All that glitters

Do you remember Dingle Gold? It was a sourced blend, and it wasn’t very good, even by the humdrum standards of the most unchallenging blends. Of course, you wouldn’t expect too much given how it crashed into existence. 

The year was 2010 and the Porterhouse Group were going to be the only Irish firm at the Shanghai World Expo. Known as the ‘economic olympics’ the expo would be their springboard into the Asian market – so they invested €1.35 million and 18 months of hard into securing a space for their pop-up pub, which would showcase their craft beers to some 70 million visitors during the expo’s six-month duration. But it wasn’t just going to be about craft beer. Oliver Hughes – the visionary founder of the Porterhouse who died suddenly in 2016 – was already planning a distillery here in Ireland. To show just how confusing whiskey is to the average person, here’s this from an Irish Times piece on the Expo in 2010

Porterhouse recently started distilling its own whisky at a still in Dingle [they actually hadn’t started distilling until 2012], the first new one in 220 years. That whiskey won’t be ready in time for Expo, but the group has commissioned a range of 8-year-old and 12-year-old whiskeys from Cooley especially for the Expo.

I sincerely doubt the blend components in Dingle Gold were that old, as it was a fiery number. 

Oliver Hughes’s son Elliott, now MD of the Porterhouse Group, told me how it came into being when I interviewed him and then Dingle Master Distiller Peter Mosley in 2017: “We were doing a bar out in Shanghai at the time for the World Expo. So we built a proper full scale bar over there and this was supposed to be the best thing ever and the turnover was meant to be 400 million and all this kind of nonsense, and we had this whiskey built for over there and it did not go very well. It’s one of those non-mentioned things. It [the expo] wasn’t nearly as busy as they said it would be and the Chinese don’t drink as much beer as we anticipated. It was managed poorly.”

Mosley continued: “I don’t think the Chinese had as much disposable income as we thought.  So the Dingle Gold was never intended to sell in Ireland. I just got a phonecall from Oliver saying ‘there’s a load of whiskey on the quays, can you organise it to go somewhere?’ and it sat in storage for months before we did anything about shipping it. We weren’t ready for it, we didn’t have any sale structure or staff, I think Mary [Ferriter, Dingle Distillery manager] here sold most of it.” 

Elliot: “And we sold lots of it through our own bars in Irish coffees. But in hindsight if we were to do it again i think we certainly wouldn’t. I think we were new to the market, we made a decision and it probably wasn’t the right decision, but at that time nobody was doing anything in Irish whiskey. Oliver was all about the ideas, Liam Lahart [Oliver’s cousin and co-founder] would then have to find out how we would pay for it.”

Mosley: “And I would have to figure out how we were going to do it.”

Elliot: “So a different way of operating completely.”

Mosley: “So Elliott is the ideas guy now.”

He certainly is: Since that interview three years ago, Dingle’s head distiller Michael Walsh moved to Boann Distillery as master distiller, and Dingle managed something of a coup by luring Graham Coull away from Glen Moray in beautiful Speyside to the beautiful arse end of Ireland. Obviously whiskey is a long game, so it will be some time until we get to sample Coull’s creations, but there are positive noises:

Now comes their fifth batch of single malt, and an expanded reach – one of the primary complaints about Dingle is how hard it can be to come by their bottles; little wonder given that they only fill four casks a day. I’ll let the press release take it from here: 

The Batch 5 will make history as the biggest release to date, a total of 36,500 bottles. Five hundred of those will  be bottled at cask strength (59.3% abv) as a tribute to the 500 Founding Fathers (and mothers), the  

people who backed the distillery at its foundation by each investing in a cask of the first spirit to  come from Dingle’s stills. 

The Batch 5 launch represents a considerable increase in volume, meaning that on this occasion  9,000 bottles can go to the United States, the remaining 27,500 being destined for Ireland, the rest  of Europe, Asia and Australasia. 

For Master Distiller Graham Coull, who joined Dingle in October 2019, this is his second batch  release. He believes that the use of Madeira casks in this whiskey adds a subtle complexity. 

“The Madeira influence adds a great depth of flavour and a kind of backbone to this remarkable  whiskey while not masking the subtle spice from the Bourbon casks or sweet tone from the Pedro  Ximenez ones”, he says.

In Ireland, the Batch 5 Single Malt will retail at €70; the Batch 5 Cask Strength at €150, will be  available exclusively online from irishmalts.ie, and rationed to one bottle per customer. 

Full disclosure – while I love what Dingle represents as the first green shoot in a national resurgence of whiskey distilling, I haven’t been wild about the few samples I had. I always thought there was just too much fire and heat in them. I can’t blame it all on youth either – the three to four year old Great Northern whiskeys that I have tried are excellent and show that youth can be smooth and rich. But this Dingle is a decent dram at what is not an outlandish price. A lot of toffee sweetness on the nose, custard on the palate and a decent length of finish, with pleasant astringency. A solid, smashable dram – would be interesting to try the CS and see where it takes you. 

Looking back over the Dingle story, you can see how things change – in their prospectus they outlined a range of drinks, many of which never materialised. I think that was part of the charm – the sense of chaos that comes with something smashing barriers and making history. They did what they could to survive.

I still have my bottle of Dingle Gold, signed by Oliver, and I treasure it. It’s not worth anything, but its power is symbolic. Dingle Gold wasn’t amazing, but it was the start of something that was and is.

James Bradley, Whiskey & Wealth Club, and other people’s money

James Bradley AKA Jay Bradley AKA Bradley Jay.

Jay Bradley does not now, nor has he ever, held any directorships or chairman titles in Australia for software based businesses.   

  • A statement from Milk & Honey PR on behalf of their client James Bradley 

Reevera is a dynamic software development company leading the way in user friendly, software and IT for the arbitrage industry. 

  • A statement on the website of Reevera, a software company in Australia of which James Bradley was director. 

I have spent the last six months trying to get James Bradley to answer a few simple questions – to give me names of some of the companies he set up, to explain what they did, or what happened to them. I have asked for explanations of how he became an expert in such disparate fields as real estate, software sales, and sports arbitrage betting. I have also asked why there are multiple accusations of fraud against him on the internet. For someone who loves to talk, Bradley seems pointedly unwilling to actually tell me anything. 

His denial about Reevera is a good example – his business partner in this and other ventures was an old friend of his named Stephen ‘Steo’ Keating, AKA Steifin Ceitinn, currently being prosecuted in Australia for being the ringleader of a gang that scammed millions out of consumers with fraudulent software sales. All Bradley would say about Keating was that he is not currently in business with him. 

James Bradley also told me he has nothing to do with Freedom Investment Club. Here he is representing them at a seminar in San Diego 2015:

Here he is on the Freedom Investment Club Vimeo hosting a Freedom Investment Club webinar: 

This has been typical of my dealings with Bradley via Milk & Honey PR, who represent his Whiskey & Wealth Club operation and its wholly owned subsidiary The Craft Irish Whiskey Company.  He tells me almost nothing, and when I do ask a question, he either ignores it or gives a misleading answer. 

So the question is – why? Why the unwillingness to supply basic information to back up his grandiose claims about his business acumen? I have no idea. But I can give you a couple of reasons why you should not invest in Whiskey & Wealth Club. 

The Background

Before Whiskey & Wealth Club (W&WC), there were few places where you could buy casks of whiskey in Ireland. The vast majority were cask clubs, where a new distillery generates much-needed revenue by selling casks to fans. The casks are usually priced between the €5k and €9k mark. These are not really investments – it is unlikely that you will make a mint on a €6k cask when you decide to bottle or sell, as the purchase price was high. Cask clubs are more like a distillery fan club. 

Enter W&WC, who offered to connect distilleries to cask buyers at prices  lower than cask clubs – their first offering was casks from West Cork Distillers. It seemed like a good proposition to all concerned – West Cork Distillers believed that the casks were going to be offered at a reasonable mark-up from their asking price of about a grand a cask. Except W&WC are not offering value, they are offering casks sold in pallets of six for €17k. 

West Cork Distillers were also the source for James Bradley’s Craft Irish Whiskey Company, which also offered casks direct to consumers but more in a cask-club style. Those casks were priced at €7,650, with claims that a distillery was being built. Bradley told one Irish journalist that he has stills on order, but when I asked about this, seeking to know where he was ordering them from, he declined to answer. I also asked where his distillery was being built. Again, silence. 

West Cork Distillers are no longer dealing with Bradley, nor are they going to be dealing with him in the future. Despite this, in an interview last July, Bradley insisted he was getting more casks this year from West Cork Distillers. This, West Cork Distillers have emphatically stated, is not the case. In fact, after seeing the prices W&WC were charging for casks, West Cork Distillers launched their cask co-operative where punters could buy casks for reasonable prices. It makes sense – West Cork Distillers have mature whiskey bottled and on supermarket shelves so you can test before you invest. West Cork Distillers have also been in operation for well over a decade, so they have a proven track record in business.  

The next cask offering from W&WC was less quantifiable. Boann in Louth only started distilling late last year after long delays. Their current whiskey, The Whistler, is sourced – they don’t make it, they just bottle it. So there is no way of knowing what the quality of their distillery output – ie, the liquid in the casks being bought through W&WC –  is going to be like.  Despite this Boann have been central to the W&WC operation for some time, with prospective buyers being shown around the distillery, with James Bradley acting as guide. Bradley is also offering members of the media tours of the distillery.

In what might have come as a surprise to the Cooney family, who own Boann, Bradley recently launched an ambitious bid to take over the distillery and brewery group, saying that the Cooney children ‘did not see themselves as being capable’ of taking the company forward. 

It’s worth pointing out that, aside from W&WC, not one of the many, many business entities that I know of which Bradley has been involved in are in existence today. The lifespan for his projects appears to be two years, then it folds, and he moves on.

There are two pieces written about Whiskey & Wealth Club which are worth reading: One is on Bond Review. It eviscerates W&WC; but it also highlights that James Bradley was named as Bradley Jay on the company documents. When I queried this with W&WC they blamed a company formation firm, and they corrected the error. I also queried why James Bradley was, at that time, not named or photographed on the W&WC team page. He has since been added.

Then there is Peter Mulryan’s piece, which asks some serious legal questions about investing in whiskey casks generally, but was written in reaction to W&WC. 

For now it would appear the only distillery willing to supply Bradley are Boann. Even Great Northern refuses to deal with them. In fact, when W&WC first appeared they were telling potential customers that they had a contract with Great Northern Distillery for supply. Great Northern contacted W&WC via their solicitor to ensure they stopped using their name. 

The Deal

So imagine you bought six casks from W&WC at the start when they were sourcing from West Cork Distillers. You paid around €17k for them. Then consider all the members of the West Cork Distillers Whiskey Co-op who bought 4,000 casks priced between €800 and €1,100 a piece last year, and another 4,000 again this year. That’s 8,000 casks from the same distillery you bought from, all hitting the market around the same time yours will – ie, after three years maturation. 

Then consider Great Northern’s link-up with Ally Alpine of Celtic Whiskey Shop, who are selling casks direct to consumers for similar prices to those of West Cork Distillers. So you have thousands upon thousands of casks from proven distilleries which are going to be all over the market for the next decade. But while I can flip my casks for a small profit in three years, you have to sit and wait to make the same profit as you bought at a higher price. 

Reading the W&WC brochures, you would never know any of this. In fact, there is a lot wrong with their brochures.

The first iteration of their brochure has a photo stolen from the Irish Whiskey Association Twitter account. Taken at a whiskey tourism launch in Midleton, the photo included IDL archivist Carol Quinn and Minister Andrew Doyle. Neither gave their consent for the image to be used by W&WC. The IWA requested it be removed. After some time, a new W&WC brochure was released, without the stolen photo, but with similar amounts of what one industry accountant described to me as ‘fantasy economics’. Here’s a sample:

The future for the Irish whiskey market looks incredibly optimistic. In May 2019, Redbreast released a limited-edition bottle called the Dream Cask. All 924 bottles had sold out in under 14 minutes at a cost of €340 per bottle. In September 2018, Teeling auctioned its first bottle from its new Dublin distillery. Despite the relatively early maturation age of three years, the bottle sold for £10,000…. All of this attention, coupled with big marketing budgets, bodes very positively for Irish whiskey

No it doesn’t. Dreamcask = very mature single pot still, a commodity only one distillery in Ireland currently has. The Teeling bottle mentioned was auctioned for charity and the rest of them sold for 55 euro. So none of that has any bearing on the value of your theoretical cask of Boann or West Cork whiskey.

Here is another excerpt:

30 years to grow €3,000 to €300,000

There have been recent reports of record prices achieved on rare whiskies. For example, a 12-year-old ex-Bourbon cask with an asking price of €75,000 was sold via Midleton’s cask circle, as well as a 16-year-old cask for €320,000 (400 litres, which is double the size of our casks, so €160,000 by comparison). Another example is a 27-year-old 500-litre Marsala cask which went on sale for a colossal price of €907,000. 

