Led by Irish entrepreneur Jay Bradley, The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. is on a mission to reinvent Irish whiskey, elevating its potential as a luxury liquid and restoring Ireland’s reputation for crafting the finest whiskeys in the world.
Formed in 2018 by Jay Bradley, The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. was born from a desire to return Irish whiskey to the heights it once enjoyed. To achieve such a goal has taken a complete reimagining of the craft; honouring centuries of tradition but questioning convention and adding scientific understanding to reinvent the maturation of the whiskey. This no expense spared no corners cut approach is rewarded with multi industry awards including The Devil’s Keep winning Best Single Malt in Ireland across ALL categories at The World Whiskies Awards 2022.
We caught up with Jay Bradley to talk about whisky, the world of luxury hospitality and much more.
How did it all start?
Despite being Dublin-born and bred, there was a whole area of Ireland’s past I discovered by chance after reading a 19th-century book called ‘Truths about Whisky’. This history of Ireland as the leading exporter of whiskey, with 84% of all whiskey sold globally being Irish, was a wake-up call. Even when I owned a restaurant in New Zealand, we only stocked two bottles of Irish whiskey, far outnumbered by Scotch and Bourbon.
This sparked my obsession with raising the profile of Irish whiskey, restoring it to its rightful place as the global leader of the whiskey industry. It was while I was in New Zealand I got the news that my father was ill with cancer. I made the difficult decision to sell up and move back. But the person we sold to never paid – they ran up debts and I had to foreclose, losing everything. Luckily, the entrepreneurial spirit in me survived, fuelled by the dream of reinstating Irish whiskey to where it belonged. Over many a taoscán of whiskey, my father and I mapped out the businesses that would become Whiskey & Wealth Club and The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
With an investment of just €15,000, I launched Whiskey & Wealth Club in November 2018. The company offers private investors access to the exclusive world of wholesale premium cask whiskey ownership so they can tap into the booming global whiskey market – something that has never been possible before. By building Whiskey & Wealth Club into the £17 million turnover success it is today, I’ve been able to reinvest every penny in The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., all with the aim of reinstating Irish whiskey to where it belongs – at the top.
What distinguishes a good Irish whiskey from a great one?
There are so many different categories or grades of whiskey – from your cheaper blends which lack any complexity and are largely grain based but fine for mixed drinks, to the mass-produced single malts which are great for cocktails and edging closer to the sipping standard. And then you have your sipping whiskeys; the mid to top shelf and rare whiskeys. But even within this grade, you’ve still got different standards of quality.
So, within that category, what really distinguishes a great whiskey from a good one is knowing what it needs, when it needs it, and then knowing when to pull it. For instance, if you give a group of chefs the exact same ingredients, they’ll all come back with drastically different dishes. Because it’s not about the ingredients as much as knowing what to do with them – adding the right amount of seasoning at the right point, drawing on a range of techniques, and having the skill to transform those ingredients into something great. It’s the same with whiskey. Crafting a great whiskey takes regular tasting by someone with an appreciation for flavour and a deep understanding of the craft. Only they can decide what that whiskey needs, and crucially, know when to pull it from the barrel.
Tell us all about Taoscán and what makes this liquid so special?
Quite simply, it’s a world’s first, a one-of-a-kind – there’s no whiskey on earth like The Taoscán. It spent its formative years – 11.5 of them – in American Oak Bourbon casks, and then 18 months in Sherry Oloroso butts. Those barrels gave it incredible notes of vanilla, cedar, oaked musk and the depth of rich maple syrup, caramelised figs and juicy raisins. We could have released it at that point as a standout whiskey.
But we don’t do anything less than perfection. So, we then split that one whiskey across a number of barrels – Chestnut, Cherry and Mulberry to Sauternes, Amarone, Banyuls, Port and Riversaults – for two years. We tasted them regularly and found that the whiskey in Tawny Port casks and virgin French Chestnut had reached their peak (the other whiskeys are still soaking the rich notes of their barrels so you may well be seeing those in the future!) Again, both of those whiskeys could have been released separately as world-class whiskeys. But we don’t do conventional; we use innovative methods and we experiment. And that’s what we did – we experimented with blending together those two single malts until we found the perfect balance of both. And it was worth the work – if I do say so myself, The Taoscán is a sensational whiskey. Of course, it’s not just me saying so – The Taoscán just took Silver for Best Irish Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards, only losing out to our own, The Devil’s Keep.
And it’s not just the flavour profile and unique nature that makes it special. It’s also our first whiskey to launch in bars and restaurants. It’s not everywhere – because we only release a limited amount of whiskey, we have to be quite selective about where we stock our whiskeys – at the moment I’m incredibly proud to see The Taoscán on the shelf of places like The Hand & Flowers, The Ned and exclusively in Selfridges.
How do you fuse tradition with innovation?
The evidence clearly proves that whiskey was invented in Ireland. And for centuries the old whiskey masters perfected their art. So as a company, we respect that art. But as a new company, we’ve also been able to question some of the conventional ways of doing things – in many ways that art had been lost in recent years to mass production and cost-cutting methods so we’re restoring it but adding 21st century science to perfect it.
From the whiskey itself to the experience, we’ve spent years researching, testing and experimenting in everything from wood to spirit ratios, to phenolic compounds and different types of glass. Pouring through countless scientific white papers and conducting our own internal experiments has informed our methods – using techniques like underfilling the barrel, leaving headspace to allow oxygen in and out more easily which smoothes and rounds out a whiskey. Using different size barrels allows us to add flavour when the whiskey needs it.
