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Teeling Tells a Tale of Irish Whiskey

Posted by on in June 2014 Edition
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Some say that whiskey is in the blood of any true Irishman. Well, it's positively surging through Stephen Teeling's veins.  Teeling comes from a long line of 

whiskey makers, as far back as the late 18th century, in fact.  He cut his teeth in the business working at Ireland's Cooley Distillery, which was founded by his father, John, in 1987.  Beam Inc. acquired Cooley in early 2012, and Stephen briefly stayed on as global marketing manager for Irish Whiskey.

But it was his brother, Jack, who persuaded him to live up to his family legacy and strike out on his own. Jack, the former managing director of Cooley, had launched The Teeling Whiskey Co. and had been steadily releasing a series of Irish whiskey bottlings in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France.  Stephen left Beam to become his brother's sales and marketing director, and they soon set their sights on the U.S. market.

In early April, Stephen left Ireland for a major marketing push in several American markets, and Baltimore was lucky enough to be one of his stops.  "Jack and I learned a lot from our dad," he stated, during a sit-down interview with the Beverage Journal.  "He always said to us, 'The key thing you need to focus on always is the quality of the liquid.'  My brother and I were really just getting started when Beam acquired Cooley, and we could see the opportunity in Irish whiskey.  We could see how it was and would be booming. "

The Teeling brothers quickly got back in the distilling game to ensure a consistent supply of whiskey for their ambitious future plans.  Teeling stated, "We'd always planned on doing something with our old family brand.  When we realized the Jim Beam deal was going to happen, we secured a huge amount of cask whiskey.  We selfishly knew where a lot of the good casks were, so we bought it all and brought it with us.  We saw a big gap between standard and super-premium within the premium segment.

Teeling Irish Whiskey is indeed quite scrumptious.  It is a small-batch bottling from hand-selected casks of grain and malt whiskey, which are matured in former rum barrels. "Bottling at a higher proof as we do, we don't have to chill-filter which leaves a lot of the acids and the flavors from the barrel still in it.  I think a lot of people thought they saw the last of the Teelings.  But the fact that we came back and came back very quickly has been quite an interesting story."

In addition to the on-the-job training he received in his teens and 20s from his father, Teeling often leans on the Business and Economics course work he took at Trinity College in Dublin  The city has been dear to his heart all of his life, and both he and Jack have been able to make it a part of their brand's identity.

"It was important to bring distilling back to Dublin," Stephen stated.  "Going back over 100 years ago, it was the main city where Irish whiskey was made.  And it's an old tradition to put your family name on a brand.  We went with a more contemporary-style label.  We didn't want to take the rural Irish approach of green, rolling hills and shamrocks.  We thought that with Dublin being a city, our product could be a bit more urban and confident in its approach.  We use a cork instead of a twist cap, and we put the bottling date on it.  It's seven-year-old malt and five-year-old grain that we blend."

And how well does he work with his brother?  "He's the older brother," Stephen cracked, "so he's not nearly as socially adjusted as myself!  Seriously, as with any start-up, you take on a lot of responsibilities of different things.  I've always been more focused on sales and marketing and looking after the customers, and he is very good at the operations side.  We are now in 20 international markets, which is great.  The U.S. is so important to us, because Irish whiskey is on fire here and the American consumer understands premium-brand spirits.  We wanted to find the right partner, and Infinium was ideal for being well-known brand builders, for being family owned.  There are bigger companies out there who are very good at driving volume, but know very little about building brands.  Premium is very important across the whole Infinium portfolio.  Together, we've put a plan of action in place that we're very excited about."


KIDS?: "No. I have to be home for that to happen!"

ALMA MATER: Trinity University in Dublin




Teddy is a graduate of UMBC. In additional to his Beverage Journal writing duties, he is an entertainment reviewer.