Interview with Tullamore Dew’s Global Ambassador
By Richard Thomas
When William Grant & Sons bought Tullamore Dew in 2010, they acquired Ireland’s second biggest whiskey brand, but not a distillery to go with it. Tullamore Dew was a victim of the Irish whiskey consolidations of the mid-20th Century, and for decades the brand has been made at the New Midleton Distillery in Cork, the seat of Jameson.
As part of their plan to build on Tullamore Dew, Grant’s announced they would build a new, state of the art distillery in the whiskey’s traditional home of Tullamore, in County Offaly. I recently caught up with John Quinn, Tullamore Dew’s Global Brand Ambassador, to ask about their distillery plans.
RT: For a long time, the Tullamore Dew Heritage Center was the sole active sign that the whiskey had ever been made in Tullamore. The heritage center was closed for renovations and is due to re-open later this summer. Has a specific date been set yet, and what can whiskey tourists expect from the new center?
JQ: It will be open the first week of September. It [presents] a greatly improved story of the heritage of Tullamore Dew and the whiskey blend itself. It will give context to the story of Irish whiskey and how it developed over the years. It’s very educational in terms of how the whiskey is made. There will be lots of interactive areas and an entertaining video for people to view. It will present a very traditional industry in a very engaging way.
RT: How are negotiations going on purchasing the Clonminch site, and when do you expect to break ground? Is everything on track for the predicted 2014 opening?
JQ: I understand there are no hiccups, and we expect to break ground towards the end of this year. I understand all planning processes are going ahead without a hitch.
RT: The return of the distillery to Tullamore after 60 years must be exciting for the residents. I take it you’ve met with broad local support?
JQ: Yeah, absolutely incredible local support. There is so much excitement in the town. I was down there, in fact, last week meeting with the staff and the people, and they are so excited, and spontaneously people are putting up signs saying “Welcome Back Tullamore Dew to Tullamore”. That’s the kind of response that makes us feel really, really good about it.
Tullamore, like every town in Ireland, has something it wants to say about itself. It has its name on the second biggest Irish whiskey brand , [and] bringing back the distillery is a wonderful sense of the town taking ownership again.
RT: After 60 years I can imagine that, because they still have the name, but not the actual, physical presence.
JQ: Exactly right. A lot of the people [in Tullamore] don’t remember the distillery for obvious reasons. But, you know, Tullamore people travel around the world and they see Tullamore Dew, and now they see more than just a whiskey they knew was part of their past, they knew a bit about its heritage – now it is part of the present and the future. Bringing it home again is great.
RT: Speaking of bringing it home, water is an important facet of whiskey-making, and I understand that you’ll be drawing your water from a spring in the Slieve Bloom Mountain. Was that the original water source for Tullamore Dew, and will the change in water [from Midleton] mean any subtle changes in Tullamore Dew?
JQ: First of all, when we discussed the plans with our distillery builders, one of the questions they asked us was “what was the most important thing in terms of the distillery, do we make a wonderful distillery complex, or do we retain the TD taste above all ?” Our first priority is to retain the taste. The excellent taste cannot change. In the meantime – we also want a wonderful distillery and I suppose one will generate the other.
The water source is always important, and of course we are proud to source from the nearby Slieve Bloom mountains where the water is as pure as you can get. Of course as with all distilleries the water will be checked at all stages to ensure the quality is at its optimum before we introduce it to the mashing process.
RT: Tell me about the distillery hardware.
JQ: First of all, [because] it’s triple distillation, we will have three copper pot stills. The stills will be made in Forsyths in Scotland. And we will be making pot still whiskey and malt whiskey. As you might know, the bigger taste influence in the Tullamore blend is the pot and malt whiskey, so it will be a just malt and pot still distillery. We may decide to build our own grain distillery later, but for the moment it will be just malt and pot.
RT: When the new Tullamore Dew distillery opens, it will be Ireland’s fifth in modern times, reversing the 20th Century trend of closures and consolidations. Do you see more distilleries opening in Ireland in the future, and in particular, is Ireland set for the kind of micro-distillery scene that has grown up in the United States and the UK?
JQ: Yes, in terms of micro-distilling and more distilleries. The reason I say yes is there were announcements this year that others were intending to build distilleries. One will be built in Belfast on the site on the old Cromwell Jail, and another distillery has been announced for County Kerry. So we certainly have set a trend in motion and this trend reflects the growth trend for the Irish Whiskey category.
RT: Tullamore Dew has seen its sales double in recent years, part of a boom in Irish whiskey generally. How do you think Tullamore Dew appeals to American bourbon drinkers?
Kind of difficult, since I’m not a bourbon and rye drinker myself. But the attraction of Tullamore Dew is that it is different from that typical earthy Scotch taste, or even from the sweet vanilla taste that is typical of Bourbons. It is much more about freshness and fruit, and one of the things we’ve found about the success of Tullamore Dew is that the people who taste it for the first time think “Wow, this is smooth and fruity and not what I expected a whiskey to taste like.”
I guess in terms of the bourbon drinker, bourbon tends to have a kind of vanilla or even coconut sweetness. This sweetness is derived from the new wood, which is different from the fruity sweetness of Tullamore Dew. This fruitiness is probably what makes it attractive.