The dancefloor of Auntie Annie’s indie club in Belfast seems like an unlikely setting for the start of a Northern Irish distilling success story, but it was there in 2006 where David Armstrong and Fiona Boyd first locked eyes. David, an aerospace engineer, and Fiona, a property surveyor, connected immediately over their shared love for all things food and drink, but it was Fiona who dreamed of starting a distillery, as David explains: “The idea for the distillery belongs wholly to Fiona. Fiona had been reading about the lost distilleries of Ireland, I think it was the Townsend book, around the time her family took on Rademon Estate and at that time she had mentioned to her father about building a distillery. He immediately dismissed the idea, told her she was crazy and to keep doing what she knew.
“But Fiona, just like her father [Northern Ireland property developer Frank Boyd], knows her mind and some years later when we got married in 2011 we both knew we wanted to own and manage our own business. We are both so passionate about food and drink, the food scene on the island of Ireland and, locally for us in County Down, is world class. Ideally, we would have loved a vineyard in France but as we live in County Down and not Bordeaux, Fiona again suggested a distillery and I naively said yes.
“From 2011 to 2013 during every holiday and weekend we travelled the world doing distilling classes and visiting distilleries; we ordered our first still in January 2013, it arrived summer 2013, then we undertook recipe development whilst continuing in our day jobs, eventually we both left our jobs in 2014 and we launched Shortcross Gin in April 2014, so we celebrated eight years as a distillery this April.”
If that makes it all sound easy, it isn’t; while many distilleries built on the island of Ireland in the past decade use sourced stock as a revenue generator, Rademon opted not to.
“To be honest, if you asked me in 2014 to go out and source an Irish whiskey I don’t feel I would have been the right person to do it. We always believed that you need to learn your trade, this is important for me personally having served an apprenticeship, so we focused on learning how to make and understand our own whiskey in the first instance. We are at heart a craft distillery – we only sell what we produce, and that is an important ethos for us.”
Fortunate then that their gin was such a success, winning multiple awards and spreading out to sizable markets such as the US and Canada. The distillery even produced a special limited edition gin with a royal touch – Hillsborough Castle and Gardens Shortcross edition features rose petals handpicked from Queen Elizabeth II’s Granville Rose Garden at Hillsborough Castle – the queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland. Shortcross is also the official gin of Royal Down Racecourse (Fiona’s mother Rose is well known in equestrian circles as the co-owner of the legendary Hurricane Fly).
But their gins aren’t simply a money-spinnner for Rademon while they wait for the whiskey to mature.
“Gin has become a byword by the media as a means to an end for new distilleries, we would love to invite those people to come and work at the distillery for the day to see the effort that goes into creating Shortcross Gin. We love gin and to make a great gin you need to be passionate about it.
“The skills we have learnt from gin have been key to creating our whiskey, namely the ability to nose and taste flavours and put them all together.”
As the gin became a success in its own right, they started to look into making whiskey.
“In 2014 we were in the US and visiting distilleries when we had the realisation that to grow the distillery we would need to look at other categories. Now, one thing about both of us is that we believe you should only make what you love, and over the previous two years I had started to get into whiskey, particularly malt whiskey, following a tasting of Connemara Turf Mór at Belfast International Airport. That tasting blew my mind and I was determined that we should make malt whiskey and with that, some with plenty of smoke too. We began distilling whiskey in our 450-litre copper pot still in 2015 and filled our first casks in August 2015 and continue to do so today.”
The inaugural Rademon Estate Distillery whiskey was released late last year – Shortcross Irish Whiskey, a double-distilled, five-year-old single malt, matured fully in Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux Red Wine casks before being finished in chinquapin oak – the first time this cask combination was used in Irish whiskey. It takes a patient person to wait to the five-year mark when it could legally be sold at three, but David felt it was worth it (and there was the small matter of a global pandemic).
“If Covid hadn’t arrived, we would have done something in 2020 but having the space to let things mature a little longer has allowed us to craft a release we can really be proud of. Personally, we thought the five-year mark, well actually it’s almost six years, was a good point to release this. The balance was just there in the whiskey and we knew it was good, so Fiona and I knew it was the right time to go for it. You have to believe in yourself and the liquid, bringing together the joy of seven years’ hard work of getting to this huge moment in time of releasing your very own whiskey.”
Obviously there was a lot of excitement for whiskey lovers – this was a release that was a long time coming – and then it won Best New Irish Whiskey at the Irish Whiskey Awards last year.
“To win the award was mind blowing. I was also known to have shed a tear that evening, it was the culmination of seven years hard work to put our very own Shortcross whiskey out there, that I single handedly worked on from mashing in, fermenting, distilling and filling the casks. We entered the awards without anyone having tasted it or giving us a nod that we were on the right path. We were overwhelmed by the positive response and support we received following the award.”
But along with the giddy highs, there was the reaction to the price – stg£300 – in the whiskey community.
“There was a small collective of negativity on social media, that just did not give up and became so vitriolic. I don’t think you could ever please these people and that says more about them than it does about us. Our first ever release was a small, limited release of less than 700 bottles, 656 in total. Two casks. It was a momentous and historic moment, Shortcross was the first Irish whiskey to be wholly distilled and released by a new Irish whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland since the 1920s and the first new Irish whiskey to be released outside of the Old Bushmills Distillery since the closure of Old Comber and Coleraine distilleries. It breaks the chain of Bushmills-only releases and that is something really important in the rebirth of the industry in Northern Ireland.”
But while the first release was limited and had a pricetag to reflect that, their next release is both affordable, available, and intriguing, as David explains.
“We like to do things a little differently so our second release is something completely different – Shortcross Rye & Malt Irish Whiskey. This coincided with a couple of things that happened in 2017 and then ultimately ended up with us visiting rye whiskey distilleries in Maryland, which is the birthplace of American Rye whiskey.
“When we got back to the distillery we began to explore how we could create a rye-influenced Irish whiskey, after many iterations and failings along the way we found that the best way for what we wanted to achieve this was to use malted rye rather than raw rye to amplify the fruit notes and tame the spice.
“The whiskey starts life with a mash bill of 30% to 50% malted rye and the remainder malted barley. The wash is fermented for 140 to 160 hours, allowing time for a secondary fermentation to kick in. This helps create flavour from the very start of the process, through distillation and on to maturation. We then double distil the spirit on our 450L and 1,750L copper pot stills, with the 450L being one of the smallest stills used for whiskey on the island of Ireland.
“For maturation we used a combination of first fill ex-bourbon casks and also virgin chinkapin oak casks, which create rich flavours of fudge, stem ginger and spice.
“It’s a great whiskey and one we are seriously proud of. We can’t wait now to see it in the wild and in the hands of whiskey drinkers.”
Thanks to the generosity of Rademon, a bottle of it is now in the hands of this whiskey drinker. So what to think: All of the above, nutmeg, spice, hints of mace and whispers of aniseed; heather and manuka honey. Sweet, smooth, spicy. For a first release it holds excellent promise, although that is probably damning it with faint praise. But it is an important whiskey, for all the historic and cultural reasons listed above.
There are distilleries all over the island of Ireland that get a lot of attention – some spend a fortune on PR, some are controversial, some are just loud. There are others who are quiet. This, for me, has been part of the intrigue with Rademon – a distillery that is just quietly working away, with no fuss. The fact they never released a sourced whiskey just adds to their mystique; no resurrected brand from the days of yore, no press releases spoofing on about heritage, just a distillery quietly making gin and whiskey – new, fresh, interesting. The fact they opted to release a rye and malt whiskey as their first widely available release shows a confidence – they also have a peated 50PPM whiskey so they don’t seem overly concerned with creating a potentially polarising product.
The rye and malt more than lives up to my expectations – it’s an interesting, easy drinker, but more importantly it is something new; this isn’t some murkily rebranded West Cork Distillers/Great Northern/Bushmills/Cooley whiskey that somehow, no matter the finish, always tastes more or less the same. This is a new sensation – a new Irish whiskey, a new Northern Irish whiskey, and one that was worth the wait.
Rademon Estate Distillery’s Shortcross Rye & Malt Whiskey is available from their webshop – 46%, non-chill filtered and all natural colour, it is priced at stg£65.
Glendalough Distillery is one of the success stories of the Irish whiskey resurgence. Founded in 2011 by a group of friends, their prominence in the media came from a combination of being early adopters of an exciting new trend and some high profile investors. One could also say that the business’s proximity to the Dublin media bubble helped (along with the team’s own media savvy), but their brand and their story was always strong – little wonder, given that several of the founders worked in branding, marketing, and advertising for some heavy hitters like Tullamore DEW and Jameson (another two of the founders were data analysts for Davy Stockbrokers). But beyond the brand, and the narrative, I knew little of Glendalough, but here is what I do know:
I’ve never been clear about the rest of the Glendalough story, despite co-founder Brian Fagan getting in touch in 2018 to explain a bit about where they were in their journey. He told me that they bought a site on Glendalough Green in 2016 and were considering their options about what size and style of distillery to build there. He said that they would have planning in place by the end of that year, but that in the meantime they were ordering more Holstein stills and would be distilling whiskey from their current site (an industrial estate in Newtownmountkennedy) by autumn 2018. In January 2019 Fagan emailed to say their new stills were in situ and were waiting to be commissioned, and that he would give me an update on their plans that I could feature on my blog. I haven’t heard from him since, but then 2019 was something of a momentous year for the firm so maybe it slipped his mind.
“In line with the continued growth in our gin and whiskey portfolio, our ambition remains to develop a new brand home for Glendalough. Plans are progressing well.”
Eagle-eyed readers will note the word distillery does not feature there. And while plans for whatever a ‘brand home’ constitutes may be progressing well, a quick search on the Wicklow County Council planning website shows there have been no plans submitted by Glendalough Distillery or Mark Anthony Brands for either a distillery, or a brand home, or anything, ever.
I also asked them about their distillations of whiskey in the past, and what amount they were distilling now – ie, casks per week – and what age the oldest stock they have of their own whiskey. This was the response:
“We set up whiskey stills a number of years ago, and have ambitious plans for our own liquid. Watch this space…but it takes time and we are patient.”
