Irish Whiskey has a storied past. For more than 400 years, Ireland has produced whiskey beloved by many — from Queen Elizabeth I to the Americas and across the British Empire. By the end of the 19th century, Irish Whiskey dominated the European market. Dublin alone produced 30 million gallons a year at its peak across six distilleries. However, by the 1960s, only three distilleries remained in Ireland. By the 1980s, production of Irish Whiskey had plummeted to under 500,000 gallons a year.
Irish Whiskey’s fall from grace was due to a perfect storm of trade issues with the British Empire (most likely from Ireland’s newfound independence) to prohibition in America to the rise of Scotch whiskey to their north.
Fortunately, in the last decade, Irish Whiskey has mounted a comeback. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), more than six million cases of Irish Whiskey were sold in the U.S. in 2022. Its popularity extends around the world, too. 14 million cases of Irish Whiskey were sold globally in 2021 according to the Irish Whiskey Association’s 2022 Irish Whiskey Global Report — a 21 percent increase from the year before.
Now, the emerging category has an exciting future ahead.
Louise McGuane is Ireland’s first Irish Whiskey bonder in more than 50 years. By tradition, the Irish Whiskey industry has been male. But with her family’s sprawling dairy and beef farm and a determination to revitalize the craft of whiskey bonding, McGuane founded J.J. Corry, a women-led, award-winning Irish Whiskey brand that’s driving the emerging category to new heights.
A Prolific Career in Bev-Alc Meets a Calling Back Home to Éire
At age 18, McGuane left Ireland to attend university in the U.K. before heading to the United States, building an impressive career in the beverage alcohol industry. Working for global brands like Moet Hennessy, Pernod Ricard and Diageo took her from New York to Paris to London and eventually to Singapore.
“I was fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people and learn the industry from the street up,” McGuane told Forbes last year. “Ultimately, though, in corporate life I was a square peg in a round hole. Once I hit a certain level, I found that I was not actually producing much anymore other than spreadsheets and PowerPoints, and I no longer enjoyed it.”
Being in the industry and having access to industry trends and projections, McGuane would learn that Irish Whiskey was following a similar path as American Craft Whiskey. This understanding of the emerging category would ultimately lead McGuane to leave the corporate world behind and start an Irish whiskey label of her own.
After getting married in 2012, McGuane spent some time back in Ireland watching her mother and father toil on the family farm as they always had. As the Irish have a strong connection to the soil on which they stand, McGuane knew that she would eventually hold the future of the farm in her hands. Knowing she, or her brother, are not the farmers her parents are, she was struck with a sense of duty and responsibility to use it the best way she knew how: aging, blending and finishing whiskey onsite.
With a determination to keep Irish Whiskey relevant and contribute to Ireland’s influence in the world of whiskey, McGuane decided to become Ireland’s first whiskey bonder in decades.
“I purposely built a rackhouse on the family farm and began to build a library of Irish Whiskey flavors,” said McGuane. She initially started the brand under the name The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Company but eventually, looking to rebrand, sought inspiration right from her backyard.
J.J. Corry and The Lost Art of Irish Whiskey Bonding
When looking to create an Irish whiskey brand of her own, McGuane looked to the famous tradition of whiskey bonding as inspiration.
Whiskey bonding isn’t unique to Ireland, but it’s one of Ireland’s strongest whiskey traditions that fell out of relevance in the 20th century. Up until the 1930s, whiskey bonders were prominent throughout Ireland, measuring in the hundreds. These small operations were mostly mercantile owners who matured, bottled and branded spirits which were outsourced from the surrounding distilleries. These mercantile owners would then sell the finished whiskey products to consumers, often blending and customizing to their customer’s tastes, resulting in a large variety in flavor. Unfortunately, as the Irish Whiskey industry died out in the 20th century, so too did the tradition and art of whiskey bonding in Ireland.
After extensive research into local archives and records, McGuane learned of the history of whiskey bonding and its long-lost prevalence in the industry. “When I set about founding an Irish Whiskey company, I looked locally at the history of whiskey making in County Clare where I am based,” McGuane told Forbes. “Rather than setting up a grain-to-glass distillery,” explained McGuane, “I decided to bring back this lost art for modern whiskey consumers.”
It was that research that led her to discover the J.J. Corry brand which was operational from 1890 until 1932.
J.J. Corry was a renowned whiskey bonder in the 1800s and his shop was a pillar of the local community. Innovative for his time, Corry sold a vast array of products, from Indian tea, Rum from the Caribbean, wine from France and Port from Portugal. In addition to musical instruments, he also sold guns, ammunition and bicycles — eventually inventing his own bicycle he named “The Gael,” inspiring McGuane’s flagship whiskey.
A Modern, Woman-Founded, Award-Winning Whiskey
It’s not unknown that distilling has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. But in recent years, historic strides have been made leveling the playing field for good. That’s not necessarily been the case with Irish Whiskey, though.
“Ireland has been slower to welcome women into the industry than other countries and that is largely because the industry was very small until recently,” said McGuane. “However, we are seeing women take up senior roles in blending in particular.”
Alongside a team of women who work with her, McGuane is the only solo female founder in Irish Whiskey. But she isn’t here to necessarily break glass ceilings. That’s because McGuane’s approach has been that of modernization, innovation and transparency which she feels are the ingredients the industry needs to grow and be competitive on a global scale.
Instead, McGuane wants the focus to be on the whiskey itself. When asked what distinguishes J.J. Corry apart from other Irish whiskeys, McGuane highlights the unique art and practice of whiskey bonding.
“As whiskey bonders, we source casks from wineries, distilleries, and coopers all over the world, and then we source whiskies from distilleries all over Ireland,” she told Forbes. “We match those individual whiskies to cask types and mature them on-site. Each cask we have is then classified into a flavor block and when ready, we pull flavors from those blocks and blend them to create our expressions.”
What results is an amalgamation of flavors from their library of whiskey, blending into a distinct expression that carries the essence of the farm, and its unique microclimate.
Irish weather is notable for its ability to change on a dime, especially the west coast. The farm sits in an area known as Wild Atlantic Way, just a mile from the coast. This results in briny air and temperatures that fluctuate wildly throughout the day. Like most whiskey, the environment for which barrels age in greatly influences their flavor. This lends a sense a terroir that sets it apart from others.
Today, McGuane’s J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey has won numerous awards, including a Gold Medal in the Irish Whiskey Awards and the SF World Spirits Awards. Her expressions include The Gael, a blend of malt and grain whiskey, comprising of their oldest library of whiskies; The Hanson, a blended grain Irish whiskey, perfect for cocktails; The Battalion, which is the first Tequila and Mezcal influenced Irish Whiskey of its kind; The Flintlock, their award winning single malt series; and the The Banner County Blend, an exclusive bottling that celebrates their home of Clare, aka, “The Banner County.”
J.J. Corry is available in the U.S., the U.K. and internationally. Discover it on Provi and add it to your growing Irish whiskey lists today.