This isn’t a sales pitch, but if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of the rare Irish whiskey world, you might want to consider joining the Irish Whiskey Society.
Irish whiskey is quietly going about the first stages of a renaissance, with dozens of new distilleries set to open within the next decade and countless brands beyond Jameson on their way. Finding those bottles as they trickle into markets is going to be a challenge — that’s when it’s good to have a network.
Enter the eight-year-old Irish Whiskey Society, an organization created to gather Irish whiskey lovers under a common banner (under which they drink whiskey). The Irish Whiskey Society hosts tastings and specially bottles barrel picks for its members. It’s based in the coastal town of Dingle.
What brought our attention to the Irish Whiskey Society is a similar organization for fans of a different country’s drams: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The SMWS has been around in some capacity since the 1970s, but in recent years it has entered the U.S. market with access to its central fixture: a constant supply of rare release single casks. SMWS now provides access to enough releases to keep even the most vigorous whisky consumer occupied year round
The Irish Whiskey Society is comparatively new, tracing its origins back to 2009. The offerings are much more modest than its Scotch equivalent, but that’s by-product of the group’s youth and the lack of diversity in the Irish whiskey class. Both will continue to grow over the next few years.
The other thing that the IWS has in common with its Scottish cousin? A small but loyal American contingent. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be many benefits for an American when joining the Dingle chapter — for now. The IWS’s American counterpart is only loosely associated and operates independently, but the Boston-based group seems to be the start of America’s own Irish whiskey salon.
If nothing else, says president Allan Dwyer, they’re starting a conversation. “So far, members vary. Many have Irish heritage and/or have taken a trip to Ireland,” he explains. “Many members have been referrals from existing members. Some became members as a gift from family members. I’ve found some members like to be able to simply show their membership card in a pub and tell the bartender which is a good conversation starter. We make it pretty easy to join and the one time fee in a sense pays for itself with the benefits provided.”
Dwyer thinks it will continue to snowball when more distilleries open. “As new brands arrive more loyalty will develop beyond, say, Jameson. There is a big focus on premium offerings. I know that whenever someone tries Redbreast, Greenspot, or another pot still variety, they are extremely impressed.”
Dwyer sees a large group of potential devotees in the younger drinkers. “In the U.S., older whiskey drinkers tend to bourbon or Scotch (some even Canadian). Younger drinkers are mostly introduced to Jameson. The challenge is getting more people to realize the variety available and how many new brands will be arriving soon. Most younger people like to try new things and differ from the older generations, so it bodes well for Irish whiskey.”
Most of the people that cross the group’s path are new to Irish whiskey, but they’re hoping education will help increase the diversity of offerings here while the diversity continues to grow abroad. “One of our objectives is to be the go to source in the USA for people to learn about Irish whiskey,” Dwyer says.
So consider joining. For now there aren’t barrels to choose from, but this is a get-in-before-the-boom scenario. It could be a good investment in your whiskey future.