An interesting news report just came in from the Irish Independent. Lord Henry Mountcharles, owner of Slane Castle has been sourcing whisky from Cooley for his own independent bottling range named after his castle. Now Cooley – owned by Beam after a takeover in late 2011 – told him they will not supply whisky to him anymore.
In the Independent article, Beam official and former Cooley director Willie McArthur explained that demand for Irish Whiskey had skyrocketed in a way that the company now needed every drop of their whiskey for their own business. For this reason no Cooley whiskey will be sold to independent bottlers anymore. Of course this is a legitimate business decision, and as sad as it may be for bottlers having relied on the supply by Cooley in the past, this move by Cooley/Beam is understandable from their perspective.
But one statment from Willie McArthur caught my interest in particular:
“We aim to create another Jameson — we are thinking at that kind of level. We have to make sure we do not run out of whiskey in three years’ time.”
They need their whiskey in three years time to compete against Jameson. Very interesting indeed, especially in the light of my August 2010 head to head comparison of the old and new Kilbeggan expressions when I noticed a significant drop in quality. Back then I suspected a raised content of grain whisky to be the culprit. But perhaps reducing the age to the legal minmum of three years may have been the reason. Or a combination of both.
If Jameson is the target, then not fancy brands like Connemara, Greenore or Tyrconnell can lead the battle. It’s the regular Kilbeggan that has to command the attack. The basic bottles make up the bulk of the sales. The competition is won in pubs, bars and supermarkets, not by convincing a few geeks of the quality of their higher end bottles.
The old Kilbeggan has beaten the regular Jameson hands down, such a great affordable dram it was. The new barely legal expression may still be on eye level from a quality perspective, but the battle can not be fought on the quality level anymore. So the battlefields will rather be volume and marketing. Good luck with that, Cooley. Taking on the market leader is a tough task.