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Interview: Jack Teeling On The Future Of Irish Whiskey

October 14, 2020

Teeling Whiskey Co. has been a key innovator as whiskies from the Emerald Isle continue to make inroads with consumers around the world. Teeling family sold its Cooley distillery to Beam Suntory in 2012, and started fresh with its own namesake brand and a new facility in Dublin. Bacardi took a minority stake in Teeling in 2017 for an undisclosed sum, and has since bolstered the brand’s distribution in the U.S. With core releases including Small Batch, Single Grain, and Single Malt whiskies ($40-$60 a 750-ml.), Teeling’s portfolio is currently at around 20,000 cases in the U.S., according to Impact Databank. The brand is preparing to launch Blackpitts ($75, 46% abv), a new peated single malt whiskey, in the U.S. in January. SND associate editor Shane English recently caught up with co-founder Jack Teeling to hear about the new whiskey and what the future holds for the business.

SND: Where are you placing your focus this year as you look to expand Teeling in the U.S.?

Teeling: We’ve been pivoting quite a bit into the off-premise in terms of national retail and also strong local retailer partners. We’ve also invested in e-commerce and online. We’re doing the support work that we can from Ireland in terms of training and virtual events, and we’re now actively looking to create unique offerings for the off-premise, like a single barrel program for some of our key supporters.

SND: What is Teeling’s current global volume and distillery capacity?

Teeling: We had a record year in terms of global sales in 2019 when we sold over 1 million bottles (roughly 90,000 9-liter cases) of Teeling Whiskey through our network of global partners in 70 different markets. Our Dublin distillery has the capacity to produce up to 1.2 million liters of alcohol per annual and we’re currently distilling at roughly half this capacity.

SND: How do you see the Irish whiskey category progressing looking forward?

Teeling: I think we’re only at the start of the segmentation and premiumization of Irish whiskey. There’s still a lot of education, tastings, and work to be done to open people’s minds to the wide variety of Irish whiskies out there. We need to educate people about what makes pot still whiskey unique. I think of it as a great crossover between single malt and American whiskies. We’ll continue to further that education on the differentiation of single pot still whiskey and how various mashbills play into the whiskey’s character.

SND: What sets your new offering, Blackpitts, apart from rest of the portfolio and other peated whiskies?

Teeling: We use heavily peated malted barley. What they normally do in Scotland would be to double distill. That leaves a lot of phenols in there and that medicinal-iodine character that is quite distinctive. By doing the triple distillation as we do, it removes the medicinal character while leaving the smoke, so it’s much more of a barbecue style smoke that comes through. We build on that by using a range of casks that imparts some sweetness and fruit. We find we’re in this little unique space: it’s the perfect example of Islay meets Ireland.

SND: What’s the rollout for Blackpitts going to look like?

Teeling: We would normally come into the market and do a lot of work around education, training, wholesalers, our key partners, bartenders, and getting the liquid out there and getting face-to-face and telling the story. We’re starting to launch in Europe and the liquid is on the way to the U.S. We’ll be creating, I suppose, more of a noise early next year when hopefully we’ll have a bit more scope to be hands-on in regards to some of the functional campaigns. We’ll do as much as we possibly can to support it, but nothing will beat being able to go into a bar or a whiskey show or for us to stand in front of our wholesale partners and educate them specifically on the brands.

SND: What advantages has the relationship with Bacardi offered Teeling?

Teeling: The U.S. market is by far the most important market for Irish whiskey and is beginning to go through significant premiumization. Given the size of the opportunity, when a chance came up to partner with Bacardi and their Incubation Brand setup, combined with their national distribution partnership with Southern Glazer’s, it was too good an opportunity not to take.

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