When Irish eyes are smiling

I recently met John Quinn, the Global Brand Ambassador for Irish whiskey Tullamore DEW and one of the consummate gentlemen of the industry, and I had the opportunity to put a few questions to him.

John Quinn watching over Tullamore DEW.

John Quinn watching over Tullamore DEW.

WOW: You’re the Global Brand Ambassador for Tullamore DEW.  Tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, and your time away from work.

JQ: Actually I don’t seem to have much time away from work these days as I’m constantly travelling – this week in RSA, last week in UK and the week before in South America. My job entails travelling the globe educating people about Irish whiskey and its history and characters and particularly talking about Tullamore DEW. On the announcement of my appointment a newspaper in Ireland wrote an article entitled “Is this the best job in Ireland?”. He might have been right – if I spent any time in Ireland !

When I’m not working I help manage a ladies Gaelic Football team – I know sounds strange but I enjoy it  when I’m at home. I also play golf most weekends, but please don’t ask me my handicap.

WOW: What do you most like and dislike about your job?

JQ: I love being in new places and meeting new people. I especially enjoy encountering new cultures and experiences. On this trip I visited Soweto – a fantastic experience giving an insight into South Africa, of yesterday, today and even of tomorrow. I also really enjoy the educational aspect of the job – it’s like being a teacher in a class full of very enthusiastic students – very rewarding. Dislikes would have to be the airport queues!

WOW: I would imagine that you meet a tremendous number of whiskey drinkers, and that you must have close insight into the latest developments in the market.  In your opinion what are the latest Irish whiskey consumer trends?

JQ: The growth of Irish whiskey itself is a worldwide consumer trend – growing at 20%+ per annum, much faster than any other whiskey category and even faster than any other international spirit category. Within Irish whiskey people are very interested in new expressions, particularly new finishes. Our own TD 12yo Special Reserve which is a triple blend is in vogue in many places while our 10yo single malt is an example of four-cask finishing, unique in Irish whiskey. The other big development is the interest in single pot still whiskeys, a small but very interesting category. New ways of finishing are always interesting, whether for blends, malts or pot stills

WOW: What sets Tullamore DEW apart from other Irish blends (such as Jameson)? What makes Tullamore DEW such a special whiskey?

JQ: Tullamore DEW is a triple distilled whiskey like most Irish whiskeys, but what makes it different is that it is also a triple blend. That is what makes it unique. Blended whiskeys tend to be blends of grain and malt whiskeys, such as blended Scotch. In Ireland we make a third type of whiskey known as “pot still” whiskey – this whiskey is unique to Ireland. Tullamore DEW is uniquely a blend of all three – grain, malt and pot still, matured is Bourbon and Sherry casks.  You ask about Jameson – it’s a wonderful whiskey. It’s a double blend of grain and pot still whiskeys. Bushmills, also a great whiskey is a double blend of grain and malt whiskeys. TD is a triple blend, so that what makes all of them different.

WOW: Irish whiskey is on the rise, led by the astounding performance of Jameson during the last decade.  What does the future hold for Irish whiskey, both in terms of volumes and styles?  How far and how wide can it go in the next ten years?

JQ: Who knows how far it can go. Both Tullamore DEW and Jameson have been leading the Irish whiskey growth globally in recent times. That is what you would expect from the two biggest brands. But there is still lots of room for more growth. For example Irish Whiskey sells 6m cases approx annually. The Scotch business alone is closer to 80m cases. So who knows what the potential can be – for sure the growth will continue as the brands enter new markets and introduce new expressions.

WOW: Specifically, in terms of Tullamore DEW, what new variants can we expect in the near-ish future?

JQ: Already in RSA we have the original and 12yo Special Reserve. We will introduce our 10yo Single Malt in the near future and we hope to have another older blend, fully matured by 2015. On top of that we do have plans to gradually introduce some small batches. Part of the difficulty has been that sales have exceeded forecasts for the past 15 years so we don’t have a lot of older whiskeys available just now. We are setting some aside though for the generations to come. On top of that we are building a new distillery in Tullamore to cope with the growing demand. This will also allow us to introduce new expressions

WOW: You’ve visited South Africa before.  What is it about the country you particularly enjoy?

