice of his Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
He’s gaining new customers – opening new revenue streams and pushing the Irish Whiskey category forward in ways that could only have been thought of in the industry’s wildest dreams back in the 80’s.
I raise a glass to Conor and all the team behind Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey who are busily engaged in trying to re-stock the whiskey so that all those who wish to enjoy it can do so in time for the festive season.
Press Release & header photo care of Hunter Communications
There are a plethora of new players attracted to the market buoyed by the confidence of future growth.
From Conor McGregor’s Proper No Twelve at one end of the scale – to An Fear Grinn – a single malt, single cask offering from private bottler Whiskey Factor at the other end.
I welcome them all.
It would be a far more worrying state of affairs if there weren’t any newcomers investing in Irish Whiskey.
What unites both of the above releases is they are both representations of spirit distilled at existing distilleries. Until the new crop of distilleries have matured stocks of whiskey at hand – most new entrants have no alternatives.
Whilst Proper No Twelve is a decent enough standard blend banking on it’s celebrity owner’s popularity – or infamy as the case may be – An Fear Grinn is a single cask bottling from an unnamed Irish Distillery. It showcases a liquid not usually available to the public. A liquid that is normally vatted & watered down as a core range single malt – or even potentially used – in small quantities – to give added flavour to a standard blend – like the one above.
I very fortuitously obtained a generous sample from the Whiskey Factor for evaluation & enjoyment.
Now the first thing you notice is the colour.
It’s very pale.
This is a 16 year old single malt matured exclusively in a single ex-bourbon cask.
It represents it’s natural colour.
Without the use of added caramel – it’s what most of our whiskey should look like.
The simple act of pouring a measure into the Túath glass revealed a pleasing waft of warm vanilla.
Clearly no chill filtering either.
At 57% you’d expect a bit of a punch – yet the nose is very fresh & fruity with a hint of tannic woodiness in the background.
Surprisingly smooth on the palate. The rich tannins make their presence felt before the warm vanilla & citrusy fruits shine through.
It’s only on the finish the cask strength of this bottling makes itself known. An explosion of alcohol mixed in with fabulous flavours dances around in a prickly heat before slowly subduing into an oaky spiciness & fruit finale.
An Fear Grinn is only available via Whiskey Factor here.
Irish Whiskey is never going to be the same again.
A new player has entered the market to potentially topple the reining champion.
Welcome to Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you couldn’t have missed the phenomenom of Mixed Martial Arts star Notorious MMA Conor McGregor & his exploits both on and off the ring.
You may also be aware of his plans to market a whiskey.
Well it’s out – Right Here, Right Now in yer local Tesco.
Now Conor doesn’t do things in halves.
Despite the bluster around ‘his’ distillery – the money is on Bushmills as the main source of this entry level blend.
He is certainly coming in BIG.
He is certainly coming in STRONG and
He is certainly entering into a market previously dominated by Jameson as a serious contender.
What else could I do but rush to Tesco to buy my own bottle & do a back to back taste test?
The Bottle. It looks big, it looks chunky, it’s green & is catchy enough. Jameson by comparison looks dated.
Colour. Proper Twelve comes out a slightly darker shade of added caramel. This is standard practice for entry level blends. Proper Twelve does appear to have more viscous legs in the glass however.
Nose. Both show that standard entry level caramel nose. Yet Proper Twelve has a hint of warmth to it – some charred cask influence? – which Jameson lacks.
Taste. Both are soft & smooth – Jameson is softer & smoother – but the little bit of body & warmth Proper Twelve exhibits – along with an enjoyable sprinkling of tingling spice – adds to it’s appeal.
Overall. Jameson is yer archetypal go-to easy drinking approachable blend. Proper Twelve is of similar style – yet for me has added depth, body & a little spice which gives it more character – which is only appropriate given the larger than life character behind it.
Named after the Crumlin area of Dublin – D12 – Conor hails from – Proper Twelve has appeal far beyond the narrow confines of the whiskey world.
