Whiskey galore for Tullamore
FRIDAY INTERVIEW:STELLA DAVID LOVES nothing more than curling up on the couch, preferably with a Hendrick’s Gin and cucumber in hand, watching darts on Sky Sports. Yes, darts. A favourite sport of the beer swilling working class in Britain.
It’s certainly not something you’d associate with a Cambridge-educated business leader. For a start, David prefers spirits to beer, which is no surprise given that she heads the Scottish family-owned distiller William Grant, owner of the Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey brand.
Also, she’s slim and trim and doesn’t have any garish tattoos – at least none that are visible in her working clothes – or wear lots of bling jewellery.
So why the fascination? “I absolutely adore darts and watching it on TV,” she says from the boardroom of William Grant’s facility near London. “It’s my favourite sport. Everyone says to me ‘I cannot believe you’re a fan of darts’. But I just find it incredibly therapeutic. I could watch it for hours.”
She plays “terrible, absolutely terrible”, darts. “We have a dart board at home and if I can get all three darts on the board it’s like a red letter day for me.”
David is little known in Ireland but she’s the woman who in March pressed the button on a €35 million investment by William Grant to build a distillery for its Irish whiskey brand in its home town of Tullamore. Plans have been drawn up to build a pot still whiskey and malt distillery on a 58-acre site in Clonminch on the outskirts of Tullamore, which is being acquired from Offaly County Council.
This will bring whiskey production back to Tullamore for the first time since the original distillery closed in 1954. More importantly, it will create about 100 jobs during the construction phase and about 15 positions once it has opened.
A new visitors centre for the brand is also close to completion. These are the latest building blocks put in place by the Scottish company since it paid €171 million to buy Tullamore Dew from Irish listed drinks group CC in 2010. Many in the industry thought the Scots were overpaying for the brand. David says it was a “very good price”.
It has also established a global marketing office in Dublin, from where a number of its key spirits brands are managed, and it is investing €10 million in a global advertising campaign and new packaging for Tullamore Dew. The packaging makes its debut this week.
“It’s a great ‘good news’ story for Ireland,” David says. “It’s very good for the Tullamore region.” She looked at “four or five different sites” around the country before plumping for the Co Offaly town.
“At the end of the day, to be able to produce it in Tullamore itself is a huge attraction. Taking the brand back to its original home felt compelling. Thirty-five million euro is a lot of money to be investing in a distillery anywhere at any time so we had to make sure we were doing the right thing.”
Ireland might be in a mess economically and the euro might be in trouble but David says her board of directors were unconcerned by these matters when deciding to proceed with the new distillery here. “We didn’t take them into account at all,” she says.
On one level, this is understandable. Irish whiskey can only be made in Ireland, after all.
And Tullamore Dew needed to take charge of its own destiny. At present, it sources its golden liquid under a long-term contract from rival Irish Distillers, the Pernod Ricard subsidiary that numbers heavyweight brand Jameson among its portfolio.