Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Stills

Jack and Stephen Teeling have brought a new independent voice and style back to Dublin whiskey. With the revival of their family brand and the first new distillery to open in Dublin for 125 years, it heralds a new Golden era for Dublin and Irish whiskey.

The Teeling Whiskey Distillery opened in 2015. Initially launching as a bottling company, the brothers have gone on to build the first whiskey distillery in Dublin since 1976.

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jack Teeling to discuss some of the details of re-starting a 125 year old family whiskey brand.

1 Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey
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Could you please tell me a bit more about yourself: Where are you from? What’s your career background? And how did you end up with the idea of building the Teeling Distillery in the heart of Dublin?

I setup the Teeling Whiskey Company in 2012 and over the last four years we have become the leading independent Irish whiskey Company producing a range of unique and differentiated award winning Irish whiskeys driving segmentation of the category. Our range of Irish whiskeys have won over 90 international awards for quality over the last three years including four recently announced “World’s Best” awards at the 2016 World Whiskies Awards. In 2015 we opened up the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years in Newmarket in the Liberties, only a stone’s throw away from our old family distillery which dated back to 1782.

The idea for the Teeling Whiskey Company was formed during my travels in the 2000’s around the world selling and promoting Irish whiskey during my Cooley Distillery days. I saw first-hand the growing trend for craft beer and spirits as well as the trend towards urban based breweries/distilleries. This was very apparent in key markets for Irish whiskey in the US, such as Brooklyn in New York and San Francisco. This planted a seed in my head that if I was ever starting up my own Irish whiskey company, I would look to develop a unique premium expression of Irish whiskey which could hopefully tap into this premium craft spirits trend rather than an ode to the past as how traditional Irish whiskey was being presented and more importantly at the core of this I would bring whiskey distilling back to Dublin city.

Dublin has more provenance and history in whiskey distillation than any other urban location and back in the 19th century, when Irish whiskey was the largest whiskey category in the world, it was driven by large world class distilleries in Dublin. Unfortunately the last Dublin distillery shut its doors in 1976 so it became crystal clear to me that if it makes sense to open a craft whiskey distillery in London or New York, there must be a great opportunity given this and our own provenance to revive distilling in Dublin.

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After 125 Years, Teeling Whiskey Distillery Has Come Home to Dublin

2 Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Jack and Stephen Teeling
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(L to R) Co-Founders and Brothers, Jack and Stephen Teeling

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What is your personal relationship with whiskey: When did you first try it? Any noticeable milestone(s) in your whiskey journey? Apart from Teeling, any favorite expressions, distilleries or profiles?

My father started Cooley Distillery when I was 11 so really since then whiskey has been on my radar. I remember discussions around the trials and tribulations of the industry being held around the kitchen table as well as bottles of whiskey mushrooming up around the house. I got to say my first real experience with whiskey was not a pleasant one as I was too young to appreciate how to drink spirits but by the time I started working in the industry myself I had developed a deeper understanding of the process and subtle (and no so subtle!!) difference in styles and expressions which help me develop my respect, passion and love for the industry.

Now I am a fan of any well-crafted spirit with a particular palate for Single Malt whiskey. I would consider myself not just a fan of good Irish whiskeys but a fan of any good whiskey. At present I am trying to taste as many new emerging Single Malts as I can get my hands and have a particular interest in Asian producers like Kavalan and Japanese Malts along with some emerging American producers such as Westland in Washington.

3 Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Teeling Whiskey
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Could you please describe what a typical day (if there’s something as such…) looks like in your shoes?

At the start of Teeling Whiskey I was involved with every little aspect of the business and I still try to keep my finger on the pulse. Since my brother joined me back in 2013 he has taken on more of the Sales side of things allowing me to focus more on overall strategy, making sure the distillery and general operations are kept in shape however I do find it hard not to keep out of the Marketing side of things!

My role still requires plenty of travel to our export customers in particular in the US these days but it also requires plenty of head space to deal with all the aspects of the new distillery and visitor center. Besides from this we are now exporting to over 45 different countries and have an ever growing range of expressions so there is plenty to keep us all on our toes. However Team Teeling has now swelled to over 60 people so there is definitely more hands on deck to look after things but more bodies brings its own challenges.

4 Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Building
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Teeling is part of a whole new wave of Irish distillers: How do you think the distillery and its products stand out within this environment? What, according to you, sets Teeling apart and make it unique?

It is great to see there is no shortage of entrepreneurs in this country judging by the number of new Irish whiskey projects being talked about! We are hopefully forging the path for future new distilleries and independent Irish whiskey companies by showing if you create a high quality unique style of Irish whiskey that there is consumer and trade demand for it.

