With the opening of independent craft beer breweries in recent years, such as The 5 Lamps Brewery or J. W. Sweetman, the popularity of craft beer threatens in some ways to dethrone big-name brands of the beer industry, or at least take a large bite out of the market share. Running in tandem with the craft beer revolution, the whiskey industry in Dublin especially is now undergoing a much-needed revival, and the Dublin Whiskey Company promises to lead the charge in that revival by being the first purpose-built distillery in the city since the late 1800s. They are developing a 300-year-old site in the Liberties in Dublin to create a new whiskey distillery and visitor centre, offering an interactive and educational experience of Irish whiskey brewing and its history. We caught up with Marie Byrne, one of the founders of the Dublin Whiskey Company, and she gave us some insight into the new distillery which will be opening in 2015 and their plans for the next few years.
Where did the Inspiration for Dublin Whiskey Company come from?
I guess we all had a love of whiskey, Edmond (O’Flaherty) in particular led the charge in that. He was always bemoaning the lack of distilleries in Dublin. I don’t know if you’re aware but Ireland back in the 1800s would have produced up to 12 million cases of whiskey. In the last few years the production of whiskey has ramped up considerably, but even with that increase we now produce only 6.2 million cases a year, just half of what was being produced 200 years ago.
In the past 10 years the Irish whiskey industry worldwide has grown by 200%. Is that down to Jameson’s popularity?
Well Jameson have contributed a massive amount to the growth of Irish whiskey, but also there’s a rise in Irish whiskey production globally anyway. In 2013 there was 6.2 million 9ltr cases produced in Ireland, so we’re set to double that by 2020, and double that again to 24 million by 2030.
So it’s the global market you’re looking at for this brand. With that in mind, how important was it to have “Dublin” in the title of the brand?
I guess there’s definitely a cache to having a distillery in the capital. Also I think it’s a massive benefit to Dublin itself. It’s bringing back to the city what it traditionally had, which was industry and a working distillery in the city centre. It’s back to what others are trying to achieve with their re-generation plan, and it’s making the community much more interesting too. Before we hatched our plan to open up a working distillery in the city centre there hadn’t really been any urban distilleries in Dublin for a long time so now there’s going to be 3 based in Dublin as far as I know, with potentially other distilleries in other urban areas.
It certainly adds an attraction to the city. How important is the visitor’s centre? What plans do you have for it?
We’re looking to create a really immersive experience so that you can run your hand through the grain, stick your nose into the lauter tun: really immersive and interactive. It’s an attempt to go back to the roots of what the industry is about and we’re making something educational and interactive at the same time. We’re only 300metres away from St Patrick’s Cathedral and we think our location is ideal because of the history that surrounds it. Our building used to be the malting house of John Busby who was a significant distiller in the city centre in the 1830s. The building is a beautiful 1691 Mill building and we’re really proud that we get to rejuvenate it and give it a new lease of life because there’s not actually a preservation order on it, but this way it gets to be returned to its original glory. We bought the building in October 2012 and this was important for us because we wanted to show that we’re part of the community. We’ve had various different events like a graffiti exhibition and a fashion show in which young designers got to showcase their work, and all the money raised went to charity so it was a win for everyone.
Once production starts in 2015 do you think that space will still be available as an exhibition space?
Yes we’ve factored it into our plans that we’ll still have an exhibition space. It’s very important to us that we can keep working with the community and with people of various different craft backgrounds. It’s all about working and collaborating with people and showcasing peoples work in our building. We feel that collaborating with people at the top of their own field can really help us and them, as well as help the community at large.
There’s always talk about alcohol advertising being banned on a sporting level or even banned altogether. Do you think that would hinder the growth of the Dublin Whiskey Company brand?
Well the product that we’re going to produce is a very high quality, premium Irish whiskey and the advertising is going to reflect that and emphasise that we’re passionate about our high quality product. So it will speak for itself.
What plans do you have for your online branding and marketing?
That’s quite important for us, and we’re just looking at the story of how a distillery is set up and we’d like to educate people, let them see the product, because the journey and history is hugely fascinating. So the history of the building, the locality, the Irish whiskey industry, the engineering behind it are all important parts of how we’re marketing the brand, and it will appeal to people who are especially interested in the craft beer and whiskey revival and hopefully to everyone else. It’s a massive project, incredibly daunting at times!
With the level of people working abroad and migrating, is that a market you’re looking at too?
The US is obviously a huge market for Irish whiskey, and when you consider the amount of Irish-Americans and the fact that some US cities are swarmed with Irish, we’d definitely like to tap into that market. The category of Irish whiskey is expanding and it’s up to every individual in the category to make sure that everything they’re doing is going towards maintaining the premium Irish whiskey image, because it only takes one bad batch to sully the name of Irish whiskey. And that’s why we’re one of the founding members of the Irish Whiskey Association: to ensure that Ireland and Irish whiskey is showcased in the way it should be.
How was the success of Dublin 8 at culture night?
It was tremendous. It was a great opportunity to collaborate with other breweries and distilleries and other artisan food producers; Teeling’s, Five Lamps, and Guinness Brewery among others all had a presence. It’s quite a novel approach working with people who are essentially your competitors. Everyone was really enthusiastic about it, and it was a great chance for every company to showcase their product and also their Dublin 8 credentials. It’s part of my ambition to put Dublin 8 on the map as a place to go for high quality food and drink. The Dublin 8 culture night was just an idea that I had and was delighted with how the night went, and people took a real interest. Bord Bia have said they would like it to happen again next year, and Dublin city council gave us a grant for it as well, so they were very supportive and it fit well into their own plans about regeneration for the area.
Arts funding was given a boost in the budget too so there will be more culture nights and events going on in the coming year. Is that something you’re going to look at as an opportunity to spread the word of DWC?
Yeah absolutely, we were delighted to be at the centre of the culture night so we hope to do the same thing in the near future!
Original publication date: July 2013