I also asked what percentage of the whiskey sold under the Glendalough Distillery brand worldwide was actually distilled in Glendalough distillery, and if there was a plan to phase out sourced stock, and if so, when would that happen. This was their response:
“While we continue to distil our award winning gins in Wicklow directly, our Single Malts, Single Grain and Single Pot Still are currently distilled elsewhere in Ireland to Glendalough’s specification. We are happy to be transparent about that and this is stated on our back labels. As mentioned above, we have our own whiskey liquid in the works. We plan to continue to source stocks while waiting on our own whiskey, distilled in Glendalough Distillery in the future. Between now and then, we will continue our relentless search to find the world’s best, rarest, most flavoursome oak to age and finish our whiskeys.”
Frankly, I am no wiser as to what the Glendalough brand is – indie bottler? NDP? ‘Brand’? Their pot still release from a couple of years back was meant to be the start of a transition to their own stock – the reason it’s not single pot still is they hoped to blend their own with it over time. I’m going to assume that transition never happened.
As for their claim about how the sourcing of their whiskey is clearly stated on the labels, this is what they were talking about:
Squint hard, gentle reader, and you will see that it does indeed say ‘produced for Glendalough Distillery’ in there among the jumble of info that nobody ever reads. But another thing I noticed about the bottle is that it no longer has Glendalough Distillery embossed on the glass.
Perhaps this is a sign that they are preparing to transition from aspirational whiskey distillers to a simple whiskey brand. Nothing wrong with that, and I’m not saying the founders are the boys who cried distillery but it does feel like a can was kicked far past the point of reason. I can tolerate whiskey being sold under the brand of a planned distillery, but only for so long. There comes a point where I expect you to piss or get off the pot still, and that point was several years ago.
As for the whiskey within – I had a bottle of the old Glendalough seven a few years back and it was a cracker – very similar to the cask strength Whistler Blue Note. But this Mizunara finished one is a completely different animal – I’m going to assume a different distillery was the source for this. It’s good, odd, not sure I’d be racing out to get myself any other whiskey anointed by the famously awkward Mizunara wood, but it’s a pleasant diversion. A similar price point to the Athru I reviewed recently and I would favour that over this, despite my preference for age statements over NAS. The packaging here is beautiful, but as I said at the start, the branding was always solid – although the Gandalf-esque image of St Kevin is, in fact, crap. A shame really, given that he was their favourite monk.
Most of Ireland’s distilleries were built in the last decade. We don’t really have beautiful historic distilleries like Scotland does. Not that their distilleries are all postcard scenes from the days of yore – for every chocolate box distillery like Strathisla there is a more utilitarian operation like Tamdhu. But Ireland has an amazing array of buildings housing distilleries – from Dingle, housed in a steel shed built onto a historic sawmill, to the farm distilleries in what looks like a haybarn, to the purpose built compact and bijou ones like Connacht, we have a bit of everything. While there are some curious distilleries built in curious places, few compare to the setting of Lough Gill Distillery.
Hazelwood House has quite the history – it was the first Palladian house in Ireland designed by Richard Cassels, who also designed Leinster House, Russborough House, and Powerscourt House. It was built in 1731, then occupied by Wynne family for 200 years, then lay empty from 1923 to 1930. The estate around the house was sold to the Land Commission and State Forestry Department in 1937, the house was occupied by the Irish Army in 1943, then purchased by Department of Health in 1947 for use as psychiatric hospital, and then, in what would become one the oddest developments for a stately home, it was bought by an Italian manufacturing company in 1969 and incorporated into a massive factory complex producing nylon yarn. The factory closed in 1983 and was bought in 1987 by the South Korean company SaeHan Information Systems, who produced video tapes on the site until 2005.
This is, to me, the defining image of Hazelwood – this beautiful historic home, sat on a peninsula jutting into Lough Gill, surrounded by woodland, with a sprawling factory out the back. It’s like a Terry Gilliam-directed steampunk dreamscape – aristocracy and industry colliding, Howl’s Moving Distillery. Of course it is easy to furrow the brow and ask, WTF were the planners thinking. But this was an area starved of jobs in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, so when someone came to them and said they wanted to open a factory and create hundreds of jobs, I would imagine aesthetics went out the window. You can’t eat the scenery.
From the Strathislas to the Macallans, distilleries are basically chemical plants. There is a frankness about Lough Gill that makes it stand out – that this is an industrial chemical process, and dressing it up in thatch and slate is deception. Of course, it does have impressive frontage – a stately home to whisper heritage and authenticity, and then a brutal factory reveal to say, we make booze, so suck it losers. I like the chaos of it.
The extra funds have allowed them to ramp up production since their Frilli stills were commissioned in 2019 – from July last year the plant was to start 24-hour production (resulting in 14 casks filled a week) under the stewardship of their Australian distiller, Ollie Alcorn. Hailing from the wine-producing Barossa Valley near Adelaide, this wouldn’t be Alcorn’s first rodeo – mainly because he used to work in an actual rodeo, as well as working on pearl diving boats, and in the wine industry. Alcorn’s wife Isabel is Irish and after moving to Dublin in 2008 they made the sensible decision to leave it and ended up in Sligo. With his background in drinks he was made head distiller at Lough Gill, and then guided by Scotch whisky legend Billy Walker in all aspects of whiskey production. It’s also worth noting that Lough Gill plans to make single malt, and single malt only – no clear spirits, no single pot still, no grain.
Raethorne’s plans for the house include using its vaults for whiskey tastings, but even as the proud owner of a sprawling distillery and warehouse complex, he admits it is an eyesore and suggested disguising it with a water feature. But in the meantime, while they wait for their own stock to mature, Lough Gill has released some sourced whiskeys.
I have made the point many times that I understand why distilleries source whiskey, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed when they do. I know they need or want money, but it is a lessening of the brand in my eyes when they chuck out another distillery’s product with their own distillery’s name on it. Lough Gill’s whiskey brand, Athrú, is not conspicuously branded with Lough Gill Distillery logos, but they are there, embossed on the glass, and on the label, along with the words ‘produced by Lough Gill Distillery’ which again raises questions about what the definition of producing whiskey actually is. Distilling? Maturation? Fiddling about with cask finishes? Bottling? Branding? Getting it on shelves in Tesco? Lough Gill is currently distilling their own barley to add oomph to their future provenance but in the here and now it’s a bit all over the place. Maybe sticking ‘produced for’ on there would work a bit better.
I was sent a bottle of their small batch blended malt for review. I’ll let the press release take it from here:
Athrú Whiskey has launched its first small batch release, a triple-casked malt Irish whiskey. This inaugural small batch release highlights a blend of three unique casks of six-year old Oloroso, six year-old Bourbon and 17-year old madeira finishes.
Limited to just 3,000 bottles and bottled at 46% abv, this perfect blend of malt Irish whiskey gives Athrú a combination of dried fruits and spiced vanilla with a subtle toffee finish.
Athrú Whiskey Head Distiller Ollie Alcorn said “I carefully select the best of each batch of casks’ to create our small batch, limited releases. After rooting through the warehouse, I’ve picked a moreish combination of Bourbon, Oloroso and Madeira, a Portuguese fortified wine which adds depth and sweetness. Together, they produce notes of dried fruits and spiced vanilla with a subtle toffee finish. This release takes us on a deep dive into further exploration of wood-finishing, allowing us to show a more experimental side to our approach.”
Commenting on the launch, distillery founder David Raethorne said “We are delighted to launch our first small batch release. This release will be of particular interest to those who have followed our journey since our first whiskey release in 2016 but also for those who want to experience the art of the Athrú Whiskey wood finishing process. At Lough Gill Distillery, we always endeavour to create really special and unique products and we think this is evident in this special Small Batch Release. We are really proud of this launch and can’t wait for whiskey fans to try it.”
NOSE: warming dried fruit that mingles with softly spiced vanilla and almond, with hints of lemon zest.
TASTE: the raisin note continues nestled within caramel, praline and butterscotch sweetness.
FINISH: gentle finish that fades leaving toffee and brown sugar notes.
The Athrú Small Batch Release Bottle is priced €85 and available to order from athru.com or select stockists nationwide.
To the cons – sourced whiskey, opaque provenance, high price. Scallywag, a blended malt from Speyside, is about 30 euro less, and similar in flavour profile. But this is Irish whiskey so complaining about the price is pointless. Also, I did get the bottle for free, so there’s that.
The pros – an excellent blended malt in a lovely bottle. A hideous distillery behind a beautiful ruin. An interesting proposition, aesthetically and every other way. Look, they could have resurrected some old west of Ireland whiskey brand and shoved out a sourced whiskey under that, but they didn’t and went for something more modern and bold, and that is to be commended. I really enjoyed this whiskey – shave 20 euro off that asking price and my enthusiasm would reach the point of recommending it to others, although I would probably end up adding numerous caveats about the hows and whys of sourced whiskey. This is why I don’t work in sales.
In 1996, a documentary film named Microcosmos was released. Eschewing the norms of nature documentary making, the French team behind it didn’t focus on loveable mammals, noble sea creatures, or elegant avians – they filmed bugs. They captured all the highs and lows of invertebrate life – love, peace, and war. Using specialist cameras they captured the raging battles that go on under our feet, unbeknownst to us. I think of these tiny battles when I see people arguing online about terroir in whisky. Whiskey fandom is niche enough without disappearing into a micro-universe of debate. There are some things in this whiskey-soaked world we inhabit that are worth arguing about, and terroir ain’t one of them.
The debate over whether whisky is all about terroir or all about the wood is akin to the debate about nature versus nurture; are we who we are because of genetics, or is it shaped by who nurtures us? To its true believers, terroir is the DNA of a whisky – those initial flavour elements we can taste when it rolls off the still are as a result of the place where the barley was grown (amongst other factors in the distillation process, obviously). Terroir tells us that the gestation of the barley in the earth shapes how the whisky will taste; that is the time in the womb; it is nature.
Nurture is the rest – the distilling, the time spent in cask; the socialising and rounding of the spirit into a complete and mature entity. This is, of course, just my take on it – your mileage may vary and your opinion may well differ. That is ok. I don’t really care that much about it. Obviously, Mark Reynier cares rather a lot – after selling Bruichladdich on Islay to Remy Cointreau he bought an old Guinness brewery in Waterford, transformed it into a distillery, and then built a remarkable brand. I have written extensively about this distillery and its owner, but here is a recap.
From the outset, Waterford was all about the barley. All about the farmers, the field, the soil, the grain. They singled out farms, and fields within those farms, grew barley on them and then distilled field by field. They claim that different soil types and the respective microclimates that nurture them give barley a unique flavour. So far so good. But why not just make a loaf of bread out of the barley to see if this field differs from that field? Or just eat some kernels and see how they taste? That was too simple, and besides, this was about flavour survival; this was about those unique compounds being evident after the various brutalities of the distilling process; the crushing, mashing, brewing, boiling and condensing. How could any unique flavour survive that?
