The Great Teeling Whiskey Comeback

The first urban distillery in years is being launched in Dublin by the Teeling Brothers this autumn. Andrew Wilkin heads to Dublin to find out more about the new whiskey on the block.
Need more evidence for the irresistible rise of Irish Whiskey? Meet the Teeling brothers, Jack and Stephen, who are launching a brand-new urban distillery for their Teeling Whiskey brand, smack-bang in the heart of Dublin. Over two years after selling off the family Cooley Distillery for a grand-old sum of $95 m to Beam (now Beam Santory), questions are rife about their undeniably ambitious direction.
“There’s no closed door society here in Ireland”, Jack Teeling laughs. There’s no doubt about that as the Teeling brothers hand me a cocktail and give me the lowdown on their current venture in the bar of the Dylan, the stately Victorian boutique hotel in the prestigious Ballsbridge district.
The Teeling Timeline
“Time for the Cliff Notes,” Jack laughs. Those with short-attention spans, beware – there’s over two centuries to plough through!  We begin in 1782, when descendent Walter Teeling owned a distillery in The Liberties, an area renowned for its inequity and somewhat freewheeling spirit, in and amongst 37 other distilleries in the Dublin urban vicinity.
Subsumed by another company, the Jameson’s then dominated the scene, with Irish Whiskey leaving the capital to be distilled in the countryside. Urban distilling truly was a thing of the past.
Fast-forward to 1987 and Cooley was established by their father, breaking up the monopoly and being the first new distillery in over one hundred years in Ireland! The brothers, brought up on whiskey, joined the company in 2001 and worked their way up, but there was this nagging feeling. “It was our father’s company and we couldn’t do things the way we wanted.”
Spotting a gap in the market to do things their own way, Cooley was sold off in January 2012 to Beam, with one condition – that they could stockpile some of the whiskey, to get Jack’s brand-new Teeling Whiskey brand straight into production.

The GaGa effect
One history lesson later, Stephen is quick to remind us of the balance they are trying to achieve with the Teeling Whiskey brand, describing it as having “an anchor to the past, but with a contemporary approach.” The brand-name is a case in point – having registered some old brand names, there was a conscious decision to not live off other’s heritage.
And the family name flickered up – just like Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels – why not simply use the names of the whiskey proprietors? Then, why not also distill the whiskey in our backyard? That was a decision based on both their own heritage, growing up in the city centre, and respect for the city’s distant distilling past.
And the focus is 100% on the liquid. That’s no surprise from the brothers who stacked up awards in the last decade for their work on Killbeggan at Cooley – World Distiller of the Year in 2007, and three European Distiller of the Year titles between 2008 and 2010. “For smaller companies, the best way is to get industry recognition for your liquid,” Stephen notes.
With half the marketing budget of the so-called “big guys”, they speak of the importance in building critical mass. Particularly in trying to court the younger consumer, who are, as Stephen jokes “promiscuous with brands”, demanding stronger flavours.
They also note that Irish whiskey is smoother than Scotch for example, giving it more accessibility. “Even Rihanna (in her song “Cheers, Drink to That”) and Lady GaGa are referencing it!”
The new Liberties
The stately delight of the Dylan behind us, we head for Newmarket Square to check out the distillery site itself. Scheduled to be operational by the end of 2014, with the visitor centre open for business early in 2015, the old Liberties are on the brink of another redefinition.
Industrial in aesthetic, there’s creative agencies, bars and cafes popping up – in a way akin to London’s Shoreditch at the start of the noughties. And the distillery itself? Aiming for ultimate flexibility, there’s a focus on handicraft – human input is essential. “We’re even heading back to the centre to taste the small-batch now, it’s the best hangover cure!”
They admit that luck’s been on their side in two ways. I mention the Irish economy, for a long-time in the doldrums, but given the consistent worldwide growth in Irish Whiskey over the same time period, the brothers business was somewhat protected. Ironically, that same weak economy is also cited as a reason that they got the site – serendipity, perhaps? “We’re not sure we would have got the property now things are better – the price would be too high!”
Dublin defined
Optimism radiates from every speech. The boom times in Dublin are bemoaned for laziness (“it was easy for anyone to open up a bar and sell any old spirit”, Steven eludes), whilst now the consumer is more discerning. Lo and behold, top-notch establishments are opening up. Praise is bestowed on the circus-themed Liquor Rooms (NOLA-nominated to boot!) and the subterranean-speakeasy The Blind Pig.
And it’s not just cocktail bars either, the brothers are also partial to the traditional “old man” Irish Pub. Palace Bar and The Stags Head in Temple Bar get cited as examples. Pouring me yet another cocktail, we return to business. The brothers claim that they are “not taking, just giving.” It’s a project that may just deserve the platitude.
According to our transperancy guidelines: press tour.


Foto: Photo via Teeling

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