Inspired by stories of mystery, magic and mayhem from the historic Liberties area, the Dublin Liberties Distillery has created whiskey ingrained in the mythology of an area once known as Hell.
The two expressions that the distillery has just released in Australia tell stories as old as Dublin itself. Oak Devil takes inspiration from the carved figure that once stood watch over the entrance to the Liberties, while Copper Alley, refers to the oldest street in Dublin, named after the coin that was first minted there in the 17th century.
To understand a little more about these expressions, we talk to Darryl McNally Master Distiller of The Dublin Liberties Distillery about the resurgence of Irish Whiskey, whiskey cocktails and the future of what is now the fastest-growing spirit in the world.
[00:01:23] – If people don’t know much about Irish whiskey, what would you say is the defining factor?
[00:02:02] – If it is such easy drinking. Why do you think it fell out of favour for so long?
[00:02:45] – Now your distillery has just undergone a massive renovation. What is that going to mean for the brand?
[00:03:55] – How much has that area defined the nature of the whiskey you’re producing?
[00:04:49] – How hard was it to actually be able to build a distillery right in the middle of the city like that?
[00:05:49] – With so many Irish distilleries opening at the moment, why should consumers turn to Dublin Liberties?
[00:07:44] – You have three expressions. The Oak Devil that we mentioned earlier, Copper Alley and also The Dead Rabbit. What is the difference between the three?
[00:09:45] – If someone were to buy, let’s say the Oak Devil, or The Dead Rabbit, which are both more cocktail oriented, what would they expect?
[00:11:30] – If people were gonna mix with it, what flavours with the Oak Devil, what flavours do you think would work well with that particular whiskey?
[00:12:00] – Now when you released this because it is a little bit more cocktail friendly, did the distillery come up with any signature cocktails for it?
[00:12:29] – Why do you think that Irish whiskeys, compared to some of their cousins, are thought to be so particularly good in cocktails? What is it? Is that the lightness or is it the-
[00:13:58] – Could you want to explain the name Oak Devil?
[00:15:04] – You talked earlier about the awards that Oak Devil had won. What is the reaction to the spirit in the cocktail, amongst bartenders?
[00:16:21] – It must be quite amazing to be such young distillery but come out with three expressions that are doing so well and are building such a strong reputation.
[00:18:12] – Now you’ve talked about people coming to Dublin. If somebody does, what can they expect from the visitor centre?
[00:19:16] – So tell us a little bit about the recent renovation. What did you create?
[00:21:06] – Talk a little bit more about the triple distilled because that is one of the signs, one of the marks of Irish whiskey. Are all of these three triple distilled?
[00:22:06] – And how strongly can a cask change the flavour profile?
[00:22:42] – Talking about the consumer, who do you see as your target market for each of these?
[00:23:55] – What will they taste differently with that particular expression?
[00:25:25] – With so many distilleries having started up and with so much interest in Irish whiskey, where do you see the future?
[00:25:58] – Is it growing too fast though, do you think?
[00:26:47] – And what do you see as the future for Dublin Liberties?
Once the most popular whiskey on everyone's lips. Irish whiskey had a reversal of fortune during the 20th century, but it's now back reclaiming its place in the spotlight. One of the distilleries that is leading the charge is Dublin Liberties. The distillery recently underwent a complete renovation with a 10 million euro investment that sees visitors center, which can accommodate up to 80,000 visitors and the capacity to produce 2.1 million bottles of whiskey annually. We talk to Dublin Liberties master distiller, Darryl McNally, about their Oak Devil expression, Irish whiskey cocktails, and the rise of Irish whiskey again. Thanks for joining us, Darryl.
Great to be here. Great to be in a Sydney. Yeah.
Now, if people don't know much about Irish whiskey, what would you say is the defining factor?
Yeah, well I would always say Irish whiskey has been about the longest. We taught to Scots and everybody else how to make it. But the style of whiskey from an Irish whiskey category point of view is quite light, floral, easy to drink, no smokey characters. So anybody may be wanting to get into the brown spirits and to drink something with a better quality and a better history and heritage. You know, Irish whiskey is just easy, gently warms, you can drink it neat, drink of the couple of cubes of ice, or indeed as a base for a cocktail. So it's just easy drinking, just simply easy drinking.
