This revealing book by James Morrissey focuses on the remarkable turn of events culminating in the Pernod-Ricard takeover of Irish Distillers.
The most sobering chapters however expose the dismal performance & inability of Irish Distillers to drive the category forward – the very reasons a speculative takeover war started.
Irish Whiskey was a monopoly in 1987.
Irish Distillers owned all the distilleries – 2, Midleton & Bushmills – & all the brands – 15 – & was losing sales.
Cooley Distillery in County Louth was just being founded & had yet to mature any whiskey.
Irish Distillers main sales in 1987 were the domestic market followed by bulk sales to places like Japan – whose blending practices have a long history of using non-Japanese stock.
Sales in the lucrative American market dwindled down to a low of around 250,000 cases – about the same as Conor MacGregor’s Proper Twelve sold alone in 2021 – yet Irish Distillers marketing strategies were effectively underfunded & ineffective.
Without the takeover of Pernod-Ricard & increased competition from Cooley who knows where Irish Whiskey would have ended up.
Irish Whiskey today is in a far more healthier situation.
New brands, new bottles & new distilleries are being announced on an almost weekly basis.
I welcome each and every single one of them as they collectively strive to rebuild Irish Whiskey.
A read of Hot Whiskey sobers you up as to how grim things were a mere 35 years ago.
I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce my number of bottles – hovering around 60 open with another 40 in waiting – & have taken to offering them as sample exchanges or gifts.
Cognisant also that whiskey can deteriorate if not stored properly I was taken aback at my hand scribbled date of ‘June ‘15’ on the box of this one!
Irish Whiskey – and indeed Tullamore DEW – was in a different place back then!
The number of whiskey distilleries releasing matured product in 2015 could be counted on the digits of one hand – now you’d need more than 3 pairs!
Tullamore DEW itself – after having been acquired by William Grants in 2010 – had only completed construction of it’s distillery in Tullamore in 2014.
Tullamore DEW’s success as a brand has been built entirely on sourced product – mainly from Midleton Distillery, although this 12yo Sherry Cask is reputed to be Bushmills distillate.
Today in 2022 clearly the new Tullamore Distillery’s output is mature enough to end up in it’s offerings – yet there’s been no fanfare to announce this.
Instead a seamless takeover from the previous Midleton incarnations to the new Tullamore offerings has prevailed – undoubtedly aided by the skill of the distillery team to create a perfect replica of the previous bottlings.
After all, when you’re the custodian of the 2nd most popular selling brand of Irish Whiskey in the World – why change a winning formula?
I pondered on all of these things while enjoying the last few – & thankfully very well preserved – drops of this 12yo Sherry Cask.
There’s been a lot of interest in the new design for Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.
Sazerac have recently taken ownership of the brand from Pernod Ricard – it is still made in the New Midleton Distillery in Ireland – and are injecting some money & life into the marketing & labeling of this historic whiskey.
Die hard fans are not exactly enamoured by the rebrand.
The additional ‘s in Paddy, the additional ‘e’ in whiskey, the altered image of Paddy himself with bowler hat, clover and smile has all caused a degree of ire.
I see it as the onward development & change inherent within the whiskey industry.
Spotting some bottles in my local Dunnes store when out shopping – also with the extra ‘e’ – I thought it opportune to revisit this blend.
The nose has that sweet caramelly aroma common to many an entry level blend. It’s relatively grainy neutral otherwise.
The taste is soft & sweet, but develops into a noticeable heat with warming vanilla & caramel dominating.
It’s a robust little dram with a short finish & uncomplicated appeal.
What Paddy Flaherty was dishing out in his legendary sales adventures is in all probability nothing like today’s offering.
To begin with it wouldn’t have been chill filtered. That practice didn’t become common until after the 1940’s or 50’s.
The barley and/or corn raw ingredients were probably organic – as were all grains in a pre-petro chemical agri business environment.
The whiskey Paddy was plying would likely have been a pot still whiskey – a mix of malted & unmalted barley – and not a blend at all. Irish distillers were reluctant to embrace the new technology of the Coffey Still which kick started the modern whisky industry.
It also wasn’t until the 1920’s or 30’s that bottling Irish whiskey became the norm. Usually it was sold in barrels to pubs, bars & hotels who dispensed it straight from the cask – a large variation in quality could then ensue.
Even if Carol Quinn – Archivist at Irish Distillers – is sitting on an original Paddy Whisky recipe – it would be difficult to recreate.
The soils would be different, the water would be different, the air would be different, the processes have been altered, the wood for maturation would be different – all factors that in a myriad of ways would alter the taste, texture and flavour of the resulting whiskey.
But we can sit down today and enjoy a glass of Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.
I raise a toast to his memory and the fabulous tales therein of the original brand ambassador.
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.
Garavan’s in Galway is the very epitome of what an Irish Whiskey Bar should be.
Leaving the bustling world outside, it is a haven of calm in a warm friendly bar adorned with a bewildering array of whiskey on wooden shelves behind the bar as well as in glass cabinets around the cozy snug areas.
It entices you in to sit down and slow down.
To take time and browse the extensive whiskey menu looking for a sample of that rare bottling, or perhaps ordering up one of Garavan’s tasting platters to explore the rich depth and variety of whiskey flavours on offer.
Garavan’s even have their own whiskey – Garavan’s Grocers Choice 10 Year Old Single Malt – and a fine whiskey it is too!
Yet Garavan’s have raised the bar even higher.
In a nod to times past when it was common practice for bars to bottle their own whiskey bought in barrel from the distillery – Garavan’s took themselves down to Midleton Distillery in County Cork and chose a single cask of Powers Single Pot Still Whiskey to be bottled for them as an exclusive Garavan’s Single Cask Release.
A small gathering of whiskey fans assembled to be part of the unveiling of the Powers 15 Year Old Garavan’s Single Cask Release presented by Ger Garland, Irish Distillers Whiskey Brand Ambassador.
As a way of introduction – we were served a glass of Powers Gold Label.
It’s a blend of spicy single pot still and sweet grain whiskey.
It typifies the more characterful spirit forward, honey sweet yet peppery spiced notes which are usually associated with the Powers range of whiskeys.
It’s a style I enjoy.
The Garavan’s Single Cask Release builds on these elements.
Presented at a higher 46% ABV and being a single pot still there is no grain input. A gentle vanilla & softly burnt toast nose from the exclusively ex-bourbon cask maturation provided the sweet part.
The dry peppery spice came through more clearly & distinctively on the palate with warming notes from the charred cask which slowly faded away leaving a gorgeously dry mouthfeel.
It’s a sensation I enjoy in a whiskey – and one this Powers delivers.
Single cask offerings can vary a great deal.
I’ve tried a few of the Powers Single Cask releases and it always amazes me the differences considering they are all essentially the same distillate. The individual casks used for maturation can produce such a wide variety of results that are normally married together to produce a consistent flavour profile. It’s a treat therefore to sample from one individual cask.
The Garavan’s 15 Year Old Single Cask Release certainly highlights for me the signature sweet & spice Powers mix I find so attractive.
Congratulations to both Garavan’s Bar & Powers Whiskey for coming together to release this bottle.
It’s presented in a very attractive wrap around laser etched box with a representation of the bar itself on the front.