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Hitting U.S. Next Month, Teeling Aims To Fill Irish Whiskey’s Super-Premium Gap

March 6, 2014

Irish whiskey upstart Teeling launches its first product in the U.S. April 1, and the company tells SND it sees ample potential to woo consumers at the underdeveloped super-premium tier of the market, then gradually introduce a range of offerings even further up the pricing ladder.

Teeling’s debut release, an eponymous blended Irish whiskey finished in Flor de Caña rum casks, is positioned at $40 a bottle. Initially launching in 17 states through importer Infinium Spirits, the 46%-abv, non-chill-filtered expression is expected to be in national distribution by next year.

“The standard brands in the Irish whiskey category are in the $20-$30 range,” says managing director Jack Teeling. “Higher up you have whiskies like Redbreast and the Bushmills malts, but there’s not much in the middle. We want to provide a stepping stone and educate American palates, because Irish whiskey has more to offer than what they might expect.”

Teeling adds that greater segmentation within the Irish whiskey market is essential if the industry intends to compete with larger categories like American and Scotch whisk(e)y. “The biggest challenge we face as a category is that there’s a lot more breadth and choice in American whiskey, for example—with new craft producers popping up all over—and Irish whiskey risks losing consumers (as they explore those varied options).”

“This will be a discovery brand in the on-premise,” adds Kirk Gaither, vice president, marketing, Infinium Spirits, noting that Teeling is targeted at sipping and cocktail consumption rather than the shot form that’s catapulted Jameson to the top of the Irish whiskey category.

For now, Teeling will focus on its super-premium rum-finished expression in the U.S., but it intends to follow up with higher-priced bottlings looking ahead. In Europe, the company already markets a single-grain corn whiskey—also 46%-abv and non-chill-filtered—that’s matured in Cabernet Sauvignon casks, which Teeling expects to launch stateside in 2015. A 21-year-old Sauternes finish is likewise on the market in Europe and will be layered into the U.S. portfolio down the road. Very limited production single malt releases—including a 26-year-old and a 30-year-old—are also in the pipeline.

Currently, Teeling Irish Whiskey Co. sources its whiskey from the Cooley Distillery (which the Teeling family sold to Beam Inc. for $95 million in 2011), then finishes it in its own maturation facility. In late January, however, Teeling announced plans to build its own 500,000-liter distillery in Dublin’s The Liberties section on an investment of €10 million ($14m). That distillery, the first to be built in Dublin in 125 years, is expected to be producing whiskey by next year.

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