Trading Stories: High Spirits in Cork

Mr Keane tells us about the drinks distribution business in Cork, what make's Cork bars different, and why people should remember Paddy Flaherty, the Cork distributor behind Paddy's Irish Whiskey whose footsteps he is following in. 
Trading Stories: High Spirits in Cork
Alan Keane ,Hi Spirits Brand Development Manager, Brand Ambassadors Sarah McWhinney , Lucy Fitzgibbon, and Siobhan Costello Hi Spirits Marketing Manager Pictured at the “The Spirit of Paddy” event with Paddy Irish Whiskey in Rearden’s Bar, Cork, honouring a very special Corkman, Paddy Flaherty. Picture by Gerard McCarthy

Tell us a bit about the business.

Hi-Spirits Ireland is part of Sazerac which is headquartered in New Orleans, and our principal office is in Kentucky, where we make our bourbons.

We've been trading in Ireland for three years, and we manufacture and distribute our own brands, like Southern Comfort, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Fireball, and Paddy Irish Whiskey.

How did you get involved?

I always worked in the bar trade, ever since I was young.

My mother ran bars around Skibbereen, so I always helped out. I started off doing bottling and things like that, then when I was about 16 I was collecting glasses in clubs and pubs. Then I started working in bars in Skibbereen. When we all came up to Cork for college, I worked in a few bars here, then I went on J1.

That really opened up my eyes to the world of cocktails. When I came back, I was working with CNC Gleeson, which is Bulmers, and then became part of the High Spirits family.

How has the drinks trade changed in Cork in the last few years?

Cork has evolved so much.

We have such a wide variety of bars. We still have the old Irish bars, but now we have places like the White Rabbit with some of the rarest whiskeys in the world.

We have Cask, the Shelbourne, the Rising Sons, where you can see and smell them making their own beer.

That's just a few of them.

Cork has gone places and is still going places.

Things have really changed over the years. I remember when most bars had three whiskeys and two gins. Now there are bars with 100 whiskeys and 30 gins.

People have really got into premium spirits, and companies are offering new things. Our Buffallo Trace range has really grown, and there are things like the special Paddy's Centenary whiskey.

But even though our habits keep changing, people do go back to the old reliables. We're creatures of habit.

What makes Cork so unique is the bartenders. When we go in, they give us an experience. It's great to have a unique setting, but the bartenders are what makes a pub.

Tell us a bit about Paddy Flaherty.

Paddy was a drinks salesman in Cork up until the 1920s. He was born in Maylor Street and worked with the Cork Distilleries Company. He was very generous, but sold a lot of whiskey too. He went to bars and bought a round of drinks for everyone, so they named the whiskey after him. It's a blend of pot-stilled and malt whiskey. It's good straight and in Irish coffee or anything. It's a very versatile liquid.

It's very close to people in Cork. People are very loyal to their city and their brands. It's to have that pride of place.

We started our Spirit of Paddy programme recently, where we go into venues to educated people about what the whiskey is all about.

It's not just about selling a spirit, it's about giving people an experience in a bar. They go away have learned something and knowing the story behind the whiskey.

Irish people are mad for information and getting into the nitty-gritty details.

Do you ever think you'll get a whiskey named after yourself, like Paddy did?

Paddy was the best salesman around, so I'd love to be in his company in that way. If someone wanted to name a whiskey after me I'd like it, but would Alan sell as good as Paddy? Probably not!

What's in the future for the business?

The future is very bright for us. We'll be keeping up the Spirit of Paddy campaign, so watch out for the next event. I'm looking forward to sharing that with people

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