And a slightly subdued disclaimer: 

While not all 27-year-old casks will achieve this, it’s an important marker for just how much an aged barrel can sell for 

No it isn’t. Midleton’s cask circle mostly offered single pot still whiskey. Again, there is no other distillery with stocks of SPS at the age Midleton has. So the value of those SPS casks is not representative of how much you will sell your SPS casks in 20 years time, when the nation will be awash in casks of SPS from West Cork Distillers, GND et al.  

You would need to know a little about whiskey to understand this, and this is where Whiskey & Wealth Club thrive – with people who have only seen the headlines about the Irish whiskey boom and know that they want in, without really understanding what they are actually getting themselves into.

The long history of Scotch tells us that whisky is cyclical – there are periods of boom, and then oversupply when distilleries get shuttered. We will most likely be the same. Right now there is a boom, but with distilleries popping up all over the country, in ten years we will be swimming in whiskey – the cask value today is today’s value, not a decade’s time. The graph will not continue to rise as it has.

The ‘Wealth Advisors’

So what happens when a punter expresses an interest in investing with W&WC? I spoke to one person who found out. He works in the emergency services in Dublin, lives in Naas with his wife and kids. He didn’t want to be named. But this is what he told me: 

“Last October I was looking to invest some money. An ad for investing in Whiskey and Wealth Club kept coming up. I don’t claim to know a huge amount about whiskey but I do like the odd dram so I downloaded the information and read it (you need to put in your contact details to download). It seemed too good to be true and although I was interested I decided not to act on it as I didn’t know enough about it. 

“A few days later I got a phone call from Sue Kiernan of Whiskey and Wealth, she gave more information and explained that the possible returns were extremely good – up to 55% compound – and asked if I was interested in investing as they were coming to the back end of their third cask release. I said that I would need to check up on a few things before I could commit as it was more than I had planned to invest (this was really to get her off the phone as she was becoming very convincing, she was very knowledgeable and knew her stuff). In the coming days I didn’t really do any background checks and thought that would be the end of it but a few days later Sue phoned me again. 

“She said that there was only a few casks left in their 3rd release and if I wanted to hold them I would have to make a small deposit before they were gone. The next release would be in early 2020 at significantly higher prices. Sue explained the cost involved i.e. 17k for a pallet of six Single Malt which could return up to 47k after five years. 

“I reluctantly gave her a €300 deposit to hold six casks which I received a receipt for online, Sue said it was fully refundable so that gave me some comfort. 

“It was then that I started to check up on whether W&WC was as good as it sounded. On their YouTube video it shows Boann Distillery with W&WC investors who all seemed very happy. So I contacted Boann and spoke to Patrick Cooney. I asked him if W&WC was legit, he was very honest and explained that he had been paid by W&WC and had entered into a deal with them. He also said that the price of a cask is significantly less than the price W&WC were charging me for. 

“He wouldn’t say if W&WC claims were correct but if they were he would be keeping all the casks for himself. 

“I then received the Offer Documents from W&WC which stated that I had placed an order for 6 Pot Still casks from the 2nd release so I decided to call in unannounced to the W&WC Dublin office which is on Harcourt St. to meet and talk to people face to face, as there was something not right here. 

“The door of No. 20 Harcourt St. was locked and W&WC did not show on the list of companies on the door buzzers. I waited outside and after a while someone came out so I ran in. I walked the whole building and asked other staff if they knew where W&WC was in the building, nobody had heard of them. I then rang Sue on her office number she answered and I asked her if I could call in to see her in the office as I was in the area. She said that she was working from home that day but she could meet me somewhere to save me driving all the way from Naas. 

“I phoned several other distilleries over the next few days and all of them were quite sceptical about W&WC, most of them were selling casks for more than W&WC but they explained that it was not as an investment but more as a way for some people to feel a part of the whiskey process while giving ownership in a unique way. 

“They said that not much money if any would be made by their own cask members, that was not the reason it was intended. 

“I arranged to meet Sue in Avoca on the Naas Road later that week. I asked her for more details about where the whiskey is coming from as it’s clearly not from Boann, she said that it comes from many small craft distilleries around the country but that Boann had some problems setting up their distillery which meant they had to go elsewhere for their casks. 

“I asked her about the lack of an office and she said that they were in the process of getting it painted and she was working from home in the meantime. I mentioned that the offer was incorrect and I was been given Pot Still which is less expensive than Single Malt which I was told I was ordering. She couldn’t explain why that had happened. The next day I told her that I had decided not to go ahead with investing and could I have the deposit back, she said of course and that it would be done straight away as promised. 

“A week later nothing had happened so I phoned her again, no answer so I sent an email politely reminding her to refund the deposit, no response. I continued to leave voice messages and emails over the next few days and eventually while calling from my wife’s phone I got through. Sue explained that she was out of the country for a few days and apologised and that the deposit would be refunded straight away. Another couple of weeks passed and still nothing, again I phoned and emailed with no response. 

“On the 9th of December I sent another email saying that if I had not heard back by the close of business, I was going to the papers. Amazingly, I was contacted that evening by the Richmond Office in London with a full refund.”

I asked the PR firm about the Harcourt Street office that does not exist, and they responded: “Whiskey & Wealth Club has offices in both Dublin and London. We have a serviced office which a team of two in Dublin who use it as a satellite office.  We anticipate this team will grow by year end to 20 and require a more permanent office. We did the same in Richmond with a small serviced Regus office that housed our first six employees, until such a time as we outgrew it. We now have a two storey 3,500 sq ft permanent office in Richmond with 27 staff. We anticipate this team will grow to 45 by the end of 2020.”

Sue Kiernan is James Bradley’s sister. She was also director of Nedax Financial Consulting Team Limited, also trading as Gosling Investments, Richard Group, Financial Software Systems, and Managh Systems Inc. There is a discussion about Gosling Investments – which sold sports arbitrage software for 7,500 – on Ask About Money, the Irish consumer website. There is a similar thread on Boards.ie about the same company. 

Jon Bradley, another sibling, was also a director of Nedax. He was also director of Share Success Online, also trading as Acorn Wealth Strategies Limited, Market Price Today and Guardian Trades. It sold share trading software. And once again, there is a discussion about the firm(s) on Ask About Money. There is also this from the Irish Independent

A Birr, Co Offaly, auctioneer was lured into handing over €7,000 to an internet agency which promised quick and easy money simply by following its stock trading tips, a judge heard today.

Barrister James Nerney, counsel for auctioneer Glen Corcoran, told the Circuit Civil Court his client had been promised in a brochure that he would “make money and achieve financial freedom”.

Mr Nerney said Corcoran, of Tumbeagh, Ballinahown, Co Offaly, had been promised a programme of training, education and coaching in profitably dealing on the stock market via its software package.

“The brochure had been followed up with phone calls and emails which had led to his entering into a contract in January last year,” Mr Nerney said.

Corcoran told Judge Jacqueline Linnane that following representations by John Lawlor, a manager with Acorn Wealth Strategies Limited, which trades as Share Success out of a Balbriggan, Co Dublin, industrial unit he “signed up and forwarded €6,990 by electronic transfer” to the company.

He said that in a cold call phone conversation Lawlor asked if he would like to make money and make it quickly with minimal time and effort. The company had promised him “a lucrative money making strategy as quickly as possible.”

He had been assured he would be trained in finding stock trading opportunities and forecasting market trends in a unique package which had turned out to be simply a licence agreement to deal in “contract for difference” opportunities and not hard physical share dealing.

“I wanted to make money and had been attracted to the original offer, Mr Corcoran said.   “When I raised the matter of CFD’s with Mr Lawlor he said I could make money with them whether the economy was in boom or recession,” Mr Corcoran said.

He said the training he had been promised turned out to be two or three 10-minute on-line sessions a week with a Zac Harris. 

Mr Corcoran said he had “fared fairly poorly” with his attempts to signalling financial movements in the market but had not reached the stage of investing further monies before contact and correspondence with Share Success had dried up.

He had later told Harris and Lawlor of his disappointment and lack of progress and had sought reimbursement of his money before going to James Lucey, his solicitor, who issued proceedings in November last.

Judge Linnane granted Mr Corcoran judgment for €6,990 against Acorn Wealth Strategies Limited, trading as Share Success, Unit 12, Balbriggan Enterprise and Training Centre, Stephenstown Industrial Park, Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

The defendant did not appear in court and a legal firm which had been representing the company was allowed to come off record for them.

After the case Mr Corcoran said he hoped his case would highlight “this poor business practice” to anyone else who may have dealings with the defendant.

Andrea Bradley, the fourth sibling, was also involved in a number of businesses with James and their father Shamus, as well as Steo Keating’s D11 Enterprises.  

Shamus passed away late last year, and a video of his funeral – in which a recording of him asking to be let out of the coffin was played – went viral around the world. In the media coverage of the man and his life which followed, there was no mention of his work in software sales.  

A furniture upholsterer by trade, Shamus Bradley was a cook in the army for a few years, and worked as a debt collector, where he earned himself a conviction for a brutal, prolonged assault on noted equestrian Ken Bryan, then a draper in Portarlington. Ironically, some years later Bradley was taken to court himself over unpaid debts to a furniture company. 

Shamus Bradley emigrated to Florida in 1990 where he ran a pub; he then worked in sales for two years selling frozen meat; before moving to Australia and moving into software sales. He joined a small software firm, taking a share of the company in return for running the sales division.

The software package he sold was called Global Trader, and there is a lengthy thread here dedicated to it. It also gets mentioned in a thread about World Trading College, which Shamus Bradley and a taxi driver named Ray Dalglish ran. The duo also ran Principal Investments, which also operated as Trading Like A Bank and which boasts this absolutely bonkers promo from former Aussie Rules star Warwick Capper. 

While James Bradley claims he had nothing to do with any software firms in Australia, he was listed as chairman of Global Trader on their website in August 2006, with Steo Keating listed as secretary. 

I spoke to one of the software developers behind Global Trader under condition of anonymity. He worked on software projects with the Australian military before moving into international banking. After returning to Australia, he helped create Global Trader. He told me about his experience with both Bradleys and Keating. His name has been tarnished ever since – he is lambasted in posts about Global Trader, as he was pushed out as the public face of it.

He was also the creator of a sports arbitrage package which he was commissioned to build for James Bradley and Steo Keating’s AusSoft entity. The product was called ArbATrader, and complaints about it are easy to find – you can read them here, here, here and here. Many of Bradley’s firms are interlinked or interchangeable –  the AusSoft website had a number of celebrity endorsements. The exact same celebrity endorsements were also used on the website of Bradley’s Globalsoft entity.  

James Bradley does admit that he hired the developer to create the first generation of his sport arbitrage software, but claims he commissioned a ‘more robust’ version which he then released via an Irish-registered software firm named Baranstone, of which he was director. He does not mention the name of the firm under which he released the first package. He did not address the other accusations which the developer made and which I put to him. 

On the Wayback Machine you can still see many of the websites of James Bradley’s business entities – Baranstone, Globalsoft, AusSoft, and the aforementioned Reevera, the Australian-registered software business of which James Bradley was director, while Steo Keating was secretary.  

Reevera offered software that it described as the amazing amalgamation of technology and pure genius called Syntrade. Through this exciting new software, a small but fast growing group of professional sports arbitrageurs have arisen. These are the people who are continually finding the risk free, tax free, (depending on where you live) profitable sports arbitrage trades. These are the people setting new standards in arbitrage and they are becoming known within the industry as Syntrageurs.

Sports arbitrage blogger Shane Greenup was less enthused, denouncing Reevera’s Syntrade software package as a rehash of AusSoft’s ArbATrader. Greenup was also highly critical of Baranstone and its SORT system.  

Greenup told me via email that sports arbitrage was the bitcoin of its day as it was new, complex and lay people did not understand it. 

“It was an easy thing to scam people with because technically it does work. You can make money doing it, and you can make 1%, 2%, 3% trades – and you can show people the odds that create these trades. You can show them past bets which you actually made which returned these kinds of returns…. and then you can just imply that you can do that every few hours with all of their money and they will be making 100s of percent returns per annum! (which is the lie, because you can’t do it with all of the money, and you can’t do it that often, and it takes a lot of work, and there is a limit to how much money you can move through the system).

“But all of the details are based in fact, and it is easy to omit the difficult bits and create a compelling narrative which looks legitimate. And yeah, I think it was a fad from back when arbitrage trading was new, and the profit was there to be made. These days the scams have moved on to Cryptocurrencies for the same reasons. 

“Technically, there is money there to be made. But no, anyone selling you a scheme which guarantees to make that money for you is a liar.”

One of the most detailed complaints about Bradley’s companies is this one about Baranstone/Tradesmart. It is worth reading all the way to the end, and the comments beneath. 