If it is such easy drinking. Why do you think it fell out of favor for so long?
Yes. Well back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, Irish whiskey was leading the way and actually it sold about 14 million cases, the exact same as Scotland back in the day. But in the early 1900s was the dark days of Irish whiskey due to there was an Irish civil war, between Britain and Ireland. So there was a problems with exports. We had the first World War and then we had Prohibition. So there was about 102 different distilleries in Ireland and essentially they all closed down. So it was due to circumstances there that closed the liquor of market to the export market.
All right. Okay. Now your distillery has just undergone a massive renovation.
What is that going to mean for the brand?
Well I think it gives it a home. It gives it a better providence. We actually bought an old site in the middle of Dublin, the city center of Dublin, the Liberties area. It was an old mill used back in the day for a one of the 37 distilleries that were in Dublin back in the early 1900s. So what we did is we took the site and we've completely renovated it. We kept the old building at the front, which is dating three, four hundred years old. And we sort of scraped back all the plaster and whatnot, and exposed the lovely block work that's there.
And then at the back we built a shiny new distillery. So we've a real mix of old and new but still that three to four hundred years history and heritage of the heart Dublin right in the center of the Liberties. So I think what it does is it gives us a home, it gives us a home for our brands and really start your journey now to promote our Dubliner brand or Dublin Liberties, which we sort of used the Dublin Liberties as a celebration of Oakland Distillery and indeed our Dead Rabbit as well.
Okay. Now the Liberties area of Dublin has had a long tradition of having distilleries and taverns amongst other things.
How much has that area defined the nature of the whiskey you're producing?
Yes. Well we had the brands and the only place we ever wanted to build a distillery was right in the heart of the Liberties because that's where all the history and heritage comes from. And it's almost just bringing Irish back, Irish whiskey back to where it rightfully belongs. So the people of the Liberties, they're well used to it and it's like I always say people, there are six million people in Ireland and there's 100 million worldwide. Everybody thinks they're Irish. But that's about like the Liberties people as well. They want to stay in the heart of Dublin and they want to, they're hardworking people and they just have a bit of pride and passion. So I think with the names of the whiskeys that we have, the Dublin Liberties, and the Dubliner, and indeed, the Dead Rabbit which is slightly different. It gives us a bit of ownership and a bit of providence and history. And really gives backbone to the Dublin Liberties' brand for us to go out and tell the story around the world, which is what's a really good story.
How hard was it to actually be able to build a distillery right in the middle of the city like that?
Yeah. Well I've been in the whiskey business for 21 years now, so I worked for Irish distillers, for Diageo at the Bushmill site up in the north of Ireland.
So I've been sort of, well I can even dip back further, when I come out of the hospital after I'd been born, my family had had a pub in the north of Ireland. So it was-
So it was very much in your blood.
Yeah, it was no shock to my parents, when I said I'm going to go into a career of Irish whiskey. So I've sort of had and learned the tools and the trade of being a Master Distiller at Bushmills. So when I got offered the opportunity to come to Dublin and have a complete blank canvas and to build a state of the art distillery with these amazing and brand names, I just jumped all over it because it was something something nice to tell your grandkids, when they become born.
And I just loved every minute of it. It didn't really seem like work. It's more like a hobby. It's just, I only only really do it to keep my wife happy. She gets money at the end of the month. So such is the love of the job.
With so many Irish distilleries opening at the moment, why should consumers turn to Dublin Liberties?
Yeah, yeah, that's a good good question. Well, as I said, there only was two or three distilleries in Ireland. Now we have about 26 with another maybe 18 or 20 planned. So in the next three to four years there'll be about 44 distilleries in Ireland.
Well one I think, Dublin is the epicenter of Ireland. It's a capital city. It's a city everybody globally can relate to and knows where it is. Our brands have the Dubliner and Dublin Liberties within their name. So that sorta already introduces to that sort of Irish theme. The liquid's amazing, completely biased here, but the liquid is amazing. So if you can get somebody to sort of want to try an Irish whiskey ours as is definitely leading the way. I also think that we have some strategic partners across, in various continents, for example, using Australia.
