Friday 4 May 2012

Beam's intentions

I just had a good chat with an Irish PR company representing Beam. Obviously we are still in the early months under the new management so things are still fluid. But I am assured that Cooley's DNA remains intact despite recent developments.

Kilbeggan distillery will continue as a tourist attraction, as we knew, but it will also keep its two stills running (5 days a week), producing malt that will be casked and stored on site. It is important that the distillery will be seen as the home of the flagship Kilbeggan blended whiskey.

Since the resurrected distillery has only been producing for 5 years, and in relatively small small quantities, Kilbeggan whiskey is currently distilled at Cooley's Riverstown facility. It was Cooley's plan to incorporate actual Kilbeggan-distilled malt into the blend, however, and I asked if that is still on the cards. Yes, it is, it seems.

One function of Kilbeggan that hasn't survived into this New Era is the old-school cooperage under John Neilly. That was something unique in this country and a priceless link to an age-old craft that is an essential part of whiskey-making. Cooley has sourced its ex-bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill up till now. Beam, I assume, will supply its own bourbon casks. Controlling the source means they will not be sending casks in need of repair to Ireland.

Beam also cited health & safety concerns regarding the cooperage but these could have been addressed, I'm sure, had they not moved the cask reworking elsewhere.

Besides repairing casks, John supported the innovation function at Kilbeggan by, for example, producing small casks or even, famously, producing cask ends from bog oak. That innovation function, under Alex Chasko, is gone too. I can't imagine the rationale for this because Alex has a gift for creating exceptional whiskeys. We will notice this change in the glass, I have no doubt.

Nevertheless, I am told that Cooley will continue to innovate and, so far, there is no plan to deviate from what Cooley has always done. Some new products are in the pipeline, including a Kilbeggan poitín.

There is a marketing emphasis on the Kilbeggan blend at the moment but promotion for all the other main brands - Tyrconnell, Greenore and Connemara - will follow in Kilbeggan's draft.

There is no particular news on the Riverstown distillery yet. It doesn't sound like there is any immediate pressure to expand capacity there to service projected demand for Kilbeggan, etc.