A drink with… Brendan Buckley, Irish Distillers
The international marketing director talks about building the world’s leading Irish whiskey brand, personal passion projects and preparing for the future.
*This feature was originally published in the December 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
How did you start working in the Irish whiskey industry?
I started working in a sales and marketing capacity with a start‐up in the early ’90s that was building Irish bars around the world. I then lived and worked in the US for five years, then decided to return to Ireland. I had some contacts at Irish Distillers, and I joined in 2001 – my first day was 9/11; I think everyone can relate to where they were on that day.
What sets Irish Distillers apart from other producers?
From a technical level, Midleton Distillery is one of the most advanced distilling operations in the world. But if you look back at Irish Distillers as a company, we have this incredible long, rich story. Irish Distillers was there when Irish whiskey was on its knees, and you had these three fierce rivals who realised that the only way to survive was to come together. Our history is unique. We are fortunate that we have incredible brands that have had phenomenal success.
Irish Distillers played a critical role in the renaissance of Irish whiskey. We volunteered our technical know‐how to mentor new players by helping them get their brewing and distilling operations up and running. It may sound counter‐productive, but it’s about making sure we have new guys building quality operations that can make whiskeys to keep the overall category growing.
How do you split your time between your Irish whiskey brands?
Jameson is understandably our number one brand. However, I describe myself as a whiskey enthusiast who happens to work in marketing. Redbreast is a passion project of mine and I have a great desire to see it grow; it’s really up there with the upper echelons of Irish whiskey. But I always find time to work on the likes of Powers and Green Spot as well.
What can you tell me about the new Irish Distillers podcast?
There’s a fascinating story behind the creation of Irish Distillers, and we felt a podcast was an engaging way for us to tell the story to whiskey fans and also those who perhaps aren’t yet big whiskey enthusiasts. The podcast has been produced very well, and those people who have come across it have found it really interesting.
How important is innovation to Irish Distillers?
It’s hugely important. If you look at the way the market has evolved over the past 10 to 15 years, consumers are more interested in experimenting than ever before. We have looked at how we can offer consumers something different, such as Jameson Caskmates, and the Method and Madness range. That has really pushed the boundaries of what we can achieve, and it’s been a great success. We’ve brought the Spot range back to life, and with Redbreast we’ve done very interesting things, such as Redbreast Dream Cask. We’ve sold just under one million cases – 980,000 cases – of Jameson Caskmates overall in the past three to four years. So innovation is definitely paying off.
Are there any new products in the pipeline that you can tell me about?
We do have a few things in the pipeline. We will have a very exciting edition of Midleton Rare next year and we will also be launching a new Jameson line extension into the US early in the new year.
How are you able to cope with increasing demand for your whiskeys?
In the past 10 years we have made significant investment in our operations. We doubled our distilling capacity with a new still house in 2015. We have also invested €130 million in bottling and maturation facilities. We constantly have to think about the future. With some of our whiskeys, like Redbreast, we are bottling whiskeys that are 21 years old. That needs to be laid down very early if we are to meet demand in another 21 years’ time. It’s quite a complicated process and requires a lot of planning and investment – but we are prepared for the future.