Thursday 3 May 2012

Axe falls at Kilbeggan

Beam Global, Cooley's new owners, reported a great first quarter today. Sales of Kilbeggan whiskey are up 73%, thanks to Beam's distribution muscle.

While shareholders in the US toasted the good news, employees at Kilbeggan distillery back in Ireland were getting the sack. I won't go into much detail yet except to say that most of the Cooley folk that have featured in this blog have been let go by Beam. Some have been with Cooley from the earliest days - 22 years now - and some were even involved with the preservation and restoration of Kilbeggan distillery before that. That it is today both a museum and a fully working distillery again is thanks to their hard work and dedication.

It's clear that Beam intend to keep Kilbeggan open as a tourist attraction; they have already announced funding to restore the waterwheel. It's the nominal home of the brand they are pushing most, after all. They have been tellingly silent on the future of the production side of the distillery though and I gather little is happening on site these days.

It's starting to look like Beam only bought Cooley to exploit the Kilbeggan brand (which, despite the name, is made at the more industrial Riverstown distillery). Today, people, heritage and craft were all casualties of that pursuit and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Irish whiskey is a little poorer for Beam's involvement.

[ Update: See the following post for Beam's side of the story ]