These brothers are taking Irish whiskey making home to Dublin
Teeling Whiskey, run by brothers Stephen and Jack Teeling, is the first distillery to produce the liquor in Dublin in more than a century.
Yes, you read that right: The political, financial and cultural hub of Ireland—the city that put whiskey on the world map in the 18th century—hasn’t actually produced whiskey since 1942, and hasn’t had a distillery open in over 125 years. Teeling is working to change all that.
At the height of whiskey production in Dublin around the late 1890s, there were about 35 whiskey distilleries in town, including Jones Road, Jameson, and Powers’ John's Lane Distillery. But prohibition, economic downturn, and the advent of cheaper mass production eventually put them all out of business. Since 2012, however, Teeling has been working to revive the DIY-type of business model that has trended across food and drink industries over the last decade, not dissimilar to Brooklyn’s craft brewing or London’s gin making.
The pot stills at Teeling are just one of the ways the brothers are upholding whiskey history.
The Teeling brothers have a family history so steeped in whiskey that you couldn’t make up if you tried. In 1782, their cousin Walter Teeling set up a craft distillery on Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties area of Dublin, beginning a 230-year tradition of distilling for the Teelings. To pay homage (and perhaps for good luck), the brothers set up shop in that same spot in 2012. Their father is John Teeling, who started Cooley Distillery a couple hours north of the city back in 1987. Cooley was the distillery that broke up the then-monopoly by Irish Distillers, i.e. the guys that made Jameson, and everything else for that matter (the company was eventually bought by Pernod Ricard).
Much like they’re seeking to do with their brand, their father revived a lot of old ways of making Irish whiskey, focusing on single malts and premium products instead of the continuous distilling methods brought to Ireland to cut costs.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We’re not another $19.99, entry-level Irish whiskey or large multinational brand.[/quote]
“Our whiskey is about quality,” says Stephen Teeling, the younger of the two brothers. “But it’s more about challenging the perception of what Irish whiskey was. It’s about higher alcohol content and distilling innovations. We’re not another $19.99, entry-level Irish whiskey or large multinational brand; everything we do is in small batches, and we hand-select casks of malt and grain which we then marry in a rum cask. People get that. They want choice and breath of a flavor profile.”
Teeling is the definition of a small distillery; they only produce about 60 to 80 hand selected casks per bottling run. They also use high-quality grains from Malting Company Ireland and Glanbia Grains, and bottle at higher strengths to ensure they capture all of the natural flavors in each whiskey—a progressive method, as Irish whiskey has never been produced in this way before.
“We are respectful to the past but confident enough to forge ahead with our own interpretation of the way in which Irish whiskey should be produced,” says Stephen.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We are respectful to the past but confident enough to forge ahead with our own interpretation of the way in which Irish whiskey should be produced.[/quote]
They’re not just carrying on tradition in the liquid, but in the packaging, too. Teeling uses an old traditional Dublin-style whiskey bottle, which is shorter and dark-colored with a natural cork. Most Irish whiskey bottles are tall and green, and often highlight the whisky’s rural Irish origins by incorporating families’ coats of arms. Teeling’s bottle, however, adds contemporary style by including the bottling date on each label—very trendy today. Even their brand stamp, a Phoenix rising out of a single-pot whiskey distiller, symbolizes a revival of their family brand. It’s a fitting icon for a generation of whiskey makers informed by their past, but looking straight ahead.
The distinctive Teeling labels. Photo via Flickr
It’s not lost on the Teeling brothers that they have history to thank for their current position.
“When you're younger,” says Stephen, “the idea of working in a family business is the last thing you ever think you're going to end up doing. It's not until you leave and do other things that you realize how good you had it, and that there'd be nothing else that you would have more passion for.”
Both Stephen and Jack worked in the financial sector directly after university and subsequent masters programs; Jack was in trading and Stephen in corporate banking for large Irish export companies. They each spent about three years outside of the drinks industry before coming back to join their father at Cooley; Jack made the family business his own in 2003, and Stephen in 2007. With the opening of Teeling in 2011,the brothers have ventured out on their own.
Stephen and Jack Teeling are making the old new again.
And while they're a throwback to the traditional way of making whiskey in many ways, they're also jumping into the 21st century spirits market with craft cocktail concoctions, pairings at high-end restaurants, and events. Just last month, they held a dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One with Chef Ross Lewis.
The thing that makes Teeling even an option to drink with or incorporate into a meal is their three distinctive styles. There’s the single-grain whiskey that's been matured in California red-wine barrels; it’s more up-front in your tongue and can be used as an aperitif. Then there’s the blend—more robust in terms of malt flavor, so it works well with mains. Last, there’s the single malt, best consumed as your typical after-dinner sipper.
“We’d seen this curiosity around chefs and restaurants in Dublin that wanted bold flavors that could match with our whiskeys, and so we have worked with some of the best restaurants here,” explains Stephen.
The distillery plays host to everyone from whiskey experts to newlyweds. Photo via Flickr
They’re also not hesitant to bring the party home; they’ve hosted everything from annual Whiskey Awards to Christmas parties, weddings, acoustic gigs, and business forums at their distillery.
“It's not just whiskey anymore,” says Stephen. “It's more of an experience. We're getting to talk to people who maybe had a bit of an interest in whiskey, but wouldn't have had an opportunity to gain an understanding of flavors and tastes. We're looking at crossovers of doing things with cheese, with chocolate, with sea salts, butchers, with these restaurants and chefs.”
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]We're looking at crossovers of doing things with cheese, with chocolate, with sea salts, butchers, with restaurants and chefs.[/quote]
And yes, even with ice cream. Later this month, they’re hosting an event with the top ice cream company in Ireland, Murphy’s, featuring ice cream infused with their whiskeys and also ice cream and whiskey pairings. Keith McDonnell, the managing director of the Irish Whiskey Museum reached out to John Teeling when he was first setting up shop in Dublin in the early aughts. He credits the Teeling Brothers' success to their passion for whiskey and work ethic.
“Their distillery and interpretive center in the Liberties in Dublin is the first of its kind,” he says. “It’s something that particular area has been screaming out for. The heritage of that part of town is whiskey and brewing, and seeing them succeed in creating the distillery there is a credit to them.”