I did manage to find one person on LinkedIn who had Baranstone listed as a former place of employment. When I contacted him he declined to comment and immediately removed any mention of Baranstone from his profile. 

I asked James Bradley about Baranstone, and this was the response: “Baranstone ran for one year in Ireland from May 2007. It was a software company enabling sports betting. When bookmaker rules changed in summer 2008, it was closed. Closing this business 11 years ago was his final involvement in this industry.” 

In fact, in documents submitted to the Companies Registration Office in Dublin in late 2010, Mr Bradley changed secretary for the firm, so it was still in some level of operation three years after it was created. This was the last document filed by Mr Bradley with the CRO in relation to Baranstone. 

Dublin native Steo Keating, named as the ringleader of the Irish Boys software scam gang, was prosecuted as Stiofan Ceitinn, the Irish version of his name. Among the many, many companies he ran was an entity called D11 Enterprises. Another Irish national,  John Daly, was director of LTC Services, one of the firms specifically targeted by the Australian police unit which brought down the Irish Boys gang.

Globalsoft Technologies Ltd, the Irish-registered firm of which James Bradley was a director, and which also traded as Tradesmart Technologies, was described on its Australian-based website as ‘the latest expansion of the Australian-based LTC and D11 Group’.  

James Bradley AKA Jay Bradley AKA Bradley Jay; with Stephen ‘Steo’ Keating AKA Steifan Ceitinn, and John Daly AKA Sean O’Dalaigh on a night out in 2009. 

The Bradleys left Australia for the US around 2011. Shamus Bradley, his business partner Ray Dalglish and James Bradley then set up The American College Of Wealth, which also listed the matriarch of the family and younger daughter Andrea on their staff page. Shamus’s bio makes no mention of his time in Australia, while James’s is as follows: 

Like his father, Jay Bradley has been driven from a young age to achieve greatness. Finishing school early to work in his father’s furniture factory in Ireland, he learned a valuable trade in furniture-making but couldn’t ignore an innate desire to learn about building wealth and managing money. Jay moved away from his family to settle, marry, and have children in Australia. Following in his father’s footsteps, Jay created his own business, a financial advisement corporation specializing in stock market investment and trade. As friends and family learned of his trading skills, he held informal classes in his living room and developed a love for teaching the skills he had learned and developed himself. Inspired by the banking industry, Jay founded a company that created software used by banks to execute currency trades. Partnered with a former Goldman Sachs algorithmic programmer, Jay’s company grew into a boutique private hedge fund with over 1,000 members and millions under management. At 30 years of age, Jay sold the company and retired, but remains on the board as the Chief Strategy Officer. In 2008, Jay was one of four founders creating a company selling distressed US property investments to international buyers. The organization became an incredible success, opening offices in Princeton, Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis, and Florida with global offices in Singapore, the UK, and Australia. Jay is presently the largest shareholder and sits on the board of directors. After traveling the world with his wife and three children, Jay settled into his role with his father’s previously founded financial empowerment college, ACW. He serves as CEO, bringing a wealth of experience, knowledge, and passion to the institution. ‘

No names of any of the companies where he made his millions. How odd.

The property firm mentioned is US Invest Global, a company he set up with Ryan McFarland. 

I asked Mr Bradley, via the PR firm, to explain US Invest Global: “US Invest was set up 2010, a successful business with over 2,500 satisfied clients. It operated by giving international investors the opportunity to invest in the US property market. At the time, the US dollar was weak against most stable currencies. However, as the US economy recovered and its currency strengthened, the investment value was reduced. The model no longer made sense and so the business was voluntarily closed in July 2015.”

This is in contrast to this post. Someone purporting to be Ryan McFarland, his former business partner in US Invest Global, posted this in reply, explaining what happened and distancing himself from James Bradley. McFarland even went to the trouble of threatening legal action over a post linking him to James Bradley.  

After US Invest Global folded, Bradley set up RAW Business Growth, which he operated from Waiheke Island in New Zealand, where he ran a pub named Smugglers Smokehouse. In my first, more genial email from him, Mr Bradley told me that he was forced to sell the pub and that he lost all his money doing so, but there was no further explanation of what appears to be a somewhat paradoxical statement. 

As for RAW Business Growth, it centred around a series of YouTube videos in which Mr Bradley gave the public a chance to ring him on a premium phone line to find out how to be successful like him. RAW has been folded, and the videos deleted. The official line from the PR firm is that Mr Bradley closed RAW when he was headhunted by a client – they didn’t elaborate to explain by who and for what he was headhunted. After RAW came Whiskey & Wealth Club and the Craft Irish Whiskey Company, and James segued from being an expert in real estate, sports arbitrage, business growth and software sales to suddenly being a whiskey expert.

When I first contacted James, before the PR firm took over the communications between us, he told me he was a fan of my work, and said it hurt to see me ridicule his Craft Irish Whiskey Company videos on Twitter, writing: “After the comments against my whiskey brand, before we even had a chance to get going, I’m obviously a tad concerned as to the motives of this piece. I’m all about positivity for Irish Whiskey. As it’s hard enough for the Irish to get back on the world map and claim our place as the originators and the best, without the internal negative press.

“I’m happy to chat with you, be open and honest with you, but only if its (sic) a genuine article and its (sic) reciprocated and not some hit piece.”

Here are some things I can say with certainty – that there are multiple accusations of fraud against James Bradley which he is pointedly unwilling to address; that not one business enterprise he founded – aside from W&WC – is still in operation today; and that for someone who talks about how successful he is he is unwilling to give a single, concrete example. I can also say that there are also accusations of fraud against other members of his family or against firms run by his father, brother and sisters.  

I can tell you that James Bradley’s close friend and former business partner Steo Keating is being prosecuted for running a massive boiler room scam which defrauded millions through share trading and sports arbitrage software. I can also tell you that Irish Boys member, Neil McKenny, from Ardee in Louth, was jailed last year for his part in the scams. Three other Irish Boys gang members arrested as part of Operation Unwind received suspended sentences.

I can tell you that in their brochure, Whiskey & Wealth Club’s other director, Scott Sciberras, proudly states that he worked with James Bradley for almost two decades; that Sciberras, via the PR firm, is also unwilling to tell me the name of a single firm he was involved in. I can also tell you that he is named in the comments section of this post

But above all, I can tell you this – Whiskey & Wealth Club is a terrible investment; terrible for consumers, terrible for distilleries, and terrible for the Irish whiskey category as a whole. They claimed they brought in four million in revenue in their first year, and ten million last year, and at the start of this month, they finally released some accounts. I asked some accountants to look over the documents, which can be downloaded here. One said this:

“Mismatch in trade creditors and debtors – a lot of sales to debtors are still o/s… add to that a large value of creditors coming up for payment on a year – cash conversion cycle is out of whack- also £188k to ‘group undertakings’? Wtf? Who what where? You need to see a cash flow to get a better picture – id stay away from it for now – imperfect info and all that … and all of this with 4 employees only .. nice bunce if you can get it …”

Another said this:
“What strikes me is that it isn’t an investment company which would be a more legitimate route for investment (I.e. the company holds a portfolio of casks and you own shares in the holding company) rather it seems to just be a retailer/wholesaler in effect with someone telling the buyer that what they sell is a great investment. You aren’t buying shares or anything regulated just booze in bigger containers. How is the model any different than an off licence selling “rare” whisky? In fact you would probably get a safer return from buying a Macallan from Master Of Malt.”

The best case scenario here is that this is simply a lousy investment, especially in relation to the potential returns being promised by Whiskey & Wealth Club’s ‘wealth advisors’. The worst case scenario is that this is an Irish Nant. James Bradley’s unwillingness to answer all the simple questions I asked him does not reassure me. Likewise, Boann have ignored my emails and warnings.

What are the repercussions for the wider industry if this all falls apart? What if, as Bond Review asked, W&WC are unable to fulfil their contract to supply the whiskey – which not a criticism of W&WC, but an inherent risk when dealing with any small company. In this case investors would be looking at up to 100% loss.

What then?

Comments are closed. Email william.linnane@gmail.com.

No smoke without ire

Bored Na Moaner

There is massive potential for peat in Irish whiskey. The new breed of distillers recognise this, that the great taste of immolation is precisely the flavour that our over-heated planet deserves. I kid, but there is a space within our category for peated Irish whiskey. Unless you read the technical file, the document governing the entire category, in which there is no specific category for peated Irish whiskey.

Me, dogwhistling.

This all came to a head of late when someone somewhere queried why Beam’s Connemara brand was able to call its liquid peated Irish single malt whiskey on its labels when there is no such category. So once again something that possibly should have been foreseen back when the TF was being written has now come to a head with much internal wrangling over the simple question – should peated Irish whiskey be a category of its own, as is grain, blended, single malt and single pot still, or should it simply exist within those four. 

According to sources, there are two schools of thought within the Irish Whiskey Association on this – on one side, let’s be as the Scots; they don’t have a separate category. Some whiskies have peat, some have none, some tell you on the label when they bring out a peated expression and the rest of the core range is unpeated, some do not. Bully for them, but over here we have had decades of Jameson branding largely based around peat as a key differentiator – ‘the scots do peat and we don’t’. This was then picked up by others as being how you discuss Irish whiskey. 

So there is an assertion that Irish whiskey is unpeated, something that we somehow managed to tie to our obsession with smoothness, as though you might find a lump of charcoal in your peated scotch (even the Irish Whiskey page on Wikipedia perpetuates this myth). The irony of this being that for young distilleries with whiskey aged around the three to four year mark, peat can really soften some of those rough edges, when used right – Great Northern being a good example.

On the other side of the argument is one of possibilities – peat is another string to our bow, another flavour to be explored, another way to celebrate our country and its delicious bogs. It deserves a category. 

Or not, depending on who you ask – apparently there is a relatively even split on this topic within the IWA, but the biggest stumbling block is not whether or not peated deserves its own space, but the concept of re-opening the technical file to edit it, for it has become something of a Pandora’s Box for the IWA. 

Back when it was written there were not so many voices and writing it to suit the titans was a relatively straightforward task. Now, not so much, where it has been decried as either ahistorical bunkum, a mission statement from Irish Distillers Limited, or both. Without being any kind of an expert, I would say that it is a product of its time. Big players had all the cards, and being realistic, not much has changed. They are the ones opening new markets and throwing their sizeable shoulders to the wheel in order to make Irish whiskey sales great again. 

But to re-open the file for addition of peat would send a message to the various factions advocating for mashbill changes, or less of the oedipal focus on massive stills, that the gates are open, so come on down with your edits and let’s drag this tedious document through the wringer for another few years. 

And this is without even contemplating the ruckus that would erupt when the concept of a peated single pot still category would be tabled. Unpeated smelling salts for IDL! Or, maybe not. There is being protective of heritage and then there is commerce.  

Beam, as owners of Connemara whiskey, are presumably down with peat, as are GND.  IDL recently released a peated old Midleton for the super-duper premium market, Bushmills used to peat, but who knows – as two key authors of the tech file, and with IDL dreading demands to change their beloved single pot still category, they may well resist. I have heard mixed reports about who is advocating what, but it appears that the big guns are just as split as the indies. 

I can see both sides – does it really need a category of its own? Is there another way to tell the consumer they are about to drink a peated Irish whiskey? Do we really want to re-open the file and enter some sort of People’s Judean Front situation? The IWA are meeting about this tomorrow, but as this relates to the tech file, the decision ultimately lies with the Department of Agriculture. 

But above all this is this question – if you were going to question the labels on a bottle of Connemara peated single malt Irish whiskey, surely you would ask about the fact it has nothing to do with Connemara? 

Ghost In The Machine

If you have very tall, narrow-necked stills, you will produce  a very floral, elegant spirit. If you have very short, dumpy stills you will have a heavy, oily spirit – and there is nothing you can do about it. Laphroaig, for example, can never ever ever produce a light, floral spirit because they have short, dumpy stills. You can’t change it. That is how it’s going to be. We know that these Inverleven stills  are going to produce a floral spirit, because of their shape. 

  • Mark Reynier of Waterford Distillery speaking in 2016 

How much thought do we want to put into our whisky? How far down the rabbit hole of chemistry and engineering do we need to go to make sure that we fully know a whisky? Waterford is already pushing the terroir debate – that the location barley is grown in plays a part in the flavour of whisky – centre stage, so that is their focus. But what about stills – if you can argue that barley retains a unique geographic identity, even after enduring the various tortures of malting, milling, brewing and distilling, not to mind X number of decades in wood, then surely you can claim that stills play just as central a role. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe it simply doesn’t matter, and that this is the great thing about whisky – without wanting to sound pretentious, it is a drink for thinkers, but it is also a drink for drinkers; you don’t need to lose yourself in some desperate search for meaning when you can just drink it and get pleasantly toasted. 