In order to have a healthy vibrant category of Irish whiskey you need a range of strong independent Irish whiskey producers to compliment the larger multinational players who currently dominate the category. The big guys are very good at attracting people into a category through consumer marketing but you need the smaller guys to bring the breadth and choice modern consumers demand so that they stay within the category.

What I always say to anyone looking to open up their own distillery is to ensure firstly they produce a good quality whiskey but also make sure it is differentiated and unique so that you can create your own niche and help with the expansion of the category rather than directly competing with existing offerings. This way there is room for us all as the category evolves and expands.

At the core of what makes our whiskeys unique is their taste. Traditionally Irish whiskey has a very approachable smooth and sweet taste profile. We wanted to build on this taste profile by layering extra flavor and character for each of our whiskeys without losing the DNA of what people like about Irish whiskey. We now have a portfolio of very different award winning Irish whiskeys which can hopefully cater for all tastes. No one has the same palate so we want to create a ladder of unique expressions that give your taste buds an exploratory journey of the full spectrum of flavors Irish whiskey can offer.

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The distillery has turned into a must-see tourist destination in Ireland. How do you explain this success? How important is the “visitor experience” to you? Have you designed any one-of-a-kind experiences at Teeling? How is the distillery adapting to different visitor profiles – from novices to experts? Any new projects in the pipeline?

At the core of our plan for the Teeling Whiskey Company was to get back into production as soon as possible so we had full control of our own destiny. Our new distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years and marks a return to our original origins in the industry. Walter Teeling had a craft distillery in the Liberties area of Dublin back in 1782 and as part of our goal to revive our old family whiskey brand it made perfect sense (to me anyway) to go right back to where it first began to build our new distillery. It makes me very proud to be able to bring something uniquely Dublin back to the fabric of Dublin society.

The new distillery is our brand home and allows visitors to the city to come and meet real people making a real Dublin whiskey and sample our whiskeys in the home of Teeling whiskey. Our whole ethos is to be respectful to the past but be confident to do things differently and being fully in control of production we can drive real innovation in the category through the combination of unique mash bills, distillation and maturation techniques. This will allow us to continue to be the leader in the segmentation of the category through the continued expansion of our portfolio with unique differentiated whiskeys.

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If you had to choose ONE expression from Teeling (kind of a “desert island dram”), which one would it be and why?

This may change from day to day but at the moment it would have to be our Teeling Single Malt Irish whiskey. Our goal for this was to produce the most flavorsome Irish Single Malt whiskey without losing its Irish identity. To add a unique depth of character and flavor, it consists of aged malt whiskey up to 23 years old but majority around 10-12 years that has been matured in five different wine casks including Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. This combination of cask maturation techniques creates a truly unique Irish whiskey bursting with personality. By the way it took us nearly 6 months of tinkering with near 30 different variations to get to the final result and can be savored as an everyday dram or something special so should keep me going on any desert island through good and bad days!

6 Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Jack Teeling
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Jack Teeling

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Craft distilling has become incredibly huge – as there’s still no official definition, how would you define “craft” and do you think Teeling fits into this category?

My definition of craft is based on the level of human interaction that goes into creating a spirit or whiskey.

Distillation is a scientific process that is done in a systematic way. Once you had decided on your cuts and how you run your stills there is more than likely some elements of technology helping control the process to ensure you produce a consistent distillate. However the part of the process that to me is often overlooked, which requires a significant and for us a higher element of human interaction, is choosing when and how to bottle your product.

If distilling is the science this is the art. ~ Jack Teeling

In all the whiskeys we produce we do not have a formulaic approach to creating our whiskeys in terms of age statements but an overarching taste profile so it is not as easy as saying choose a bunch of 8 Year Old Malt casks for our Single Malt. When you do everything in smaller batches with many cask types like we do a few casks can radically alter the overall taste profile so we have to taste and sample as many as we can to ensure we produce the character we want for each of our whiskeys. This element of the process involves a lot of tasting and using our low tech noses and palates. This takes more time and involves more human interaction but this is our craft and why we put each bottling date on the bottle so while each batch might be slightly different (as they are if you taste them side by side) the overall taste profile is hopefully the same.

Teeling Whiskey Distillery - Jack and Stephen Teeling cover
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How do you see the future for Teeling? How do you picture the distillery and brand in 5 to 10 years time? Any crazy dream you’d like to achieve?

Building our new distillery is not the final destination. We are still only at the start of a long journey. This industry is definitely not a sprint but more like a marathon so we will continue to do what we believe to be the right things and hopefully help with the evolution of Irish whiskey. We hope that our new distillery integrates itself into the fabric of Dublin culture and society as well as becoming a high quality addition to any visitor to our city and our whiskey becomes synonymous with the revival of world class Dublin whiskey around the world.

Teeling Whiskey Distillery, 13-17 Newmarket, Dublin 8, Ireland
Teeling Whiskey Distillery Map
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