And we have a sales team in Australia and we have a good team behind us. So a lot of the new distilleries don't maybe have that. So it's difficult to go out into that big global market and to sell your product and to get it in front of people. So I think we have a really good route to market. We have a really good team here in Australia. So yeah, I think you need that coupled with a good product and a product that looks well. So yeah, I think we have everything going for us. Plus we have a home and a heritage in the city center of Dublin where we have a visitor center so people can come and look at it and it's a really, really nice a distillery with a real warm ambience. So people go away as part of the Dublin Liberties team and feeling part of the gang. So yeah, I'm happy for the future.
You have three expressions. The Oak Devil that we mentioned earlier, Copper Alley and also The Dead Rabbit. What is the difference between the three?
Yeah, so the Dublin Liberties is the brand that we have sort of linked to our distillery, so it's like the launch of our Dublin Liberties range in tandem with our distillery. So the Oak Devil is our five-year-old blend, so it's just an easy drinking whiskey, which we could use for a base for cocktails. It's 30% malt, 70% grain, lovely spicy flavors going on, but it's got enough depth and character for mixologists and bartenders to use for making cocktails. Is also very good neat. It's also very good with a cube or two of ice. It's just won a gold award there just recently. So it shows the quality of the liquid.
And then our Copper Alley it won double gold in the International Spirits Challenge, which is a huge accolade to have and that's all done on a blind tasting. So that's your single malt, finished in 30 year old sherry casks. So it's very much a sip and unwinding after a stressful day at work. And as I say, I've traveled quite a bit round Asia in the last number of days and the feedback from both has been absolutely amazing. That it's easy to drink, it's exactly what people want, and it's a little bit different because I feel the Dublin Liberties as an innovation brand. That we always like to have always aced and always premium. So it's sort of that sort of super premium level.
With The Dead Rabbit, that was a whiskey that we made in conjunction with the bar in New York, with two friends of mines. Again from the north of Ireland who I knew before they get into the bar trade when I worked at Bushmills, they came and looked at the whiskey and how whiskey was made there. So it was a bit of fun doing a collaboration with them and they're leading the way from a mixologist point of view in the world. And like, as I say, Jack and Shawn's taste buds are unbelievable. So I was honored to make them a juice that they could then use to make a further cocktail to keep so many people happy in the financial district of New York. So yeah.
If someone were to buy, let's say the Oak Devil, or The Dead Rabbit, which are both more cocktail oriented, what would they expect?
They would expect a whiskey, an Irish whiskey that's got enough taste and enough going on there that the cocktail wouldn't sort of make it die off. That you'll still taste the whiskey. You'll still taste the flavors. With the Oak Devil, I get the lovely spicy chilliness coming through so it's perfect there for making cocktails because you can really taste the whiskey coming through.
And then The Dead Rabbit, because it's finished in virgin American oak casks, you get a real influx of color, and indeed that vanilla flavor, which really, really comes out in the cocktails. But like as I say, I love the specialist cocktails making really, really, how would you say, 10 ingredients to make a cocktail, but it's hard to beat just going back to the Old Fashioned or the Whiskey Sour. And these whiskeys really can just give the punch and hold their weight with any whiskey.
Or even a Highball, I assume.
But it was interesting as I was traveling over the number of days, even in Singapore for example, they were, Highballs are very, very, everybody wants, wants to drink Highballs. I just try it neat first because it's actually really nice to drink neat. And it's amazing how many people that were Highball drinkers were like, "My God this whiskey's got no harshness, it's got no smokiness." It's got none of the characteristics that we would think whiskey would be. It's just a very easy drinking and as the day went on and we went and tried different whiskeys, they'd say "We can probably just drink this neat. Or with a cube of ice." So it's nice to hear that.
So you're converting people from cocktail drinkers to-
Converting to sipping some quality whiskey.
If people were gonna mix with it, what flavors with the Oak Devil, what flavors do you think would work well with that particular whiskey?
I always say because it's got such a sort of bourbon influx and you have the vanillas and you have the sort of chili, even some sort of like chocolate cream type flavors would combine. It really just gives a bit of lending to that but as I say, I just like the good Old Fashioned and as I say, some of the Whiskey Sours are just simple, easy drinking for me.
Now when you released this because it is a little bit more cocktail friendly, did the distillery come up with the any signature cocktails for it?
