Managing Director, Brand expert, great craic and a true Gentleman
Throughout our Skype interview we were also joined by Sarah-Jane Brangam, Sales Director, who has just as much passion, knowledge, passion and personality as Eunan.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My background is in sales, in brand building, although I grew up with the pub trade and started working in the pubs when I was 13. I decided that I wanted to move away from the pubs slightly and that is why I went into sales and in brand building, having known the pub trade so well it was an easy market for me to be involved in.
It made sense to apply the years of knowledge gained through the pub trade as I really knew what worked and what made brands successful. However as a family we had looked at bringing the brand back, and I knew this was something I needed to be part of.
What is your “official” job title?
I’m the founder of the Jack Ryan whisky company, managing director, I attend trade shows, I work with marketing along with Sarah-Jane. We are a small business and we do it all ourselves. We take care of our own production, our branding, our PR and anything else that comes along.
Tell us the story of your family, and your rich history with Jack Ryan’s Whiskey.
The brand comes over 102 years back when my grandfather, who was from County Tipperary, worked in bars in Dublin for a number of years, and then bought four pubs in total, he was a man very much ahead of his time, and his wife was also very smart. One of pubs purchased being the Beggar’s bush, which my family own in Ballsbridge, Dublin, which we still run today.
In 1913 my great grandfather Thomas Ryan, was buying malts from different distilleries in Dublin and through working with numerous bars, in the 20’s and 30’s he had a good reputation of selling whiskies under his own brand in his own bars. He advertised it and as there weren’t off licences back then people would buy their malt at the bar so it was a lucrative business and would make your pub stand out from the others, you grew your reputation and that’s what pubs really traded on back then.
My father Jack Ryan came into the business in the 1930’s and started to take over, he was a strong character. my grandfather died in 1950 around the time the distilleries were closing, we were down to just two pubs in Dublin and with lack of supply the whiskies were then shelved. Once Teeling set Cooley’s up in the 70’s there was supply of good quality Irish whiskey again, however my father died suddenly in 1970, and we put our energies into the pub which kept running on.
We aren’t producing for the masses. It’s not really a buyers’ market so we have to be careful. The year we were due to launch, 2011, Teelings sold Cooley’s and Beam Inc. came in they stopped all third party selling, which was a problem for us as we were prepared to buy whiskey from them.
We wanted top quality whiskey to enable us to create a top quality product, and if we couldn’t get the malts we wanted then we decided we would set the brand down and wait until we could get the malts we wanted before starting up again. Which we did, we overcame our supply problem and we were then ready to release Jack Ryan’s 12yo Beggars Bush in 2013 which worked out great for our centenary.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I don’t think I’ve found a typical day yet. We want to develop other markets, we have agreements to ship to Sweden, Austria, New Zealand and Australia, and we are really developing our market. We make a strong investment in liquids.
We will have a 15yo CS release which is 500 bottles worldwide, and these have already been sold on allocation. We are putting the finishing touches to the packaging. We also have a second batch, which we are finishing in sherry casks and this will be released sometime in Spring 2016 and that will yield 2,500 bottles. A lot of my day is tied up with this, then obviously there are trade shows, PR and lots of meetings.
Who do you work with at the moment?
We buy from numerous sources, although there are really only three distillery currently operating, although there are in region of 21 new distilleries planned. The one we released was a Cooley’s malt. We like to work with as many distilleries as possible. We hope to work with Cooley with the 12 year old based on that. We have the intention to try as many new malts as possible. We have some aged malts, and there is chance that in 6 years’ time we will have a 21yo to release.
Why did your family originally decide to produce a whiskey?
The Irish whiskey market was different in those days, and each bar would have had their beers and whiskies coming in hogshead and bottled on site, and so a reputation would be made on the quality of malts, almost every bar would have its own “house whiskey”, which they would have finished and bottled themselves. We are one of the longest families to have bottled under their own name.
My grandfather first appeared in Dublin in the late 1890’s and worked in a number of bars before finally running his own. He acquired his knowledge of whiskey during this time and he put that knowledge to good use. At the time there were a lot of port and Madeira casks available, and he, like all Irish bars at the time, chose his own malts and finished them on site and the reputation of the pubs were quite often founded on the strength of their “house whiskey”.
During the downturn in Irish Whiskey, which ended production in 1946, did your family focus all their effort on the pub?
At that stage (which would be the early 50’s) we had the two pubs, my uncle ran one up the road and my father ran the Beggars Bush, times in Ireland were very hard then, and we focussed on running an good pub, it was all that we could do. My oldest brother started helping the business in the 60’s, I started work when I was 13, the 70’s and 80’s were a good time for pubs, so much so that In 1989 we decided to have a rebuild of the pub, and we built it from the ground up.
We are putting together a Jack Ryan Tasting room in the pub for us to use for corporate tastings, and for people to see the history. There were lot of famous people that lived and would have walked the streets were we are now, who are known to have drank in our pubs.
