A DECISION by the new owners of Cooley Distillery not to supply whiskey to independent operators has been slammed as "anti-competitive" by Slane Castle owner Lord Henry Mountcharles.
An angry Mountcharles said he had to cut short a US marketing trip for his own-label brand when he discovered that the international Beam group would not sell him any more whiskey.
"It is not what they have done, it's the way they did it. It feels like we've been cut off at the knees," he said.
Former Cooley director Willie McArthur, who is working in a marketing role for Beam -- producers of the Jim Beam bourbon brand -- said the own-label sellers were unwitting victims of the "runaway" success of Irish whiskey.
"The speed at which sales are growing caught everybody by surprise, including the new owners of Cooley. They have done a full review and the sales people say we may need more whiskey than we actually have.
"We aim to create another Jameson -- we are thinking at that kind of level. We have to make sure we do not run out of whiskey in three years' time," he said, explaining that this potential shortage explained the abrupt nature of the withdrawal.
He added: "We have contracts with a few customers but most, like Lord Henry, would just place orders as required and we cannot accept new orders."
Slane Castle Irish Whiskey was launched in 1999, targeting the premium US market, with Irish prices of €50 a bottle.
"We were about to sign a large distribution deal in the US when we learned our supplies would be cut off," Mountcharles said
"I told Beam I regard their actions as anti-competitive. We won't take this lying down and I'm considering whether it could be referred to the Competition Authority."
"I have a lot of sympathy for Henry and the other producers," Mr McArthur said. "Unfortunately, they were getting their supplies from people who now don't have enough.
"I don't see how it can be anti-competitive when there are other distillers who could supply. In Cooley, we would sell to anybody who could pay and who we thought had a reasonable chance of success. But those days are gone."
In practice, that means just Irish Distillers and Bushmills -- now owned by Diageo -- could potentially supply but both have been reluctant to sell stocks.
William Grant, the new owners of Tullamore Dew, is considering building a new distillery to ensure sufficient stocks.
"It is incredibly difficult to source supply," added Mountcharles.