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Teeling — an Irish whiskey fairy tale

The year 1987 marked the end of a monopoly in the Irish whiskey industry. For decades Irish Distillers (ID, currently owned by Pernod Ricard) had dominated production of Irish whiskey. Then that monopoly was broken by an Irish businessman named John Teeling.

During his university years in 1970s Cambridge, Massachusetts, a research project investigating why Irish whiskey as a category had gone into a serious decline piqued his interest. He dreamed of bringing extinct whiskey brands back to life. The idea would slumber for some time, but finally, 17 years later he put dream into deed, purchasing an existing distillery on the Cooley Peninsula in the Republic of Ireland, at the time producing industrial alcohol.

Teeling hired two old hands who had been working at the distillery for many years and set to totally renovating the plant. Millions of Euros were poured into the dilapidated site while the French ID was lurking in the distance, wondering what the new startup was doing. In 1993 they knocked on the door and announced they were interested — an attractive proposition for Teeling, who urgently needed a new investment round for further growth.

The board of directors approved ID’s bid, but the employees protested. They expected ID to immediately close down the distillery after the takeover. This fear was not without reason, since ID owned market leader Jameson and produced numerous other Irish whiskeys for themselves as well as for third parties. Then, the Competition Authority reared its powerful head and cancelled the acquisition, with reason: By acquiring the Cooley facility, ID would control 100 percent of the Irish whiskey production.

There would be no takeover, but Cooley’s financial problems weren’t over. Fortunately Heaven Hill, one of the major players in the American whiskey industry, came to the rescue, buying vast amounts of maturing whiskey in advance. The business developed well, allowing Teeling to purchase John Locke’s distillery in Kilbeggan. At the time that was nothing more than a museum, beautifully restored by the locals. John Teeling took it back into production and currently it is the oldest working distillery in the world. He successfully developed a beautiful portfolio of whiskeys with its core range consisting of: Greenore, a single grain whiskey; Kilbeggan, a blend; Tyrconnell, a non-peated single malt and Connemara, a peated single malt.

Apart from that, the Cooley distillery produced a whole plethora of private label whiskeys for supermarkets, liquor store chains and the like. In 2012 Cooley and Locke’s were purchased by Beam Global, who had noticed a 24 percent growth in sales of Irish whiskey in the United States. That did not go unnoticed with another important player on the world market, Suntory of Japan, who already had serious stakes in the Scotch whisky industry. In 2014 the Japanese drinks concern took over Beam and continued as Beam Suntory. Thus you could say that, today, France, the USA and Japan now run the Irish whiskey industry.

Luckily John Teeling left a fair amount of maturing whiskey out of the bargain with Beam to set his sons Jack and Stephen up in business, under their own family name. Since 2015 Teeling Distillery is proudly producing Irish whiskey in (drum roll please) Dublin. The first three years the two boys could rely on income by bottling matured whiskey from the old Cooley plant that their father gave a second lease on life. Jack and Stephen Teeling have done an excellent job, picking up prizes at various international competitions for years. Since 2018 bottles of their own make have been made available, respecting the law that whiskey has to mature at least three years before it can be called whiskey.

The Teeling brothers resorted to traditional Irish whiskey making, triple distilled in three pot stills, named after Jack’s three daughters. One pot still sports the name Rebecca, a nice little reference to the female half of your Whisky Couple.

So let’s go Irish in March — after all it will be St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th!

Slante mhath,

The Whisky Couple

In June 2017 A Field Guide to Whisky — Hans Offringa’s latest book about his favorite topic — was launched in Charleston and turned into a genuine bestseller with nearly 100,000 copies sold of the English and Dutch language edition together.

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