To back up their claims about terroir Waterford Distillery took part in a Teagasc-backed scientific study into the existence of terroir in whisky which found that it does exist (although the study was on new-make rather than mature whisky). While this was heralded by terroir’s true believers as a momentous occasion, I’m not entirely sure that there were many who outright denied that terroir in whisky existed. Most of the arguments I have encountered against the concept were based on the fact that terroir would be of minimal importance, especially when compared against key flavour-defining aspects of the distilling process such as fermentation times. And of course, casks have to be the ultimate kingmakers in dark spirits – the idea that the 90 days or so barley spends growing in soil leaves more impact than the five, ten, or 20 years that distilled spirit spends in a cask would, understandably, be something of a stretch for some within the industry. You can say that those who get sniffy about terroir have some industry-led agenda; you could just as easily say that of course Waterford’s research into terroir proved its existence. Cynicism is a healthy thing, in moderation. But I often think of this excellent point by Alistair:
Which was followed some months later by this tweet from Mark Reynier;
Reynier reminds me of Hazel Motes, the disillusioned antihero of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, travelling the land preaching to the masses of his Church Without God, trying to lift the scales from their eyes and teach them to live without faith. Motes learned the hard way that faith is inevitable, and we all fashion our own personal religions eventually. Everything about Waterford appears to be rejecting the norms of whisky – from the obsession with barley, to the hyper-modern branding, the medicinal-blue bottles, the coloured glass stoppers, even the rejection of the standard spelling of Irish whiskey. But just as Hazel Motes’s church without god was still a church, Waterford is still a distillery, and Reynier is still a very successful drinks entrepreneur, one who is still making good, old fashioned single malt whisky, just with a slightly different production process (or brand narrative, depending on your level of cynicism).
But there are many great things about Waterford’s new testament: It has written a new origin story for whisky – it no longer begins with the distiller, or the maltster, but with the farmer. It celebrates the individuals who grew the grain just as it celebrates the grain itself – terroir is about people, as much as place, and the hand that guides the plough and sows the seed is, to my mind, as important as which way the wind blows or the elevation of the soil. Farmers were a footnote in whisky for many years, now they are a core element of Waterford’s brand. Polarising as Reynier’s persona can be – and I’m not here to defend either terroir in whisky or its most ardent champion – what he has done to celebrate the labour of Irish farmers is remarkable.
He also gifted smaller non-distilling producers with a remarkable way to be part of what they produce; anyone who can grow barley can get it distilled under contract at Great Northern and claim it as theirs, without the vast expense of having to build a distillery. I’m old enough to remember when indie bottlers and random brands across Ireland tried to claim that their local water, used to cut their sourced whiskey before bottling, gave them authorship of the release. It was always a weak claim, but now they can show provenance and ownership through a bit of farming, a contract to distill, and terroir. If you have a field and a bit of barley, you can have your own whisky.
In their first year of releases, Waterford Distillery managed to put out 27 unique bottlings. Understandably, given the volume of bottlings, reception was mixed. Perhaps expectations were too high – perhaps all the sturm und drang didn’t help; perhaps people were happy to tear it down given Reynier’s jousting in the media, where they might have been kinder to another, more low-key operator. Reynier’s claims that he was going to make the most profound single malt ever created may have played well with his Jobsian acolytes, but for some it was a gauntlet being thrown down – it’s not hard to see some thinking, well, let’s see about that before they had even opened a bottle. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion – and the zealots raving about the liquid are as valid a voice as those saying it was overpriced and too young.
But this is Reynier’s style – adversarial, quixotic, divisive. There is an excellent piece on horticulturist Claire Vokins’s blog about a tasting hosted by Reynier which gives you an idea of how polarising he can be. However, it is impossible to separate him from Waterford, frustrating as his detractors may find it. It stands apart, because he does.
There are some very positive reviews of single farm bottlings, and some less so. The negative ones raised the question – what if the terroir of a field produces poor flavours? What if its most pronounced note is decay, or sulphur, what if it’s just bland, and in no way profound? Who do we blame then – the farmer? The distillery? When the whisky is crap, who takes the hit? And if it is crap, why was it even released? Terroir doesn’t automatically mean good, or better. It means different, and given the reliance Irish whiskey has had on the output of only three distilleries over the last 30 years, difference is welcome. Bad whisky, however, won’t do anyone any favours.
Some reviews made the point that the whisky is young, but outside of the big three – Midleton, Bushmills and Cooley – almost all Irish whiskey is young. Even Dingle isn’t even ten yet. Also, if you wanted to celebrate terroir as a component of flavour, a younger whisky would be the way to showcase it. Reynier says that the next step in the Waterford project is tracking how terroir affects the spirit as it matures, but you would have to assume that as time goes on, terroir will take a backseat to discussions around their wood programme – I very much doubt they spent all that money on quality casks just so they could keep mum about it. So this is terroir’s time to shine (or not). Perhaps in future the terroir of the trees used to make the casks will be considered, or the terroir of the people making the whiskey. For now, it’s barley, and the Irish countryside.
I was sent two bottles for review – Hook Head 1.1 and Grattansbrook 1.1, the latter a UK exclusive, and it is there I will begin.
Terroir is a facet of the drive towards transparency. That is the T that matters here – there is a code on the back of every bottle and when you enter it on their website you get a barrage of information about the farm, the farmer, the field, the soil, the barley, the distillers’ names, the casks, the age. It is remarkable. But all that info does not make it taste better, so what of Grattansbrook – on the nose, mace, star anise, tea. On the palate, manuka honey, nutmeg, cola cubes. The finish lingers. It’s okay…ish. It wasn’t the first one I opened, but the first one in this review for the purpose of decency as the next bottle is, in my opinion, vastly superior.
As we trundled to the end of year, the releases kept coming – limited, hyperlimited, and other. A slight scaling back on the 27 in 2020, last year only saw them put out 16. It can still be overwhelming just to keep track of the releases, and I would imagine that, if there are zealots out there trying to catch ‘em all, it is something of a pain in the ass. And while there are true believers who will do it, there are people I know who will not drink Waterford. The message on the website which proudly states that Waterford ‘is not for everyone’ before adding that this is for ‘the cognoscenti, the intrepid and the curious’. Perhaps implying those who do not like your whisky are dull of mind is not the best way to change their opinion. The indigo-eyed tricoteuse who adore Waterford and will fight to defend terroir may delight in this microcosmic battle, but I certainly don’t. I came to whiskey for community, not some endless argument about soil.
Biodynamics is the next experiment in the Waterford project, another concept adopted from viticulture. There does come a point in this where you have to stand back and consider all the elements of Waterford that were taken from wine production – terroir, biodynamics, even the rejection of the aesthetic norms of whisky packaging in favour of those blue bottles and hyper-modern design – and ask if this is a whisky that wants to be a wine; if it is praying for a miracle of transubstantiation to take it away from all these base brands with their addiction to orthodoxy. Is it such a shameful thing, for a whisky to look like a whisky? I still think Waterford is a fascinating brand and what they are doing is remarkable. I look forward to future releases, and seeing how the project develops over the years. But for the time being, I am renouncing my faith.
This time three years ago the news was breaking that Walsh Whiskey and Ilva Saronno were parting ways. It was hard to comprehend – Bernard and Rosemary Walsh had built their Writers’ Tears and The Irishman brands from the ground up, and had the foresight to start doing so well before the multitude of non-distilling producer Irish whiskey brands that are weighing down the shelves in your local drinks emporium. It’s hard to imagine anyone conceiving a whiskey brand all the way back in 1999, but the Walshes did – kind of.
The company started life as The Hot Irishman, a concentrate to be used for making Irish coffees. But as Irish whiskey began its acceleration in the early 2000s, Walsh saw the potential for a whiskey brand and in 2006 The Irishman Founder’s Reserve whiskey was launched. In 2009 Writers’ Tears – a blend of pot still and malt whiskey – was launched. Then, in 2013, as Irish whiskey took off worldwide, Walsh merged with Ilva Saronno – the Italian parent firm of iconic brands Disaronno and Tia Maria. With the backing of a drinks titan, they built a beautiful distillery in Royal Oak, which opened in June 2016. Less than three years later, in January 2019, Ilva Saronno and Walsh Whiskey consciously uncoupled.
In a frank interview with Mark Gillespie on WhiskyCast, Bernard Walsh said that while he wanted to focus on premiumisation, his Italian partners had a different view of the market. If that seemed opaque at the time, the release of Ilva Saronno’s The Busker made clear what he was referring to. It’s hard to imagine brands more disparate than the brutalist, smashable dram of The Busker (which is a quality, affordable, no frills whiskey) and the considered elegance of Writers’ Tears (as imbibed by Margaret Atwood, no less). But while WT is a quality whiskey in a stunning package, The Irishman’s livery was a little dated. A rebrand in 2013 updated it somewhat, but it still looked like the poor relation next to Writers’ Tears. They also made the decision to include Bernard Walsh’s face on the label. I am of the mind that unless the face on the label is a Victorian cameo-style sketch of Rabbie Burns or Paddy Flaherty or some other dear departed icon, your label will not be improved by its inclusion, especially if it’s not an immediately recognisable face (addendum to this – it’s not ok to mock the god-awful line drawing of Paul Newman on Newman’s Own as they are for charity). The Irishman needed a reboot, more than a rebrand. But reboots cost money.
In November 2021 it was announced that Walsh Whiskey had been bought by Amber Beverage Group for an undisclosed sum. An informed source told the Irish Times it could be on a par with the alleged 90 million Sazerac bought the Paddy brand from Irish Distillers for – but the cynic in me suggested that seemed a little high. So I checked with another source in the industry who said they were surprised the figure wasn’t higher.
Luxembourg-HQed Amber Beverage Group (ABG) are a division of SPI Group, which is owned by Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler, a former member of the Russian military who has been locked in a trademark battle with the Russian state-owned company FKP Soyuzplodoimport over the ownership of Stoli brand vodka for decades. Per Forbes, Shefler bought the Stoli brand from state-owned VVO Soyuzplodoimport for $285,000 in 1997. Russia’s Supreme Court ruled the sale illegal in 2001, banning Shefler from selling the vodka inside its borders. In 2014, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium joined Russia in banning sales of Stolichnaya. However, in July of 2021, SPI Group hailed a victory in the ongoing dispute, winning the rights to sell Stoli in eight of 13 European countries. Also, in light of current events it is worth pointing out that SPI’s Stoli is made in Lativa, just in case you feel like boycotting it because it is ‘Russian’.
