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With New Bacardi Partnership, Teeling Irish Whiskey Eyes U.S. Expansion

November 10, 2017

In September, Bacardi Ltd. entered the Irish whiskey category by agreeing to become the exclusive U.S. importer for the Teeling brand and taking a minority stake in Teeling as part of the deal. Teeling, whose core portfolio is comprised of its “Trinity”—the Small Batch, Single Grain and Single Malt labels ($40-$60)—was previously partnered with Infinium Spirits in the U.S. market. This year, the Teeling portfolio is projected to reach about 20,000 cases in the U.S. SND recently spoke with co-founder Jack Teeling about the new partnership with Bacardi and the road ahead.

SND: How does the calculus change for Teeling in the U.S. now that you’re aligned with Bacardi?

Teeling: The U.S. is the dominant market for Irish whiskey globally, so it’s a great opportunity for us. We felt we needed to make the change, and Bacardi is by far the best positioned in the market to take us to the next level.

SND: What U.S. markets are you targeting for expansion?

Teeling: We’re fishing where the fish are. Irish whiskey has a strong following on the two coasts, where sales continue to grow quite fast. We have two people on the ground in New York, and California is a focus as well. We also see opportunity in other markets like Texas, Florida and Minnesota, so we’re trying to generate a bit of momentum there. The on-premise is very important. We want to give the mixology community bold whiskies for craft cocktails so that the taste profile doesn’t get washed away.

SND: While Irish whiskey is growing quickly, there’s also plenty of competition in the category. How do you plan to differentiate Teeling within that landscape?

Teeling: The super-premium end of the category is growing far faster than the rest of the market, and that’s where we want to play. In the short term, we see the most potential at the $40-$60 price point. Most consumers have been discovering Irish whiskey through the mainstream brands, but now there’s massive opportunity to broaden the category, and we want to be at the forefront. As with other spirits, consumers are very open to unique new offerings, and they want to feel a sense of discovery. As an industry, we need to act quickly to create different expressions to meet that demand. If we don’t, consumers will look elsewhere.

SND: Which of your whiskies are performing best, and how does the new product pipeline look?

Teeling: Teeling Small Batch ($40) is most widely available and is our best seller. We see great potential to continue growing that offering, along with Single Grain ($50) and Single Malt ($60) in the core range. We recently shipped to the U.S. the second batch of our 24-year-old Single Malt ($500), totaling about 1,000 cases. Next year we’ll do something very special with the launch of a 34-year-old Single Malt. It will be pushing the boundaries of the category, retailing at $3,500 a bottle. We’ll have only one barrel of that—about 43 bottles for the U.S., going into a few select accounts. We hope to have it in-market by St. Patrick’s Day.

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