By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Jack Teeling, a key part of the Teeling’s Whiskey success story, bringing Whiskey production back to inner city Dublin.

For the Teeling brothers, does it seem a logical path to what you are doing now?

The idea for the Teeling Whiskey Company was formed during my travels around the world selling and promoting Irish whiskey during my Cooley Distillery days. I saw first-hand the growing trend for craft beer and premium spirits as well as the trend towards urban based breweries/distilleries. This was very apparent in key markets for Irish whiskey in the US, such as Brooklyn in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. This planted a seed in my head that if I was ever starting up my own Irish whiskey company I would look to develop a unique premium expression of Irish whiskey which looked and felt like other premium craft spirits rather than a traditional Irish whiskey and revive distilling in Dublin which was the original cradle for urban whiskey distillation. Thus when I was presented with the opportunity to do this in 2012 when Cooley was sold it was a very easy decision for me to make. My brother stayed on with Cooley/Beam until mid-2013 when he then joined me in the company.

The distillery is in a great location why did you decide to locate there?

At the core of my plans for the Teeling Whiskey Company was to get back into production as soon as possible so we had full control of our own destiny. Our new distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years and marks a return to our original origins in the industry. Walter Teeling had a craft distillery in the Liberties area of Dublin back in 1782 and as part of our goal to revive our old family whiskey brand it made perfect sense (to me anyway!!) to go right back to where it first began to build our new distillery. It makes me very proud to be able to bring something uniquely Dublin back to the fabric of Dublin society as well as hopefully kick start the regeneration of a historical part of the city that has been underinvested in for decades.

The new distillery is our brand home and allows visitors to the city to come and meet real people making a real Dublin whiskey and sample our whiskeys in the home of Teeling whiskey. Our whole ethos is to be respectful to the past but be confident to do things differently and being fully in control of production we can drive real innovation in the category through the combination of unique mash bills, distillation and maturation techniques. This will allow us to continue to be the leader in the segmentation of the category through the continued expansion of our portfolio with unique differentiated whiskeys.

1 min pitch for your whiskeys why are they different / better / doing well?

For us to try to compete directly against Irish whiskey’s largest brands would be setting ourselves up to fail. As such, we focus on creating clearly differentiated expressions of Irish whiskey which do not have any direct comparison in terms of taste or flavour, thus, we hope, helping the category expand rather than taking sales from other Irish whiskey producers. We consider our competitive set to be wider than traditional Irish whiskey as we compete against other premium craft spirits. This brings its own challenges but also opens an even greater opportunity.

Our three main expressions (Small Batch, Single Grain & Single Malt) form the Teeling Trinity expressions of Irish whiskeys. Our largest selling Irish whiskey is our Teeling Small Batch which is a blend of grain and malt whiskey aged for up to six years, initially in ex-Bourbon barrels but then married together for over six months in rum barrels. This imparts an extra layer of character before being bottled in small batches at 46% with no chill filtration to capture all the natural flavours which is our signature across our full range. This is joined with our Single Malt and Single Grain expressions which both have unique wine cask maturation to produce flavour profiles most people would not have experienced before from Irish whiskey.

Last year, we added to this range with our Vintage Reserve collection containing some of the oldest ever bottlings of Irish Single Malt to cater for the growing interest and demand for Super Premium expressions of Irish whiskey. As such we have a 14-Year Old Revival Single Malt, 24-Year Old Single Malt and 33-Year Old Single Malt to complement our core Teeling Trinity range. This year we released a brand new range called the Brabazon Bottling which focuses on creating a full flavoured experience that pays homage to the unique and distinct role that fortified wines can have on the taste of Irish whiskey.

What was your thinking behind expanding the range?

There is a growing interest and need for alternative Irish whiskey offerings to cater for the modern generation of Irish whiskey drinkers who are not as brand loyal as previous generations and are constantly seeking new tastes and ways to express themselves. In order to have a healthy vibrant category of whiskey you need a range of strong independent producers to compliment the larger multinational players who currently dominate the category. This is where we in the Teeling Whiskey Company and other independent producers come in. The opportunity is there for us to drive the segmentation of the category and provide unique differentiated Irish whiskeys that do not compete with existing brands but provide a wider range of expressions to allow people to discover something new and interesting within Irish whiskey without having to move out of the category.  Our ability to innovate and do things differently in quicker way is our only advantage over the larger players thus we try to ensure we are able and willing to bring our new expressions to keep people interested and engaged in what we are doing.

How do you avoid the potential pitfalls for the Irish whiskey Renaissance?

It is my view that we are in the middle of a long term up-trend for Irish whiskey, however, we need to ensure that Irish whiskey has the breadth and choice whiskey drinkers of today are looking for. There is a growing interest and need for alternative Irish whiskey offerings to cater for the modern generation of Irish whiskey drinkers who are not as brand loyal as previous generations and are constantly seeking new tastes and ways to express themselves. This is where we come in. We hope to help with the segmentation of Irish whiskey and provide unique differentiated Irish whiskeys that do not compete with existing brands but provide a wider range of expressions to allow people to discover something new and interesting within Irish whiskey without having to move out of the category.

What is the potential of whiskey tourism – locally and nationally?