Update 7.3.2022 – Stoli has rebranded. In a press release, Shefler said: “While I have been exiled from Russia since 2000 due to my opposition to Putin, I have remained proud of the Stolichnaya brand. Today, we have made the decision to rebrand entirely as the name no longer represents our organization. More than anything, I wish for ‘Stoli’ to represent peace in Europe and solidarity with Ukraine.” What this means for the trademarks, I couldn’t say – but it might pave the way for Shefler’s Latvian-made Stoli to be a distinct brand from the Russian made and owned Stolichnaya
While Stoli may be the biggest name in their portfolio, ABG are big and plan on getting bigger. According to a piece published in The Spirits Business in June 2021 –
Throughout the pandemic, the company continued to witness positive sales. Amber Beverage Group saw organic sales increase 11% to €268.7 million (US$347.1m) last year, boosted by its “strengthened” presence in core Baltic markets. Organic operating profit for the full year rose by 21% to €21.9m (US$26.8m). The company had surpassed €30m (US$36.4m) in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the second time, reflecting its ability to adapt quickly.
Part of this expansion saw them buy Angelina Jolie’s share of a French vineyard she had invested in with her former partner Brad Pitt. That sale is now the subject of litigation by Pitt as part of their long-running divorce battle. Pitt’s suit claims ‘She sold her interest with the knowledge and intention that Shefler and his affiliates would seek to control the business to which Pitt had devoted himself and to undermine Pitt’s investment in Miraval’.
ABG’s financial prudence meant they were able to spend half a million euro on the renovation of The Irishman. I’ll let the press release take it from here:
The Irishman® range of super-premium whiskeys produced by Walsh Whiskey (part of the Amber Beverage Group) has undergone an extensive rebranding to reflect its dedication to the pursuit of excellence in Single Malt whiskeys. The €500,000 rebranding, which sees wholesale changes to The Irishman’s bottle, labelling and packaging, follows a strategic review which commenced in April 2020. Walsh Whiskey was assisted in the review by Bord Bia’s (The Irish Food Board) specialist Insight Centre – The Thinking House. The extensive design project was undertaken by HERE design agency in London.
Announcing the renewed focus on single malt and the brand redesign, Walsh Whiskey founder Bernard Walsh said: “As the Irish whiskey category continues to develop with increasing variety, it is important that we are clear in our proposition to whiskey consumers. Our message is simple: The Irishman will always be single malt focused – whether championed in pure expressions or blends – and that it will always be triple distilled to leave a lasting impression.”
There are also changes to the composition of the range, with a change of name for one core expression and the addition of a limited edition to the core of the portfolio.
The Founder’s Reserve blend (70% Single Malt & 30% Pot Still) has been renamed The Harvest. This expression, a truly unique blend of two premium styles of whiskey, started life as the first ever whiskey created by Walsh Whiskey’s Founder. The renaming of this core expression as The Harvest honours the great contribution of the farming community in the whiskey-making process. The whiskey is crafted entirely from a mash bill of 100% Irish barley.
First released as a limited edition bottling in 2018, The Irishman Caribbean Cask is being added to the portfolio’s core expressions which also include The Harvest; Single Malt; 12-Year-Old Single Malt; 17-Year-Old Single Malt & the Vintage Cask. The Irishman Caribbean Cask Finish is a rare vatting of Single Malt and Single Pot Still whiskeys finished for 6 months in Chairman’s Reserve Rum casks from the tiny tropical Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, before being bottled at 46% ABV.
A new colour palette of understated cream, green, grey, blue and burgundy is applied to the labels of the six core expressions of The Irishman range.
The trajectory of Walsh Whiskey probably holds some lessons for other producers – you don’t need a distillery to build a valuable brand, whiskey is a long game, and the road to success isn’t always sunshines and roses. Just ask Brad and Angelina.
Many years ago, someone in the whiskey business told me that Green Spot sold well with women. I brought it up with one of the production team in Midleton, and they explained that this was a result of the flavour profile. Then I brought it up with one of their marketing team, and their explanation was more straightforward: It sells well with women because it looks like a bottle of wine. You may well bristle at both opinions, or you may believe that it is a grim truism – many products, including food and drink, are marketed to people based on gender. (You may also correctly note that I used this story many times to illustrate the same point). Whiskey was solely aimed at men for decades, so the conundrum the industry has been battling for the last 20 years is how to shift that focus.
Back in 2019, the then CEO of Chivas Brothers Jean Christophe Coutures gave an interview to MarketWatch about how more women were drinking whiskey. Coutures, in reference to the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve and its success with women, had this to say:
“It has a more approachable taste, a smooth, creamy sweetness with delicate flavors that doesn’t have the same edge often found in whiskey. We’ve also made the packaging easier to understand and priced it at entry level. More women keep returning.”
At the time I found it hard to believe, so I contacted one of the journalists who wrote the piece to make sure the quote was correct. He confirmed that it was. Giving Coutures the benefit of the doubt, English is not his first language. Perhaps he was trying to say that the success of Founder’s Reserve was not that it was dumbed down for women, but that it was dumbed down for everyone. Whiskies like Founder’s Reserve (affordable NAS single malts) are probably everyone’s first port of call when moving beyond blends, and that applies to both men and women. But Coutures’s comments were still a god-awful clanger.
So the question now is – how do you encourage diversity among whiskey consumers? I have no idea. I’ll leave that to the marketeers. But events the one held this week at Powerscourt Distillery are a good start. I’ll let the press release take it from here:
The ancient Irish feast of Imbolc (Spring) was celebrated in style at The Powerscourt Distillery on Friday 18th February. The first day of Imbolc coincides with Brigid’s Day, and the celebration at the Powerscourt Distillery used the occasion to celebrate the connections between Brigid and her associations with Brewing/Farming/Dairying/Nature and Hospitality.
Guests were welcomed with a cocktail called Brigid’s Cloak. Named after the legendary cloak laid down by Brigid as she claimed lands from the King of Leinster, it was based on the classic Manhattan. Reflecting Brigid’s reputation as an Irish woman ahead of her time, it was made using Fercullen Irish Whiskey and Irish ingredients made by female producers, with vermouth from Valentia Island Vermouth and bitters from Beara Bitters.
Following a drinks reception, Caroline Gardiner, Head of Marketing at Powerscourt Distillery, introduced the two panel discussions chaired by broadcaster Suzanne Campbell and curated by the Food and Beverage Specialist at the Distillery, Santina Kennedy.
The first panel incorporated guests with associations with Imbolc and Brigid to highlight and celebrate the occasion. Imbolc literally means ‘in belly’ meaning in the ewe’s belly – signifying springtime/lactating ewes/ spring lambs – so it was appropriate that the first panellist was Hanna Finlay from Ballyhubbock farm in West Wicklow, producer of sheep’s dairy ice cream and cheese. Storm Eunice prevented Hanna from driving over the Wicklow Gap to join the panel in person, but she was able to participate in the lively conversation via video link.
Hanna was joined by Judith Boyle, Brewer and Beer Lecturer at TU Dublin who shared funny anecdotes about growing up in Kildare – the home of St Brigid as well as her experience as a female brewer; Rosanna Goswell from Tuath Glass who gave a fascinating insight into her Irish Whiskey Glass , which was named after Tuath De Dannan – the family of the Goddess Brigid.
Also on the panel was Brigid O’Hora – the sommelier who brought insights into modern Irish Wine appreciation gleaned from her online wine training platform – Brideys Wine Chats . Being a ‘Brigid’ from Co Kildare who is the mother of triplets there was no shortage of associations with the Patron Saint of fertility!
The panel was completed with Alex Slazenger, Head Gardener at Powerscourt Estate who captivated the audience with the history and legacy of the gardens at Powerscourt and his plans to continue his grandparents pioneering work to create a sustainable garden of outstanding beauty.
The second panel discussed the ‘Taste of Place’ . Powerscourt Distillery celebrates its location throughout its offering – from the water from Powerscourt Waterfall that is used to make its whiskey, to the barley in the surrounding fields to the use of local produce in its cocktails and food pairing tours and tastings.
To celebrate this idea of Irish terroir, panellists included Orla Snook O’Carrroll of Valentia Island Vermouth, Ireland’s first vermouth which is made using botanicals from Kerry; Orla was joined by Celina Stephenson of Wicklow Way Wines. Their Móinéir wine is made using only Irish berry fruit, capturing the taste of Irish summer. The idea of capturing a taste of place was explained by Geraldine Kavanagh , professional forager for Glendalough Gin, who kept the audience really entertained as she described trying to explain her occupation to a bank manager. She brought a handmade willow basket of foraged treasures from the Wicklow mountains, describing how she used the botanicals to be distilled into seasonal gins. Olly Nolan, the beekeeper behind Olly’s Honey described how the honey from the hives at the distillery captures the taste of Powerscourt, from the wild hedgerows around the estate and the variety of flowers in the world renowned gardens. This panel was completed by Mary O’Sullivan who described setting up her Bitters during the pandemic. A botanist who grew up on an organic farm in Co Kerry, Mary really evoked a sense of capturing the magic of flowers and plants to achieve a taste of a place.
Guests were then treated to a Powerscourt Distillery Whiskey and Food Pairing experience. Head of Whiskey John Cashman enthralled the audience with his introduction to Irish whiskey and detailed guided tastings. Santina Kennedy, who organised the event, led the guided food pairings . Using her research into Irish Food History taken as part of her MA in Gastronomy and Food Studies, she has developed a unique whiskey and food pairing experience. She uses only high quality Irish food produce whose taste, texture and story mirrors the various expressions of Fercullen Irish Whiskey. Under Santina’s guidance The Powerscourt Distillery champions locally produced high quality Irish food as part of the overall offering.
A cake by Kate O’Hora of @thecake_table captured the essence of Imbolc and Brigid, with delicate spring flowers and a flowing edible cloak.
Powerscourt Distillery’s Imbolc celebration will become an annual event, with a bigger and even more exciting day being planned for 2023.