Why did you decide to bring back Jack Ryan’s Whiskey?
We were looking at it for a while, we had been working on it for quite a number of years, probably back in 2007, looking at what direction we would go in, it’s a busy project and for six years we looked at the brand and decided to bring it back. We always wanted to bring this back, and with my background with trade, it made sense, with our rich heritage it made sense to move on with it and with my father’s name on it, we didn’t want to rush it and we would never let quality slip.
How involved with the production of the whiskey were you?
I knew when I decided on bringing the 12yo to market, that I wanted to be hands on but would need input and support from others. We knew many people in the drinks industry, people we respect, and we had a team that found the perfect whiskies to create Jack Ryan Beggars Bush, as we go forward we want to try different finishes and we want something new and special, it’s not about quantity for us it’s about quality.
How important was the family history to this release?
It’s very important we are a very close family, and with such a long history we will always honour it, it’s an inherent part of the brand. When I talk about our whiskey, it’s not marketing spiel, it’s a true story, it means something to me, then passion, the history, it’s all real. When you put your families name to a product it means so much more, you always want to make sure you never lose sight of that, and I know I never will.
Did you replicate the exact recipe, or did you make changes to it?
We had no existing stocks and no recipe to go on, and as such we started off by buying good malts, I had a good relationship with Cooleys and all we could do is start from the beginning and get the whiskey to a place we like and feel is a good style. There are no former tasting notes either.
We had some existing labels but that is all. As my father died young, as did his brothers we never really had a chance to speak with them about the whiskey, I wish I had been older so that I could, but we can carry on our family legacy in this way. It may not have tasted the exact same as we used to produce, but I think it’s something that my father and my uncles would be proud of, and hopefully my grandfather would be too.
What are the biggest challenges you faced whilst producing this whiskey?
I think Irish whiskey still has a long way to go in the world, Scotch has been allowed a free run, and Irish whiskey hasn’t had the same quality and tradition, and now people are changing this. The American Market, only has 5% of Irish whiskey in its market. Getting our name out and being associated with quality is our main objective.
How would you describe Jack Ryan’s 12yo Beggars Bush?
We class it as smooth, and that’s one of the things that we have really wanted to keep, it’s often referred to as very smooth, easy drinking, with a touch of spice, of fruit, and has a really long finish. (Agreed, this is a fantastic dram, and as a teaser to our official notes, I can confirm that the vanilla sweetness, with a gentle spice, and long, silky finish makes this a real session dram).
You have also produced a cask strength version, how does this differ from the core 12yo (aside from the abv)?
We’ve actually just agreed the tasting notes for this from a tasting we recently held, the colour is pale gold, and the aromas will be citrus, pineapple, red apples, honey. Then on the palate cask power and full flavour, instant juicy citrus fruits hit then ginger, vanilla, honey, second sip reveals more fruit, white grapes, pineapple, touches of marzipan, fresh apricots. (Keep your eyes peeled for our review of both the 12yo and 15CS coming soon).
How have the public reacted to the Beggar’s Bush 12yo?
The response in the UK and the US has been fantastic. I am no expert on the whisky in the UK but I felt that Irish whiskey has just been traded into the UK market, and when you do the consumer shows, and present the brand, the actual liquid the reaction has been fantastic. People are starting to widen their scope and are looking for something that’s different.
There is an open mindedness from the whisky consumer to try so much more and a willingness to learn, which can only be a positive thing. Blends will always be there, but Irish whiskey was associated with blends for so long, we need to education people that are some very good malts and grains out there.
It doesn’t happen overnight, we have a five to ten year plan on how we will achieve this. There are a lot of Irish whiskies coming to market. The Teeling brothers are on the top of the game there. When I was growing up years ago you had Jameson, Powers, and blends and you may have a Bushmills malt but that’s all people drank, and if that was what people here in Ireland were drinking, then that would have been worldwide also.
Irish whiskey for at least 50 years was monopolised by one company, which meant bad news for whiskey, John Teeling really charted a course for Irish whisk(e)y and put it on the map, giving it the recognition it really deserved.
How has the whiskey been received by the industry?
It’s had a great reaction, we won by a clear ten votes at the Irish Whiskey Awards, these are people that taste many whiskies with great palates and clear ideas about the quality and flavour profile they look for in Irish whisky and it’s a great indication of what we are doing right.
Also when we show the brands to buyers, they like us, and they are positive. They like our history and our story, they like the brand. We’ve not really faced any negativity.
What’s more important to you, a good reaction from the industry or a good reaction from the public?
It’s great to win awards, both for the press it brings and the industry recognition. That said, we make whiskey for people to drink, for people to enjoy, and without the customer base out there buying our product, enjoying it and spreading the word then we may as not bother.
How did it feel to win the Irish Whiskey Awards, “Best Irish Single Malt Whiskey” (12yo or younger) in 2014?
