Right in the heart of Ireland lies the town of Kilbeggan, home to Ireland’s oldest distillery and the world’s oldest operational pot still. Established in 1757, Kilbeggan Distillery has been distilling and maturing the finest Irish whiskey for over 250 years. It is the quintessential Irish whiskey distillery – whitewashed walls, weathered slate roof, brick chimney stack, creaking timber water wheel, even regular ghost sightings. Recently Celltic Life International caught up with John Cashman, Global Brand Ambassador for Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey.
What is the history of the distillery?
The Kilbeggan distillery was founded in 1757, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in Ireland. The site of the distillery in the village of Kilbeggan on the river Brosna is close to an ancient monastery founded by St. Bécán in the 6th century. In fact, the village of Kilbeggan gets its name from St. Bécán, the Irish version being Kill Bheagáin which translates as the little church of St. Bécán. As the monasteries were the first places of distillation in Ireland, the practice of distilling in Kilbeggan much predates the foundation of the present distillery.
How long have you been with the company?
I joined Cooley distillery (the former owners of Kilbeggan) in 2006 and having worked previously for other Irish whiskey brands. I have over 15 years of experience in the whiskey world.
What are your roles and responsibilities of the profession?
My role varies and can change day to day. It is the variety that I love. My key responsibilities are to be the voice and face of the brand. I promote our whiskies around the globe, meeting distributors, wholesalers, retailers, media and consumers. I also help sales representatives gain wider distribution through meeting their customers and selling in our varied range of whiskies. My favourite part of the role is meeting new consumers and introducing them to one of our whiskies. It always brings me great pleasure to see delight on the faces of people who have never tasted Irish whiskey before.
What are the challenges of the job?
Keeping a professional exterior when suffering jet lag is the first challenge that springs to mind. Other than that, overcoming peoples’ misguided preconceptions of Irish whiskey can be a challenge. Our whiskies sit in a niche within the Irish category and many people see all Irish whiskies as the same. I overcome this by explaining the category, highlighting the differences between our whiskies and the established brands, and finally, letting people try the liquid. Liquid on lips is the secret to success!
What are the rewards?
The best reward is knowing that the knowledge I have changed someone’s life! If someone tries one of my brands and loves it, they will bring that whiskey into their life. It is a taste and brand that hopefully will stay with that individual for the rest of their life. Selling one of my whiskies or the full range into a store or bar still brings a rush, as does seeing Kilbeggan on a drinks menu along with some of the greatest spirits in the world.
What is involved with the distilling process?
The distilling process is actually a very simple process. Essentially it is the separation of alcohol from water from a mix of the two, simple because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. We double distil at Kilbeggan, the only distillery in Ireland to do so. By double distilling we retain more flavour in the spirit while still preserving the natural mellow smooth nature typical of Irish whiskies.
How is Kilbeggan different from other whiskies?
Kilbeggan is a smooth and mellow Irish whiskey with centuries of history and heritage. It is a blend of the finest grain and malt whiskies, double distilled to retain flavour and matured for many years in 250 year old warehouses. Compared with other Irish whiskies, Kilbeggan has more consistency of flavour, from first sip all the way through to the aftertaste. This makes Kilbeggan the perfect sipping whiskey, as a base for long drinks and cocktails or as the core ingredient in an Irish coffee.
Who are your core clients?
Anyone who enjoys a good whiskey and the taste of true Irish whiskey heritage.
How else are you involved with the whiskey community there and elsewhere?
I am involved in the Irish Whiskey Society in Dublin having attended their first ever meeting and continue to drop into monthly meetings when my schedule allows. I love trying new whiskies from around the world. I regularly partake in whiskey debates where I along with other global brand ambassadors (Jim Beam bourbon, Canadian Club whisky and Laphroaig scotch whisky) extol the virtues of our whiskey styles to a passionate audience – who at the end have the opportunity to vote for their favourite. Who wins? You’ll just have to come to one of our “Great Whisk(e)y debates” to find out!
What does the company have on tap for 2013 and beyond?
2013 is going to be a very exciting year for Kilbeggan. We will be launching our new bottle and label in the first half of the year followed by an extensive marketing campaign – the first time in the 256 year history of the brand that we have done so. We are also looking at some new liquid launches with two aged expressions to hit the market before year end in the US and other markets. Beyond 2013, we are looking at new whiskey styles and promoting the core brand of Kilbeggan to the best of our ability.