Sure. We have a number of cocktails at the bar and if you come to visit us in Dublin we have a whole range of cocktails made with tender loving hands. But as I say, I have a couple of colleagues who are very good at that and I make the whiskey and let them get on with the other creative part, which is just making fine cocktails.
Why do you think that Irish whiskeys, compared to some of their cousins, are thought to be so particularly good in cocktails? What is it? Is that the lightness or is it the-
Yeah, I think the cocktails lend themselves to the Irish whiskey because I think there's almost a trend again coming round to use cocktails and vodka and gin, whereas we had a number of years there, definitely across the sort of UK and Ireland, where you were using more exotic spirits to mix your cocktails. I think now people are moving back to the whiskey, the vodkas, the gins in the UK, and Ireland. So with Irish whiskey it's so versatile and it doesn't overpower. Where some of our Scottish cousins will have a varying degrees of peatiness, which when you add that to the cocktail mix, it sort of tends to overpower or take precedence from it. Such is the taste profile. I'm not saying that Scottish malts and whiskeys are wrong or anything like that because I'm just saying, as you quite rightly said, they're cousins and not brother or sister. So I always joke that we taught the Scots how to make whiskey but we just didn't show them everything.
One of the things being spelling be cause we spelled with an e- e for excellence. So yeah, no, I think the Irish just lends itself as that bit lighter and lends itself to creating that whiskey flavor that you want, but without too much sort of peat or smoke coming through.
Could you want to explain the name Oak Devil?
Sure, yeah. So on the Dublin Liberties' range, the Oak Devil, there was a large carving of an oak devil to signify that you were now going in that the territory known as the Liberties. So the Liberties in Dublin to me would be like the Soho of London or the Manhattan of New York. And I'm sure there's a Sydney equivalent where you went … Surry Hills, yeah. So it was sort of the area you went for your late night drinking. You went to meet a man or a woman or whatever you get into. And it's from all walks of society so it didn't matter if you were rich or poor or in between. It was where you went to having a good time and to have a smile and a laugh and a late night lock in and so on, so forth. So the Oak Devil was a large carving of an oak devil looking down just to signify at the 40 steps of hell as they called it. Although there was only 39, so there's a bit of a weird Irish thing. It was to signify that you are now you're going into the area and be prepared that it was known as Hell and that the Devil was watching over you.
You talked earlier about the awards that Oak Devil had won. What is the reaction to the spirit in the cocktail, amongst bartenders?
Ah, well bartenders, anybody that I've talked to, and indeed with the dead rabbit, winning the 2016 and 2017 World Bar Competition. That's no mean feat to get it one year, never mind two years. And then, as I was talking to Andrew last night, they've got a few seconds as well. The effort and expertise and probably respect from the wider mixologist cocktail maker field around the world, it doesn't get any better than Jack McGarry making a cocktail and Jillian Vose making up a cocktail with our brands. So yeah, that in itself really tells the rest of the world just how good it is. And it's almost like an internal society here that, I've traveled all over Asia, both in UK and Ireland, and around the world for that. It's a small world. Those top professionals in that field, it's a very small world and they all know each other. So when one says it's versatile and works, they tend to listen to each other because, after all, they are professionals in their field. And I'm just over the moon that I can provide the best liquid or the best whiskey to let them do their art.
It must be quite amazing to be such young distillery but come out with three expressions that are doing so well and are building such a strong reputation.
Yeah, we actually have 14 expressions that we have produced. So we're only slowly bringing them to Australia. So the last four years have been a bit of a whirlwind. So we have a range of Dubliner which we sort of launched in Australia and is doing really, really well. We have the Dublin Liberties where we have multiple, we have a five-year-old Oak Devil, 10 year old Copper Alley. We have a 13 year old Murder Lane, finished in Tokaj casks. We have a 16 year old finished in Pedro Ximenez. We call that Keeper's Coin. And then we have a 27 year old finished in Bordeaux premier cru casks. So again, we have a nice range, which we will eventually get here. We were talking about it last night. And that'll give a nice family of Dublin Liberties.
And then other whiskey expressions that we've made, we've made a tannery whiskey that you can just buy at the distillery. So all the listeners need to come to Dublin and pop their head in to see it and try The Tannery. Which is quite apt because it used to be an old tannery back in the day.
