In this month’s Meet the Makers series, in partnership with Love Irish Food, Maev Martin talks to Alice Carroll, co-founder of Foxes Bow Whiskey, about why their two-year-old brand represents a ‘vibrant, modern Ireland.’
Looking up at the shelves, he noticed that a lot of the whiskeys featured traditional black or green packaging with gold foil and focused on the heritage of whiskey.
“He didn’t see anything on the shelf that represented his tastes as a younger consumer, and there was nothing that represented the modern, contemporary Ireland that he is so proud to be from,” says Alice.
A financial accountant by trade, Tony had been working with Google in San Francisco for many years.
“His observations in that whiskey bar put a fire his belly to create something representative of modern Ireland, and of him as a modern whiskey consumer,” she says.
“Tony and I grew up across the road from one another in Limerick, and while we were different ages, we always knew each other.
"We would meet in our local pub at Christmas and he knew I was working in the whiskey business.
"He picked up the phone to me to vet this idea he had to create a modern Irish whiskey, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Next Generation Whiskey
Alice Carroll’s career in whiskey began as a brand ambassador for Jameson in France after completing her education at the University of Limerick.
She moved to Canada to look after Irish, Scotch and Canadian whiskeys in the Pernod-Ricard portfolio, and then, just before the pandemic, she returned to Ireland and worked on the Roe & Co brand for the Irish market.
“My interest lies in whiskey, but my passion lies in making whiskey accessible for the new generation of whiskey drinkers,” she says.
“Tony and I are certainly not your stereotypical whiskey founders, but we are representative of that new generation of drinkers who are looking for something that they will enjoy, without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.
In creating our new whiskey brand, we wanted to draw inspiration from (and collaborate with) the incredible abundance of creatives in Ireland today – from food to clothes to street art and beyond.
"We believe that creatives in Ireland are finding colour and painting over the country’s cracks in technicolour! And with Foxes Bow Whiskey, we give that creativity a place to hang - literally on our bottle.”
For each release, Foxes Bow Whiskey works with a different Irish artist for the bottle artwork, which is their take on what represents a vibrant, modern Ireland.
or their first release, they worked with Limerick’s John Slade of HYT Studios, and last June they launched a limited edition with Dublin-based street artist, Claire Prouvest.
Inspired By American Rye
In creating their new brand, Alice and Tony were inspired by the prevalence of rye whiskey in North America.
“We decided to match it with the much-loved practice of sherry finishes in Irish whiskey to create something unique in the Irish whiskey category,” says Alice.
“We put our vision and trust in the experts at Great Northern Distillery to bring it to life, while we did the same with the packaging - collaborating with different artists to bring something unique to the shelves, so that it really catches the eye in a sea of other whiskeys.
“One thing that we really love about what is happening in Ireland today is the level of collaboration.
"We genuinely believe that diversity of opinion and skillset is what generates positive change.
"With Foxes Bow, we try to collaborate on every aspect of bringing a whiskey to market, so that we’re showing up in a unique way, whether it is collaborations with exciting bars that are putting their twist on tradition, such as Mo Chara in Dundalk, or product collaborations, such as our whiskey wings sauce with Dublin’s much-loved Korean restaurant Chimac.”
Style And Substance
The brand is also available online at Irishmalts.com or foxesbowwhiskey.com.
In Northern Ireland, Foxes Bow Whiskey can be found at The Vineyard, SuperValu and The Friend at Hand, as well as numerous bars in Belfast.
The brand is also selling in several export markets, including Germany, the US (Texas) and Italy.
Last year, Foxes Bow Whiskey Release 01 won gold in the ‘best blended whiskey – no age statement’ category at the Irish Whiskey Awards.
“Winning gold at the Irish Whiskey Awards has helped cement our credibility within premium Irish whiskey,” says Alice.
“I think that because our packaging is quite out-there that there was a perception among some whiskey advocates that it was a matter of ‘style over substance’.
"With the IWA win, that misconception has definitely been squashed and people are now curious to try it themselves.
"Once they do, the feedback we receive is generally very positive.”
The Talk In The Trade
According to Alice, among the drinks trade, most of the positive feedback they have received about the whiskey revolves around its ability to ‘stand up’ in a cocktail.
“The fact that it is bottled at 43% ABV, along with the layer of spice imparted from the rye cask finish, means that this whiskey complements a mixed drink or cocktail, rather than shying away from it or being masked by other ingredients.
"We have also found that the dried red fruity sweetness of Oloroso sherry in Foxes Bow Whiskey is a favourite flavour component among bartenders.
"Many have noted that it has similarities in flavour to some of their favourite top shelf whiskeys, but at a much more accessible price point (€39 RRP).”
While the whiskey is clearly going down well in the on-trade, I asked Alice about the feedback they are getting from off-licences about the addition of rye to Irish whiskey.
“For us, tastings in store have provided the best research overall because we’re getting consumer feedback in real time,” she says.
“And luckily for us, in most cases, to try it is to love it.
"Irish whiskey fans seem to be drawn in by the familiar burst of dried red fruity sweetness from the sherry cask finish and are pleasantly surprised by the lingering spice that is added by the rye cask finish.
"We are being told that it is a well-balanced, quality whiskey.
“The challenge for us now is driving awareness of the whiskey and driving trial.
"When people see a whiskey they are not familiar with, there is a reluctance to buy a full 700ml bottle, so we have prioritised tastings, so that people can properly try it before they buy it and we’ve found that to be effective.
"We are also exploring smaller formats to support this in retail.”
Goals For 2024
Having launched just 24 months ago, Foxes Bow Whiskey is still very much in its infancy.
For that reason, Alice says that their ambition for the brand is to “exponentially grow brand awareness and trial” in the Irish market this year to further accelerate growth in their rate of sale within existing retailers.
“We are also focused on increasing Foxes Bow Whiskey’s footprint nationally, including in the on trade, so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to try it,” she says.
“We want to be the whiskey that breaks down old fashioned potential barriers to entry into the whiskey category, welcoming new consumers, while also giving existing whiskey drinkers something new to try.”
And they are also working on new releases for 2024.
“Following the success of our first limited edition release last June (which sold out in 15 minutes), we are working diligently with the team in Great Northern Distillery on our second limited edition, which is launching ahead of Father's Day this year,” says Alice.
“We are maintaining the inclusion of a rye cask finish to continue to contribute the interesting layer of spice that has gone down so well with consumers, but we are adding another interesting, more tropical cask to the mix.
“We are also working with another Irish artist on the artwork, which might be my favourite artwork to date, as it is sure to pop on any drinks cart or back bar.
"More details will follow soon, so watch this space! We have limited quantities available, but should any retailers be interested in securing some, feel free to contact [email protected].”
Love Irish Food
Foxes Bow Whiskey is a proud member of Love Irish Food.
“Given that we are operating in a category dominated by multinational brands, Love Irish Food has been an incredible resource, both in terms of connecting with like minded, independent and Irish-owned brands, but also in terms of the opportunities they present to us, such as participating in a full Tesco display programme in one of our key periods –St Patrick’s Day,” says Alice.
“As a result of our participation in that Love Irish Food initiative, we have connected with another Love Irish Food member – Velo Coffee – to promote the ultimate Irish coffee recipe this St Patrick’s Day, with all ingredients available in store and on the Love Irish Food displays.”
For more information, visit the Foxes Bow Whiskey website at https://www.foxesbowwhiskey.com/