Founded in 2016 by the Cooney family, the Boann Distillery is the first to return to Irish whiskey production in the Boyne Valley, at Drogheda, after more than 160 years.
In 2017 they launched their first bottles of The Whistler line, produced with whiskey supplied by third parties, and since then their brand has grown exponentially, gaining a respectable position, especially in the US market.
Distributed in Italy by Cuzziol, thanks to them we were able to have this interview with Peter Cooney, Export Sales Director of the distillery, to explain the philosophy of one of the New Wave of Irish distilleries.
WHISKY ART: The name of your distillery, Boann, refers to the legends of your territory, the Boyne Valley: how important are the history and identity of the area for you and how are they reflected in your whiskey?
PETER COONEY: We are situated in the heart of the Boyne Valley which is one of the most historically rich parts of Ireland if not Europe. Newgrange, the oldest building in the world and is only down the road. This is where the goddess Boann used to reside.
Our distillery is named, Boann, in honour of this Goddess and pays homage to the providence of the Boyne Valley. The ethos of our distillery is to celebrate the lost arts such as storytelling and whistling. The Whistler Irish Whiskey has many musical references considering this rich history.
WHISKY ART: Many distilleries that have recently appeared on the market, not only in Ireland, proudly claim to be artisan and connected to the territory, often stressing the origin and processing of their raw materials: a passing fad or a concrete way to go?
PETER COONEY: I believe this a solid direction for us to be routed in our providence. We work with local farmers for our malted and unmalted barley alongside our deep spring water well for our water supply. We want to be able to tell the story of our land in our whiskeys and gins. A lot of our botanicals are locally sourced from our apple orchards and hedgerows.
WHISKY ART: There is a lot of talk about terroir, a concept inherited from the wine industry but which some people are trying to prune in the whisky industry, Scottish as Irish: what is your vision on this?
PETER COONEY: I am wine trained, so I am very much so familiar with the concept of terroir. The Boyne Valley would be considered one of the most fertile lands in Ireland and we are situated 6km from the Irish sea. This lends us a nice and cool temperate climate for maturing whiskey and the temperatures rarely drops below zero degrees making whiskey maturation continuous and serene.
WHISKY ART: Yours is a family business, born a few years ago but which in such a short time has already managed to carve out an important position in the panorama of Irish distilleries. What are the biggest difficulties you encounter in being independent?
PETER COONEY: We are a 2nd generation family business and have been in the drinks trade for more than 40 years. We are very much so export led and sell to over 60 markets globally. One of the difficulties in being independent is having the resources to fund a working distillery. Laying down stock is very expensive and a long-term initiative. However, being independent allows us to control our own destiny and we are not satisfying short term goals and shareholders. We are in this for the long haul and hope to bring the 3rd generation into the business in the future.
WHISKY ART: Irish whiskey is experiencing a moment of dizzying development after so many years of stagnation, also thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of companies like yours: what counts more to be solid in an increasingly competitive market?
PETER COONEY: At the moment, the Irish Whiskey category is experiencing a phenomenal renaissance. There are now 33 working distilleries in Ireland in all shape and sizes, we are delighted to be part of this new breath of life. Our plan is to be the most innovative distillery in Ireland, if not the world. We have three beautiful cooper pot stills made in Siena by Green Engineering. These copper pot stills are exceptionally technologically advanced, utilising nano technology in the neck and Lyne arms alongside sub coolers in our condensers and reflux columns in our necks. This allows us to create amazingly clean spirit but also the ability to create many different styles of distillate.
Another interesting project we are working on, is creating ten vintage pot still mash bills dating from the 1830’s to the 1960’s with varying amounts malt, barley, oats, wheat and rye. Our cask programme is quite extensive and every growing, we currently have over 35 different cask types maturing in our warehouses, such as Mulberry, Moscatel, Marsala, Tuscany, Calvados and many more…
We also need to be affordable to the consumer and this is something we strive to achieve with every release.
WHISKY ART: Your whiskey, The Whistler, comes with a large portfolio, diversified in aging and cask finishing: what principles guide you in your choices and which are the barrels that have given you more satisfaction so far?
PETER COONEY: The Whistler Irish Whiskey is very much so an experimental extension of Boann Distillery. When we first launched The Whistler we were lucky enough to work with some amazing Oloroso Sherry casks which had been part of a solera system for 40 years. This really set the benchmark for us and we have been using exceptional high-quality casks ever since.
Our Cask #1 is a NEOC cask, New Era of Oak Cask, these are rejuvenated Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux red wine barriques. They have been shaved, toasted and recharred, a similar concept to Jim Swan’s STR casks. By choosing this cask as our #1, this sets the tone for our future wood programme to be highly experimental and innovative.
To be honest, the nicest casks that I have worked with were Portuguese Moscatel casks from Jose Maria Fonseca, these were amazing and are part of our future wood programme. We used these casks to create whiskey called Triple Oaked, as the whiskey spent time in American Oak Bourbon barrels, Spanish Oak Oloroso Sherry Casks and finally Portuguese Oak Moscatel Casks. The Moscatel lends beautiful tropical notes such as mango and pineapple – seriously delicious!
WHISKY ART: The international market has long been dominated by Scotch, but things seem to be changing, and for some, Irish whiskey will soon dominate the market: what do you think this change may be due to?
PETER COONEY: That is a good question. I think Scotch has built quite a reserved image of what Scotch actually is and who drinks it. Irish whiskey on the other hand does not mind who you are and what your image is. You can be drinking Irish Whiskey in shorts and T-shirt, but you can’t really do that with Scotch. I have probably lost a few Scottish friends now with that comment – oops.
Irish Whiskey will overtake Scotch in the US in the next couple of years and has had strong momentum for the last 20 years, we are working hard to replicate this in other markets around the world. In general, Irish Whiskey is more approachable than Scotch and easier to drink 😊.
WHISKY ART: Covid-19 has had a major impact on life and business activities around the world, how did you deal with these difficulties?
PETER COONEY: Thankfully, we are part of the supply chain for Food & Beverage, so we were able to keep producing during the pandemic. As we are quite retail focused, we have been very busy keeping on top of the surge in retail. Attending shows such as Prowein, Vinexpo and the Milan Whisky Festival would have also played a big part in us exhibiting our products and meeting with existing and new customers – this has all come to a temporary end so we are now conducting virtual meetings and tastings online very successfully. This new medium will be very important to us into the future.