Irish whiskey has not been the only star performer for Ireland Inc over recent years with Ireland once again emerging as a leading tourist destination with the devaluation of the Euro, in particular against the Dollar, reinforcing the “good value” a visit to Ireland can deliver. While we have been making up a lot of lost ground against our Scottish and American whiskey producing neighbours we are light years away from having a comparable whiskey tourism offering like they have managed to create. If the Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside, Scotland is like the Disneyworld for whiskey aficionados with the highest cluster of Single Malt distilleries in the world then the Bourbon trail in Kentucky is like its Alton Towers equivalent with its rollercoaster range of distilleries to visit. We have a lot to learn from their joined up thinking and ability to offer a multi layered distilleries experience that at present Ireland cannot match.

However, times they are a changing. In our new Dublin distillery, only open 24 months, we have welcomed over 185,000 visitors showing that if you build a unique Irish whiskey experience people will come. There are obvious opportunities that exist for the next generation of distillers to build a tourist offering into their new distillery but I do warn against business plans which are “visitor centres with distilleries” rather than “distilleries with visitor centres”.  People today want real experiences and for a truly vibrant Irish whiskey tourism offering, that will be relevant and stack up against our competing whiskey nations, this cannot be based on pseudo production attractions based on audio visual “smoke and mirrors” but rather real and differentiated whiskey distilleries for people to discover and experience. There is a real chance a cluster of Dublin distilleries experiences will emerge over the next few years which will serve to reinforce the unique provenance and heritage of Dublin as the birth place of urban whiskey distilling as well as hopefully be complimentary to the other successful Dublin alcohol tourist attractions.

Is Asia – the next big frontier for Irish whiskey ?

Despite all our recent growth Irish whiskey still only commands a very small slice of the overall whiskey pie with Irish whiskey accounting for only circa 4% of global exports. It is my view that we are in the middle of a cyclical long term up-trend for the category, however, we should learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that we don’t become arrogant and think that what has gotten us here over the last 20 years will be enough to keep modern day consumers interested and connected to Irish whiskey for the long term.

Nearly all our recent growth has come out of mature markets like Europe and the US but there is a very large opportunity for Irish whiskey in the emerging markets in Asia, India and South America where Irish whiskey sales are non-existent. We are currently seeding our brands in all these markets and have been pleasantly surprised with the reaction in China in particular where the level of awareness, interest and knowledge around imported whiskeys has increased tremendously over the past five years. To support this we have recently received funding from Enterprise Ireland to place a new Business Development Manager in Hong Kong to hopefully fast track our efforts in Asia.

Global exports of Irish whiskey are forecasted by many of the trade bodies to hit 12 million 9 litre cases by 2020 and double again to 24 million 9 litre cases by 2030 with over €1 billion expected to be invested in Irish whiskey distillery projects over the ten year period of 2010-2025. This level of investment and proposed growth rate in sales will have to come from the global growth in Irish whiskey rather than relying on increased sales from only a handful of markets so expect a lot more focus from the larger players over the next few years in establishing Irish whiskey in these markets.

What are your goals for Teelings now that it is thriving?

That’s a very good question and one which I have been giving a lot of thought to. It has been slightly surreal that my original 5 year plan for Teeling whiskey has played out pretty much as I had forecasted which I don’t think is meant to happen!! We have achieved a lot over this time but I feel our greatest challenge is now upon us. With the increasing competition in the category from the recent entry of the likes of Diageo (the largest drinks company in the world) and Brown Forman (owner of Jack Daniels) as well as the increasing noise from other new independent Irish whiskey companies we have a battle on our hands. Our new 5 year plan is to build on the last five years strong foundations and grab the opportunity to lead the premiumisation and segmentation of Irish whiskey by building Teeling Whiskey into a true global brand.

What are your tips for the best way to drink Whiskey?

To be honest there is no right or wrong way just how you personally enjoy a good whiskey. If you like a cold drink added ice, if you like it more diluted add water and don’t be afraid to leave your whiskey in the hands of someone who can make good craft cocktails.  Irish whiskey is less stuffy than our Scottish neighbours many of whom would nearly shot you if you added ice or put their national spirit into a long drink. However, if you want to experience all the subtle flavours and aromas of a whiskey it is best to have your whiskey at room temperature with a drop of water to literally “break the seal”.

What can we look forward to from Teelings in the future?

Production is going very well in our new distillery in Newmarket. Our ethos is very much to be respectful to the past but be confident to forge a new future for Dublin, Irish and Teeling whiskey.  We fired up our three pot stills in March 2015 and from day one we were delighted with the quality of our spirit. We have produced large quantities of Pot Still and Single Malt and lesser amounts of Peated Single Malt and Crystal Malt all filled into a wide variety of high quality casks to hopefully give us the full tool kit to produce interesting and unique bottlings of Teeling whiskey as soon as they are ready. We have also come up with a unique cocktail of yeast strains including white wine yeast to ensure despite traditional Dublin style triple distillation (which can lead to a light spirit) our new make Spirit has the taste and flavour we want.

We are very excited for 2018 as this will result in us having the first Irish whiskey distilled in Dublin for over 40 years. It will be a real coming of age moment and one which we intend to celebrate and mark with a few special releases next year so keep your eyes peeled!!

Building our new distillery was never the destination – we are still only at the start of a long journey. This industry is definitely not a sprint but more like a marathon so we will continue to do what we believe to be the right things and hopefully help with the evolution of Irish whiskey.


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