Tullamore D.E.W’s ambassador on how Irish whiskey differs from Scotch whisky

In the spirit of celebrating the Irish in the wake of St Patrick’s Day, we spoke to John Quinn, Global Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W., to find out what’s happening in the world of Irish whiskey.

Tullamore D.E.W is one of the fastest growing brands in the whisky industry and has cemented itself as the second most popular Irish whiskey brand in the world, just behind the ubiquitous Jamesons.

Its origins can be traced back to 1829 when the Tullamore Distillery was founded in Tullamore, County Offaly by Michael Molloy.

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Distillery manager Daniel E Williams was a major influence on the development of the distillery. His initials, D-E-W, inspired the whiskey to be named ‘Tullamore Dew’ with the original slogan ‘Give every man his Dew’ still used today.

Daniel’s grandson Desmond was one of the first people to recognise the importance of blending whisky, and following the lead of Andrew Usher, who championed the same in Scotland, espoused the virtue of blending.

John Quinn has worked for Tullamore since 1974 and has recently become the face of their global branding.

So, John, first off, how is your job going?

My job is going fine, I honestly have the best job in Ireland. Well, that’s what one of the newspapers told me recently and I think they might be right. I really enjoy what I do, being an ambassador is a lovely thing when you have a passion for what you do. Although I do spend around 60% of my time away from Ireland which is perhaps not ideal, especially when it comes to my wife, though I think she perhaps enjoys this fact.

Why did you choose Tullamore? Or did Tullamore choose you?

Well in fact, I joined the Irish whiskey business in 1974, as part of the Irish distillers and Tullamore Dew was one of the brands I was involved with. Then in 1982 I was moved from domestic marketing, into the international marketing department, developing Irish whiskey in Australia and the Far East. So really I’ve been involved with Tullamore Dew as my main brand since then. Sometimes people ask when I joined William Grants (who bought the brand in 2010) and I will sometimes say ‘I didn’t, they joined me’. So, When they bought the business, they came to me and said that this brand needs a Global Ambassador, would you like the job because you’re the oldest or something like that and I said ‘Grand. I’m available.’ So that’s how it happened really.

How is the Irish whiskey business doing?

Irish whisky has been flying, for the last good number of years. Way into double digits growth,almost 20% per annum for the last 5-7 years for both Tullamore Dew and the other brand that begins with a J, I think you know the one I mean. We have been having a phenomenal time, to put it in to context we are a much smaller category than Scotch whisky, where they might sell something in the region of 85 million cases, we might only sell a little north of 5 million. Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirit category, it’s a really buoyant and vibrant time for us and really exciting to be in the business.

How does Scotch whisky affect the image and sales of Irish whiskey? Are we friend or foe?

Scotch whisky has led the development of the whisky market, so when we move into a market people are aligning us with or differentiating us from Scotch whisky. Scotch is very much the flagship of the whisky world and we follow along on its coat tails. However what’s happening now is that Irish whiskey is leading the whisky market in several countries. For instance, Tullamore Dew is the biggest selling whisky brand in the Czech Republic, it leads with 27% of total whisky sales in this country. Though we actually sell more volume in Germany, the bigger market share we have is in the Czech Republic. We have an impact with consumers in different ways in markets in Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe. They all know Tullamore Dew, these people are fairly discerning and they seek out what’s the best, so we’ve been very happy that we’ve made an impact with them in that way.

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Could you give a little background, in your own words, as to why Tullamore Dew is so special?

Tullamore Dew is a triple distilled Irish whisky and also a triple blend, the triple blend is what makes it a bit special. We led the way in triple distillation and we know this because there’s a very famous book by Alfred Barnard, an excise man commissioned to write on the distilleries of the UK and Ireland in the 1880’s, in only two distilleries does he mention triple distillation occurring and Tullamore is one of them. In Tullamore we have a blend of grain and malt and potstill whiskies, all blended Scottish whisky is a blend of grain and malt and most Irish whiskies such as Bushmills are also a blend of grain and malt, or Jamesons who are a blend of grain and potstill whiskies. So that’s what separates us out and makes us different and maybe a little bit more complex. It’s got citrus fruit flavour from the malt and the potstill gives a light spice and that makes an attractive combination. It’s very fresh and accessible. In fact, Irish whiskies in general can be more accessible than the heavier Scotches. It’s good to see you guys get some recognition for your good work, you have after all been making whisky for as long as us Scots, if not longer.

The other thing I wanted to ask you about is that day that’s synonymous with the Irish and also drinking, St Patrick’s day, how does an Irishman celebrate St Patricks?

Well there’s a good chance you are going to go to the pub, there’s a good chance there’s gonna be music and there’s a good chance that’s what’s going to happen to me, I’m going out and my friends and I will have a sing song. I’m going to pick up the guitar, play it very badly and hopefully no one will notice. It’s great old craic and I may have one or two whiskies more than I normally do.

How does an Irishman drink his whisky?

I would say ‘anyway they prefer it,’ if they want to rub it on their leg first then fine so long as their enjoying it. As for me I add a little bit of water, or I sometimes drink it with cloudy apple juice and it’s delicious.

What’s next for Tullamore Dew?

The next big push is the US as we are having a great time of it there at the moment. We have just appointed 5 ambassadors for the States. They will spend their time in several of the biggest cities, educating people on Tullamore Dew. What I’d love to do is conquer Glasgow, that would be a great feather in my cap, to be able to tell people the world over that Scot’s love our whisky. It might be something that’s going to have to wait a bit though. I go to Greece soon, then South America and South Africa, so we are pushing globally.

Finally, this one might be a wee bit topical but what’s your favourite Scotch whisky?

I’m gonna tell you a true story now, I used to work with the Allied Domecq, who owned us at one time and they owned at that time Ballantines and Glendronach whisky and a friend of mine, who is now the Global brand ambassador for Chivas, Ken Lindsay, he gave us an education class in Scotch

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whisky 20 years ago. He gave us a number of malts to try and asked us to pick our favourites, so I picked two whiskies are fruity in flavour, Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich. He was awfully disappointed that I didn’t pick one of his (laughs) I think he wanted me to pick Laphroig, as it was one of his. I don’t drink scotch whisky very often but they would be the two that I would pick. With that I thanked him and promised to buy him a whisky next time he was in Glasgow. Next time you are buying a whisky why not try a Tullamore Dew or one of the other great Irish whiskies? I

promise you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.