by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
On Products and Brands
When Arthur Guinness brewed his famous stout for the first time back in 1759 little did he know that 256 years later 1m people would flock to his factory simply to visit. The same for Thomas Phillips (Bushmills), John Jameson, D.E. Williams (Tullamore Dew) and others who established breweries and distilleries around Ireland from the early 1600s onwards.
What were established originally as simple commercial enterprises are now sophisticated visitor attractions as more and more we look beyond the product as commodity and seek meaningful, interactive brand experiences. The product as brand extends way beyond its original purpose and becomes a deeply emotional signifier that can validate lifestyle, confirm status, pledge allegiance. It’s not sufficient to buy the product, we now “live” the brand as we talk about it, post about it on social media, wear the tee shirts.
These were the thoughts that occupied me as I wended my way to Newmarket in that most Dublin of Dublin neighbourhoods, the Liberties, for the opening of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the first new “working” distillery to open in Ireland’s capital for 125 years.
First Distillery in 125 years
The launch drew a huge and enthusiastic crowd comprised mainly of tourism and travel professionals with a significant representation from the business tourism sector, particularly DMCs and PCOs. These, in particular, were in search of the X factor, that special je ne sais quoi that might make the Teeling Distillery a must-visit location for high yield MICE visitors, always in search of special, unique, authentic destination experiences.
Teeling is located is Dublin’s oldest neighborhood, The Liberties, so called because the area fell outside of the fiscal jurisdiction of the medieval city. It’s an area traditionally strong on characters (Comedian Brendan Grace hails from there as do singer Imelda May and Mark Sheehan from The Script) and is fast becoming the city’s oldest “new” urban hub with hipster cafes and venues like the Fumbally, a thriving colony of tech start-ups, The Green Door and the Dublin Food Co-Op markets and a plethora of pubs as traditional as Dublin Coddle and Molly Malone.
The Teeling Distillery is joined by “Ireland Rises”, a 1916 commemoration show at the Tivoli Theatre and, shortly, by the Dublin Whiskey Company as a trio of new enterprises destined to further define the Liberties as Dublin’s Shoreditch. It’s exciting and augurs well for Dublin as a destination with strong organic growth bursting out all over the city.
The Re-birth of Irish
Irish Whiskey has been tossed, turned and almost drowned on the turbulent seas of passing trends and whimsical tastes since prohibition in the USA in the 1920 knocked it overboard. Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Scotch, and later Bourbon, gained prominence and Irish was relegated to the lower leagues. But that’s been changing over the past decade with Pernod Ricard’s judicious marketing of Jameson leading the charge.
But perhaps the rise and rise of Irish can be traced back even further to The Irish Whiskey Corner in Bow Street during the early years of Irish Distillers (i.e. prior to the Pernod Ricard purchase). That’s where I first met the ambassador par excellence for Irish Whiskey, John Callely. I was an Italian speaking guide in the late 80s working with CIE Tours International. Every Saturday morning during the season John would regale my bus load of affluent Italians with tales of the salutary effects of a glass of Irish. He’d also conduct a comparative tasting and, over the years, must have educated tens of thousands on the merits of Irish.
The Irish Whiskey Corner soon metamorphosed into The Old Jameson Distillery as Irish Distillers realised you could significantly grow sales of your brand when you wrapped it in an experience and tied it up with a story. Soon visitors were drawn to the Old Jameson Distillery for the heritage experience rather than the booze but they came away enriched and enlightened, and, of course, purchased Jameson in the duty free on their departure from Dublin.
A brand new brand of Irish
It was wonderful to see John in full flight once again at the launch of Teeling. He’s back at the core of an artisan brand that’s linked to a family with a legacy in Whiskey and an ambition to revive that legacy. Founded by Jack Teeling in 2012, to date over €10m has been invested in creating a fully operational distillery fronted by a visitor centre with cafeteria, bar, retail space and private function areas.
The opening of the distillery affords Jack, and his brother Stephen with whom he runs the facility, “complete control of all aspects of its whiskey production, from grain to bottle”. While Teeling is already an established, award winning brand – its Single Malt was named ‘World’s Best’ at the 2015 World Whiskies Awards and Teeling Small Batch was awarded ‘Best Blended Irish Whiskey’ at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition – until now it has relied upon others to carry out the distilling.
If prohibition almost eradicated Irish Whiskey, then it’s on the threshold of a spectacular revival with almost 100m bottles of Irish expected to be sold globally in 2016. In fact, the entire market for Irish will increase by 60% by the end of this second decade of the twenty first century.
There was a lot of love in the distillery on launch night. The event chimed perfectly with the zeitgeist as artisan food producers offered fare to pair perfectly with the Small Batch shots and cocktails that were liberally distributed. Kate Packwood of WildFlour Bakery brought along sensational sweet treats, The Little Milk Co offered wonderful cheese and Skelligs Chocolate gave out yummy truffles. As meetings and events professionals we were all mightily impressed and could imagine the spacious volumes at Teeling Whiskey Distillery over-run by MICE. But in a good way!
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique marketing consultancy working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy around MICE and Business Events.