Tullamore Dew is reasserting its Irishness and it's paying dividends. Dominic Roskrow reports
The Irish have a canny knack of turning their history to their advantage. When Irish Distillers needed to expand and moved to a new purpose-built distillery in Cork the company didn’t knock the old one down – it turned it in to one of the best visitor centres in the world.And the business folk behind Tullamore Dew were similarly tourist-minded when they came to consider the future of bonded warehouses in Tullamore.No whiskey is produced in the town any more, but the brand Tullamore Dew is still very much at the centre of its business] through the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre.Tullamore lies in the Irish Midlands, a good hour’s drive from Dublin in the county of Offaly. The heritage centre sits on the banks of a now quiet canal, a permanent reminder of how Tullamore was put on the industrial map more than 100 years ago.In fact the whiskey itself has a history going back 175 years, but its growth was as a result of two key factors: the passion and commitment of distillery manager and eventual part-owner Daniel E Williams, and the construction of the canal, providing access to key cities and potential overseas markets.Today that history is displayed impressively in one of Tullamore’s former bonded warehouses. The well designed tour takes a logical and easy to follow stroll through the whiskey-making process and explains how the brand came to dominate the town.Models recreate the exciseman’s office and there are displays depicting the cooperage and the warehouses.Our visit is pleasant enough, but I have to admit to struggling a little.Never was one for museums and for me every exhibit recalled a better, more dynamic and productive time.Whisk(e)y is a living, organic, warm product and while our hosts are typically Irish in the warmth of their welcome, and our small press party is treated wonderfully during our visit, I can’t shake the memory of the still canal waters and the quietness of the afternoon out of my head.This isn’t an obituary a long-lost whiskey, though.Far from it.And that’s because we’re in Ireland to celebrate one of the country’s true recent success stories. Tullamore Dew is alive and well, even if it doesn’t have a home any more.Not only that – it’s waving the Irish flag with relish and as a result it’s reaping the benefits, outgrowing an already healthily growing market.Since it was bought from Irish Distillers by food and drink specialists C&C International 12 years ago, its output has more than doubled.Today it is still produced under licence by Irish Distillers, but it has been going from strength to strength as an independent brand in its own right.And as Jameson moves away from highlighting its Irish roots and some of the nation’s more traditional whiskeys fall out of favour with a new generation of drinkers, Tullamore Dew has gone the other way and strongly emphasised its Irishness.The result is a 12 per cent growth - double the growth for Irish whiskey in general.“It has been doing very well indeed,” says marketing manager Ann O’Leary. “The most recent figures show that Irish whiskey has performed strongly, with a growth of six per cent against a growth in Scotch of plus one per cent, and minus one per cent in American and Canadian whiskey, albeit from a low base. Tullamore Dew has grown by 12 per cent, so it’s been very buoyant in the global market.” There are three expressions of Tullamore Dew – the standard product, a 12-year-old which is by some way the best of the group, and Tullamore Heritage. And the reason that the company is so excited and keen to show the range off is because all the indicators are that having picked many awards, including one of just four trophies awarded this year at the International Spirits Challenge, the whiskey is being taken seriously by a larger and larger number of consumers.“Without doubt there is great potential for further growth,” says Ann O’Leary. “Our focus on the Irish roots of the brand has been a core part of this and helped differentiate us from our rivals.” Not that Tullamore Dew is over-worried by other whiskeys from Ireland. It sees the sale of Bushmill’s, for instance, as an opportunity for it. Quite what Diageo has in store for its new distillery remains to be seen, but the folk at Tullamore Dew stated at the time of the purchase that they saw it as a healthy development for Irish whiskey rather than a problem, and Ann O’Leary has since restated that view.“Everyone benefits in the category if Irish whiskey grows,” says Ann. “As people learn more about whiskey in general, they take more of an interest in how Irish whiskey is different and that in turn encourages them to try it. They discover that our product is quite different.” With sales already in excess of 2,500,000 cases and the whiskey available in more than 80 countries, Tullamore Dew believes it is ideally placed to grow considerably and expects to be an active beneficiary from a generally buoyant Irish whiskey market.“Ireland is known for its whiskey and it has a strong history to fall back on,” says Ann.“People are appreciating why it is special and different, and Tullamore Dew is very much at the forefront of that.”
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