SJ: It was brilliant, I think it was a year ago we were down there, they had all the whiskies that won on a sample on a mat, but it was a blind tasting, and as we were tasting it I was pretty sure that one of the whiskies was ours. I was sitting beside a guy I knew and I asked if he thought it was our whiskey and he said it was (SJ).
ER: We were up against so many well-known brands, and we just didn’t expect to win, and in fact we were in shock for weeks when we did win.
I think a lot of companies have press release to go the next day when they win awards, but not us, it really was an amazing moment, but one of utter disbelief. It helped confirm to us that we had a great product, and although we already believed in it, it was fantastic to know that others did as well.
So what next for Jack Ryan Whiskey?
SJ: The 15yo CS being launched in Easter next year, although it has such low numbers, this will help build the brand profile. We want the bottles marketed in the right area, we are looking at 10yo or maybe single cask release farther down the line, but for the time being we will mainly be focussing on the core 12yo and also trying to bring something new to the party each year. The centenary is going to be really exciting for us.
ER: A lot of what we will do over the next few years we will release as small batches. We are focussing on quality, so small batch and finishing in the traditional way. Our mainstay will be the 12yo 46%, we hope to keep the 15yo as well.
Irish whiskey is having a real resurgence at the moment, how exciting is the Irish whiskey industry right now?
It’s great and there is a real buzz, it was great when we were at the TWE Whisky Show, people were excited to see what we had to offer, and you can feel it at the trade shows. Whisk(e)y is very exciting at the moment, world whisk(e)y is taking off too, there is so much happening.
This is a great thing for Ireland and for whisk(e)y the world over. Consumers are more interested than ever, and want to know about good quality products, they don’t just want marketing, they want to get a feel for the product themselves, and are open minded to trying so much more.
Is there a new Irish whiskey (aside from your own) which you really enjoy?
Yes I absolutely love the Redbreast range, however, the Original Crested 10yo Redbreast, which was taken off the market in the early 80’s. A friend of mine, had bought a pallet of it, which they have since tried many times to buy back from him, for a lot of money, but he kept it and he still has it and I’d love to try it too.
When I released the Jack Ryan I gave him a bottle, as he knew my father well I thought he would be touched by the gesture (which I’m sure he was), I’d hoped to get a bottle of it but I didn’t. (you can’t win them all, but Eunan has promised me a dram if he ever gets his hands on it).
With such a rich whiskey background have you always loved whisk(e)y?
Although I haven’t always loved whisk(e)y I have always loved the drinks business, in particular the business of being a publican. I’ve always been interested in different drinks, the processes and how the popularity of drinks changes.
We would often talk about whisk(e)y, especially about the past and the whisk(e)y we bottled and sold, so in some ways, there was always that love for it, I just wasn’t always aware of it.
Have you seen many changes in the pub trade, through the years?
When I was growing up it was an important job being a publican then. So much so that when a customer died, at the wake there were five candles and the publican would often have these five candles. The publican also stayed with the body.
The publican was a much revered position, as the years go on traditions start to die, but they were very important at the time.
One of the things that really stays in my memory when my father died at 62, his service was at the same church that he was Christened, and took his communions, it was at the church up the road, and they had to close the road off due to all the people who wanted to pay their respect.
Customers are king you need to look after them, you need to know your customers, help people who fall on hard times, that was very much part of the history of Dublin pubs, you can’t do that with pub chains.
I wasn’t to start with it was a commodity it was only the last ten years that I started to get into it. I have always been into the drinks industry though.
Do you remember your first whisk(e)y?
I can’t remember my first whiskey as I would probably have been young. Once I started drinking I was given a scotch whisky to try and it was the first time I really enjoyed it. I got into the flavour profiles, it just clicked, and I had the feeling that it was delivering something that I had been missing for 40 years.
What is your proudest whiskey moment so far?
The day we bottled and produced the first bottle of Jack Ryan, and then I showed my mother, I was so proud. To be able to tell my mother that our whiskey is on sale in Harrods.
That meant so much to her, and something that she could really enjoy, it was the point she really knew we were treating my father’s name with the respect it deserved.
What would be your dessert island dram?
Our latest release the Jack Ryan 15CS. It is a dram I could spend all day with, it has the strength without being overpowering.
When you aren’t working in the pub or waxing lyrical about whiskey, what do you spend your spare time doing?
I played a lot of rugby and golf, but a lot of time is taken up with work now, I like to watch sport, particularly rugby, I relax that way.
Great, thank you so much for your time Eunan, it was a really enjoyable interview, I’m going to hold you to that offer of drinks and rugby, either over on the emerald Isle or here in sunny Scotland! We really look forward to seeing what the future holds for Jack Ryan! This is definitely one to watch.
Keep your eyes peeled for our review of Jack Ryan Beggar’s Bush 12yo and the 15yo CS.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)