Cooley Distillery has posted a healthy rise in sales and profits for 2006, but has warned that 2007 will be "a harder year". At the same time, the company's head issued a 'come-and-join-me' to a larger partner.

The independent Irish distiller, which is publicly-owned but unlisted, said today (16 August) that sales in 2006 rose by 27%, reaching EUR11.7m (US$15.8m). Operating profit increased by 26% on 2005, coming in at EUR1.67m.

Speaking to just-drinks, company chairman John Teeling said: "2006 was a good year for us. We had a number of new ventures starting up - the most obvious one was (Irish Whiskey brand) Michael Collins, a Sidney Frank-marketed product for the US.

"We took alot of sales in the last four months of 2006. That was a big boost to us for the year."

Looking forward, however, Teeling said that 2007 will struggle to perform as well as last year. "It'll be tougher," he said. "We're not going to get any more benefit from Michael Collins if the pipeline is filled. We will be extremely lucky to meet last year's figures, because there's no pipeline filling and we don't have any other new own label customers coming on-stream.

"This is a harder year for us, because we are building better foundations."

When speaking to just-drinks, Teeling dismissed suggestions that the company look to list in the near future. "I would be afraid of taking the company public at the moment because it would be taken over at a cheap price," he said, "absolutely no doubt at all. If we go public, we would like to stay part of it.

"I would like a big partner, because I'm really struggling with the route to market," he continued. "There are very few potential partners that are of any use to me. I have to have a partner with distribution above all else. The ones that are out there have decided for one reason or another that they don't want to be in Irish whiskey.

"We are selling sales 200,000 cases a year. I am distilling 600,000 cases a year, and for this business to work has to sell 500,000 cases. We're the only alternative - you have Diageo and Pernod and absolutely nobody else (in Irish whiskey)."

The board of directors controls over 50% of the company with the rest held by around 320 shareholders.