The identification of global market opportunities for craft distilled Irish spirits prompted the creation of Glendalough Distillery in Wicklow which is now exporting poitín, whiskey and gin to 15 countries.
Drinks analysts Barry Gallagher and Brian Fagan, two of the four founders and now directors of the company, saw a gap in the market for premium end Irish spirits products.
“Jameson was doing well but Ireland had just 1%-2% of the global whiskey market. They looked at the US, Canada, Scotland and Japan which were doing huge business and saw an opportunity for high-end whiskey,” says co-founder and sales and marketing director Gary McLoughlin.
Since setting up in 2011, Glendalough has focused on providing a range of new and innovative Irish spirits including poitín aged in sherry casks and whiskey aged first in bourbon casks and then in sherry casks.
It also now distils a seasonal botanical gin.
The new company brought together a considerable amount of experience in the drinks industry to build its brand. It included two drinks analysts working in finance, Mr Gallagher and Mr Fagan, as well as Mr McLoughlin and Kevin Keenan who both had experience in drinks advertising.
The fifth member to join the team is US-based Donal O’Gallachoir, formerly a sales manager for another Irish whiskey maker.
In 2012, the company went to market with its first product, poitín. Mr McLoughlin says the founders worked with another craft distillery to create “poitín distilled from beet and malted barley and matured in Irish oak”. Glendalough also added poitín aged in sherry casks and a 60% poitín product.
“We started in Dublin — our strategy was to become the barman’s friend and to build the brand. We launched a cocktail competition and grew sales around the country.”
By 2013 Glendalough was ready to make a move on the US, its key target market, and found an importer which began selling in Boston and New York. Emphasising the centuries old tradition of distillation in Ireland, Glendalough markets its poitín as a drink to be served over ice and in cocktails.
Also in 2013 the company set up a distillery in Wicklow, purchasing a still from the Black Forest in Germany with some financial assistance from the Local Enterprise Office in Wicklow.
It was at this point that the company entered the whiskey market. “We selected some casks from one of the older distilleries “ says Mr McLoughlin explaining that Glendalough ages and finishes the whiskey.
The company launched a seven-year- old single malt in Ireland, Europe and the US in 2014 and a 13-year-old single malt in Ireland and Europe at the end of the year.
During 2014, the company also distilled the first of its seasonal botanical gin, using plants and fruit from the Wicklow area including gorse and wild primrose.
This year, Glendalough launched double barrel single grain whiskey – aged first in American oak bourbon barrels and finished for six months in Spanish sherry casks. Mr McLoughlin says that this has very quickly become the company’s best selling drink.
Initially funded by the founders, the company raised money in 2013 and again this year. Joining the private investors was former Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll who invested €60,000. This year Bord Bia also provided €50,000 via the Step Change Programme.
Sales grew by 200% in 2014 and are expected to grow by 150% this year. The company is now in 16 markets including the US which accounts for over 60% of turnover, says Mr McLoughlin.
While it emerged in the throes of recession, Glendalough Distillery is going from strength to strength, writes Trish Dromey
Our strategy was to become the barman’s friend and to build the brand
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