The most influential people in Irish whiskey
As the world toasts St Patrick with a dram of Irish whiskey next week, we pay homage to some of the most influential figures in the booming spirit sector.
The soaring consumer interest in Irish whiskey has been well documented, and has recently spurred a outpouring of unparalleled investment in the industry.
Producers may have been hit by a slowdown in certain markets around the world, and continue to struggle against Ireland high tax regime, but the future looks undeniably bright for uisce beatha.
Throughout centuries, Irish whiskey has experienced extensive reinvention and growth, as well as its fair share of challenges.
But the category wouldn’t be the success it is today without the vision, determination and skill of a select few passionate individuals who have sought to make the industry the best it can be.
Click through the following pages to discover our pick the most influential people in the Irish whiskey industry. If you disagree, or have a name to add to the list, let us know by leaving a comment below.
It seems unlikely that when Scottish businessman John Jameson moved to Dublin to establish an Irish whiskey distillery in 1770, he would have believed the business would grow to become the world’s leading whiskey brand, selling 4.6 million cases two and a half centuries later.
But of course, this is exactly what happened. Jameson acquired Dublin’s Bow St Distillery and created his first triple-distilled whiskey in 1780, setting the groundwork for his namesake brand to achieve unimaginable success.
By 1810, his son John II had expanded the distillery to be one of the largest in Ireland and, in the late 1800s, his son, John III expanded the business globally to make it one of the largest whiskeys in the world. Few would argue that since its launch in the 18th century, Jameson Irish whiskey has near single-handedly pioneered both growth and innovation in the segment.
In 1830 Irish inventor and distiller Aeneas Coffey designed the column still, transforming the future of Irish whiskey production. Up until that time all Irish whiskey was made in pot stills, but Coffey discovered a way to continuously distil grain to create a softer, lighter style of spirit that was easier to palate than Scotch.
A contemporary government publication described the invention as “the speediest and most economical device for preparing a highly concentrated spirit in a single operation”.
On his retirement from service, Coffey went into the distilling business and for a short time ran the Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin.
Diamond miner and rugby player John Teeling founded the Cooley Distillery in 1987, converting an old potato alcohol plant to have two column stills for Irish whiskey distillation. Cooley then bought the license to produce the Kilbeggan brand.
As a third party producer, the distillery was purchased by US company Beam Inc in 2012 for US$98 million, which many claimed sparked the Irish whiskey renaissance. Teeling told The Spirits Business last year: “You could credit us with one significant thing – we gave choice to consumers and forced Irish Distillers to up their game.”
It was revealed in 2013 that the industry stalwart had purchased Diageo’s Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk to build an Irish whiskey distillery – called the Irish Whiskey Company – that will create liquid almost entirely for third party brands, most significantly his sons’ Teeling Whiskey Company.
Jack and Stephen Teeling
Jack Teeling, son of John Teeling and founder of Irish whiskey bottler The Teeling Whiskey Co., last year revealed plans to bring Irish whiskey distillation back to Dublin for the first time in almost 125 years.
Jack has said he hopes the €10m euro distillery will diversify the Irish whiskey category and offer greater variety of flavour. The company had already demonstrated its innovative credentials with the recent launch of a single grain expression and no-age-statement single malt aged in five wine casks.
Teeling’s brother, Stephen, has also played a significant role in enhancing the sector. He adopted the role of marketing manager for Irish whiskey at Beam Inc when the firm acquired Cooley, but left the role to work as sales and marketing manager at The Teeling Whiskey Company.
Having just retired last year, Barry Crocket worked at Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard’s Midleton distillery for 47 years. As 37 years as master distiller, he helped take Jameson as a fledging brand to the world’s leading Irish whiskey, and also pioneered the introduction of single pot still Irish whiskey.
“These have added significantly to the whole image of Irish whiskey,” he told The Spirits Business. Crockett became an apprentice to his father and Midleton master distiller Max Crockett at the age of 17, before taking over in 1981.
Crockett’s final whiskey launch, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy in 2011, marked the first time an Irish Distiller’s product has been named after the master distiller since John Jameson. He was succeeded by Brian Nation.
As global brand ambassador for Tullamore Dew, John Quinn has played a significant role in not only promoting the brand across the globe, but in pushing Irish whiskey on to the world spirits stage.
In September last year, brand owner William Grant & Sons officially opened its new Tullamore Dew distillery, marking the return of whiskey production to the site 60 years after the original distillery closed. Throughout that time, Tullamore sourced its liquid from Irish Distillers.
As chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers, the largest producer of Irish whiskey in the world and owner of the Jameson Irish whiskey brand, Anna Malmhake has played a vital role in steering the industry to global fame.
Malmhake, who was born in Sweden, joined Irish Distillers in 2011 – just before the contemporary boom in the sector and the rapid development of Jameson. Before that, she worked at the Absolut Company, owned by Pernod Ricard, as global brand director, later moving to the role of marketing director.
She has overseen not only the growth of Jameson, but also a number of changes at Irish Distillers, including the €100m expansion of the Irish Distillers Midleton plant in Cork.
Kilbeggan, now owned by Beam Suntory, is another main player in the Irish whiskey arena, and Noel Sweeney, the master distiller and master blender for the brand, has helped ensure its prominence for a number of years. He is responsible for all distilleries belonging to the Kilbeggan Distilling Company, including the Cooley Distillery and Locke’s Distillery.
Sweeney said his primary aim is to preserve Kilbeggan’s “historic Irish whiskeys, long into the future but also innovate using traditional methods”. Sweeney recently selected the casks used to create Kilbeggan’s oldest blend, and created a 100% single grain expression.
Established in 2014, the Irish Whiskey Association was launched to support the growth of the industry’s exports – which are expected to double by 2020. Aoife Keane was appointed head of the trade body, while Bernard Walsh, MD of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, was appointed chairman.
Representing the interests of the sector, as well as pioneering growth and innovation, Keane is sure to play a crucial part in the future development of Irish whiskey. The association is launching its “Vision for Irish Whiskey” strategy document this year, outlining the industry’s ambitious plans to 2030, while the association plans to launch its tourism strategy this summer.
Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon
No other duo have done more to promote the use of Irish whiskey in the on-trade than Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon, of New York’s The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog. The pair, who previously worked at the award-winning The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, opened the saloon-style bar, inspired by the one of New York’s most notorious 19th century street gangs, in 2012.
With a menu full of historically-accurate drinks recipes, The Dead Rabbit claims to have the largest selection of Irish whiskey of any bar in the US, while McGarry and Muldoon travel the world promoting the spirit of their homeland, particularly single pot still Irish whiskeys.
Ones to watch…
Mark Reynier: A figure largely associated with boundary-breaking Scotch whisky, Mark Reynier, former managing director of Bruichladdich Distillery, has moved into the world of Irish whiskey. He recently bought a former Guinness brewery in Ireland with plans to convert it into a malt and grain whiskey distillery, called Waterford Distillery, claiming he will continue to experiment with barley and pioneer “hard-nosed distilling”.
Peter Lavery: Businessman Lavery may not be new to the world of Irish whiskey, having formed The Belfast Distillery Company (BDC) in 2005, but he is set to increase his prominence in the industry by opening the company’s firstworking distillery in Belfast’s old Crumlin Road Gaol – the first distillery to be built in the city for 175 years. This presents great opportunity to expand BDC’s Titanic and Danny Boy Irish whiskey brands.