Just as we’ve honoured the traditional craft of whiskey-making but added science to perfect it, we’ve done the same with the experience. We spent years determining the precise amount of water that would break open the spherical micelles that trap the phenolic compounds, thereby releasing the flavours, without diluting the whiskey. Of course, people have always added water to whiskey, but we studied the science of it and invented a pipette that allows them to deliver the perfect amount. When you’re drinking a whiskey, the full spectrum of flavour is masked by the ethanol vapours that burn the nose, so we invented a range of whiskey glasses that lessen those vapours.
We’ve created the perfect whiskey tasting experience, which hadn’t been done before. The pipette, partnering with the best water, the whiskey stones, the perfect glass for that whiskey – everything is there to enhance the flavour and experience of the whiskey. We don’t just put our whiskeys in a bottle like everyone else does. For us, it’s about perfecting tradition with science and innovation to create the perfect whiskey and surrounding that whiskey with the perfect experience.
You don’t distil your own whiskey so where does the liquid actually come from?
Currently our whiskey is made in partnership with Dublin Liberties Distillery, to our recipe and our unique casking techniques with hand-selected casks so it’s much like us selecting our ingredients and going to a Michelin starred chef’s kitchen and having them make what we want.
That being said, I’m often asked who made the distillate, but that honestly shouldn’t matter. Using the analogy of a Michelin star chef as I have above, while it’s very important to start with great distillate, much like it’s very important for a chef to source great ingredients, the key is in what the chef does with these ingredients. It’s what the chef does with these ingredients that will decide if he/she is booked out 3 months in advance or conversely if they have no customers and have to close down. It honestly baffles me why people give so much credence to the distillate, when everyone in the whiskey world knows the distillate accounts for just 10-20%. It’s important for sure, but nowhere near as important as what happens afterwards.
Does anyone ever ask who built the Sistine Chapel for Michelangelo to paint, or what company made the paints that Leonardo used to paint the Mona Lisa? It shouldn’t really matter who made the original product. That’s why we’re called The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., because of what we do, the barrels we use, the rotations, the techniques – that’s where the real skill lies and that’s not talked about enough.
Why don’t you issue age statements?
To me, age statements are more of a marketing tactic by the distilleries than an indicator of the quality of the whiskey. If there’s eight things that tell you about the quality of the whiskey, age would be the eighth, but they’ve leaned heavily on it and now the whole consumer world believes that a 16-year-old whiskey is a 16-year-old. So, if they see a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old next to each other, they’ll assume the 16-year-old is better. But the 12-year-old could be a better whiskey, depending on who made it and how it was made. So it’s not about the age, it’s about what was done to that whiskey over the time it was in the barrel. The best example I can give is the winner of the World Whiskies Awards. A 25-year-old Japanese Hakushu won World’s Best Single Malt in 2020 while a year later it was The Glenallachie 10-year-old that won. If that doesn’t show you that age has no bearing I don’t know what will.
We’re the first company to not rely on age statements and we never blend. We only craft pure, single malts. We don’t lean on age, so while we tell people the distillation date and how old it is, the age isn’t important. It’s what’s been done to the whiskey that’s important – the type of barrels and how long it’s been in those barrels. A company might say ‘this is a 30-year-old whiskey’ but it’s spent most of that time in a large barrel that’s been used three or four times previously and has nothing left to give. It won’t be as mature as a whiskey that’s 20-years old but was in smaller barrels and rotated through numerous barrels in a different climate. So there’s more to whiskey than just the age and that’s something we’ve really been championing.
What are your favourite three dishes to pair with Irish whiskies?
I’d have to say our recent ‘Celtic Cousins’ pairing with Adam Handling at his Michelin starred restaurant, Frog, for my first dish. He paired a delicious smoky Scottish lobster with carrot and BBQ pak choi with our latest release, The Taoscán, and it was just phenomenal. The Taoscán is also great with a Sunday roast.
Secondly, I love a good quality rib eye, smoked or cooked on the BBQ with a nice glass of whiskey. Whiskey pairs well with everything in the same way a nice red or white wine does. But like wine, different types of whiskeys can pair better with different types of food so it ultimately depends on the type of whiskey. Our inaugural release, The Devil’s Keep, for example, would pair well with anything smoked or cooked on a BBQ.
And thirdly, cheese & crackers! The heavier, more mature cheeses like blue cheese are delicious with The Devil’s Keep.
Which cigars are best paired with Irish whiskies?
It’s a good question and a very difficult question to answer. There are so many different types of Irish whiskey, and different styles. But if I had to pick a whiskey – The Taoscán would pair well with the Davidoff Dominican Robusto. It has really lovely coffee aromas with a sweetness, spice and some nuts coming off it that pairs wonderfully with the Chestnut and Tawny Port in The Taoscán.
We included two ultra-rare Cohiba VI Gran Reserva cigars with our Emerald Isle collection – they’re an incredible cigar, highly sought after and near impossible to source now. The taste profile is almost impossible to describe; complex with hints of everything that makes Cuban tobacco so great: spice, leather, coffee, bittersweet molasses, fresh grass and rustic earthiness.
What’s next for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co?
The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. is the culmination of a life’s work and the result of an obsessive pursuit of perfection. I’ve scaled 8-figure businesses before, built successful restaurants and bars, but I’ve never been driven by such a passion as I have for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
There’s a lot in the pipeline but a few things we’re focusing on right now are solidifying our new distillery, winning a World Whiskies award in the next five years (and hopefully many times again after that!) And of course, launching more phenomenal whiskeys – we have some exciting releases coming in the next few months. As a luxury brand there will only ever be an exclusive amount of any of our whiskeys released and the aim is for us to pre-sell all of our releases to early adopters and loyal customers.
To discover more, visit: craftirishwhiskey.com
View this post on Instagram