Before today’s growing international interest in Irish whiskey began, entrepreneur Louise McGuane wanted to elevate the category and revive the historic bonding process – where an owner buys liquor, then blends, matures it, bottles it and sells it. In 2015, spirits industry veteran McGuane founded JJ Corry Irish Whiskey to bring that tradition to the present day and infuse it with values she has observed in the craft spirits movement taking place in the United States. . From the moment she debuted with JJ Corry, McGuane was hyper transparent about what she does and how she does it. Today, the resulting bright, flavorful and complex Irish whiskeys under the JJ Corry brand are both award-winning and delicious.
“We do what we do to delight people,” McGuane told COOL HUNTING. “I’ve had a global career in the beverage industry. I worked in New York, Paris, London and Singapore for a large multinational company, although I was born in Ireland. In 2015, I was very aware of what was happening in the industry. The craft spirits movement had started in earnest in the United States. America had all these amazing craft distilleries opening up and there was a desire for smaller production and authentic stories rather than mass market. This had not happened in Irish whisky; the category was still just Jameson.
“I could tell craft distilling would reach Ireland and I knew Jameson had done a good job of opening up the category to people and making Irish whiskey relevant,” McGuane continues, “so I felt like There was a window of opportunity for me to enter the industry with a new perspective. I quit my job and decided that was what I would do.
McGuane, who is described as Ireland’s first modern whiskey brewer, sought to blend past and present. “The word ‘modern’ is quite important to what I do,” she explains. “I insist on that. Irish whiskey has this really interesting history. It has been huge for several hundred years. It was bigger than scotch. It was bigger than anything. But over a period of 50 years, the whole industry collapsed, between the late 1800s and the early 1930s. When I say collapsed, I mean almost everything disappeared.
Whiskey bonders were part of the vital and thriving Irish whiskey industry in its heyday. “They were unique to Ireland,” she continues. “It was a very small-scale form of independent bottling, blending and maturing. If you were a very wealthy family in a local town in the 1800s, you would have had your own mix of housekeepers and JJ Corry would have done it for you. Once a week you came, JJ Corry mixed that. That would be exclusive to you.
“It’s the basic concept,” McGuane says, “and it’s really rooted in the basic history of Irish whiskey and Ireland altogether. I wanted to take that idea and bring it into the language modern. We do exactly what the old slaves did, but with a little more care. There are nuances now. I interpret it by filtering this tradition through a global perspective. Whereas the figurative JJ Corry of the past would have aged whiskey in rum casks, because that was what was available, the McGuane brand meticulously sources casks.
McGuane blends, matures and bottles on site at JJ Corry’s headquarters on the family farm in Cooraclare, Ireland. “If you’re extremely focused on everything after distillation, you can still create complex whiskeys,” she says. Its business has developed since the launch of the brand, while new distilleries have continued to emerge. “When I started there was literally Midleton [Jameson’s distillery], Bushmills and Cooley. It would have been very boring if I just mixed those three all the time, forever. It’s not very interesting.
Today there are around thirty distilleries in Ireland. “A lot of them are tiny and only make two kegs a week,” says McGuane. “I source from the big distilleries, of course, because I’m building a global brand and I need a lot of whisky, but my job is to build relationships on the island of Ireland with smaller independent producers. What will make my whiskey interesting is having the most comprehensive library of spirit maturation.
JJ Corry debuted The Gael, their delicious flagship whisky, which is blended in batches that are released annually. The first batch had only 3,000 bottles. Today, production may have doubled, but it’s still small-batch and sought-after. Their brand has since also launched The Hanson, which was designed for Irish whiskey cocktails. In addition, the brand produces specialized bindings that recall the history of the category. For example, Annabel’s in London has its own blend of JJ Corry’s Bonders.
“The Gael was the first whiskey we ever released,” says McGuane, “but it’s now consistent across the range. That was the point, to show people that you can achieve really great things by blending – interesting, complex and multi-layered whiskeys by blending – and making the point that we are blenders. We don’t distill. We never will.
Right now, McGuane is planning what the brand will look like over the next ten years, which means defining the recipe for their flagship product. “It’s not a formula; it’s all about flavor,” she says. “We know that when we make The Gael it’s a big fruit bomb of an Irish whiskey. It has notes of green apple, some green tea, big mangoes and white stone fruits. To continue to achieve this, McGuane organizes her barrels into blocks of flavors to chart their maturation, and then she manipulates certain flavors to fit the recipe. “It’s the art of what we do,” she concludes. “People notice Irish whiskey in a different way and we are one of them.” JJ Corry’s reputation will continue to grow, but their influence is already being felt and The Gael is already a worthy product for any home bar.
Hero Image by John Kelly