It’s like Johnny Cash. You can love him for his music, or you can love his music for him – love it that little bit more because you understand the myth and the man, the outlaw – all his songs then take on deeper meanings, about growing up poor, the desperation and anger. Consider his cover of NIN’s Hurt – a song written about self loathing, isolation, and living with trauma – which he transformed into a song about regret, sorrow, loss, and frailty. You can just turn up the radio when it plays, and as a bonus you can spend the ensuing ten minutes thinking about your own mortality.

Whisky, in the end, only has meaning because of us – we make it, we drink it, we write about it, we dream it into being; until that bottle is opened and consumed it is Schrödinger’s stupid cat. So you can argue about agronomics, still design, yeast and all that glorious technical detail, but we are the ghosts in the machine, bringing our unique tastes and thoughts and meaning to every drink. 

So a brief history of the Inverleven stills – tucked away inside the vast Dumbarton grain distillery, they became redundant in the early Noughties and Dumbarton was set for demolition. Enter Demolition Dave, who spotted the stills, told Mark Reynier, who then bought them. The stills – wash, spirit and a Lomand known as Ugly Betty – were dismantled and shipped to Islay, where Betty made The Botanist gin and the wash and spirit became garden ornaments. 

Reynier then sold Bruichladdich, bought Guinness’s Waterford Brewery, and after a quick polish, the Inverlevens became the Waterfords, the brewery became a distillery, and Demolition Dave became Dividend Dave, as he is now an investor in Waterford. So the question is this – will Inverleven spirit taste in any way similar to Waterford? Will those stills create some kinship between the vast Dumbarton and the bespoke Waterford? Probably not, as Reynier continued that quote I opened with thusly: 

So then the question is – how are you going to run them? And we have the facilities here to produce very, very good-quality wort and wash, clinically the best – you can’t do anything better. So then it is a question of how slowly we run those stills, and because we have all this space and the control we can run everything exactly as we please.

So I can drink this and try to trace some parallels to the samples from Waterford that I have, or I can abandon my romantic notions and stop trying to forge connections that only exist in my imagination. I’m sure still shape and design plays a role in flavour, but I would imagine it to be considerably less than inelegant elements like yeast. 

Anyway – to the whisky. Distilled in 1987, casked in Bourbon hogsheads, disgorged into 240 bottles in July 2015 at a healthy 53.9%. On the nose it is spicy and sprightly, the official notes speak of tropical fruits but I get more vanilla, spice, biscuit, mace and its more popular cousin nutmeg. On the palate; dry, then lots of honey, custard creams, but the heft of that strength has me adding water to a whiskey for what actually might be the first time in my life. Manuka honey, mead, meadows, liquorice. On the finish – long, possibly longer with the water added, but with that spice element all the ways through. More biscuit, malt, a whisper of summer fruits. 

I honestly didn’t know what to expect with this whisky – it’s worth a few quid and was given to me as a gift by a very old friend, so I could never sell it. I planned to open it for the launch of Waterford Distillery’s prog-rocking new release, but the plague put an end to that. 

So here I am on World Whisky Day, sipping it instead. It has meaning to me – it symbolises friendship, kindness, love. It’s greater meaning stretches beyond that – that something beautiful and special can thrive in an ugly place, persevere, and then return to life in another world. The Inverleven stills are dead, long live the Waterford stills, and here’s to the resurrection. 

Love will tear us apart

There is a feeling you get after the break up of a relationship and you pass you ex in the street and see that they have, in fact, gone to shit. It’s a strange mix of pity and schadenfreude that comes over the one who has moved on. I wonder if anyone from the Walsh Whiskey team felt that way when a provisional Royal Oak whiskey label was submitted to the American Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), as spotted by whiskey sleuth Charlie Roche: 

Royal Oak is a beautiful distillery, and to see this label – which may only be a very early draft or just a placeholder – comes as something as a shock.

Or perhaps it doesn’t – perhaps the split between Bernard Walsh and the Italian drinks group Ilva Saronno was over this precise thing; whether to go high or go low; whether to keep that premium branding on a premium sourced product, ie, Writers Tears/The Irishman, or to put out an indigenous, young and potentially fiery whiskey under basic-ass branding. There are, obviously, plenty of spaces for all kinds of brands; the quality and quantity of output from Great Northern means that we will have an array of good quality whiskeys coming in often low quality branding. Not everyone wants something as elegant as Writers Tears, sometimes you just want a smashable dram that you can drink without any reverence. But The Busker? Aside from the label, isn’t the name a tad close to The Whistler?

Meanwhile, Walsh Whiskey continues to go from the strength to strength as a standalone brand, with the release of their latest collaboration with Dick Mack’s. 

Carlow & Dingle, Ireland – 15th May 2020: Walsh Whiskey has released the second in a series of collaborative experiments with the legendary Dick Mack’s Pub & Brewhouse in the seaside town of Dingle in County Kerry, Ireland. Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish is a truly exceptional creation that brings together an old Irish whiskey recipe of Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskeys, finished in a unique cask infused with the flavour of an 8% IPA beer laced with a seaweed harvest from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Bernard Walsh started this ‘spiritual’ adventure in 2018, when Finn mentioned Dick Mack’s newest creation – a Seaweed IPA. A barrel used in the creation of several batches of Dick Mack’s Tóg Bog É Seaweed IPA was sent on the 298 kms/185 miles cross-country from Dingle in County Kerry to Walsh Whiskey in County Carlow. Tóg Bog É (pronounced Toag Guh Bug Ay) is a Gaelic expression meaning ‘Take it Easy’ which has come to identify Irish people’s traditional outlook towards how best to live life.

Dick Mack’s Tóg Bog É Seaweed IPA was brewed with no less than 5 kilos/ 11 pounds of kelp seaweed harvested from County Kerry’s nearby Ballybunion Beach.

On Saint Valentine’s Day 2019 the barrel was filled with the award-winning Writers’ Tears – Copper Pot, triple-distilled, premium blend of Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskeys and laid down for 14 months to finish. It was bottled naturally, non-chill filtered, at high strength.

The single cask (numbered ‘Batch 56’) has now yielded 306, individually numbered, bottles of Cask Strength (56.3%) super-premium whiskey. The Recommended Retail Price of this unique expression is €82/ US$89/ £72, however many bottles have already been snapped up by members of The Irish Whiskey Society and frontline workers of the Dublin Fire Brigade Whiskey Club. This unique expression is already a collector’s item.

Notes re Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish:

  • Laid down on St Valentine’s Day 2019 for a 14 Months Finish
  • Natural Non-Chill Filtered
  • Bottled at Cask Strength (56.3%)
  • Barrel: Bourbon, Seasoned with Seaweed IPA (8% ABV) brewed at Dick Mack’s, Dingle in Ireland’s Kingdom of County Kerry
  • Colour: Golden mustard
  • Nose: Deep butterscotch, autumnal/mature bramble apple
  • Taste: Salted caramelised fruit sugar’s syrup, a touch of liquorice
  • Finish: Creamy mouth feel

A webcast to taste and discuss the creation of Writers’ Tears – Seaweed IPA Cask Finish, will be held on Facebook at 8pm (Irish Summer Time) on 27th May, 2020 between Writers’ Tears creator and Walsh Whiskey Founder, Bernard Walsh; Finn MacDonnell, Proprietor & Great-Grandson of Dick Mack himself; Serghios Florides, Publisher & Editor of Irish Whiskey Magazine and Peter White of the Dublin Fire Brigade Whiskey Club.

Well, at least they didn’t tell us it was hadngrafted:

A Highland rhythm

Think of Scotch whisky as music, and the regions are genres – Speyside is pop, Islay is heavy metal, Islands are Soundcloud rap, Campbelltown is folk, Lowlands are classical. What then of the Highlands? Their particular ouvre lies somewhere between Wagner and polka – lots of deep bass, robust melodies – this is a region that marches to the beat of an ancient drum. But of course, this is seeing the area as a group, rather than as individuals within a genre. And what if one of those individuals suddenly started making a solo album – one with steel drums and island rhythms? Now imagine one of them was Einsturzende Neubauten crossed with Jackie Mittooo – strange instruments and tropical notes. 

It has taken Fettercairn quite some time to get its moment in the spotlight – 195 years to be precise. Its founder, Sir Alexander Ramsay, was one of the first Scottish landowners to campaign for the making of whisky to be licensed, and in 1824 was one of the first to be granted permission to make whisky. Obviously, distilling had been taking place across the highlands for some time – all around the flat farmlands of the Mearns, upon which Fettercairn Distillery sits,  there are valleys and nooks ideal for setting up an illicit still. It was to these highland foothills with their secret bothies that Ramsay turned for his staff, hiring the stillmen to run his new distillery. Ramsay also built a vast mansion, Fasque, which ultimately dragged him into debt, and Fettercairn was sold to a Liverpudlian merchant family named Gladstone in 1829. If that name sounds familiar, it should – one of the sons, William Ewart Gladstone, went on to be prime minister of the United Kingdom four times. Gladstone abolished the taxes on malt and the angel’s share, and allowed scotch to be sold in glass bottles for the first time. 

Fettercairn changed hands many times over the years, was razed by fire, shut in 1926 as the postwar lean times bit, reopened 13 years later, doubled capacity in the 1960s, and is now owned by Whyte and Mackay, where thus far it was mostly used for blends. As an Irish whiskey lover, most of this seems completely bizarre – to have all that history and heritage just waiting to be put into action as part of a brand. They have so many stories just waiting to be told – even their distillery manager, Stewart Walker, seems like he was born for the distillery’s solo run. Walker is a native of the village and a born communicator; he says he is delighted to see the distillery he has worked in for three decades be celebrated for its many merits. After all, it is as unique as the unicorn crest suggests. 

In the 1960s, workers were hosing down the stills when they realised that their work was affecting the spirit, adding an extra layer of reflux. So they had the bright idea of adding a water feature to the neck of the spirit stills. It is quite the sight to behold – water being brought in from a small reservoir of water collected from a local burn, piped into the still house, then coursing down the outside of a still neck from a brass ring, being collected and then sent back to the reservoir. According to your hosts, the only other still to feature such a bizarre contraption is fellow Emperador/W&M stablemate Dalmore, which at least had the decency to hide its strange feature under a layer of copper. Temperature controls on the neck of a still are not unknown – Blackwater Distillery in Ireland has still what are effectively grappa stills, with internal temperature controls on the neck. But Fettercairn brandishes its steampunk water feature like a body modification, out there for all to see. 

Fettercairn had a stab at a solo career in the last few years – Old Fettercairn was a NAS bottling in the 1980s, and a 12-year-old single malt was released as ‘1824’. Fior and Fasque appeared ten years ago, opting for a more sleek and elegant look. But they also failed to set the world alight. Aside from these there were the usual peppering of indie bottlings, but it is only in the last 18 months that the distillery has been given a more complete offering. That said, there are gaps in the portfolio. The range jumps from a 12 year old to a 28 in the blink of an eye, then scales the giddy peaks of premiumisation with a 40 year old finished in an apostoles Sherry cask and a 50, finished in a tawny port pipe. These ring up at a challenging stg£3,000 and an eye-watering stg£10,000 respectively. But it is the space between the stg£50 12-year-old and the stg£500 28-year-old that needs to be filled – and Fettercairn has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, with warehouses on site filled with dusty casks just waiting to be discovered (even though the plundering of those same warehouses for blends is why the gap exists). 

So they have the past, they have the future, they have the plans, and crucially, they have the financial backing. But how do you get folks to sit up and take notice? How do you catch the attention of whisky lovers? How do you gain purchase in the crowded hearts of the malt masses? Well, you can invite a few of them round, which is where this moves from talking about whisky to talking about talking about whisky. Please join me now as I draw back the velvet drapes and invite you into the gold-gilt world of the influencer as I enjoy 36 hours of corporate seduction in a suprasternal notch of the Scottish highlands. 

Ah Nethermill House, a place trapped in time. While considerable amounts of money have been spent on the distillery visitors centre for their brand reawakening, the sizeable house adjacent to the facility itself is as yet untouched. It’s hard to put a year on exactly when it was last done up, but I would hazard a guess that it is somewhere in the late Seventies or early Eighties. As a result it is a glorious time capsule – bedrooms are done out in colour schemes, one is a pastel moss green, another is mauve, the kitchen has a serving hatch, and the loft has been converted into a games room, complete with snooker table. It is like the set of a BBC Play For Today, and as I waited for the rest of the guests to arrive I half expected Beverly Moss to sashay in and stick on some Demis Roussos. 

One by one the rest of the guests arrived, and this part of junkets is always the best – meeting people whose work you admire, who you have chatted with online, but there, in real life, and now you have to talk to them despite being socially awkward anywhere but the internet. Add to that the anxiety of having to eat in front of them, as we were all whisked off to the former maltings for a posh picnic. I hadn’t eaten since a sleepy airport muffin at 5am, so I tried to control myself and descend into full wolverine mode, but after realising that I couldn’t chat amiably and eat at the same time I just focussed on the latter, with my head down, like a rodent. 