And then we've just launched a beer cask series as well, where we've sort of mixed beer, coffee stouts, and stouts, and red hills, where we've lent the casks to local breweries. And then they brought them back, which gives a real different taste profile as well. So we're actually looking to maybe discuss that with local Australian breweries and doing something in conjunction with them. But I don't want to say too much.
We'd have to get an NDA signed very quick, but you're just interested. And then selling our Dubliner whiskey in Australia with all those Australian brewery casks and just bring up a bit of a rapport with the local breweries, which you make clear fine beers around here. So yeah, so it's all that innovation that we want to bring to the table. So yeah, whiskeys won a gold awards. And to me that just makes it so worthwhile.
Now you've talking about people coming to Dublin. If somebody does, what can they expect from the visitor center?
The visitor center. Yes. So it's state of the art distillery, but lovely sights and sounds and smells. It's quite a boutique in size because we are in the heart of Dublin after all, but we've packed a hell of a punch into it. Anybody that's went into it as regarded, "Is that a Tardis?", because there's only a small frontage but it opens right out. So I think you'll get a very friendly, very nice education on how Irish whiskeys made, differences between Irish and Scotch. You'll get to taste these fine products here, which I'm sure you'll enjoy. And you'll get to meet the extended team over in Ireland. And I always say in Ireland, you always get a warm Irish welcome. And you go into a house in Ireland and the lady of the house says, "Do you want a cup of tea?" And if you say no, they say, "Well do you want a whiskey?" But we'll skip the tea and just come here and we'll get you a whiskey.
So tell us a little bit about the recent renovation. What did you create?
Yeah. Sure. So we have created a single malt distillery. It's a triple distilled malt distillery, but we can also do double distilled. We have a two ton lighter ton, which allows us about 10,000 liters of worts or sugar liquid to come through every six hours. So it's got a capacity of about 700,000 liters of pure alcohol, triple distilled malt. We went to the sort of traditional old way of making whiskey back in the day before the 1850s tax on malted barley. We're going right back to how the Irish did it back in the day. We have the location because that's where there was distilleries. That was the heart of all the breweries and distilleries were. And we've also then have a visitor center where we've put a really nice bar into it. We really did a nice finish to it and it's just an attractive, friendly place to come. And you can actually sit at the bar, look through the back window of the bar, looking straight down at the three stills as they produce your next batch of whiskey for a number of years down the line. So yeah, it's just a nice visitor center, nice tour. We have some really, really knowledgeable people. And as I say, I'm always there too. We do different types of tours. We do a standard tour. We can also do tours for people who have a bit more knowledge, who have maybe read up on whiskey for years and follow the whiskey trail of distilleries. And then we have like a VIP where you can come in and have an event there so you can hire the bar. So it's a cool place. So yeah, lots going on. Yeah. So just anybody over, call in, say hello and you become part of the Dublin Liberty's family.
Talk a little bit more about the triple distilled because that is one of the signs, one of the marks of Irish whiskey. Are all of these three triple distilled?
No. There's a mix. So all the whiskeys that we have, these are all source whiskies at the minute until we have our own whiskies made. But I was Master Distiller at Bushmills distillery. We can't really say where we sourced it from, but there was only three distilleries in Ireland. Our sister plant in Ireland who make our cream liquors have been sourcing whiskey for the cream liquors from 1997. So there is a trade among distilleries in Scotland and indeed there's a little bit of trade now in Ireland. So until you have your own whiskey coming through what I was able to do was to source whiskies from other distilleries. But I tried to put my own stamp on them by doing a specific finish or picking out a particular type of cask to change that flavor profile to what we wanted.
And how strongly can a cask change the flavor profile?
Very much so. I always say if the spirit, that you produced in the distillery will add about 25% of the final taste profile. It has to be good. It has to be clean. It has to be a distilled correctly. But the wood would add about 75% so I've always sourced wood from reputable top suppliers. Because you wouldn't risk putting it into something where you're not really sure, it's maybe casks that you can buy in the open market. I wouldn't risk that. It has to be done with the finesse and perfection that that it deserves and indeed the consumer deserves.
Talking about the consumer, who do you see as your target market for each of these?
