Interview: Teeling Talks How The Irish Really Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, and many in the U.S. will turn things green, from beer to bagels, and even rivers.

But for the Teeling family, who head up Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey with roots dating back to 1782, the St. Patrick’s holiday is about tradition, family and, most importantly they say, excellent whiskey.

Teeling was the first new distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years and is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. And for a while now, they’ve hosted a St. Patrick’s Day festival “for grownups,” as Stephen Teeling explained.

Their celebration includes cocktails, food pairings, music, and their Dublin-made whiskey … not a green beer in sight.

This year, Teeling brings that style of celebration to the U.S. through a partnership with Variety Coffee Roasters, making a proper Irish Coffee. They will be serving the drink out of the “Teeling Truck” around New York City as well as hitting the road to various Irish pubs.

Stephen Teeling recently visited with The Whiskey Wash to talk St. Patrick’s Day, how the Irish really celebrate, and how Teeling’s master distiller celebrates the holiday as an American in Dublin.

Teeling St. Patrick's Day
Stephen Teeling recently visited with The Whiskey Wash to talk St. Patrick’s Day, how the Irish really celebrate, and how Teeling’s master distiller celebrates the holiday as an American in Dublin. (image via Teeling)

The Whiskey Wash: Tell us about the Teeling Whiskey genesis story, going way back to 18th century Dublin.

Stephen Teeling: “In 1782, our ancestor Walter Teeling started a small craft distillery on Marrowbone Lane in the heart of Dublin in 1782. That distillery was in the Liberties, just like our distillery, and is only a short walk away from our current distillery. In the 1980s, my father revived our family involvement in Irish whiskey by building the first new distillery in Ireland in over 100 years, and became a substantial character in the world of whiskey. When this distillery was acquired by Beam Suntory in 2012, myself and Jack started our own chapter in Irish whiskey launching Teeling Whiskey in 2012 becoming the newest generation of Teelings involved in Irish whiskey.”

TWW: Describe the path Irish whiskey has been on to get to the point where the Teeling brothers reconnect with the family brand.

ST: “Irish Whiskey went through a dramatic decline in the 20th century moving from commanding over 60 percent of all whiskey sold around the globe to just one percent by the 1980s. What was once the powerhouse of whiskey globally was devastated through prohibition in the U.S., the Irish War of Independence and intense competition from Scotland, with the last distillery of the first golden era of Dublin Whiskey running dry in 1976.”

“But Irish Whiskey is resilient, and with the relaunch of Teeling Whiskey in 2012 and the opening of the Teeling distillery in 2015, a new era of growth is upon us. Teeling Whiskey is driving a new generation of whiskey drinkers who are discovering, enjoying and embracing Irish whiskey in a new modern way. A decade on from when we restarted our family brand, Irish whiskey is the fastest growing brown spirit in the world and on a trajectory to reclaim its place as one of the top whiskeys consumed around the globe.”

TWW: For the Teelings, tell us what the St. Patrick’s Day holiday means to those in Ireland, and how it differs from its perception around the world.

ST: “As kids, our parents would always bring us to see the parade in Dublin city by St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And now, as we have our own children, we take our own kids to the parade, and we also do a huge festival at the distillery, with lots of music, food pairings and whiskey tastings.”

“Our families and friends come from all over to visit, so it’s a big celebration, but a more grown up version than the stereotypical festivities you see with shots, green beer and the like. I’ve been in the U.S. for St. Patrick’s Day, in Chicago, and even in Australia. It’s a huge celebration of all things Irish, as there is a huge amount of people living internationally with Irish heritage. It has been said that our two best global exports are whiskey and our people. For us to see a true Irish holiday being celebrated around the world is hugely rewarding.”

TWW: How do true Dubliners celebrate the holiday?

ST: “True Dubliners celebrate the holiday much like my family, a visit to the parade in the city, a few whiskeys or cocktails with family and friends … the celebrations are very social usually with good music, drinks  and a real opportunity to catch up with friends and family.”

TWW: With a new St. Patrick’s partnership for Irish Coffee celebrations in the U.S., what does that entail?

ST: “We’ve partnered with Variety Coffee Roasters, a Brooklyn-based roastery that takes craftsmanship and quality just as seriously as we do. Alex Chasko, our master distiller, worked closely with Variety’s director of coffee to select a roast that would perfectly pair with Teeling in an Irish Coffee. The Teeling Small Batch Roast is now available through a cocktail kit on ReserveBar and at select bars around the country on St. Patrick’s Day.”

“The Irish Coffee on our menu here at the distillery has always been one of our most popular offerings, and it is because we use full flavored, locally roasted coffee. The absence of bold flavors in coffee will allow it to be too easily overpowered by the whiskey.”

TWW: And speaking of Teeling’s Master Distiller Alex Chasko, how did an American who got his start in craft brewing in Portland make it to Ireland and Teeling Whiskey?

ST: “Alex was doing his distilling masters degree in Scotland when he met an Irish woman on St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish bar. He followed his heart and it brought him to Dublin. He ended up as innovations manager at our father’s distillery and he came with us when we started Teeling … he was employee number one.”

“The whiskey industry is very insular in Ireland, and when Alex arrived over, he didn’t have any baggage. He would ask a lot of questions, such as why we couldn’t use different casks or yeast. He didn’t have anything to lose by asking those questions and it brought a very different mindset to the team. Coming from craft beer distilling, he had some wacky ideas and approached distilling almost like a chef … very inquisitive, innovative and always focused on taste.”

TWW: Describe the bookable Teeling experience for Irish pubs across America this holiday season.

ST: “The purpose of the Phoenix Parlor Snug Series is to allow people to have a more intimate and traditionally Dublin St. Patrick’s Day experience. Guests are invited to book these ‘snugs,’ which are very present in Dublin pubs and are tucked away sections of the bar where people can have a more private drink. In their snug, they’ll be treated to a tasting of whiskies, such as our Teeling Small Batch and Wonders of Wood offering, and an Irish Coffee. Hopefully, it kick-starts a new tradition for people with their friends or family.”

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