JQ: I love the diversity in South Africa. The country is completely different from one region to another – The Western Cape is a world from Gauteng and vice versa – both physically and socially. I holidayed in the Cape a few years ago – it was fantastic. Jo’burg on the other hand is so vibrant, so exciting from a business perspective. We didn’t even get to Durban this time and I remember the importance of how that was different again. I also love the South African wine. I even had a chance to try some South African whiskeys and while more in the Scotch style they were very pleasant and interesting.

WOW: South Africa regularly ranks within the top 10 markets for Scotch whisky exports, and Jameson too has performed well here. Why do you think whisk(e)y has become so popular in this country?

JQ: South African consumers are a dynamic bunch. The structure of society means a lot of new younger consumers are entering the spirits market and in many cases want to try drinks different from the parents – so whiskey seems to be taking over where other spirits once led, such as brandy for example. It’s often a case of people looking for new tastes and both Irish and Scotch offer these in abundance

WOW: Wood is generally acknowledged as the principal influence on the flavour of a whisky.  How prescriptive is the Tullamore DEW wood policy?  Is this something that you oversee directly or is it largely managed by Midleton and Bushmills?  Do you have any special / interesting / distinctive cask profiles?

JQ: We manage it very closely in conjunction with our colleagues at Midleton and Bushmills. In fact as part of the William Grants Group we have a very strict policy on cask purchasing and management. The good news is that in WGs we buy our casks from many of the same suppliers as those to Midleton for example so our policies are closely aligned and of course we work in close cooperation to ensure the qualities and styles of casks are in line with our preferences.

WOW: In this regard is the liquid that you buy from these distilleries custom distilled?

JQ: From Midleton we buy the column distilled grain whiskey and the pot distilled pot-still whiskey I mentioned earlier. The malt whiskey for the blend comes from the distillery at Bushmills, obviously this is pot distilled.

WOW:  Irish whiskey (and Scotch) once upon a time used a small measure of oats in its mashbills.  Is this something that you might consider doing for Tullamore DEW?  What would be its contribution to flavour?

JQ: Yes that is true but it is not practised nowadays. The distillery being built at the moment will be for malt and pot still whiskeys and we will be using barley for both. As you can imagine we need to ensure the whiskey retains its very popular flavour. Who knows – we might look at producing whiskey from oats in the future but it’s not part of the immediate plan.

WOW: We’re very excited about the new distillery that you’re building.  Can you share some of the details with us?  When do you expect to fire up the stills and start production?

JQ: The distillery will be a pot still and malt distillery and in time we will also add column stills for grain whiskey distillation. It will be the only distillery in Ireland producing all three whiskey types. We expect the first spirit to start running from the pot stills next summer (July/August) – it is so exciting for all of us and particularly for me – the old guy

WOW: Are there plans for you to launch new brands once things are up and running, or will this distillery be dedicated to the production of Tullamore DEW?

JQ: The initial plan is for dedicated production of TD – but I expect we will look at the possibility of expanding our range as time passes – nothing hard has been planned in that regard though

WOW: What do you drink when you’re not drinking Tullamore DEW?

JQ: I love Hendricks gin and tonic, I enjoy wines of all styles but particularly Chardonnay/Chablis style in whites and Reds of all styles and countries. I enjoy a good beer when I’m thirsty but more often than not I will have a cider as I’m a coeliac (gluten allergy) so beer, sadly, is not good for me

WOW: Lastly, how do you prefer to drink your whiskey when you’re just having a casual dram with friends?

JQ: Either, with two cubes of ice or if it’s summer time I like with long with apple juice (freshly squeezed if possible – I had a great one at Cape Grace!) or with ginger ale. If it’s one of the older expressions I tend to drink it neat, slowly in a heavy crystal glass and with my eyes closed……

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