Press release endeth – unsurprisingly there was no mention of the recent, startling departure of their master distiller Noel Sweeney, or the departure not long before that of backer and MD Alex Peirce. These are strange times for Powerscourt Distillery – former C&C CEO Maurice Pratt joined the board before Christmas, presumably to steady the ship, but without Perice – whose family are involved in Isle of Arran Distillery and Lagg Distillery – and Cooley legend Sweeney, their identity – to my mind at least – has taken a setback. Events like their Imbolc gathering are good because it is uncommon – a female focussed hosted by a whiskey distillery. Hopefully others will follow their lead.
Paddy J O’Flaherty was a celebrity. He wasn’t always that way, but it’s how he ended up. He started his career in the drinks trade as a sales rep for what was known as Cork Distilleries Company (CDC) Old Irish Whisky. He was one of the first brand ambassadors – think The Simpsons’ rambunctious brewery spokestoon Duffman, but in a bowler hat, and instead of firing merch out of a T-shirt cannon, he fired out free drinks in pubs across Cork. He was so good at his job that he became synonymous with the brand. CDC saw an opportunity, bought the rights to his name and image and used them both to sell what was now known as Paddy Whisky.
This wasn’t a case where the brand was renamed after a distiller, or a maltster, or a cooper – it was named after someone who had nothing to do with production and was only concerned with selling the stuff. O’Flaherty had as much input into the creation of the liquid in the bottle as McGregor has in Proper Twelve, or Ryan Reynolds has in Aviator Gin, or George Clooney had in Casamigos. So what I’m saying here is, Paddy whisky was one of the first celebrity drinks brands, while Paddy was one of the first influencers.
Fast forward to 2016 and Pernod Ricard Irish Distillers sell Paddy to American drinks giant Sazerac for an undisclosed sum (there is this suggestion that it was €90 million euro). The sale didn’t raise much of an eyebrow – even for a proud Corkman like myself, Paddy was an also-ran. Despite its position as one of the last Cork whiskey brands, I didn’t have much of an opinion of it. On a night out in an average pub, you’d always have three choices – Powers, Paddy or Jameson. Jameson was, as we would say in Cork, mockeyah. Not a serious option – a bit too bland and safe. Powers was the best option, with its pot still spices and robust profile, because Paddy had a bit too much personality. And by that I mean I found it to be rough as fuck. Paddy was the whiskey you drank when all else failed, when the host at the wake hadn’t stocked up properly, or when dawn was breaking and you didn’t care about flavour profile all that much anymore.
But there was potential there – it’s an historic brand with a great story behind it, with a healthy dose of ture-a-lure-a-laddie for our cousins across the Atlantic. It was also the fourth largest Irish whiskey brand in the world at the time of its sale. It just needed a bit of a refresh. Irish Distillers had enough to worry about with other portfolio reboots, rebrands and expansions. To reanimate Paddy would take a sizable amount of investment and effort. So they sold it to Sazerac, a firm comprising seven American and one Canadian distilleries, and some 450 brands (they already owned Michael Collins Irish Whiskey).
After the sale, Paddy was revamped, but in different ways in different markets. Here in Ireland, it was tweaked ever so slightly. In the US, it was cranked up to 11 – and placed in the possessive, complete with an ocular irritant of an apostrophe (Powers should technically carry one also as the family name is Power, but they don’t as it looks shit).
The sale of the brand may not have been seen as such a big deal, but the rebirth as Paddy’s was a bit unsettling. I think it was just so….American? But if there are a people on god’s green earth that we want to buy Irish whiskey, it is our friends to the west.
Sazerac appears to have big plans for the brand, as according to the Sunday Independent, they are looking for a physical home for Paddy. Obviously they can’t run tours in Midleton distillery since they don’t own it, so they are apparently looking to either buy a distillery or enter into a partnership with one. On the latter: Where would fit their needs? You’d have to assume they will need a distillery with column and pot stills if they mean to produce the brand there, and it would need to be sizeable. Or, they could buy/build a very small distillery for tourism purposes and outsource the bulk of production to one of the workhorse distilleries. They could also look outside Cork (if this thought worries you, be reassured by the fact that Cork is heavily featured on their corporate website as the home of Paddy).
But does it really matter if Paddy is made in Cork? Does it matter that virtually all the other brands made in Midleton are originally from Dublin – Jameson, the Spots, Powers, Redbreast? Almost none of the brands made in Midleton are historically or intrinsically linked to the place – Irish Distillers limited could sell almost any of their brands as none of them are geographically anchored. The only ones whose identities are tied are Midleton Very Rare and maybe the single casks. Even Method & Madness is a moveable feast. I’m not saying they should jettison some of these iconic brands but it does show how some of our biggest names are nomads, a byproduct of all the consolidation and contraction in the industry.
But if Sazerac wanted to partner or outright buy an Irish whiskey distillery, they will just have to wait. There are some which will, sadly, fail, or will have to take painful and humiliating write-downs of their valuations. Such is life.
Theodosia Wingfield lived a sad, short life. Born in Wicklow in 1800, her people were gentleman landowners, and were part of a small community of families of means in the area who all shared a deep piety. After her beloved cousin Francis Theodosia Bligh died at the age of 25, Theodosia married her widower – Richard Wingfield, 5th Viscount Powerscourt, thus becoming the Viscountess Powerscourt. He died a year later. Their only child, a daughter, died in infancy. A month after her husband’s death, Theodosia wrote: “I do not suppose there could be a stronger lesson on the vanity of everything earthly, than to look at me last year, and this. The prospects of happiness I seemed to set out with! And now, where are they?”
But her faith was only strengthened by all the tragedy – in 1829 she hosted the first of the Powerscourt Conferences, when the faithful gathered to discuss prophecy, specifically, the return of the Lord. The conferences were not of the mind that His return would be a thing of peace, love, and understanding – this was not to be the groovy Christ of the New Testament. The conferences deduced that Jesus was coming, and that right soon, to smite a world riddled with sin. There was to be an apocalypse and only the pious would survive. On New Year’s Eve, 1836, Theodosia died, and was buried at Powerscourt.
Powerscourt, like many of the great houses, began as a medieval castle, but in 1730 German-born architect Richard Castle oversaw its redesign as a 68-room mansion in the Palladian style. In 1961 the Slazenger family – they of sports brand fame – bought the property and its lands from the 9th Viscount Powerscourt. In 1974, as the house was undergoing a major refurbishment, a fire broke out and destroyed much of the top floors and the roof. In 1996 it reopened in the form we see today. In more recent years it became a fully fledged lifestyle emporium and tourist trap, hosting more than 300,000 visitors a year.
I wonder how Theodosia would feel about her home, the site of all those deep discussions about a holy apocalypse and the smiting of the wicked, being turned into a shopping centre, albeit a very upmarket one. Within the main part of the house there are various emporiums selling hand-crafted candles and woolen goods, local art, and artisanal foodstuffs. I imagine that if some part of her still resides there, that she drifts through the scented beeswax candles and ethical smoked salmon with her mouth locked wide in an unheard scream, wishing she could take a physical form so she could cast them all out. Perhaps this was the apocalypse she envisioned, albeit in a hyper-localised, slightly ironic form. But the great houses were made great by their lands, and those lands are no more, so needs must. Aristocrat or peasant, in this economy, you gotta shake it to make it.
Powerscourt Distillery is solid. It is backed by the people behind Isle Of Arran and Lagg distilleries, Mentec mogul Mike Peirce and his son Alex, and boasts one of the legends of Irish whiskey as master distiller – Cooley still-jockey Noel Sweeney. The only bump in the road for them was their branding. Early in their development they received correspondence from Irish Distillers Limited suggesting that there might be confusion over a Powerscourt branded whiskey and IDL’s own Powers. Bemused as I am about Big Whiskey worrying about any confusion over labels in a landscape beset with deranged claims about provenance, I can see their point. Powers and Powerscourt are close and unless you have a fair degree of local knowledge it would be hard to say with certainty that these are two completely different entities. This isn’t a uniquely Irish situation – in 1994 Knockdhu distillery rebranded its whisky as anCnoc to avoid confusion with the produce of Knockando distillery. But that such an iconic Irish brand as Powerscourt had to lose give up its claim to its own name is incredibly depressing. However, small mercies have seen them allowed at least to continue with Powerscourt Distillery as the overarching brand, and Fercullen as the primary identity. There is a lengthy explanation of the meaning behind Fercullen but I won’t go into it here because, to be blunt, it isn’t very interesting. Powerscourt is where the stories are. The place has a pet cemetery for Christ’s sake. That should be the branding for a series of single casks in itself.
All of the releases thus far are sourced, obviously enough, since they only started production in 2019. I’m going to assume the source was Cooley, given that this is where their master distiller made his name and that it’s entirely possible he left there with a few casks rolling around in the back of the van. They have quite the selection of whiskey on the market already – core 18 and 14 year old single malts, a ten year old single grain and a blend. In the limited editions they have a 16YO SM, two Five Elements – the 20YO SM I was sent and an 18YO SM – and the Estate Series ‘Mill House’ single grain with an Amarone cask finish. So they’re not short of supply.
I was gifted a sample of the 20YO SM Five Elements 2021. This is made up of 16-year-old bourbon barrel matured malt whiskey which has been finished for four years in a variety of Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez, Marsala and Muscatel casks, before marrying with together with 20-year-old bourbon matured single malt. Bottled at 46% ABV, non-chill filled, Fercullen Five Elements 20-year-old Limited Edition is available online at www.PowerscourtDistillery.com and at selected off-licences around the country. RRP for this edition, limited to 1,500 bottles, is €220.
Official tasting notes
Nose: Malt, citrus, boiled sweets, vanilla and honey with a twist of lemon, ripe fruits, plums, raisins, cinnamon, tropical fruits, pineapple, mango, banana, oak and a hint of nuttiness.
Taste: Layer upon layer of smooth silky sweet malt, Orange, fruit cocktail, chocolate, Christmas cake, tropical fruit and red grape skins. Waves of complexity and taste.
Finish: Long lasting sweetness from ripe fruits and cream with a velvet texture almost mouth-watering to finish. Long lasting sweetness from ripe fruits and cream produce a velvety texture and mouth-watering finish.
Is it any good? Yes it is, and so it should be at that price. Perhaps this is justified by the limited nature of the release, but to be honest I wouldn’t expect a bargain-bucket pricetag on a whiskey with the name of one of the great houses of Ireland attached to it. Theodosia might be screaming through the halls in the dark watches of the night, but at least there are spirits flowing in Powerscourt once more.
Click here to read more about Theodosia or here to read my take on Powerscourt Distillery after the launch back in 2018.
