Having worked in the whiskey industry for over 40 years, John Quinn, Tullamore D.E.W.’s Global Ambassador, was recently inducted into Whisky (Whiskey) Magazine’s Hall of Fame. He talks to Donna Ahern about his recent achievement
Can you tell me about your role as Tullamore D.E.W’s Global Brand Ambassador?
As the Global Ambassador I advocate and educate. That’s a shorthand way of saying that my trips to markets usually involve meeting people who need to know or want to know more about Tullamore DEW and, indeed, about any Irish whiskey.
Usually I teach the local sales team, wholesalers, retailers, bartenders, and bar and hotel managers.
Frequently, I will meet with whiskey societies and clubs.
These are a relatively new phenomenon in the whiskey world. I also spend time with different media outlets, particularly those interested in food and drink.
And, finally, of course, I meet the whiskey fans – of all hues – to share my love for and knowledge of all things whiskey – but as you can imagine I do tend to focus on Tullamore D.E.W., just a little!
What has been the highlight of your role to date?
There have been so many and you have to understand that I have only been in this role for the past nine years (did I say only?).
Prior to that I was working on the commercial side of the business trying to build the brand in different markets.
If I had to pick a career highlight it would probably be the big business we have built in the Czech Republic where Tullamore D.E.W. is not only the biggest Irish whiskey but it is also the biggest Whisk(e)y of any hue - Irish, Scotch, American.
The highlight of my present role would probably be my involvement in our very successful Global Graduate programme where we give 40 new graduates the opportunity to work for Tullamore D.E.W. in the US, with 20 of them getting roles within the spirits business, some with Tullamore D.E.W., others with other whiskey and spirit brands, and all of them highly respected people in the business.
Helping young people understand the business, training them to maximise their natural skills, and seeing them develop into consummate business professionals is the most satisfying thing we can experience.
They keep me young – and that’s some achievement at my age!
What does it mean to you to be the first Irish Whiskey Global Ambassador to be inducted into the Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame.
It means a huge amount because it’s peer recognition – these people know the whiskey business so if they believe that I should be inducted to the Hall of Fame then I must have done something right over the years.
But it’s really me taking this for all the Tullamore D.E.W. teams I have worked with down the years – during the 1970s and 1980s while I was in Irish Distillers, in the 1990s and 2000s as part of C&C International and, of course, for the past 10 years as part of the William Grant Group.
During all those years I met, and learned from, amazing people.
What are your thoughts on the recent whiskey renaissance?
From the early 2000s I could see a rapid rise in the Tullamore D.E.W. business in central and eastern Europe.
The new consumers coming out of the communist era were voracious consumers of knowledge on new products they were now seeing and were able to afford.
They took to whiskey, particularly Irish whiskey, because it had a story and history.
Once I saw that happen across many ‘new’ markets I realised there was so much more potential available to us in other areas. And, of course, Jameson wasn’t exactly struggling around the world either.
What has surprised me is the number of people that have made huge investments in distilleries.
These are people who plan to be here for the long term.
I have been very impressed by the quality of the new distilleries and particularly by the shared passion of the new people coming into the industry.
What has been the standout moment during your travels around the world?
I suppose the time I crossed the land border between Brazil and Paraguay without the correct visa – my driver got frustrated with the border guards and told me to get back in the car. As I did he put his foot on the accelerator and I ducked for fear of being shot at.
They didn’t shoot but I did need to sample some Tullamore D.E.W. when we got out of sight!
Then there was the time my boss ran off with a bottle of Scotch from the table beside us in Tokyo so as to get them to talk about Tullamore D.E.W.
I also remember a lovely trip to Fiji in the mid 1980s to meet our distributor whose sales amounted to 50 cases a year.
I flew in from New Zealand on the Friday and the next flight didn’t leave the beautiful Island until Tuesday. Tough gig!
What next for John Quinn?
There are still many markets in the world to be conquered.
Asia is a minor event for Irish whiskey, Africa is showing great promise and recent trips there have been very encouraging.
Latin America is a very strong Scotch region, so we can be sure there is a lot of untapped potential there for us too.
© 2019 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Donna Ahern. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.