Whisky Advocate

Say goodbye to some Irish whiskey brands

April 13th, 2012

What’s now happening in Ireland is not new. It’s a trend that’s been prevalent in Scotland ever since the demand for whisky increased years ago. Many distilleries stopped, or drastically cut back, selling whisky to private bottlers once their contract was up, leaving them scrambling to source product.

Now we’re seeing this happening with Irish whiskey. The Cooley distillery provides whiskey for so many different private labels, I can’t even keep track of all of them. Now that Beam purchased the Cooley distillery back in December, I know many brand owners who–for good reason–began worrying if Beam would cut their supply off once their contract was up. If what Beam did this week is an indication of the future, it’s not a bright one for private labels.

The most recent casualty is Slane Castle Irish Whiskey. As reported in Shanken News Daily yesterday:

“Beam Inc. is reportedly scaling down contract whiskey production at its newly acquired Cooley Distillery in Ireland as it ramps up volume of Cooley’s own brands, such as Kilbeggan, with an eye toward U.S. growth. Reports out of the country say that while contracts in place will be honored, Beam isn’t accepting new contract orders at Cooley. That’s leaving some private label Irish whiskeys—such as Slane  Castle, which Cooley previously produced on an individual-order basis—hunting for supply.”

I like many of the older expressions of Kilbeggan, and I’m happy to know that Kilbeggan will become more widely available. That being said, I’m going to miss the variety and choices of some really nice Irish whiskeys that have proliferated over the past several years, largely because of the whiskey that Cooley has sold to independent bottlers like Slane Castle.

Let’s hope that the large conglomerates that now own Ireland’s three big Irish distilleries will pick up some of the slack and keep us entertained with new and exciting releases.

No Responses to “Say goodbye to some Irish whiskey brands”

  1. Josh says:

    Beam’s selfishness in marketing is shown in the beginning. How nice to find this out. Never bought Beam and never will.

  2. Neil Fusillo says:

    It’s a sound business decision — ramping production of your own brand up if it’s selling instead of spending your own production efforts on helping others with their brands (which could someday become competitors if they change suppliers but still have a great deal of brand recognition), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

  3. JC Skinner says:

    Two things – IDL and Bushmills still supply independent bottlers currently and are still much larger distilleries.
    And secondly, there were a lot of very samey very young to young Cooleys knocking around in a bewildering array of labels. A little rationalisation is not a bad thing if it helps people get to understand the topography of Irish whiskey better. In any case, those who had contracted agreements (as opposed to simply ordering from Cooley when they needed more) will still be bottling until Beam finds a way out of those contracts.
    I’ll add a third thing – this may spur some of these bottlers into distilling themselves, thereby expanding the market, or equally, may spur others into distilling in Ireland to supply them. All round, I don’t see a lot to mourn about here.

    • John Hansell says:

      Not a lot to mourn about…unless you are one of the private label owners being cut off, that is.

      But you make some very good points: Irish Distiller (Midleton Distillery) and Bushmills supply Indie labels, and maybe some of those being cut off by Beam will migrate over to one of them (like Knappogue Castle).

      And you are right about the early days. I remember when Cooley first started selling whiskey to private labels. Those whiskeys were young and “so so” at best. But now that mature (and some very good) product is in the pipeline, it is a bit sad to see some of the better private label whiskeys go once their contract ends, if this indeeed does happen.

      More new distilleries? I sure hope so!

      • JC Skinner says:

        Cooley still have contractual commitments to independents, especially to supermarkets, I believe. It’s not like independent Cooley whiskey will vanish overnight, but yes, some brands will perhaps disappear, and the ones most likely to go, in my opinion, don’t necessarily offer something particularly different to others that will stay, including Cooley own-brands like Lockes or Kilbeggan.
        I’d be sad if they stopped offering the occasional single cask offering to independent bottlers for connoisseur enjoyment, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. And if the brands that were going were innovative and unique forms of whiskey, adding value like Castle do with Knappogue or The Irishman do with Writers Tears, I’d be very sad.
        Maybe I’m being unfair here, but it never seemed to me that most of the independent Cooley bottlings brought much added value to the table beyond what Cooley themselves offered.

  4. JC Skinner says:

    Also – and sorry in advance for being a grammar nazi – but in that quoted Shanken News Daily report, the plural should be Irish whiskeys, not whiskies.

  5. Josh says:

    Oh, the business decision is obvious. I didn’t see the need to post that earlier. The independent bottlers are surely out there floating anyway but there isn’t a problem with helping those guys, especially if they produce a nice whisky. If Beam does a good job with Cooley, they’ll sell whisky even if there sourced whiskey also sells.

  6. John Hansell says:

    I guess time will tell. We need to see how this all plays out.

    • Joshie says:

      Wait to see how this plays out?! Where have you been, John? We whiskey enthusiasts don’t wait for things anymore. We speculate wildly and jump to conclusions based on minute amounts of information. Waiting is so old-fashioned.

  7. JohnM says:

    They won’t be producing any less whiskey, so it doesn’t matter to me, really. Different label on the bottle. It’s the single-cask bottlings that I’ll miss, but I’d imagine there are still a lot of those floating about.

  8. M Lange says:

    On my podcast a few weeks ago I spoke with Kieran Folliiard, who owns a new brand of Irish whiskey he’s distributing in the Minneapolis area called 2 Gingers. He is getting his whiskey from Cooley, and started selling his brand just before they were bought by Beam. He didn’t seem too worried about supply for his brand, but after a story like this one has to wonder.
    Check it out here if you are interested:

  9. That part of the US industry has always been very small, but the same thing has been happening here, for the same reasons.

  10. Denis Lynch says:

    I would agree with some of the other comments about how a good share of Cooley’s young whiskey is much the same but under different labels. But there are always going to be gems. The one whiskey from Cooley that i have been shouting out about and i am fearful that it may now become extinct is Slieve Foy 8yr Single Malt. This is a cracking whiskey, it would be a shame to see this get brushed under the carpet. It was originally bottled for the UK’s upmarket grocery, Mark’s & Spencer but recently became available here in the US.
    That being said, Cooley could never have conquered the world like Jameson has done without much needed investment. At least Beam are going to keep the distillery open. If Pernod Ricard or Diageo got their hands on it then it would be gone forever!

  11. EricH says:

    Both the Concannon and Trader Joe’s Irish Single Malt whiskey are from Cooley but since they were very recent releases (around the beginning of the year) I wonder if those will stick around for a bit?

  12. JohnM says:

    I think the Slane Castle people are now considering distilling their own…

  13. Andrew Ferguson says:

    I have mixed feelings on the Beam acquisition of Cooley. Beam will undoubtedly be able to increase the reach of the distillery’s whiskies, improve their consistency and branding, but I fear there will be other costs too. Based on past experience Beam doesn’t do a good job of serving some markets like mine in Alberta, and I have a feelingfear this will be the same with Cooley. Up until now we received some of everything Cooley released, and even single casks. I’m not sure this will be the case moving forward. Though I hope to be proven wrong. Cooley whiskies have been the best selling of any of our Irish whiskies and I would like to see this continue.

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