The recent claims from sources in the Irish grain industry that less than a quarter of the grain used to produce Irish whiskey is indeed from Ireland, highlights the continuing issue of transparency in the booming Irish whiskey sector in general.
That the Irish Whiskey Association has disputed the numbers comes as no surprise, however the lack of clarity is emblematic of the wider question of exactly what is in a bottle of Irish whiskey.
The Irish Grain Growers group has used the coverage to push for the idea of a new logo for food, drink and animal feed producers that use only Irish cereals. An admirable idea; one that Bord Bia needs to get behind and not just for spirits and beers, but for foodstuffs in general. Think porridge (often labelled ‘packed in Ireland’), bread, black and white pudding (where barley is essential), even down to on-trend products such as breakfast bars and yoghurt cups.
This ties in to other sensitive topics – does the name Proper Twelve imply twelve year-old whiskey, what’s in a bottle of Teeling Single Malt, can Irish Distillers write Bow Street Distillery on bottles of Jameson when it’s not distilled at Bow Street, indeed can Irish Distillers claim to be Irish when its parent company is the French-based Pernod Ricard?
There’s a right way to solve all of the above and more, and that’s through openness and honesty. If it was made clear where the name Proper Twelve comes from, who distilled that Teeling liquid and where it was warehoused, why Bow Street isn’t a distillery anymore, and the connection between Jameson, Irish Distillers and Permod Ricard, the industry wouldn’t collapse. Far from it. The opportunities immediately presented to make a song and dance about provenance are significant, telling a story from farm to bottle over a period of potentially decades.
A further on issue, and one the IWA is enthusiastic on tackling, is that of mislabelling other types of whisk(e)y as Irish. The IWA is focusing its efforts on the North American market, preparing potential legal cases to clamp down on brands slapping ‘Irish’ onto their bottles and charging a premium for a substandard product that potentially might not even be from Ireland. This is as much about consumer protection as it is ‘Brand Ireland’ protection.
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