Blog: Andy MortonReynier takes on Irish whiskey with credit in the bank

Andy Morton | 9 December 2015

Reynier (far right) at the Waterford Distillery

Reynier (far right) at the Waterford Distillery

Does this picture, taken today, show a turning point in the history of Irish whiskey?

In it, ex-Bruichladdich head Mark Reynier (far right) celebrates with family and colleagues the first spirit to be produced at his new Irish whiskey venture, Waterford Distillery. It is a big moment for Reynier, who has spent the past 12 months getting the site, in Waterford on Ireland's east coast, up and running.

But it could be an even bigger moment for the Irish whiskey category.

Reynier changed the Scotch landscape when he revived the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, driving through the virtues of provenance and ingredient quality he'd learned from years in the wine trade. He is now trying to do the same for Irish whiskey. But instead of starting from scratch, as he did on Islay, his success at Bruichladdich (the distillery was sold to Remy Cointreau for GBP58m in 2012) has won him significant backing.

That money has helped buy Diageo's former Guinness plant in Waterford - which was closed down in 2012 despite a EUR40m overhaul eight years before - and two copper pot stills that, Reynier says, will allow him to produce more stock in one year than Bruichladdich could in 15.

Not that Reynier is in a rush. “Low and slow,” is the motto at the plant, according to head distiller Ned Gahan.

So why a turning point? There are now 12 whiskey-producing distilleries in Ireland, up from four just a few years ago. A few dozen others are set to come online in the next few years.

Few, however, will have anyone involved with the equivalent stature of Reynier, which is why the HSBC bank is lining up an undisclosed investment in the project for next year.

The Irish whiskey category may be growing fast, but it is still small compared to Scotch. It is also currently dominated by one brand, Pernod Ricard's Jameson.

Reynier's big money bet on the category's future may help change that.

Sectors: Spirits

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