After that we had a tour of the distillery itself with Stewart Walker. We strolled up the fields to visit the water source, had a ramble around the warehouse and tried some magnificent drams, and got to pick up some quality lore. One cask was bought decades ago by a Japanese couple with a view to opening it on their 40th wedding anniversary. They divorced on their 38th. The cask still sits there, now destined for their kids. Life comes at you fast, but in whiskey, it comes at you slow. 

In the afternoon we had a talk from David Farquhar of IGS Vertical Farm. It might seem like a random thing to happen on a drinks junket, but in many ways it isn’t – whisky is an agricultural product, after all. Farquhar talked us through what Intelligent Growth Solutions do – they build vertical farms, effectively tray upon tray of crops all tended to by robots, all with a unique digitally monitored ecosystem guided by the gloriously dystopian sounding ‘weather recipe’. Obviously the first question asked was – does this work for barley? My inner luddite was delighted to learn that no, it does not – it works primarily for physically smaller crops. It’s an interesting concept when you consider the debates around terroir – will crops from these floating farms have less soul than those from the soil? Maybe, but if you’re starving to death, you won’t really give a fuck about what soil types it grew in. 

Then we were off to Glen Dye, a series of beautiful old stone cottages which are run as holiday homes by descendants of the Gladstones. There we dined some more, drank some more, and at some point I collapsed into bed, for the following day we were to earn our keep. 

What made this trip interesting was that the brand, whilst fully formed, is still in a relative infancy, so it was a rare treat to take part in a focus group. We were talked through plans for the brand, for bottlings within that 12-20 gap, and just terms and phrases within the industry – is small batch meaningless, how rare is rare, that sort of thing. I just sat there quietly, as I genuinely don’t know much about whisky, especially compared to the folks in that room – I am Jedward to their Schoenberg. 

After that it was more amazing food, and off to the airport. It was a whirlwind 36 hours, but one that I have thought of often in the last few weeks as isolation and quarantine took hold. As an Irish whiskey lover, one my takehomes from the trip (apart from an insanely generous swagbag) was this: There are distilleries like Fettercairn all over Scotland, with mountains of excellent mature stock, so many that they sometimes struggle to find their voice in the market, a spot on the supermarket shelf or a place in our hearts. Irish whiskey has a long way to go to catch up; the power of the industry, the ability to hire PR firms, marketing experts, specialists in whisky comms and branding to help create these remarkable events, these remarkable identities for products. There is a massive industry in Scotland based around all this, and that is what we need to look towards – a fully functioning whisky ecosystem that creates and sustains jobs across the sector. In the meantime, feel free to live vicariously through these ten million photos I took:

The Pleasures and Sorrows Of Capitalism

When I tell people how much I spend on whiskey, they are horrified. You mean you can spend upwards of sixty euro on a bottle? they gasp. It usually leads to more questions – what is the most you would spend on a bottle, how much do you earn, what makes it so expensive? All great questions that I’m happy to answer – the most I would spend is about 120 euro; I earn somewhere around the 50k mark each year, and as for what makes good whiskey expensive, that is a heady brew of real-world elements – age, rarity, source – and more ephemeral ones – legacy, branding, prestige – all of which combine to create that most elusive of things; aura. 

Super-premium is not a mode of production. It is a price category, and perhaps more importantly, it is a demographic, one which Irish whiskey has only just started to explore. Midleton Pearl was an early foray into the field in 2014, with a six grand price tag – a figure that seems modest when you consider what was coming next. 

Louise McGuane wrote a great blog post about the gap in the super-premium sector within Irish whiskey, drawing on her decades of experience in the luxury goods sector. She then went on to release The Chosen – a super-luxe spirit which may or may not be a 27 year old peated Bushmills.

This has been eclipsed by Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter One, which smashed into the sector this week with a price tag affonting heaven – 35,000 euro. 

The launch in London was a VIP affair and the press release and accompanying visuals were typically slick (and typically po-faced, given the brief), all striving to create the required aura. 

A price tag like this may seem offensive to us mere mortals, but if you earn half a million a year and want to invest, or if you earn millions and want a treat, the price tag is not that outlandish. Yes, it’s obscene, but that’s capitalism, baby – my purchase of a Redbreast 21 for 180 would be seen by many as completely over the top, so it’s all a question of perspective. 

As for the 35k tag, it doesn’t even come close to what the exclusive releases from the Macallan command; nor does it even qualify for this list of the top ten most expensive whiskies. The Scots have been doing super-premium for years, and doing it well – so why not us? And if Midleton are doing it, why not Bushmills?

And so to the liquid itself; John Wilson of the Irish Times has a review of it. It’s a nice bottle, a nice box, and I’ve no doubt it is a nice liquid. Not that this matters, because all anyone needs to know about this is the price. That is the defining factor.

The series opens with a peated single malt from old Midleton. It is worth remembering that there are other bottles of old Midleton out there which you can grab at auction for less than a grand, albeit none of it malt and none of it peated. In fact, this is the first official single malt from old or new Midleton (the Method & Madness one is distilled at Bushmills), and a peated one at that. So it is something of a unicorn. I have no doubt it will sell, because, as McGuane pointed out, we need this offering.

But back to MVRSDCO, and the salient points: 

  • Six releases. The first is a 45-year-old Irish single malt. There will be one release annually until the year 2025, ranging in age from 45 to 50 years old, all from Old Midleton Distillery (1825-1975). 
  • The last release will coincide with Old Midleton Distillery’s 200th birthday, while Chapter One will be the first official release from Old Midleton in 16 years.
  • Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter One is the only release in this collection that is a peated single malt – it has been in a third-fill sherry cask cask for 45 years.
  • RRP: €35,000 £32,000 $40,000; ABV 51.2%; 48 750ml bottles in Ireland, UK, France and US; two bottles will be sold via ballot system on The 1825 Room, the Midleton Very Rare online members’ programme. Whiskey lovers can register their interest to be entered into a lottery to purchase a bottle from 9pm on 18th February for one week. 

You can say that the price is obscene. Many would say the money we, as whiskey lovers, regularly spend on a bottle is obscene. There are people out there who are immensely wealthy, and they want a drink that reflects their status. Super-premium has little to do with how it is made and much to do with how it is sold, and who it is sold to – and in this case, it’s not you, not me, and most likely not anyone we know. 

So, in summary – capitalism is bad, whiskey is good, and time is the only commodity of any value.

Evolve or die

Carol Quinn is incredibly pragmatic – a couple of years ago during a chat about the lost distilleries of Cork, I lamented that they were knocked to make way for roads and duplexes and various other developments. Carol – IDL’s archivist – pointed out that unless buildings are being used, they no longer serve a purpose. I feel the same way about brands – which awkwardly brings me to the latest Powers rebrand. It seems like only a short while ago that Powers was reborn with a new, more modern label (it’s a little over four years) and here we are again with another, considerably less subtle makeover. I’m going to let the press release do some of the explaining here: 

Powers Irish Whiskey, which is made by Irish Distillers in Midleton Distillery, has unveiled a bold new bottle design for its range of premium Irish whiskeys. Debuting on core expression Powers Gold Label in the USA from March 2020, the dynamic new look is set to attract a new generation of drinkers to one of Ireland’s most loved whiskey brands.

The design features a new bottle shape which has been inspired by the distinctive pot still silhouette from the brand’s historical home at John’s Lane Distillery.  Another striking aspect of the new design is the label which is styled on the iconic Powers ‘diamond P’ – one of the first ever trademarks registered in Ireland and a link to the legacy of Powers and Irish whiskey history all over Ireland. Each whiskey in the Powers range is presented with a label in a different colour to bring to life its unique story; Powers Gold Label in red, an homage to the original red Powers diamond marque; Powers Three Swallow in blue, a nod to the feathers of the graceful bird; and Powers John’s Lane Release in metallic ink, to reflect the industrial innovation that the Powers family demonstrated at the original distillery established in 1791 on John’s Lane, Dublin.

Carol Quinn, Archivist at Irish Distillers explains, “Powers sense of identity has always focused on the diamond P; that became very clear to me as I worked my way through the historical archive. The diamond P was everywhere; on the casks, stationary, on bills and receipts, emblazoned on everything that left the distillery, and notably on the wonderful Powers mirrors that still hang in Ireland’s pubs today.  Workers at the old John’s Lane distillery even took to wearing a diamond P pin on their lapel, such was their pride to be part of the Powers family. For me it’s wonderful to see the diamond P front and centre on this new label, symbolising all the history of this great whiskey since 1791.”

Following the launch of the new-look Powers Gold Label in March 2020, the new design will be introduced across Powers Three Swallow and Powers John’s Lane from mid-2020 in the USA and the rest of the world  from late-2020. In Ireland, Powers Three Swallow and Powers John’s Lane will be released in March 2020, with Powers Gold Label to be reviewed in due course.

Conor McQuaid, Chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers commented: “Powers has been famous for its bold taste profile and character since the family distillery was established in 1791. We are excited to introduce this new look to the world and inspire a new generation with the unique history and personality of Powers. At Irish Distillers, we have pride in Powers as one of the world’s leading Irish whiskeys and we welcome this dynamic new chapter for the brand as we seek to continue the Irish whiskey renaissance around the world.”

New packaging for Powers Irish Whiskey underpins recent innovation for the brand as it seeks to reach and inspire whiskey drinkers including; the release of Powers Old Fashioned, the brand’s first ever pre-mixed classic cocktail; and the Powers Quarter; a collaboration between six Dublin bars to tell the story of Powers and its illustrious Dublin history.

IDL are looking for the next Jameson. They sold Paddy to Sazerac so that’s out, Redbreast and the Spots are too premium, and thus it falls to Powers. Powers has a more robust profile, far moreso than Jameson, which many of us here in the rebel county would describe as mockya. A bold liquid deserves a bold look. That said, I hope they keep the single casks in their current format – there are many collectors out there who will be hoping the same thing.

The new bottle is akin to the beautiful Chinnery Gin, while the labels are modern and fresh. The Gold Label may no longer have a gold label, and the John’s Lane release may look a little downgraded by its update, but overall, if this keeps Powers alive for another few decades, then it shall be worth it. All the heritage in the world is meaningless if clinging to it condemns a brand to death. 

Black is the colour

Sam Black says his firm’s logo has no real meaning. “It’s what the designer gave us,” he says bluntly when asked about the origins of the silhouette of a crow in flight. When pressed he admits that the image does conveniently tie his story together; he is the Black, while his wife’s maiden name was Crowley. It’s a far more fitting explanation – after all, without his wife Maud, there might not be a brewery. 

Originally from the UK, Sam Black was travelling in Australia in 2001 when he met West Cork native Maud, an ortho theatre nurse. Sam, an engineer, always had an interest in brewing but it was the gift of a homebrewing set from his future wife one Valentine’s Day that made him rethink his career choices. Returning to live in Ireland in 2003, the brewing bug took hold and in 2013 they opened Blacks Brewery in the picturesque Cork seaside town of Kinsale.  It was close to Maud’s home in Ahiohill near Clonakilty, while Sam – the son of a Scottish Baptist minister – had moved around a lot during his childhood and found it easy to settle almost anywhere. 

The location was a smart one – as the southern start point of the Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale has a steady tourist trade. Kinsale also harbours a thriving foodie culture, and their brewery was able to tap into both of these in its early days, when there were relatively few craft brewers in Ireland. The first few years were hard – there were no investors or backers, just their own money and determination. But it got off the ground at an ideal time as there were few competitors. In the last few years this has been reversed, with a wide array of craft brewers, as well as macro breweries pushing brands that ape small-scale operations but are not. But Blacks Brewery products are on all shelves – Tesco, Musgraves etc all carry their wares.

Then they started making poitín on a stainless steel iStill, but the rules changed, meaning you had to distill in a pot, column still or hybrid still. So they moved on to gin, and even made a spiced rum, which they make entirely in-house. But the time had come for whiskey.

Initially, Blacks released a sourced Cooley 12 year old whiskey, which they announced with zero guff: 

We could have pretended that it was distilled here or even just matured here giving it some magical Kinsale provenance. We could have even created from a tale of some ancient Kinsale recipe or that it used ingredients foraged in Kinsale. But we would rather just be honest … It’s simple, it was distilled elsewhere.

They then used the whiskey casks they had after they bottled the sourced 12-year-old single malt to finish their rum in, and have since released Black Ops, a blend of malt and grain. They are currently waiting on stills – a 2,400 litre wash and 1,500 litre spirit still – from Frilli in Italy. The stills will be like Teelings’ ‘but smaller’ according to Sam. But even small stills are not cheap, so they are looking for funding through a cask programme.

