The refined way to celebrate St Patrick's Day

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Paying your respects to St Patrick and expressing your kinship with the Irish on March 17 doesn't have to be about over-indulging in Guinness whilst wearing a green wig.

Ireland's Teeling brothers, the modern-day founders of Teeling Whiskey, advocate a more sophisticated approach which they suggest is about "appreciation of good things Irish".

This, of course, includes fine Irish whiskey; but it's to be sipped and savoured, or perhaps even enjoyed in a cocktail - a maverick proposition for drinkers of yesteryear.

Says Stephen Teeling: "My father's generation were very fixed in terms of consumption habits. They would say, 'I only drink this' and 'I only sit there' and 'I only watch this one program'.

"Now, people are a little bit open to experimentation; but also, whiskey is cool."

The pluck of the Irish

No longer purely the domain of the "granddad with the paddy hat", Teeling says Irish whiskey has been embraced by a younger audience who have taken their cues from popular culture.

Lady Gaga and Rihanna sing the praises of category leader Jameson, which is also the go-to dram for gritty characters on hit TV shows like The Wire and Ray Donovan.

And Teeling believes there is another reason why Irish whiskey is currently the world's fastest growing spirit, brown or white.

"Throughout history it was always referred to that Irish whiskey was 'the mellow spirit'. On the taste profile it's a little bit softer and it's an easy entry point into brown spirits, but it has a huge amount of provenance and heritage," he says.


Provenance and heritage

The Teeling family has played a vital role in that heritage. Their association with the native spirit dates back to 1782, when ancestor Walter Teeling opened a distillery in Dublin.

Much more recently, in 1987, John Teeling - father of Stephen and his brother Jack - established the Cooley Distillery in the Republic's north-east. The Teeling family owned 30 per cent of the company when, in 2011, it was sold to spirits giant Beam for $US95 million.

It was the right time for Cooley's other shareholders to exit the whiskey game but not for the younger Teeling brothers, who were just getting started.

"We managed to secure a lot of the family casks that didn't go with the deal, so we brought a lot of whiskey with us, from new make spirit all the way to some of the world's oldest whiskey," Stephen Teeling explains.

"We just said, 'what could we do that could maybe excite people again and make different styles of Irish whiskey?'"

"Irish whiskey is currently undergoing a boom globally, but it's being led predominantly by bigger companies.

"I think as a smaller player, it gives you the flexibility to be able to innovate, but also do things that wouldn't make a lot of sense for a bigger company, because we're smaller and hands-on."

A clean slate

So it was that in 2012 Stephen and Jack were able to launch the Teeling Whiskey brand with a portfolio of whiskies soon including single malts already up to 30 years in age.

"It allowed us to have a clean slate and do a lot of things that maybe we wanted to do in the old company, but just because of the nature of the business - there was a lot of stakeholders in it - we couldn't do," Teeling says.

Such ventures include non-chill filtered and higher strength whiskies, as well as unusual expressions matured in vessels such as rum casks and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels.

The Teelings last year established a physical presence for the brand, opening a distillery in Dublin - the city's first new whiskey distillery in 125 years.

"People told us we were crazy," Stephen Teeling says. "They're like, 'why would you ever pick a part of Ireland that's the most expensive place to build the distillery? But also, it's in a city'."

Dublin back

But the brothers were passionate about returning distilling to Dublin, which in the 1850s heyday of Irish whiskey had 37 of the country's distilleries, then numbering in their hundreds.

Irish whiskey was at that stage the world's top selling whisk(e)y, accounting for 60 per cent of global production.

"Dublin whiskey in particular used to get a premium globally, it was 25 per cent more expensive for a Dublin Irish whiskey versus any of the rural ones," Teeling says.

Ireland's whiskey industry was slowly eroded and eventually capitulated such that there was only one distillery left in the country, which was responsible for just one per cent of the world's whisk(e)y production.

"For us that was a travesty, because when people came to Dublin they had to go see [whiskey] museums - not real experiences," Teeling says.

To celebrate the opening of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the company produced The Revival 15 Year Old Single Malt, which was exclusively matured in ex-rum barrels and bottled at 46 per cent with no chill filtration.

Teeling will be getting St Patrick's Day celebrations underway early with a St Patrick's Day Eve Party at Melbourne's Bar 1806 on Wednesday, March 16.

The event includes cocktails on arrival, Irish-inspired canapes, and a tasting of five Teeling whiskies. Further information and tickets are available here.