Daithí O’Connell is in the rare position of being an Irish person who aspires to ending up in a workhouse. As one of the few bona fide independent bottlers here, his business is not only thriving, but is expanding – and now he wants to give his brand a physical home, in a historic building once used to accommodate the destitute during Ireland’s hardest years.
Two years on since we last spoke, much has happened – his Bill Phil peated whiskey sourced from Great Northern is in its fifth iteration, and he has pivoted from being an aspiring Irish whiskey bottler to announcing his intention to bottle five Scotch whiskies – one from each of the so-called whisky regions, starting with a 10-year-old Bruichladdich Lochindaal.
“The Caledonian series has four more regions to see a bottle and complete the initial set, before we can start being able to bottle Scotch ad hoc,” he told me via email.
“I have my eyes on all major whisky regions plus some other spirits and wines I would like to add which compliment our business model and tie the story together.”
And just as Gordon and Macphail and Cadenhead have a physical presence you can visit, O’Connell wants a home for his brand.
“Our new headquarters will be at The Workhouse in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford, and I’m delighted to say we have a 25-year lease agreed. We will be the single largest tenant on the site with over 25,000 square feet of space plus ancillary parking and access. We will develop the site over three phases and will start phase one in September with equipment landing in October and November.”
Specifying that tourism is not his priority – despite its ideal location along the Waterford Greenway – maturation, blending and bottling will all be brought in house. But tourism will surely be a component, as aside from the benefit of having all that history and heritage on-site, O’Connell will also be neighbours with Aidan Mehigan’s Gortinore Distillery when it gets up and running, making this one of the few places outside of Dublin where two significant whiskey attractions will be within walking distance of each other.
But whiskey is a challenging business, and despite his extensive background in the corporate world, I asked him what three things he has learned since getting into the category.
“While whiskey maturation might be a slow process the business itself is a lot more fast paced and demanding than I imagined in these early days.
“My position controlling as much of the process as you can is essential, I guessed it would be but I now know it is for fact.
“Route to market is paramount.”
But on that last note, he appears to be doing well: “We just launched in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg and will be launching in South Africa and the US in October. It’s going to be a busy time for us with those and the new brand home so I decided we should do some contract distilling also after we just harvested our first crop of barley.”
He is also one of a group of smaller producers who came together as a kind of indie Irish Whiskey Association, under the name The Irish Whiskey Guild. I asked him what they hoped to achieve: “We will represent our members on items our members request to be represented on. We are currently preparing a submission for the DAFM on the Irish whiskey technical file. We will also be working with Bord Bia on items. There is opportunity for commercial cooperation also so all this will happen over time. We are all volunteers who run our own businesses so things move a little slower.
“I can’t speak for other members of the guild as to why they do or don’t join the IWA. We do have some members who are in both and we see no issue as to why the two can’t work side by side. I do know that IBEC membership fees are off putting for some.
“Our common goal is the betterment of the Irish whiskey industry. The benefits are that we are essentially a self help group for small producers. We have very different issues than the bigger players and can help each other out by transfer of knowledge and cooperation. We can also lobby for change and have our voice heard as a unified group.
“We pay a flat €100 per annum membership sub that is to be used for administrative costs. There are two membership levels. Full and associate. Associates-are allowed sit in on meetings, part take in events etc and express opinions however they have no voting rights. Each full member has a single vote.
“Full membership is based on your status as a whiskey producer. Have a distillery that definitely distills whiskey or have whiskey in market plus your own bond or a bonded tenancy in place. Each membership application is taken on a case by case basis.”
O’Connell is refreshingly honest about the business he is in and how capital thirsty it is: When I asked what the biggest obstacle to getting into the industry was, he was blunt:
“Money is essential. Double what you think you need and then double it again.”
So just like when pouring a dram, it’s always best to make it a double.
How would you define whiskey production? Is it growing the grain, is it the distilling, is it choosing the casks and controlling the maturation? Is it the brand building, the marketing, the bottling, the distribution, the selling? Is it a combination of all these things or is there an a la carte option where you can say you produced the whiskey if you finished it and sold it under your own brand? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years – are creation and production two different things? And if you didn’t create a whiskey in any technical sense, can you claim to have produced it?
Imagine you got some old whiskey stock, maybe you tweaked it a bit, recasked it, finished it in something weird and wonderful, changed it a little (or not at all), and now you want to sell it while increasing awareness of your brand. So you stick your distillery’s name on the label and away we go. Your distillery, however, might not even be built, or might have just started distilling. If your sourced whiskey wins an award, you puff your chest, high on stolen valour, and say, look on my works ye mighty, but don’t look too closely because it’s not technically my work.
Of all the things I have written about in Irish whiskey, few have consumed so much of my energy (or wordcount) as this topic, which goes by a few names – transparency, provenance, honesty, call it what you want, but I have swung from complete frustration about the practise to understanding that it is the growing pains of an emergent industry. Irish whiskey’s light was almost snuffed out, and it took a lot of wild pivots to keep it alive. You can go back and read some of my conjecture on the subject, but on the subject of labels I would say this – the holy trinity of Irish whiskey all had label or branding issues – Jameson was no longer made in Bow Street despite that address being on the label until recently, Tullamore DEW was no longer made in Tullamore (but soon will be from there once more), and ‘Old’ Bushmills was not founded in 1608 – so if you take that as a jumping off point, it is little wonder we ended up with smaller non-distilling producers (NDPs) becoming confused about what was acceptable.
I don’t think any NDP sets out to deceive, but there are so many little white lies in Irish whiskey that it’s hard not to draw the overall conclusion that change is needed.
I also understand the financial dilemma facing most new distilleries here – in Scotland you can approach a financial institution and say we want a massive amount of capital, and you won’t see a cent of return on that investment for five to ten years. We don’t have that long-standing culture of distilling here – so I would imagine accessing funds could be something of a challenge. Easier then to generate revenue through selling sourced whiskey, and at the same time build your brand.
There are many distilleries here that have been built by selling sourced stock under their own name. But what is the difference between using the name of a planned or new distillery and using the name of a distillery that does not exist? Schrödinger’s Distillery – a distillery that both exists and does not exist at the same time. If St Patrick’s got hammered over their use of ‘distillery’ on their branding and labels, they could have avoided it by bunging in some plans for one early on.
Does the end justify the means? I think not. In fact, I think it massively devalues a brand when they have been selling sourced stock under their own name and then suddenly shift to their own youthful spirit. I know I give far less of a hoot about indigenous spirit from Distillery X when they have been flogging Bushmills, Cooley, and Great Northern for six years.
In an ideal world, no distillery would be allowed to put their name to a sourced liquid. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have fake farms either, but whiskey is different – I don’t care about what the branding is on my fake farm veg because I’m not paying premium prices for it, but if I am expected to pay Irish whiskey prices, I do expect some level of transparency. I expect that you don’t pretend, or endeavour to create the illusion, that you made the liquid in your bottle when you did no such thing.
As detailed in a previous post about the guidelines, I made a complaint about one brand and it was changed within a week. So the system is there if anyone wants to complain. And obviously, somebody does, and somebody felt their complaints were not being acted upon domestically, so somebody took that complaint to the EU.
In June of this year, Deputy Catherine Connolly wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue asking ‘if his attention has been drawn to the fact an association (details supplied) has taken a complaint to the EU against his Department alleging non-enforcement of regulation (EU) 2019/787 with regard to a lack of enforcement of spirits provenance regulations resulting in multiple incidences of false provenance information being provided on products that fall under a protected geographical indication designation; his views on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.’
And a statement is what he made – you can read the full version here, but this is the pertinent part:
‘Since January of this year, the Department has assumed responsibility from the Health Service Executive (HSE) for the assessment and approval of labels for Irish Whiskey and Irish Poitín. When assessing Irish whiskey labels, the Department assesses ‘provenance’ under Article 7(1) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, which states “1. Food information shall not be misleading, particularly: (a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production”.
‘Where uncertainty arises regarding who or where the product is produced, the Department seeks clarifications from the FBO. Furthermore, where FBOs are not directly involved in any of the stages of production, the Department does not approve the label unless it states that the product has been ‘produced for them’, as opposed to ‘produced by them’. Additionally, the Department does not permit references to Distilleries that do not exist.’
If the Minister’s response in June was a warning shot, apparently it went unheard. As reported in the Sunday Independent, an email circulated recently to Irish Whiskey Association members stated that the IWA had ‘recently become aware’ that since the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) assumed the role for label approval as part of the verification process for Irish Whiskey in January of this year, ‘the dept have been imposing new requirements for brand owners or those who have not produced their own whiskey’.
“These requirements consist of stating “produced for” on the back of the label even in cases where there is no claim as to provenance,” the email stated, adding that ‘the imposition of these requirements were not discussed or communicated to industry’.
“Furthermore, we believe that this requirement should not be mandatory,” it stated.
It should, though, because this requirement is about the most basic level of transparency one could hope for – that sourced whiskey is declared as such, in small print, somewhere on the label. Because you know what you get when that isn’t the case? This:
It’s worth a read through that whole thread as the brand explain the situation, but the overall message from the person who posted it is clear – if it isn’t explained clearly on the label that this is sourced whiskey, then no amount of ‘we’ve always been very clear about sourcing’ will explain away what looks like a deception. Whiskey isn’t white label software, you don’t get to rebadge it and sell it as your own – it is intrinsically tied to its source. Then there is this:
Obviously, sourcing whiskey isn’t as simple as these cases – take Bushmills white label, AKA their blend. Bushmills doesn’t have a grain distillery (they are in the process of building one) – so they source that component from Midleton. Should they put ‘produced for Bushmills’ on the label because one key ingredient is from another distillery? What about the Method & Madness single malt from Midleton – which was distilled in Bushmills – would that be a ‘produced for’ also? What about Paddy? ‘Produced for’ Sazerac?
Whatever about difficult decisions, I think that if we want to be taken seriously, this needs to happen. If it affects sales then so be it (I honestly don’t think it will). We can’t build this glorious resurrection on the omission of the truth. But this change could affect a lot of other spirits – how many Irish artisanal gins are made by the same industrial producer? How many are mostly neutral spirits cut in a gin still with the proverbial local botanicals? Where is production in those cases?
With this case going to the EU, it’s important that producers here get their house in order. Consumers want more clarity and provenance in what they eat and drink, and anyone paying the prices Irish whiskey producers charge deserves the truth.
