An unsuspecting tourist at the Teeling Whiskey distillery in Dublin this week was surprised with a cake and balloons, the 60,000th visitor since it opened its doors. The distillery also celebrated its first birthday yesterday – a double festivity.
While Teeling has its own milestones to commemorate, the broader Irish whiskey industry is in perpetual party mode these days. The irrepressible rise of the craythur as a premium export product is continuing unabated, it seems. Annual sales of the good stuff are expected almost to treble over the next decade from their current level of seven million cases. US consumers can’t get enough of it.
Foreign investors have followed in the wake of the foreign drinkers. While a phalanx of smaller, independent distillery projects like Teeling continue to spring up all over the country, almost all the bigger Irish whiskey brands have now been snapped up by major international players.
Paddy, which in my barkeeping days was the real cloth-cap-wearing drinker's whiskey, was last month bought by US company, Sazerac. Bushmills is now owned by Mexicans, Tullamore Dew by Scots and the Teeling family's former charge, Cooley, is ultimately owned by a company from Japan.
Even Jameson, which broke the mould for Irish whiskey abroad, is ultimately foreign-owned. It remains in the stable of Irish Distillers, but the parent of the group is French giant Pernod Ricard.
Jack Teeling, Teeling Whiskey's founder and chief executive, and son of the legendary investor John Teeling, is among those leading the charge for the newer, indigenous Irish whiskey brands – the next generation.
He explains that one of the main factors changing the landscape for Irish whiskey abroad is the emergence of brown spirits as acceptable cocktail and mixed drinks ingredients, recruiting a new breed of younger whiskey drinker.
The old-fashioned (whiskey, bitters, brown sugar and fruit) is firmly back in fashion, especially with cultured urbanites.
“Brown spirits are the in-thing,” says Teeling. “There is a massive opportunity in cocktails. We bottle all our whiskey at 46 per cent strength, and Irish is also that little bit sweeter, so it is the perfect base for cocktails.”
Teeling has brand ambassadors on the ground in Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco trying to get its whiskey into bars as a premium product for sipping, or as a base for cocktails.
“I have always been hands on, and I used to do some of the international promotion myself. But now, you go into a trendy bar in the US to see a mixologist and you meet some young guy with tattoos. He would look at me, coming in wearing a suit, and think: ‘Who’s this guy?’ So now I leave that sort of thing to someone else.”
Kevin Hurley, who has run some of Dublin's finest cocktail bars, including the Liquor Rooms and Residence, is now Teeling's "global brand ambassador".
Teeling says even central and eastern Europe, the traditional home of vodka, the king of cocktail bases, is slowly turning brown.
“Irish whiskey is doing really well in the Czech Republic and Latvia. And there is huge demand in Russia, although that has been challenged for the time being by economic circumstances.”
Asia is another huge potential growth market for Irish whiskey. Although, says Teeling, India is proving a difficult market for foreign brands to crack. Indians love their whiskey, but there is no shortage of indigenous brands there and market barriers to entry to foreign whiskies are high.
Back in Dublin, Teeling is preparing itself for a busy summer with visitors to the distillery. It is on course for up to 100,000 tourists and locals to step across its threshold in 2016. Teeling even hosted a wedding at its distillery during the year.
“A local couple decided they wanted to have their civil ceremony and reception here. We have also seen a big surge in corporate events.”
It will be another couple of years before any whiskey actually produced at the Teeling distillery will be ready for sale – all of its current stock was distilled elsewhere. However, it recently released Spirit of Dublin, a poitín that was distilled on the site in Dublin.
Footnotes . . .
Paddy Cosgrave seems bullish about the prospects for this year's Web Summit, which will take place in Lisbon in November, the first time it has been hosted outside of Ireland.
The summit sent around an email to say that “more than 30,000 [people] from 151 countries have now got their tickets” for the event. It isn’t clear how much of that number is straight-up ticket sales, as opposed to promotions, but it makes for an impressive start, five months ahead of the event.
Attendance at the last Dublin summit maxed out at less than 40,000. The capacity at the venue in Lisbon is 80,000 so, from a commercial standpoint, you can see why Cosgrave moved it.
Web Summit has published a list of some of the names that have signed up for this year's event so far. Manchester United managing director Richard Arnold is on board, along with legendary former Portuguese player Rui Costa, now an administrator with Benfica FC.
Luis Figo, another Portuguese soccer legend, now with the Dream Factory Network, is also on board, giving the event a real footie feel.
John Seifert, the global chief executive of Ogilvy, is also among those to have signed up, along with Will Lewis, the chief executive of Dow Jones, and PCH's Liam Casey, Ireland's "Mr China".
It appears the developer John Flynn – the man who built Smithfield – is pressing ahead with the formal launch of an appeal following the recent dismissal of his lawsuit in the US against defendants including IBRC and Nama.
Flynn has alleged he was the victim of historical overcharging on his Anglo Irish Bank loans, although the case was formally dismissed in December "on consent".
There is talk that Flynn is close to some sort of all-encompassing settlement of his affairs with Nama, along with several other large developers, although this has yet to be confirmed.
If a deal with the agency is in the offing, an appeal in the US case would be a surprising move, although it could also be a procedural formality, pending final sign-off on a deal with Nama, if there is to be one at all.
Gavin Slark, the jolly chief executive of building materials group Grafton, is back on his bike. Slark and a number of the group's senior management team are currently engaged on a 300-mile charity cycle from Arachon, on France's Atlantic coast, to Gruissan, a fishing village on the country's Mediterranean coast.
The Foundation of Light, a charity attached to Slark’s hometown football club, Sunderland, is the beneficiary of the cycle.
Former Sunderland player, Marco Gabbiadini, is leading the overall group. Despite his Latin-sounding name, he isn't Italian, but rather one of the Nottingham Gabbiadinis.
Slark and his team are veterans of charity cycles at this stage, having covered about 5,000 miles in the last five years. Ouch. I wonder does the group’s Woodies chain stock Vaseline?
There has been some debate in recent weeks over whether the network built as part the €1 billion national broadband plan will, once the 25-year concession finishes, revert to public ownership or stay in the hands of the company or companies that partnered the State to build it.
Some politicians, including Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, are said to favour taking it back into public hands. A number of the private sector bidders are said to prefer to retain ownership, insisting the State is not the best owner of telecoms infrastructure. That view is not universal within the industry or the jockeying group of bidders, however. It was pointed out by one source yesterday that the broadband plan is just a straight-up public-private partnership (PPP). The classic model for infrastructural PPPs, it was argued, has traditionally been for the asset to go back into the hands of taxpayers once the partnership ends.
The Government is currently assessing the initial questionnaires submitted by the bidders. The Cabinet’s attitude to how the network is to be treated will likely have a major bearing on the final awarding of the contract.