There are two schools of thought on cask programmes – one, the average founders club price tag of anywhere between 5k and 7k is crazy, and not worth the money.

The second aspect to founders clubs is that they aren’t about investing in a cask, they are about investing in a dream – to feel like you are part of a distillery. This is what Dingle did so well with their Founding Fathers programme; members feel a sense of ownership. So for every person who buys one of those not-entirely-cheap casks, you have a brand ambassador who has your back. If you are looking for a financial return, whiskey probably isn’t the greatest way to get it, especially given the rate at which distilleries have been popping up here and a market that will be, if not flooded, then certainly well lubricated with whiskey casks in ten to 15 years’ time.  So if you are going to pitch a founders club, make it a modest proposal, like Blacks

We realise that many investors may not have ready funds to invest in this scheme and have developed a win- win scenario for people who still wish to be involved. We have partnered with Flexi-Fi Finance company with an exclusive offer.  For example investors can take the package option for €6500 Bourbon cask. If you choose to invest this way you will of course have to pay interest on your loan from the finance company but you will still gain some cash if you exit via the Buy Back Scheme.

Package cost €6500. Total amount repayable with FlexiFi over 36 months is €7,493.12

​Representative example Total Amount of Credit: €6,500 over 36 month term with 7.99% interest rate. €35 application fee, €3.50 monthly account fee. APR of 9.95%. Total Amount Payable: €7,493.12. The Buy back scheme offers a Guarantee min value via buy back scheme €7910 equal to a cash gain of €426.88. 

The €426.88 is the minimum return via the buy back scheme you may also avail of any of the exit options available and maximise the potential of your investment in 5 years time.

Their stills are in the final phase of construction at the moment and are due on-site soon – once commissioned, maturation will take place at West Cork Distillers sprawling facility down the road in Skibbereen. Sam plans unusual mashbills and casks, and hopes to offer an array of releases, just as he did with his beers.

He is philosophical about the next stage: “We’re not trying to change the world, we just want to make products that people will enjoy and engage with, and stuff that we can enjoy and have fun with. We’re never going to hit Jameson levels of sales.”

Never say never. 

Flight of the Navigator

We all have a journey to whiskey, but for some, it is a more winding path that guides us here. For Daithí O’Connell, sailor, pilot, and founder of WD O’Connell independent bottlers, the journey was geographical as well as spiritual. 

The 40-year-old Carlow native started his career in hospitality aged just 15, working in a local hotel. Four years of that taught him that the 24/7 aspect of that was quite the burden – a 60 hour week commanded the princely sum of thirty púnts, with rent and other expenses on top of that – so he moved into the bar side of hospitality, focussing on the late bar and nightclub scene in McSorleys in Killarney. He then shifted to auctioneering, studying property management and valuation in the College Of Commerce in Cork city. He completed his studies, and found himself working in Mulligans in Cork city. Shortly after he went travelling in Australia, then moved to Denmark and worked in a concrete plant. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the era known as the Celtic tiger was shifting into top gear – the owners of Mulligans, the Rebel Bar Group, were looking for someone to come on board as a partner in one location. O’Connell started back in Ireland with Oscar Madison’s in Kinsale, then Redz in Cork city, and then the Savoy nightclub, which he ran for four years during its heyday. In 2008, Ireland started to change – the Celtic Tiger was ailing and the economy was about to descend into a crushing recession. The Savoy hosted their last gig under his stewardship on New Year’s Eve 2008 and he moved to Australia with his partner 13 days later. Over the next four years his homeland would suffer the worst recession in the history of the state.

In Australia he trained to become a pilot, and was just shy of his commercial license when he moved to Hong Kong in 2010, where he was lured with the prospect of opening a bar with a group of Irish entrepreneurs. He spent five years there – running bars, setting up a boat hire business, and moving into prepay card systems (HK’s Octopus Card being a template). On the back of the latter business he relocated to Dubai, where his firm managed the payment systems for the Sevens, serving more than 150,000 punters across three days. 

After building up that business he started looking for a new project, and whiskey was in his sights – 2012 saw the sale of Cooley to Beam and Dingle Distillery firing up the stills. By late 2015 he had a site sorted and was ready to sign contracts with distillers, still makers, maltsters and all the key components of the project. But the globe-trotting and relentless work took its toll. His marriage disintegrated, and he was forced to reassess everything he knew. He moved back to Ireland and shelved the distillery plan. Then came a succession of events – he met a half-Irish German girl named Alina and fell in love, they became parents, his father died after a short illness, and he turned 40. He started working as a consultant with firms looking to upscale, but whiskey was still on his mind. His partner encouraged him to take the risk and follow his passion. In April 2019, he quit his job and threw himself completely into becoming an independent whiskey bottler. 

Bottlers are something of a rarity in Ireland – much of this had to do with the scarcity of distilleries. Bottlers need a diverse range – not just of whiskey styles and casks, but of sources. An indie bottler here over the last 20 years would be offering you the products of three distillers – Midleton, Bushmills and Cooley, and that was only if they were able to get access to stock from those three. 

But in Scotland, indie bottlers are revered as being able to offer unique offerings from well-known, lesser-known and long-dead distilleries. In fact, indie bottlers are so important to Scotch whisky that the late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson said of bottlers Gordon & MacPhail that if it were not for this firm, single malts as we know them would not exist today. 

It is in this mould that O’Connell sees his firm – to be the biggest indie bottler in Ireland by 2035. Working with support from Bord Bia he hired a creative agency to design his brand – with his love of flight and sailing, a compass rose forms a central part of the brand, while the rest is based around family. 

Now all he needed was some stock, and this is where Dr John Teeling comes in. Dr Teeling was the original disruptor in Irish whiskey – at a time when Bushmills and Midleton were the only whiskey makers on the island, he opened his warehouses to buyers. He forced the other two giants to up their game and watch their corners, and is still doing the same with Great Northern Distillery. 

O’Connell has something old and something new from Dr Teeling’s stable – a 17-year-old double-distilled Cooley single malt and a youthful, peated, triple-distilled GND single malt. The 17 was matured in first-fill bourbon for 17 years, then in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, bottled at 46%, non-chill filtered and limited to 370 bottles. It is the first ‘PX series’ release, the beginning of a limited series of PX-finished single malt Irish whiskeys. 

The GND single malt is a single cask of triple-distilled, peated single malt, matured in first-fill bourbon barrels and bottled at 47.5% ABV, non-chill filtered and limited to 306 bottles.  

It is the first ‘Bill Phil’ release, the start of a series of triple distilled, peated single malt Irish whiskeys. The O’Connells hail from Mountcollins in west Limerick, a small village which has a surprisingly large number of people named O’Connell, so nicknames were required to distinguish between the different families; Dáithí’s ancestors were the Bill Phils, and they specialised in a type of turf-cutting implement named a sleán. Thus, a peated expression was the perfect way to celebrate this heritage. 

So O’Connell has some stock, but an indie bottler needs more than Cooley or Great Northern to offer the punters. O’Connell’s model is a surprisingly new enterprise – there are many, many Irish whiskey brands out there which are effectively just indie bottlings – sourced whiskey released under another label. However, many are either released under the name of an as-yet unbuilt, partially built, or operational but sub-three years old distillery, or are bottlers without telling you that this is what they are. There is a paucity of brands who plainly state they are indie bottlers, who offer full info on the liquid within the bottle, where it came from, who distilled it, and how old it is. But bottlers are meant to be curators – they provide a vital piece of infrastructure in Scotland, and will be required to do the same here. 

WD O’Connell Whiskey Merchants comes with a clarity and simplicity in its message – that they are going to source stock from distilleries and bottle it in small batches. The Bill Phil is a light gold liquid, with a bright, medicinal tang on the nose – light but succulent sweetness. On the palate – the youthful heat is balanced by sweet smoke, and for a barely legal dram it is incredibly smooth. O’Connell is quick to point out that the Bill Phil isn’t some smash and grab, where he releases a well-aged 17 and then throws out some firewater as a money spinner. Bill Phil was released because it is quality liquid – and because it shows the power of peat, something O’Connell is keen to explore. The PX is a counterpoint to Bill Phil – mature, deep, heavy with red fruits and dark chocolate. Both were released in tiny batches and are stocked in specialist outlets – Fox, Mulligan’s, Bradley’s – as these are specialist offerings. 

Right now, O’Connell is a one-man show, chasing the highways and byways to get his product and his brand out there. Next year he is considering a March release for another Bill Phil, followed by an 18-year-old version of the PX in June, complimented by a small batch cask-strength edition. He is assembling casks from Irish distilleries, especially the smaller start-ups. Beyond that, he is envisioning a central hub, akin to Gordon & MacPhail’s Elgin headquarters, which would operate as a home for the brand. Settled for the moment on Waterford’s Copper Coast, he is still looking for the right place for a brand home. It may well be a long road ahead for Daithí or any indie bottlers – Gordon & MacPhail were founded 123 years ago, Cademhead’s 148 years, but O’Connell is looking to build something that will outlive and outlast him.

Ever the navigator, one of the reasons O’Connell loves the indie bottling model is because of the sense of adventure – finding new distilleries to source stock from, new worlds to explore, and a new chapter in his whiskey journey.

Death and Taxes and Holidays

Salou looks like it was designed for the social media age – all wide boulevards, parrot-populated palm trees, mountainous horizons, historical buildings, and multicoloured, interactive fountains. Everywhere you look there are stunning foregrounds and backdrops for those Insta moments. Even as you walk along the coast to where Salou ends, there are platforms on the rocky outcrops for you to take those all-important selfies. 

My sixteen year old was delighted – every day we would go for a stroll for her to source content for her social channels, and we weren’t the only ones – everywhere there people waving their phones, filming, snapping and posting. But while Salou had a few wannabe influencers waving selfie sticks, the surrounds of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was like a particularly chilling episode of Black Mirror – it was like social media had become a virus, transforming people who should be awed by the staggering beauty of the building into witless goons who just want to use it as a backdrop. We even saw one couple standing in the middle of the road in the face of oncoming traffic in their attempt to get the perfect angle on their shot. 

Holidaying in Spain makes economic sense, as certain things are cheaper there than here; food, accomodation and medicine to name but three. This meant that I came home with 20 packs of Avamys sinus spray (11 euro over the counter there, thirty euro on prescription here) and some booze. Lots of booze, thanks to this gent on Twitter, who upon hearing I was going to Salou, informed me that the must-see spot in the area was not Gaudi’s beautiful architecture, or the stunning coastline, or even the colossal amusement park, but was in fact the local offie.  And lo, so it was that I found myself on more than one occasion in the Wine Palace Salou, enjoying their air conditioning and their remarkable selection of spirits, meats, beers and friendly staff. They have very few Irish whiskeys, but to give an idea of the prices they charge, they had the WCD ten year old for 19.99. Why can’t we have this in Ireland, we cry! I have no idea, but I am generally of the belief that you can never understand a country’s economy without working there – then you get to see what is and is not working, and most importantly, how your taxes are collected and how they are being spent. The average industrial wage is higher in Ireland than it is in Spain, so life here costs more than it does there. As for alcohol, it is taxed at a high rate in Ireland, as the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland recently pointed out, noting that 25 EU member states pay less excise tax on Irish whiskey than Ireland: 

A new Drinks Industry Group of Ireland report, Excise Tax Rates in Europe: How Ireland Compares in 2019, authored by Dublin City University economist Anthony Foley, shows that Ireland continues to have the second-highest overall excise tax on alcohol in the EU, the highest excise tax on wine, the second highest on beer, and the third highest on spirits.

Despite Ireland’s renown for the production of some of the world’s most popular drinks products, the Irish government levies a tax bill of €12 on a bottle of off-licence-bought Irish whiskey and 54 cents on a pint of Irish stout served at a pub, restaurant or hotel.

In terms of excise tax, Italian tourists pay four times less excise on a bottle of Irish whiskey in an Italian supermarket than they would if purchasing it for the Irish distillery that produced it.

In France and Germany, countries equally renowned for their drinks industries, excise tax rates on wine and beer are far lower. A shopper in France pays just three cents in excise on a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, while a patron at a German beerhall pays five cents in excise on every pint of lager.

It is a common theme – why come to Ireland to buy whiskey when it is cheaper back home? And therein lies a bigger question about Irish whiskey – why is it so expensive? Partly it is through strategy – it was framed as a premium product almost from day one, and those notions never went away. Smooth, triple distilled, luxuriant. But high taxation domestically ought to be of little concern to producers when the vast majority of it is being sold in export markets and thus beyond paddy taxman’s reach. Just look at the stampede into the sector – surely they aren’t all terrible accountants who grossly misread the Irish tax code? Clearly there is profit to be made.  

Taxes on drink here are high and sales of drink are high, and even though those sales are falling, the cost to society and public health from abuse of alcohol has also been high. In fact, the WHO recommend high taxes as a way of negating the ill effects of abuse.

