Arrivederci, Royal Oak

Bernard and Rosemary Walsh back in the day.

Bernard Walsh always strikes me as a hail-fellow-well-met-kind-of-chap. He has built an incredible brand in Walsh Whiskey, and then went on to build an incredible distillery in Royal Oak in Carlow. This makes this news all the sadder, as watching any relationship fail – be it personal or professional or both – is never easy.

FILE PHOTO FROM 2013: Augusto Reina, CEO, Illva Saronno, Bernard Walsh, Founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, Rosemary Walsh. Picture by Shane O’Neill / Fennells.

WALSH WHISKEY & ILLVA SARONNO AGREE TO DEMERGE JOINT-VENTURE

Whiskey brands and distillery businesses split with immediate effect and without redundancies.

The Directors of Walsh Whiskey Distillery have decided to split the business by separating out the existing drinks brands business, built on the Writers’ Tears and The Irishman premium and super-premium Irish whiskeys, from the distillery business at Royal Oak, in Ireland’s County Carlow.

Current sales, marketing and distilling objectives are being fully met, however the Irish and Italian Directors differ on how to develop the combined business into the future.  

This change will result in the Irish directors taking full control of the existing drinks brands business built on the Writers’ Tears and The Irishman brands that are among the most popular premium and super-premium Irish whiskeys in the world being sold in 50 countries worldwide. Consumers of Writers’ Tears and The Irishman portfolio of brands are assured of their uninterrupted availability. This business will continue to trade under the name Walsh Whiskey.

FROM 21-06-2016 – Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak in County Carlow (Ireland) which was officially opened Tuesday 21 June. The €25 million distillery has an annual capacity of 650,000 cases of whiskey. It is unique amongst independent Irish distilleries in being able to distil all three styles of Irish whiskey – pot still, malt and grain.” Pictured at the opening were The founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Bernard Walsh and Augusto Reina, Chief Executive of Illva Saronno SpA of Milan (owners of drinks brands Disaronno and Tia Maria) which has a 50% share in the Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Illva Saronno will take full ownership of the distillery, which is renamed “Royal Oak Distillery”. Illva’s objective is to further enhance Royal Oak as a centre of excellence in Irish whiskey making by continuously improving its technology and processes, producing all three styles, Malt, Pot and Grain under one roof, enhancing the visitor experience and achieving recognition as one of the best quality Irish whiskey producers in the market.

There is an in-depth piece on WhiskyCast that shows how hard this must be for the Walshes – they built this brand from the ground up, and, in 2013, finally achieved the dream of building a distillery. That said, what they walked away from is nothing in comparison to what they walked away with.

I’m not going to eulogise Writers Tears again, but I love that whiskey in every way – the bottle, the design, the name, the liquid, the concept. But it isn’t the only ace the Walshes now hold –  the whole parcel includes a range of 12 Irish whiskeys under the Writerṣ’ Tears and The Irishman brands, the Hot Irishman Irish coffee and The Irishman – Irish Cream liqueur. Walsh Whiskey has well established supply deals with powerhouse distilleries, a strong distribution network, and a bright future.

The Italians now have a beautiful distillery and a great team – but no brand, and no real identity. Bernard Walsh was the face of the distillery, and they will struggle to replace either him or the brands he created. Perhaps they will be happier building their own brand to their own spec, but the vacuum left by the severing of the relationship will not be easy to fill. It’s going to be an interesting few years in Royal Oak.

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