Not far from where I live there is a big, old house. Built in the late 1800s, it is a crumbling gothic pile that was once the seat of local nobles. I have no idea when the last of their line left it, or how, but from the time my family moved to the area in the 1970s, the house was known to be cursed. Locals in what was then a hyper-Catholic rural area said that a previous owner hanged himself from one of the trees that lined the avenue into the property, and that was what damned it.
I was scared of it when I was a child – it sits on a steep hill and I used to sprint up the road to get away from the entrance as fast as I could. In the bad winter of 2010, my father’s car went into a tailspin on the hill outside the house and his car smashed into a bridge. A few feet more it would have ended up in the Dungourney river and he would most likely have died. He said once, half joking, that the house was to blame.
I was only in the property once, when my mother went to visit the woman of the house, who at the time was dying of cancer. I remember an old, dusty bedroom with thick air, a gaunt woman sat up in bed, and a little girl playing a piano in the corner of the room. The girl and I were sent off to play. She brought me down to show me the decrepit fountain outside – dozens of froglets had spawned, but the water level was too low for them to get out, and they just moved about in a swarm in the shallow, stale water, trying to escape.
The mother died shortly after. The family then moved to a renovated barn next door. Not long after that, the father died. The kids, two boys and a girl, moved away to be raised by relatives. The girl burned to death in a freak accident in her 20s. I heard one of the sons drowned but never had it confirmed. The other brother, I don’t know where he is.
The house sat idle for years, silent and empty, waiting. Eventually it sold, and with great fanfare it was renovated by the people who bought it and is now a B&B. Sometimes I get tourists calling to my home looking for it and I often feel like the hillbilly gas station attendant in a horror film, and wonder if I should warn them about what they are heading into. It’s cursed, I would whisper, and they would ignore me and some horror would befall them.
Of course, the real reason I want to tell them is because I like telling the story of the cursed house. I told my kids, with all the grand flourishes above, and they also now think the place is haunted. Everyone likes a scary story. They bring the promise that there is something else; that death is not the end, that we persist, rather than burn out, and be forgotten. And besides, I am always here for something a little darker. I’d go full goth in my attire if it wasn’t such a stupid look for a guy pushing 50. Nobody wants to dress like Danzig when they’re doing the big shop in Lidl.
To cater for the needs of emo seniors like me, Bushmills released The Sexton. It is a very slick, very stylish bottle; hexagonal to represent the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, all bedecked with images of skulls and ye olde fonts in gold and black. As affordable NAS single malts go, this is a remarkably beautiful bottle. I’m not sure about the website’s tagline of ‘You have a single life, drink a single malt’, but it’s not my place to tell them their copywriter needs to spend a little less time in the sun.
The Sexton has two brand narratives; for the casual fan, there is the overall steampunk, Victoriana, eldritch aesthetic. Brand ambassadors can waffle on about how sextons were the people who tended to the graveyards in the days of yore, spin some yarn like I did above.
If they are speaking to drinks nerds, they can change lanes and give them the unromantic, unadorned facts of The Sexton – a youngish four-year-old single malt from Bushmills aged exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks from the Antonio Paez Lobato family in Jerez, it retails for a reasonable 35-40 euro. It fills a gap – it’s not Black Bush, nor is it the ten (which you can pick up for a similar price) but it is a stepping stone for those who perhaps are drawn to its visual appeal.
Bushmills obviously put a lot of weight behind this brand as they appointed Alex Thomas as master blender to the brand (Helen Mulholland is the master blender of Bushmills). Thomas previously worked in a lumber merchants for ten years before taking a role as distilling coordinator at Bushmills, followed by five years as maturation manager before her current role. I don’t understand the strategy of giving one brand within a distillery’s family its own blender but perhaps there are plans to expand the range. It’s an enjoyable whiskey that comes with a lot of recommendations about cocktails; it is accessible and very affordable, and rapidly became the top selling Irish single malt in America after its launch in 2017. After sponsoring a nighttime photography competition and releasing a podcast of grim retellings of bedtime stories, The Sexton also recently doubled down on its commitment to all things dark by becoming the official drink of The Walking Dead.
There is a buzz about Bushmills in the last couple of years that is hard to ignore – massive expansions, a huge grain plant, super premium and super mature releases as well as The Sexton or the expansion of their broad array of blends. Their parent firm also bought out the rest of their contract with a Famous Irish Sportsperson, thus placing themselves a little bit further out from his blast radius. All this shows that in Becle, Bushmills appears to have found an owner that is willing to invest in it as others failed to do, and that the giant of Antrim is finally stirring. All it took was the right owner – after all, there is no such thing as curses.
I did not like La La Land when it came out. It felt like everyone else did, which in itself might have given me unrealistic expectations about how life-changing it might be. Perhaps my nonplussed reaction to it came from the fact that I don’t watch a huge amount of musicals (does anyone any more?). Whatever the reason, I thought it was poor. Nice songs, good cast, let down by meandering plotline and a sense of smug self-satisfaction.
Fast forward to 2020, during one of those rambling scrolls through Netflix I stumbled across it again and thought, well let’s give this a go. It’s relatively PG, so I can stick it on when the kids are about. Why not watch it again on the off chance I missed what everyone else saw, just like I did with Magic Eye paintings, moving statues, and that blue/gold dress? Long story short, La La Land is amazing. Since that second viewing I have watched it again, and again, and again, and loved it more each time. The film didn’t change, but I and the world around me did; I came to it the second time round with no expectations, with a more open mind, and besides, I was now in lockdown and the primary colours and big musical numbers of La La Land was just the escapism I needed. I’m sure there is an irony in the fact that a film about good things happening with bad timing became my top film of the last 12 months, but there you go.
Ardbeg Ten was the first peated whisky I tried. Someone I knew had a bottle and it was clear they were not into it, so they offered it to me. I gave it a try and was struck immediately at how different it was to all the other whiskies I had tried (I almost refused to accept it was whisky, checking the label to make sure, like a drunk in a movie who sees a UFO or talking dog and then throws a bottle over his shoulder). An acrid, smokey tang, it was a thunder bolt for my senses. I genuinely wasn’t ready for peat, especially not at that level of intensity. I was only starting my journey into whisky and frankly this came a little soon. It’s like suddenly being told oh, you like Guns ‘n’ Roses, well how about you try some Pig Destroyer? Like boiling a frog, you gotta do it gradual.
But I still took the bottle away with me (the owner was delighted to see the back of it). I nibbled away at the bottle over the intervening years and while you couldn’t say it changed, I did. Like Alan Patridge’s sudden revelation that, actually, he likes wine, despite all those things he said earlier – I actually really like peat, despite my initial recoil. It’s not the centre of my universe but peat is one of the facets of whisky that is accessible for a casual fan like me. I can taste something and say, yeah, this is peated. I couldn’t tell you cask type, age, mashbill, or anything else, but smoke is one of those things that triggers the primitive parts of our brain – Smoke! Danger! Fire! Warmth! We can all identify smoke. I could be nosing forever to try and guess a single other detail about a whisky, but peat will always make itself known. It is a broad and beautiful brushstroke in any whisky, and, in my experience, I have yet to taste a whisky where I thought wow, they should really dial down the peat here.
I still have that bottle of the ten sat in a press somewhere. I never got around to finishing it, but I have milled through three bottles of Uigideal, which is an absolute gem that I recommend to anyone. Aside from that I don’t know much about Ardbeg, aside from the usual Hunger Games of their committee releases, when Whisky Twitter goes into meltdown in its attempts to secure a bottle. I’m here for the everyman, on-the-shelf-in-the-offie drams, I don’t need to hassle or the drama of trying to get the rare exclusives. I don’t want to have to find the mythical isle of Tortuga, Torbay will do just fine.
So while I like to sound the fanfare for the common dram, I am also comfortable with the odd freebie, which is why I was happy to celebrate Ardbeg Day this year by taking delivery of a free bottle of the ten from my new best friends at The Hive. I assume they are a PR firm and not an invading alien species who think with one mind and whose sole aim is to destroy humanity, but even if they are flesh eating creatures from another galaxy, free booze, amiright?
Ardbeg uses malt peated to a level of 50ppm at the maltings in the village of Port Ellen. It is then milled in Ardbeg’s rare Boby malt mill, installed in 1921.
Water comes from Loch Uigeadail, via Loch Airigh Nam Beist, via Charlie’s Dam at the distillery, and into the mash house.
The washbacks at Ardbeg are made of Oregon pine. Fermentation time is longer than other distilleries because of the high phenolic content of the original malt.
Ardbeg distils twice.
On the Lyne arm of the spirit still at Ardbeg there is a piece of apparatus called a purifier. As the boiling continues in the spirit still, the heavier impure alcohols reach the top of the still (the initial light alcohols are sweet and fruity). Some of the heavier compounds are captured in the purifier and fed back down into the main pot of the still. As the boiling process continues, the heavier phenolics come through, this occurs from about halfway through the spirit run. The purifier gives a little extra reflux, so we have two distillations and a little bit more. The purifier is unique on Islay and balance is the key.
The vast amount of whisky matures in ex-Bourbon oak. In maturation only 1st and 2nd fill casks are used. Their new 1st fill Bourbon casks come from suppliers in the US. Other casks come from Speyside Cooperage, and Craigellachie.
Primarily barrels have been used in the past, but now there is a substantial mix between barrels (for Ardbeg Ten Years Old,) Sherry Butts (some of which are used for Ardbeg Uigeadail), and new French Oak Barrels for Ardbeg Corryvreckan. And these are their three core expressions.
Because Ardbeg sits very close to the sea, the whisky receives a certain salty, iodine character while it matures.
I included that last factoid despite my best judgement as, if I’m honest, I am extremely cynical about maturation location as a factor in flavour. If it’s stuck in a pine forest will it faintly taste of pine? Midleton’s Dungourney warehouse complex is surrounded by pine woods, and I will chortle if they ever claim it gives a pine-fresh Toilet Duck-esque flavour to the whiskey.
So Ardbeg Ten – a dank bass note of a dram, in a bottle with a label that looks like a biker insignia, and tastes like arson. So from that first smokey taste years ago, what do I reckon now?
Nose: Cordite, treacle, liquorice.
Palate: Smoke! Fire! Etc! Fenugreek, caramel, dark chocolate, aniseed.
Finish: Demerara sugar, mint, toffee.
Is Ardbeg Ten the best intro to peat you can have? I would say not – I’d steer any newcomer to one of the more subtle peated drams (always love a Benromach) before this hefty unit. Ardbeg is unashamedly peated, and while I respect that, and while I found my way back to peat over time, not everyone will give it that second chance. But everyone and everything changes – the idea that we spend our lives in some kind of epicurean stasis is a sad one indeed, so here’s to second chances.