Alcohol deserves a high price because it deserves our respect. Neither should alcohol be seen as a basic human right – perhaps we should reframe our thinking on it and see it, not as one of the central struts of Irish identity, but as a decadent, occasional pleasure. Personally, I cannot imagine my life without it, but I have to accept that no matter how I try to rebrand that, it is still a drug and my love for it makes me an addict, albeit an incredibly pretentious one. 

In Salou I bought two Spanish brandies, then when I came home I ordered another, and my general take on the products is that they are excellent – incredible liquid, exceptional value and a welcome counterpoint to my whisky obsession. Sometimes you just need to recalibrate those taste buds by diving into another spirit altogether. I still love whisky, but even your mouth needs a holiday from time to time. But the bottles I bought were not just Spanish brandies, they were Catalonioan – like any sophisticated pisshead, I like to imbibe some local gatts on my hollibobs.  If you want to know more about these brandies, there is an excellent piece here by Joe Micallef which goes into how they are made. Micallef is the chap who wrote of the Irish government’s ‘schizophrenic’ attitude to alcohol in Forbes, an article appeared to earn him some favour with the IWA parent group Drinks Ireland, who hosted him in Dublin a few months later

It’s worth pointing out that A) using the term ‘schizophrenic’ with such negative connotations, utterly unrelated to any discussion of mental health, is generally to be avoided, and B) governments have always struggled with the dilemma of massive tax gains from the sale of alcohol, and the enormous cost to public health, law and order and society at large from the abuse of it. All nation states struggle to balance this equation – Soggy Sweat’s If By Whiskey still captures the essence of the dichotomy, many decades after he spoke those words. 

So booze is cheaper in Catalonia. You know what else is cheaper? Human rights. The images from the marches in Barcelona do make for easy viewing; ludicrous jail sentences being handed down for ‘sedition’, ie, holding a referendum. It cuts to the bone of our approach to ‘cheap’ hols and ‘cheap’ booze – a price is always paid somewhere, and not by us.

Ireland is a progressive, wealthy country. I am happy to live here and to pay taxes here. Certainly there are ways that those taxes could be collected in a fairer manner – don’t treat tiny producers the same as massive transnationals – and spent more wisely – infrastructure, modernisation, etc – but generally I am ok with taxes as long as we don’t see riot police baton-charging citizens. I paid more than thirty thousand euro in taxes last year, this year will be slightly less than that, and I am happy to do it. I’ve lived a life of almost relentless privilege, but when I needed State support, it was there for me. That said, The Wine Palace does ship to Ireland

#Iconic

I was off on my Scottish jolly when I heard the news – I was nominated for an award. What could it be, I pondered; Prick Of The Year? Gowl Of The Millenium? No, it was Whisky Magazine’s Icons Of Whisky awards – basically the Oscars of getting pissed. I am listed in the Communicator Of The Year section, along with a wild bunch of bloggers, writers, and industry folk. It’s a list that me scratching my head – really, people like me shouldn’t be on there, as I straddle that divide between industry and consumer. In an ideal world, it would be an award to celebrate the fans, for those who just love the stuff and write or tweet about it. Skin in the game, and all that.

Unlike the Oscars, the voting operates by ranking names on a list, and so is basically a popularity contest – AKA, the type of contest that I am unlikely to win. It’s also thusly the type of contest that requires you take to the hustings and engage in a lot of thirsty begging for votes, all the while trying to look like you don’t desperately want to win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted and honoured to have even been nominated, but the only reward I need from the whiskey world is my invoices being processed in a timely fashion. There are people on that list who are into whiskey not as a career, but as fans, and they should be the ones celebrated, not semi-pros like me. That said, I’ll be sure to mention all this in my acceptance speech which I am currently drafting. 

Further Thoughts On Whiskey Tourism

Ah Kilbeggan – Irish whiskey’s Marie Celeste. A distillery that has that perfect blend – the old side is as if it was trapped in time, all dusty and decrepit, full of charm and character. Then there is the actual functioning distillery, compact and bijou, with a little grit and not much glam, but a real, honest-to-god whiskey making exercise. Really, Kilbeggan should have it all, and yet somehow, it does not. I was there earlier this year and did the tour, and while the person giving it was perfectly pleasant, it was clear that they had no interest in whiskey, and most likely, little interest in giving tours. It wasn’t their fault, and I also have a lot of sympathy for an employer in a rural area trying to find guides with enthusiasm, knowledge and the communication skills to bring the whole experience to life; people like that are a rare breed. Similarly, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who takes a job in a distillery when they clearly have no interest in anything other than just paying the bills.To spend your day talking to people on a topic you have fuck all interest in must be a Sisyphusian hell, not to mind the odd whiskey nerd asking you about molecular processes when you just want to go home and watch Fair City. After the tour, I popped into the gift shop. I mentioned to the lady behind the counter that Irish whiskey was expensive, and she proceeded to give me a lengthy and wildly inaccurate explanation as to why I was wrong. Irish whiskey is older than Scottish whisky, she said, in a pointedly grumpy fashion. I left shortly after. 

Then we went to the Old Bonded Warehouse in Tullamore, which was like being transported to a different world; friendly, well-informed staff, excellent service and an all-round experience I would recommend (even though it isn’t a distillery). It was a reminder that tourism is as much about people as it is about place – Kilbeggan was all place, Tullamore was all people. But Tullamore – a large town – was always going to have the edge on a small village like Kilbeggan when it comes to finding the right staff. 

So what then of the big smoke and its recent whiskey boom – how is their tourism offering? Frankly, I have no idea – but I did pop into Teeling, Lyons and Roe one afternoon last month. I was curious to see Lyons and Roe, given that they have colossal firms behind them. Both are located in remarkable buildings – Roe an old power station, Lyons a centuries-old church – and have been kitted out in spectacular style. Yet somehow they lack soul; at least the abundance of rust and dust in Kilbeggan brought character. Roe is very modern, stylish and bold, whereas Lyons has a remarkable and profound history – and yet they opted to stick faux-pub frontage to the walls of a place of worship that has been there for centuries. I have long since thrown off any semblance of faith, but there is something of a desecration about it all – gift shops, stained glass celebrating a Lyons ancestor, and those little stills up on the altar (and presumably a massive outsourced distilling contract resting in the tabernacle). The developers would tell you that they rescued the building, that without the Lyons family’s intervention, it would have fallen to dust – and they are right, as buildings need to be used to live. But those faux pub fronts were just an awful, awful idea. It’s hard not to see them and think of Christ casting out the money lenders from the temple.  

Lyons and Roe will make a mint – tourism alone will contribute a sizeable sum to their income. 

What then, of Teeling? It is off the main drag, but well worth the short walk – it is very modern, very cool, and has the great bonus of an exhibition space you can walk around for free and learn about the history of distilling. Their tour is the cheapest of the three, and the upstairs bar is full of great little spaces for those Instagram pics. They also have the most interesting bottle-your-own selections – I think of all the distilleries in the last few years charging onto the scene, not many have created so many great expressions from sourced stock as Teeling. But then, could you expect anything less? 

So, to sum up – get good staff. Train them well. No need for tatts and moustaches, a smile will be fine, because if you are a drinks giant, sticking a few hipsters behind the bar won’t make you cool. Do try to find people who are interested in either tourism or whiskey or people. Do not tell your tour guides to rattle off the three-years-and-a day line, as it grates on my nerves like a fork across porcelain – you can call me a pedant, but it is just not true, and every time it is spoken aloud to a group, it moves further from myth and into truth. Three years is what it takes to become whiskey, and one day more does not ‘make it better than Scotch’. No point in being insecure about it – Irish whiskey is great, don’t bother comparing it to anyone. I’ve been on plenty tours in Scotland, nobody over there is rattling out the tired old line about how they double distill because they get it right the first time. That’s because the Scots don’t care what we are doing, or saying, or anything. They are going to continue to eat our lunch for some decades yet.

I’m not going to mention the IWA map again, but from my perspective, we have some way to go to get the the level Scottish whisky tourism operates at. It isn’t about having centuries old whisky – we have an incredibly exciting selection of distilleries here that don’t even have stock on the market yet – but it is about avoiding the Irish tendency towards glib backslapping and cheering that you will never beat the Irish (despite history teaching us otherwise).  We need to see our own failings and work on them, not don the green jersey and refuse to learn from others with more experience. Anyone here who has a whiskey tourism offering should take a pilgrimage to Scotland and basically steal their ideas. Sher lookit didn’t they steal the drink itself from us? Tis only fair. 

The Angle’s Share

Friends, I have been to the mountaintop; I have been there and I have looked beyond and I have seen the promised land. In other words – I have seen Scottish whisky tourism at work, in Speyside in 2015 and 2018. At the Spirit of Speyside Festival you can see first-hand just how the entire region and all the distilleries in it work together to make the event a success. It is in this model that Ireland can draw inspiration. Enter Irish Whiskey 360°:

One shared spirit, many unique characters.

Irish Whiskey 360° leads you deep into the homes and heartlands of Ireland’s extraordinary distilleries. Your journey will take you North, South, East and West, through ever-changing landscapes, from rugged coastlines to historic cities.

This is part of the Taste The Island initiative from Fáilte Ireland, the Irish tourism board, and it takes an all-island approach to food tourism. Bushmills, one of the greatest distilleries in the world, is located in the North, along with powerhouse newcomers Echlinville, to name but two, so no whiskey tourism programme could exclude NI. When it comes to something as niche as whiskey tourism, the last thing we need are divisions. 

I was filled with great expectations; the 360 site would operate as a vast guide to all the distilleries, telling you who had mature stocks, who didn’t, who you could visit anytime, who you could visit by appointment only. There would be a section telling you about distillery only bottlings, a complete, all-Ireland map showing preferred routes from distillery to distillery, perhaps even a few other places of interest for people coming here to travel around and really gaze into the heart of Ireland – silent distilleries, great whiskey pubs, the odd brewery that does collaborations with whiskey firms; there would be warehouses, whiskey experiences, good restaurants with a whiskey slant. We need to build those links between distilleries – a trail of breadcrumbs to lure fans out into the wilds. This would be one for the real whiskey tourist, not just the coach tours who just want to use the loo. 

Anyway, this is the map:  

Aside from everything else, what is the story with the red speckles? Has there been an outbreak of plague in the north west and sunny south east (again)?

Seventeen locations, and not all of them are distilleries – Tullamore Distillery is by appointment only, one day a week, so the location they are flagging is the Tullamore DEW experience in the town. Same for Bow Street – it’s a whiskey experience, not a functioning distillery. As for places on that list where you can buy indigenous whiskey, I reckon about half of them have gift shops where you can come away with something that was actually distilled there. So the website’s claims that with their guide you’ll get to know the many very different characters that make up the Irish whiskey family seem more than a little far fetched – you’re far more likely to get to know a lot of Cooley and Bushmills. 

The breakdown of the 17 distilleries is thus: 

Roe & Co Distillery – new distillery, no mature stock.

The Powerscourt Distillery – new distillery, no mature stock.

Dublin Liberties Distillery – new distillery, no mature stock.

Clonakilty Distillery – new distillery, no mature stock.

Slane Distillery – new distillery, no mature stock.

Pearse Lyons Distillery – new distillery, mature stock from when they were operating in Carlow, nothing from the new site (as far as I know).

Royal Oak Distillery – new distillery, should have mature stock shortly. 

Rademon Estate Distillery – mature stock coming out later this year. 

Connacht Whiskey Distillery – mature stock, no idea when it is being released. 

The Echlinville Distillery – mature stock, no idea when it is being released.

Dingle Distillery – mature stock.

Kilbeggan Distillery – mature stock.

Tullamore D.E.W. – no mature stock either in the distillery or the bonded warehouse tourism bit in the town.

Jameson Distillery, Midleton – mature stock. 

Teeling Whiskey Distillery – mature stock.

Bushmills Distillery – mature stock. 

Jameson Experience, Bow Street – has some maturation on site but to all intents and purposes, no mature stock. 

The Irish Whiskey Association are keen to point out that this is phase one of the project, so this might explain why they only listed distilleries that can take larger tours. The distilleries listed all also happen to be IWA members, and this is where my nerves start jangling. If the IWA wants to create a whiskey tourism offering that only features their members, there is no problem – some of the biggest drinks firms in the world (Brown Forman, Pernod, Diageo, etc etc) are members of the IWA via their Irish operations, so they can afford to create their own initiative and promote it themselves. My issue is that our national tourism board has partnered with the IWA for this, something which is thus far a remarkably limited view of Irish whiskey in 2019. It’s taste the island, not taste the IWA. 