It opens up the Irish Whiskey segment to a mass audience – and it seriously challenges Jameson’s dominance of that market.
I wholeheartedly welcome that challenge and wish all involved with Proper Twelve future success.
I don’t normally do press releases – but I’ll make an exception for this one.
The long awaited & hotly tipped Conor McGregor Irish Whiskey is here with the name Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
This is the full statement below.
IRELAND, 17 September 2018 – Eire Born Spirits today announces the launch of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Champion and one of the world’s most iconic athletes, Conor McGregor, is the founder, chairman and majority owner of the company. McGregor is proud to introduce this exciting Irish whiskey to the world, launching in Ireland and the United States, with further expansion in 2019 and onward. McGregor, being the perfectionist that he is, took a detailed, time-intensive approach to creating his whiskey.
Numerous Irish whiskey makers sought McGregor’s endorsement over the years, but as a true born and bred Irishman, he did not want to simply endorse an Irish whiskey. Inspired by his pride for Ireland and his love of Irish whiskey, McGregor wanted to create his own whiskey that would match his high standards and make his country proud.
For years, McGregor developed the brand under the project name “Notorious” through which came the foundation of what was to eventually become Proper No. Twelve. It became a longer and more complicated project than originally expected, so McGregor turned to the world’s oldest whiskey distillery, located in Ireland, with a proven history of quality whiskey making. He met David Elder, esteemed master distiller, previously of Guinness, and together they took painstaking measures to bring the whiskey to fruition. “We created close to one hundred blends and ultimately selected what we knew was the one and only proper whiskey blend. We took the time to develop an incredible whiskey and I’m excited to share it with the world,” said McGregor.
Proper No. Twelve’s global launch expression is a blend of the finest golden grain and single malt. It is produced in an area known for its rich soil and pure spring water. Proper No. Twelve is complex and sophisticated yet smooth and approachable with hints of vanilla, honey and toasted wood.
“I come from a place called Crumlin, in Dublin 12. It’s a place dear to my heart. It’s where I learned how to fight; it made me who I am today. It’s a place I’m still very much a part of every single day of my life. So, that’s where the name came from. It’s proper Irish whiskey and twelve is my hometown,” said McGregor. “Growing up on the streets of Dublin 12, I learned the values of loyalty and hard work. I respect other Irish whiskeys, but I am coming in strong, with passion and with purpose. I am the founder of this company and I am going to give it my all,” he continued.
If you manage to build your distillery the next issue is warehouses to store the new make distillate for the required 3 years until it becomes whiskey. Great Northern Distillery are still on the hunt for storage after their plans were knocked back in County Louth.
Teeling looks outside Louth for €20m whiskey warehouse
If you manage to overcome these hurdles – yet more await.
What are you going to call your whiskey?
A certain well known Dublin personality had hoped to call his whiskey ‘Notorious’ – but there happened to be a beer already on the market with that name.
What else could I do but pop down to my local O’Briens to purchase a few for tasting?
O’Hara’s are one of the original craft beer makers in Ireland. Founded in 1996 they were ahead of the pack and have grown with the times. Now a major player in the craft beer market they produce a varied range of porters, lagers, ales & IPA’s – as well as opening a bar in Kilkenny.
Their Notorious Red IPA is an amalgam of 2 popular styles of beer.
Red Ale is a relatively light ale usually showing a reddish hue. Notes of malt, soft caramel with a gentle smoke from the roasted malts often used coming through too.
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give the original definition – is the hot ticket in the craft beer world. The high hop content displays varying degrees of bitterness ranging from fresh citrussy summer notes to deeper almost woody pine flavours.
I must admit my palate is not a fan of IPA – the bitterness puts me off – but I do enjoy a Red Ale now and then.
So with that caveat in mind – how did I find the Notorious Red IPA?
A decent Red Ale ruined by the hoppy bitterness.
I did reach out to a self declared IPA fan – in the interests of balance – to get a view from the other side.