Not far from my family plot in Midleton cemetery lie the graves of the Clonmult Martyrs. On February 20, 1921, 20 IRA volunteers were surrounded in a remote farmhouse by British forces. Some were killed in a gun battle, some died after – the Irish side say those who surrendered were summarily executed, the British side say they were shot while trying to flee. The Clonmult Ambush, as it became known, was one of the heaviest single casualties of the War Of Independence. A total of 22 people died in the ambush and subsequent executions – 14 IRA members, two Black and Tans and six suspected informers. There is a memorial in Clonmult where the battle happened, and there are commemorations at the graves in Midleton each year.
A stone’s throw from their graves lies that of Martin Corry TD. He was a colourful character in his later years as a political representative for east Cork in the Irish parliament, but during his time with the IRA in the War Of Independence he ran a notorious prison nicknamed Sing Sing inside a vault in a cemetery in Kilquane. Corry claimed to have tortured and killed dozens of men and dumped their bodies in a nearby bog known as The Rea. He chuckled about it in later years, as he discussed the executions.
History isn’t binary. I know I’m not the first person to say that, but it’s worth repeating. All our glorious dead were not saintly angels, all the hated invaders were not monsters, and to commemorate is not to celebrate. My great grandfather was in the Royal Irish Constabulary (as was Martin Corry’s father) and I never gave much thought to it until 2019 when a Government minister suggested commemorating those who served. It was derided as a celebration of oppression, of brutes – these vicious hateful men who joined the British police force in Ireland were, in the eyes of some, no better than the gestapo. My great-grandfather was an ordinary man – I looked him up on the National Newspapers Archives and most of his appearances in the pages of the Southern Star (he was stationed in Bantry) were testifying in drunk and disorderly cases, or in one case, a trial where someone was accused of failing to remain in control of their cow. But in Ireland now, a century on, to have anything other than loathing for any member of the RIC is to be a card-carrying fellow traveller with the invaders. The RIC’s role in Irish society has been conflated with the vicious, murderous actions of the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries. History crushed, compacted, and compartmentalised. There was to be no space for a commemoration of RIC members. How wide do we want to cast this net – after the RIC, who next? Anyone who worked for the state under British rule? Civil servants? Anyone who wasn’t actively planning sedition for the entire duration of their lives under the crown? How many traitors can we find?
Bringing out a whiskey in honour of, or celebration of, or to commemorate the Proclamation of Independence makes economic sense (technically this whiskey is in honour of the printing of the document, a handy sidestep from anything with too strong a whiff of cordite off it). If we get a little uneasy or begin to sneer about things like this, which effectively sell Irishness to people who are into that kind of thing, we should remember that we have a remarkably powerful brand; we are the loveable rogues whose national holiday is celebrated across the globe. We don’t get involved in military quagmires, and are often seen as a relatively benevolent nation of poets and pissheads. Big Green is a powerful USP – slap a shamrock on your product, ship it to America and let it fly. I have no doubt that this whiskey will sell, just as the Michael Collins whiskey sells. I’ll let the press release tell some of the story:
105 years ago this month, the famous words of the Irish Proclamation were immortalised into their distinctive print by three lesser-known Dubliners, William O’Brien, Michael Molloy and Christopher Joseph Brady, the printers of the Irish Proclamation document. Printed secretly during this time, the original document was created in two parts as the men had insufficient type to print the document all at once. Distinctive font along with a spurious ‘e’ are additional hallmarks of the original Proclamation, which together add another layer to a story in time, part of the backdrop to a significant period in Irish history. Proclamation Irish Whiskey, launched in 2020, was created in honour of O’Brien, Molloy and Brady, to acknowledge the important role these unsung heroes played over a century ago in Dublin.
This bottling is from the same team who created Grace O’Malley whiskey, a slightly more playful and less contentious historic resurrection. O’Malley’s time is centuries past – the War of Independence is only a century ago, the Civil War closer again. It’s Ireland’s Decade Of Centenaries now, when we are expected to mark the many brutal and difficult occasions that led to the foundation of the Irish state. History has become pliable – you don’t have to look far to find countries that have chosen not to remember the atrocities they committed and only recall their heroism and greatness. Nationalism is a hell of a drug.
The good people at Burrell PR were generous enough to send me a bottle of Proclamation whiskey, and here are the official tasting notes:
NOSE: First to be revealed is ripe Williams pear, followed by an abundance of apricot andcrème brulée notes. Slowly developing through to rich custard, freshly brewed cappuccinoand ending with woody notes.
PALATE: Front loaded notes of toasted brioche, freshly baked pastry and overtones ofmacerated yellow fruits. Fusions of tannins on the mid-palate with a robust yet rounded finish.
FINISH: Overwhelmingly smooth and creamy with a mellow finish, with hints of toastedcereal.
I enjoyed it. I’m not the target demographic for this, with my angsty hand-wringing about the past. Maybe if I did less thinking and more drinking I would be more fun to be around. If you want to pick up a bottle, it’s available in SuperValu, Carry Out off licences and independent retailers nationwide, for €35. For further information, visit www.proclamationwhiskey.com.
If you are interested in knowing more about Martin Corry, there is an extensive biography here. It is worth reading, just to see what he said in his later years about the North of Ireland, about Hitler, and about the importation of barley into Ireland from Iraq.
If you want to see the inside of Sing Sing, the local Rubicon Heritage team took photos in recent years. A plaque was erected outside it in 2001, referring to its use as a prison. It makes no mention of torture and killing. There are no plaques in The Rea.
Pubs in Ireland are in crisis – over the last 30 years a gradual (and long overdue) tightening of drink driving laws started a societal shift – much like the declining power of the Catholic church here, the pub is no longer the centre of society. Across Ireland pubs that had passed through generations were shut, never to reopen. Then came the virus, and an already steady decline accelerated. For those that remain, it is a case of adapt or die.
Ivor O’Loughlin’s family have been in the bar business since 1986 when his father Declan bought O’Loughlins Bar on Dublin Street in Carlow. Ivor and the rest of his siblings grew up over the bar, and Ivor, after training as a teacher, followed his father into the family business, which at that stage included O’Loughlins Hotel and Club 23 in Portlaoise and The Irishman pub in Carlow. The hotel was sold in late 2019, and then, in early 2020, disaster struck.
“Not long after the sale of the hotel, Covid happened. It meant that The Irishman has more or less been closed for over a year now.”
Fortunately, Ivor had been thinking about branching out before the virus: “In terms of Tiny Tipple, I had the idea in January 2020, before Covid. Having been following the whiskey business and the constant new releases, I felt there was an opportunity to develop a kind of formalised bottle share element. I’m not claiming to have re-invented the wheel, as this has been done in the UK on a larger scale already with Drinks By The Dram, Flaviar etc. But I feel that there is a market there in Ireland for a similar service.”
A market there is, for a couple of reasons – whiskey is not an inexpensive hobby, and the ability to try a measure before investing in a bottle is a boon. On top of that there is the possibility of trying limited releases that you would otherwise have to hunt at auction or rely on a generous pal to share with you. And besides, with the pub closed, Ivor needed something to do with himself.
“All pubs need to diversify in order to survive and I think that as much as I hate saying it, there will be a lot of pubs closing in the coming few years. I think Covid will have sped up the ways in which Irish people consume alcohol in pubs. Sure, pubs will re-open and there will be great celebrations but I am sceptical that things will return to the way they were before for a long time.
“I started prototyping with bottles and waxes and labels etc back in February 2020. I applied for a Business Innovation voucher through Enterprise Ireland and Carlow Institute of Technology. I worked with the Design+ team in the IT to come up with the label and some packaging ideas (which didn’t come to fruition due to cost). I was insistent on the different colours wax for different styles of whiskey because I felt they stand out and add a premium feel to them.
“Initially the idea was to focus entirely on expensive premium bottles (€100 plus) as I felt that this was where demand would be but as with the nature of purchasing whiskey – you want to buy and stock every single release. I applied for a Trading Online Voucher which helped cover some of the costs of getting the website up and running. One of the main questions that the people in the IT threw out at me was, ‘How can you guarantee what you are selling is actually what’s in the bottle?’. That question is answered every time you buy a drink at a bar or indeed many other forms of retail. Every brand and customer in the country trusts retailers every single day to do what they say they will do. In particular in the bar industry, brands trust publicans not to sell ‘Cheap Knock off Vodka’ in place of an industry recognised brand. That is a simple question of integrity and the knowledge that any compromise in that integrity results in irreparable reputational damage, jeopardising your business. People also buy with their eyes. I am confident that my packaging looks very well. It stands out. It has a level of detail in terms of transparency with batch numbers, cask numbers, bottle numbers etc. that automatically builds a degree of trust in customers.”
A gap in the market spotted, it has been going well despite only launching in recent times.
“The big surprise for me was how enthusiastic all the distillers, bottlers and blenders have been. Within a few days many brands reached out offering support and encouragement. There is a will amongst the brands for a service like this. As Louise McGuane said of Tiny Tipple, ”Liquid on Lips’ is so important for smaller brands who are trying to build their footprint’.
“The best sellers on the site so far have been the tasting flights. There is a real appetite for people to try different whiskies alongside each other without the cost. I have a lot of friends who are only starting their whiskey journey now and it can be a bit daunting to know where to start. Then you spend €60 on a bottle when you are starting out, you don’t like that particular style or release, you may be lost to Irish whiskey forever!”
But aside from offering a great starting point, Tiny Tipples also democratise limited releases and have the coveted Redbreast 10 as part of their offering.
“The Redbreast 10 Year Old has been very popular. It is the likes of that drink that makes Tiny Tipple appealing. 7,000 bottles of Redbreast 10 were released and it sold out in a few hours, many of them to be hoarded away to be auctioned at a later date.
“Along with the RB10, the WD O’Connell range has sold very well (the 17YO PX Series is just about gone), JJ Corry releases like the Old Tom (a cracking release) will be sold out soon at the rate its going (again another bottle that was mostly left on shelves as a collectors item) and the Sliabh Liag (the entire Silkie Range) stuff has gone very well.
“Hopefully, the Tiny Tipples that have been dispersed into the wild will result in many multiples of sales in 700ml bottles for the producers!”
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.
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.
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.
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 caskcircle, 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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
Comments are closed. Email email@example.com.