Saturday 21 April 2018

Samantha McCaughren: Master distillers in demand as whiskey boom continues

Master distiller Noel Sweeney
Master distiller Noel Sweeney
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

It is a couple of years since the Slazenger family, who own the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, revealed plans for a whiskey distillery and visitor centre on its grounds. Local entrepreneurs Gerry Ginty and Ashley Gardiner are behind the €10m project, which is pulling in some impressive additions to its team.

With Ireland in the midst of a whiskey gold rush, demand for master distillers is at a high. And I hear that Powerscourt has lured away Cooley Distillery's master distiller Noel Sweeney, who had been there since the operation was set up in 1987. Founded by entrepreneur John Teeling, the Co Louth distillery was sold to American bourbon giant Beam for over €70m in 2011.

Sweeney stayed with the producer of Kilbeggan Whiskey after the deal, but no doubt had several offers to move. So it is something of a coup that Powerscourt managed to secure such a well-regarded distiller.

Powerscourt has also attracted some interesting backers - tech entrepreneur Mike Peirce, who founded Mentec, is an investor.

I also hear that Carlow's Walsh Whiskey Distillery, backed by the maker of Tia Maria, Illva Saronno, has lost its master distiller, who is moving to Scotland.

The nearby Institute of Technology in Carlow will run Ireland's first Bachelor of Science in brewing and distilling this year. Students and alcohol? That's quite a mix.

Voxpro ceo Kiely helps to flush out US bathroom law

In the US last week, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to repeal the state’s controversial bathroom law, which placed restrictions on which public bathrooms could be used by transgender people.

The legislation had faced a barrage of public criticism, and was blamed for job losses, as sports leagues relocated games and companies cancelled expansions in the state.

Among those who might claim a small part in the moral victory is Dan Kiely, of Cork-based Voxpro. The firm is in the process of raising some funding, with sources suggesting the services business could be worth as much as €100m.

But over in the US, Voxpro is expanding, and in a widely-quoted interview with AP last week, Kiely spoke about why Voxpro had grown its business in Georgia, rather than expand into North Carolina. Kiely said the firm “couldn’t set up operations in a state that was discriminating” against LGBT people. A few days later, the legislation was repealed. Well done, Dan.

Building execs at Kingspan and CRH cashing in shares

Some of Ireland’s most prominent building executives have been cashing in their shares. Kingspan chairman Eugene Murtagh recently sold a million shares in the insulation business for €30m, unloading 3.5pc of his stake. The company’s chief financial officer, Geoff Doherty, also disposed of 10pc of his holding, receiving €750,000 for the sale of 25,000 shares in the process.

At CRH, ceo Albert Manifold sold 60,000 shares for around €2m, a significant chunk of his stock.

Both stocks have been buoyed by the prospect of a major infrastructure spend in the US, promised by President Donald Trump.

Kingspan shares have risen by 6pc since the beginning of this year, while CRH is up by 23.4pc over the same period. However, after Trump’s healthcare bill was pulled last week, confidence in his ability to deliver on other election promises has been shaken. All in all, the road ahead for construction in the US might not be as smooth as expected.

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