Yeah, I think with the different ages and profiles and the total variants that we can offer, it really, really opens up that demographic. Obviously we're targeting the sort of 24 to 40 year olds in bringing in blended whiskies. Blended whiskies, for example, a lot of people find them easier to drink and it's exactly what they're looking for in this day and age. So you're sort of looking at that demographic. But we also have the single malts, which can sort of step into the Scotch Malt drinkers. Like with this whiskey, with our portfolio, it's so dynamic from a versatile, from a taste profile, I wouldn't just put it into the Irish whiskey category of drinkers here in Australia. I'd be looking to tap into maybe people who enjoy some scotch or people who enjoy some bourbon. And along with the team that we have here, we have a family here now that can target not only Irish, Jamison, Bushmills, Tyler Moore, but also step on into other categories of American Bourbon Whiskey and indeed some of the Scotch because of the portfolio we have.
So it's just about getting people to try. And I always say on a blind tasting all these whiskeys have won golds and double golds in blind tasting. So guys and girls get down there and try it because I can assure you'll not be disappointed.
Now with the Copper Alley, if somebody, I mean we've got a long tradition of Scotch drinkers in this country. Now people are taking to the Japanese, some of the Japanese whiskeys. What will they taste differently with that particular expression?
Yeah. Well with the Dublin Liberties' range and with Copper Alley, the full range we've done 46% non chill filtered. So all the flavors and profiles and whiskey tastes are there. 46% and even at 46% it's very easy to drink neat. You'll have a big tasting whiskey, 10 year old single malt, and then lovely bound sherry flavors, all the roasted sherry flavors coming through in the end.
I think malt drinkers, for example, could relate to this very, very easily. In Scotland you have varying degrees of peatiness. So somebody who likes a lightly peated or mediums, maybe Speyside, could come along and lift the Copper Alley and it's got enough pedigree to tick their taste buds.
But at the same time I think they'd be quite shocked that it's got the taste profile and quality, from an Irish whiskey perspective, especially if they are completely convinced they're scotch drinkers. So I think we can really tap into people who enjoy lightly peated or Speyside scotches as well.
But just try it as well if you're Irish, because I'll tell you you're related.
With so many distilleries having started up and with so much interest in Irish whiskey, where do you see the future?
I see the future. Yeah. I see the future as being very, very bright. I sit in a Irish Whiskey Association. So way back in 2012 when we had maybe four, four and a half million cases, we had a trajectory that we were going to grow the Irish whiskey category. By 2020, we were going to hit 12 million cases. By 2030, we were going to hit 24 million cases. So here we are setting in 2019 and already the numbers for 2018 are suggesting 10 and a half million cases. So we've already grown it on the trajectory if not above the trajectory.
Is it growing too fast though, do you think?
I don't think so. No. I think we are now, we're opening multiple distilleries. We're laying down stocks.
But isn't there catch up time needed.
There's a little bit of catch up time. But as I say, we don't want it to grow overnight so we have a nice trajectory there and up to 2030.
I think we will be at 24 million cases by the time of 2030 but nowhere near Scotch at 95 million. But I think we're getting to where we rightfully belong and we at last have the infrastructure and building distilleries in Ireland to realize that future. So to me, you have to build the infrastructure first before-
So there might be a few years where we have only so much to sell but, hey we have to start somewhere.
And what do you see as the future for Dublin Liberties? How long until you're at a stage where you're, because you're about 10 years at the least down the track, before you're releasing your own, aren't you?
No, no. We'll be starting to launch our blends and things, I'm sorry, our blends and things like that in about three, three to four years.
As I say, we've sourced lots of liquids. We have plenty of liquid in the bank if you like. So we have our 27 year old, but we will have further extensions, 28, 29, 30, 31, on our 16 year old. We'll have all our expressions, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. So the next four to five years, we have a lovely sort of growth within the malts. And then we have our blends coming through. Your Dead Rabbits, your Oak Devils and our Dubliners of the World coming through. And your given the blend experience, but we also have the high end so we're catering for everybody really.
So I think we grow, everybody grows together and becomes part of the Dublin Liberties family. Yeah. And if I get to come to Australia every year or two, sure, that's brilliant.
Yeah. Now that people know a little bit more about Dublin Liberties. You can get more information on the website. So that's dublinlibertieswhiskey.com.
Darryl, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.