So I put this query to the IWA’s PR firm: There are some distilleries in Ireland not on the list – what was the criteria for the ones currently on the map? Are other attractions going to be added – such as whiskey pubs? Or is it just for whiskey distilleries? The response I got was this: 

“Phase one features Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey Association member visitor centres/brand homes who came together to initiate and fund the development of the project. Future phases will see extension to other Irish whiskey tourism partners, including those in the on-trade.  The Festival of Irish Whiskey in October will include other participants beyond the 17 featured visitor centres and brand homes.”

All the distilleries here pay a lot of tax, and some of that tax goes towards funding the tourism board – I would be deeply concerned if I thought any whiskey firms might be excluded from any tourism initiative. Granted, some don’t do large scale tours, but places like West Cork Distillers and Waterford Distillery host visitors (albeit it on a very small scale at the moment). So I went back to the PR firm for clarity, asking: Are non-IWA members going to be included in the campaign, including having their presence marked on the map of distilleries, as well as on the website? Or is this initiative purely focussed on IWA members? The mercurial reply was: 

“Future phases will see more partners being included, on a commercial basis. The current focus is on the 17 founding members and the Festival of Irish Whiskey, which is open to non-IWA members to be included.”

Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but there is something about those answers (‘on a commercial basis’) that leads me to think that non-IWA members might end up being left out, or treated as a lower tier in our whiskey tourism offering. Again, there is nothing against the IWA running a tourism campaign, but if this is the Irish whiskey section of the Taste The Island campaign, then we cannot leave out some places because they are not in the IWA, or even because they only take small tours, or are not normally open to the public. Have a look at the Visit Scotland whisky tourism site and how they portray Speyside – all the distilleries are listed. Then read this breakdown of the sheer power of whisky tourism in Scotland as a whole. If the Scots are getting it right, there is no harm in following their lead.

We either have a vibrant whiskey scene, or we don’t. We either have a thriving whiskey tourism offering, or we have a list of 17 places – some distilleries, some not – that you can go and walk around with your mouth open. Festivals are meaningless when the most basic tool of any tourist – a map – only shows a select few sites of interest. Who would look at the 360 map and think Connacht Distillery is worth driving across the country to see? There needs to be a trail, a route, a guide. I find it extraordinary that there is a far more comprehensive list of distilleries and upcoming whiskey projects available on the excellent Westmeath Whiskey World blog than there is on the 360 site. 

Part of the problem here is that the IWA has become the body to represent the industry, even though it doesn’t represent all of the industry. The IWA is there to represent business interests, but what happens to those who have no interest in paying a subscription to be a member? What about the smaller, indie firms who can’t afford to join? I understand that there needs to be some benefit to IWA members, but in this particular instance, there needs to be a bigger view taken. Firms can be rivals on the shelf, but should be comrades everywhere else.

I would very much hope that the next phase of the 360 project includes all distilleries; just last week I met up with an American tourist who came here purely to visit distilleries, and those that he couldn’t tour, he went along to and took photos from the outside. That’s the power of whiskey tourism, and understanding how it works will be key to harnessing it. We have a young scene, but it is vibrant, and, much like Scotland, it has one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world. By following the example the Scots have set, we too can find the promised land.

The Equaliser

John O’Connell in one of the Marsh Road warehouses.

It’s Good Friday, and West Cork Distillers is going through an audit for its organic certification. John O’Connell is practically running he is walking so fast. All is going well with the audit; O’Connell seems pleased. Despite breaking the land speed record as he moves from room to room, he still finds the time to show me around. Having visited the distillery 12 months before my Easter visit, my expectation was that little would have changed. I was wrong. The notion that life moves slower down west is disproved by WCD, which seems to be accelerating its already rapid expansion. 

In one lab they have a pilot plant alongside analytical equipment, meaning they can work on experimental washes and play around with locally-sourced fruit yeasts taken from Gougane Barra woods – O’Connell is all about fermentation, and is vocal about the role it plays in determining a spirit’s flavour profile.   

Wild Gougane Barra yeasts.

One of the newer pieces of equipment dreamed up and built from scratch in WCD is an electrodialysis machine. They can analyse new make, isolate components that they might not be happy with, and run the liquid through the dialysis machine to cleanse the spirit of them.  

But while they are relentlessly pushing toward a scientific utopia, they are also pushing for greater transparency in their barrels, now only sourcing from named bodegas, eschewing non-disclosure agreements in favour of greater clarity and information for the consumer. There are few people who WCD refuse to work with, and the firms they do create drinks for run from the aristocratic Baring family behind Lambay Whiskey, to UK TV star (and west Cork man) Graham Norton. But WCD have another project underway, one which may cause ripples in the industry.

Some distilleries here are offering cask programmes as a way of generating some revenue in order to offset the massive cost of getting up and running. It is a great idea – you buy a cask and feel part of a distillery’s story. Some distilleries are charging seven to ten grand a cask. But talk to anyone who has bought casks in Scotland and they will tell you that over there prices are far more reasonable (and thus more realistic as an investment). But with people using Dingle’s founding fathers five grand buy-in as a baseline, the only way is up, and up, and up. This meant that for most of us, cask ownership was just a pipe dream.

One of the Marsh Road warehouses.

Enter then the West Cork Whiskey Co-operative, a small group gathered through word of mouth, who were given the opportunity to buy some of the 5,000 casks released for sale by West Cork Distillers. Some have bought one or two, some have bought many more. And I, dear reader, bought nine, because although I am of meager means, my dual loves of both whiskey and bargains mean that this was an offer I could not refuse: The co-op offered a 200 litre first fill bourbon barrel filled with grain spirit for 888 euro, single pot still for 990 euro, or single malt for 1,086 euro. I bought one grain, four pot and four malt. One is for my godchild, four for each of my kids, and the remaining ones may end up getting bottled at some point (thus the grain). It is a bit of madness, and a bit of fun, and I don’t expect to make any money. Whiskey is a playground for me, not a place to graft.

So here comes the economics; the annual storage and insurance in year one, as well as the administrative cost of running the co-op, is included in the entry price. With a modest price appreciation of 2-5% per annum on current market valuations for aged whiskey, investors could generate 12-15% investment returns per annum over a three-to-10-year period. The co-op will act as the legal trustee and the registered tenant in WCD’s bonded warehouse, and the investor is the beneficial owner and is allocated a share in the co-op: One member, one vote. There is also the online trading platform which offers the ability to bid on other people’s whiskey or auction your existing whiskey to interested buyers. Loss of liquid in the casks beyond evaporation (2.5% per annum) or damage due to fire etc., is fully insured at the purchase price. As for tariffs and Brexit, WCD are a global business with diversified revenue streams so they are insulated better than most. 

O’Connell’s approach to this is much like his approach to business in general – be fair. Of course, there is also a bonus for WCD – they get an injection of cash, and will always have the option to buy casks back from the co-op should they need to. After their massive expansion in the past 12 months, they may need to – four warehouses sit at the end of the Marsh Road site (foundations needed to be set 15 metres underground, as the road lives up to its name), while they are finally throwing open the doors to the public, with a sizeable visitors centre, which houses their new distillery, which comprises of three pot stills, one hybrid and one column.

If WCD make all this look easy, these stills are a reminder that it isn’t – all came from planned distilleries that were abandoned, including the stills from the Niche/Quiet Man. Setting up a distillery is an expensive business – WCD exists largely through sheer force of will, and they still embody that Mad Max spirit of innovation and invention, making any equipment they can, and sourcing everything else in as cost-effective a way as possible (they even have ouzo stills, imported to Skibbereen after they were spotted by a staff member on holiday in Greece).  

How many people bring back stills from a holiday in Greece? Usually it’s just a straw donkey.

WCD have become a force to be reckoned with – their output of four million litres per annum may be dwarfed by the likes Midleton (100 million LPA); or even their main competitors in the wholesale market, Great Northern, who boast a remarkable 11 million LPA, but WCD have something that others do not – diversity. No parent firm, column and pot distillation, on-site maturation facilities, a bottling hall, and contract activity. As Darwin noted, it is not the strongest that survives, but the most adaptive to change. WCD were created out of necessity, invention and desperation – they will try almost anything (hard kombucha, anyone?), create just about any spirit they can if they find a market for it.

WCD also has a four-pronged revenue stream – their own branded products; bulk spirits and fermentates; contract manufacturing and wholesales. Domestically, they deal with the big supermarkets – Aldi, Lidl, Dunnes, Tesco and the Musgrave Group, who own SuperValu and Centra. They also have multiple contracts overseas, and are looking to expand further. They also bought out the Halewood stake in the firm, so the two McCarthy cousins and O’Connell are now the majority shareholders. They achieved all this with no marketing team – which, in the whiskey world, is possibly the most startling fact of all.

It is early days for the co-op – but if WCD can do it, why not others? Do we want Irish whiskey to be some elitist members-only affair where only those of significant means can afford to buy a cask (or a bottle)? Is it right that some brands are charging seven grand a cask, or 300 euro for a 16 year old whiskey? More importantly, is it good for the category? We need places like WCD to create equilibrium. With the co-op, people can get a sense of how much whiskey actually costs, rather than what someone decides it is worth. Obviously I’m going to roll back on this in spectacular fashion in 16 years when I release my own bottling for a grand a pop, but until then we need to calm the fuck down. An overpriced, overheated market draws the wrong kinds of entities into the marketplace.

If you are interested in buying a cask for a reasonable price, shop around – there are plenty of places that ought to cut you a deal, and at least now punters can say well, WCD charge a grand, why are you charging five times that (or more)? As for the co-op, membership is closed, but it may re-open again in the future. Chances are that if it does, it will be done in typical WCD fashion – quietly, fairly, and with as little fanfare as possible.

The War On Terroir

Can terroir exist in whisky? I like to think it can, but that’s because I choose to. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. The idea makes sense to me; but then, I have zero understanding of science, zero understanding of the destructive forces of distillation. So maybe I should take a backseat and shut the hell up, which is what I did when I got this email. I can’t remember the context, but the person who wrote it seemed pretty straight – considering they were using a fake name and fake email address. They had worked in distilling for decades (which in Ireland narrows it down to a few dozen potential candidates, thus necessitating the hidden ID) and just wanted to say their piece about their own experience of terroir in whiskey, so here it is:  

“We played with that more than a decade ago and took three separate strains of barley and made three totally different malts. The taste difference was notable as new make, but this was expected as most new make batches will have a slight difference in taste and aroma. However, we put them into three very similar casks (all ex-bourbon from the same distillery with the same fill and disgorging date) as identical as possible considering a casks variance, and all the whiskies tasted the same after five years. The barrel is far too overpowering for the tiny incremental changes the terroir supporters suggest. In my opinion, terroir in whiskey is 100% a marketing ploy as I’ve tested both ways – identical whiskey from the same batch in different casks and the opposite test with different whiskies in as identical as possible barrels and on both tests the barrel comes through by a huge country mile. The barrel does the vast majority of the flavour, definitely 70% or more depending on the barrel.

“Try buying a charred or toasted cask, add plain spring water to it and even after 48 hours of the water in the cask, remove some water and taste it and you’ll get those unmistakable whiskey flavours. The cask is honestly the big difference in whiskey. 

“Think of how many medals Cooley won prior to the sale to Beam. John Teeling couldn’t give his whiskey away at the time (which is why he had so much mature stock). And then all that stock got sold to brands and they did some unique finishes (Teelings 24 year old is a recent example finished in Sauternes casks), Hyde is another and plenty more world awards from that stock. All the same whiskey as Noel never did much to change the mash bill at Cooley. 

“The difference came in the finish, which was 100% from the cask. Every single brand in Ireland has known the importance of the barrel for hundreds of years. Even think of Redbreast in 1903. Gilbeys were wine merchants as were the Mitchell brothers with the Spot family. They had leftover wine casks and got them filled by Jameson. It resulted in some of the world’s best ever whiskey.”

Mysterious anonymous email endeth.

In the new make I tasted in Waterford, there were massive differences between farms – but give those different distillates ten years in a barrel, and then we shall see. New make exhibiting what seems like terroir is very different to a 15 year old spirit exhibiting terroir, because how do you eliminate the effects of the cask from your deductions? Do you sell each bottle with a sample of the new make so you can discern which flavour elements are down to where the barley grew, and which are down to the wood? Or is all this completely besides the point? Waterford Distillery has taken the focus off wood and placed it farther back in the process, to an element of whiskey that had been relegated to a walk on part in the narrative. If quality wood programmes are so important, why not grain also? And beyond that – why not yeast, why not fermentation times? Why not people? Reynier’s persona is central to this debate – he is as much part of the terroir of Waterford’s whisky as the grain. This was all his mad idea, his vision. You can criticise him, mutter about people ‘coming over here’ telling us how to make whisky, write it all off as marketing, or some zany experiment – but as experiments go, it is a remarkably grand one, and whether or not you believe in whisky terroir, or choose to believe or not, it is still exciting. 

For a more scientific, less nonsensical take on terroir: