Interview

Dingle: Master Distiller and Distillery Manager Graham Coull about the Irish Whiskey

The Dingle Distillery was founded in November 2012 as Ireland’s first independent distillery in over 100 years. Located in the town of the same name in the southwest of the country, the distillery is family-run and produces Irish whiskey with a lot of manual work and in small batches, which has already won many international awards. In addition, Dingle produces its own gin and vodka. The man largely responsible for production is Graham Coull, Master Distiller and Distillery Manager. He oversees all operations at the distillery – from spirits production to maturation and final bottling. He also monitors the quality of the spirits and creates new whiskeys for future releases.

We spoke with Graham Coull, who has worked for Glenfiddich and Balvenie, among others, about Dingle Distillery, its existing and new products, and the Irish whiskey category in Germany.

What was your journey into the world of whiskey like – from your beginnings as a brewer to your role as Master Distiller at Dingle Distillery?

Graham Coull: After studying Chemistry at Edinburgh University my first job was as a Brewer at a Brewery in Halifax, England. In 1994 I moved to Glenfiddich, Balvenie & Kininvie Distilleries firstly working in Botling before becoming Distillation Manager for the three Distilleries. I moved along the road to Glen Moray Distillery in 2005 taking on the role of Distillery Manager& Master Distiller. Finally in 2019 I moved across the sea to Ireland to take up my current role with Dingle Distillery.

Dingle Distillery describes itself as a “artisan” distillery.How do you define this approach in relation to whiskey production?

Graham Coull: ‘Artisan’ is very hard to define. Dingle Distillery produces on a small scale. This allows for a much closer focus on every aspect of the whiskey making process. It also allows us to be flexible and creative in our approach. Whilst we have plans we do not have to stick rigidly to them and it is easy to change direction if we feel the need.

Dingle was founded in 2012 – at a time when the Irish wWiskey industry was booming. What were the challenges and opportunities associated with the startup during that time?

Graham Coull: Dingle Distillery was very fortunate to be founded at a time when there was a huge interest in the rebirth of Irish Whiskey. The opportunities have far outweighed the challenges. The interest in the early releases was phenomenal and we have built up a loyal band of followers over the years. The challenge over the next few years will be to retain and grow that following as many new Irish Whiskey Distilleries enter the marketplace. I do believe though in strength in numbers and as a group the young Distilleries can work together to grow the category.

You were one of the first independent Irish distilleries to launch single-pot still whiskey. Tell us more about that!

Graham Coull: Single Pot Still is very important. Its uniqueness helps generate additional interest in Irish whiskey and give it its own identity. As a small distillery it is important to offer a variety to the consumer and being able to offer Single Malt and Pot Still is a big advantage. For me as a Master Distiller it is very interesting to compare and contrast two spirt styles as they mature side by side in the warehouse.

But you don’t just make whiskey, you also make vodka and gin. How do you manage to produce this wide range of spirits while maintaining a focus on quality and craftsmanship?

Graham Coull: Our spirits are definitely not mass produced at Dingle Distillery. Whilst we do produce whiskey spirit 7 days a week we only run our Spirt Still every second day. On the days that we are not running the spirit Still we distil Gin or Vodka so that we can give it our full attention.

A new era began with the release of the first Dingle Single Malt Whiskey produced under your direction. How does the product reflect your vision for the future of the distillery?

Graham Coull: The release of our Dingle Single Malt was a milestone for the Distillery. It was our first permanent release available in multiple markets worldwide. The release is very much based on our strengths of maturing our spirit in Sherry and ex Bourbon casks and the composition is 60% Sherry & 40% Bourbon. It has been very pleasing to see that the release has been well received and that consumers are making repeat purchases.

Most recently, you launched Lúnasa, the fourth limited-edition bottling in your “Wheel of the Year” series. Tell us a bit about the series and the product!

Graham Coull: Lúnasa is the fourth release in a series of nine under the Wheel of the Year series. The series celebrates different festivals within the Irish calendar with Lúnasa denoting August and marking the harvest period. All whiskeys within the Wheel of the Year are finishes. Lunasa is a double bourbon finish having matured initially in firs fill ex bourbon before being transferred to older ex Widow Jane casks. The double bourbon effect accentuates the trademark ex bourbon flavours of vanilla, toffee and sweet fruits.

What marketing and advertising strategies does Dingle use to promote its products in Germany? Are there any particular challenges or opportunities in the German market?

Graham Coull: We strongly believe in a bottom up approach as we cannot go head to head with the big boys. We mainly focus on grass roots events from trade shows, tastings and market visits from our brand ambassador with key accounts. As a new brand in a competitive landscape like whiskey we need to focus on our unique proposition and what sets us apart from everyone else. As Irelands first independent distillery in over 100 years we need to stay true to our roots and maintain our authenticity which is everything is made by hand. The biggest challenge for irish whiskey is just showing the german market we can go toe to toe with scotch whiskey and there’s a place for irish whiskey in your drinking repertoire.

You work together with Kirsch Import in sales. How did the collaboration come about?

Graham Coull: This came about as we saw appetite from German consumers for good quality irish whiskey. After a search of local distributors we decide Kirsch was of our partner of choice, where they have an extensive portfolio, excellent reputation, history and route to market. The team at Kirsch are second to none and not only believe in irish whiskey but believe in Dingle Distillery. The cooperation has been excellent and as our companies values align has allowed our brand to grow in.a way within the German market we never would have imagined.

The Irish whiskey industry has changed a lot since you entered the scene.How do you envision the development of Dingle Distillery in the coming years?

Graham Coull: At 10 years old Dingle Distillery has reached a level of maturity. Over the next few years Dingle will continue to develop but most importantly stay true to its roots. Authenticity is very important. Trends will come and go but we must maintain a consistent approach.

Finally, can you give an outlook on future projects and innovations?

Graham Coull: The Wheel of the Year series will take us through until the end of 2024. Beyond that I am working on other cask styles to showcase the Dingle spirit and I will be looking to release some of our peated spirit for the first time.

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+++ We thank Graham Coull for the open and very interesting interview! If you also have an interesting brand, then we should talk. Just send us an email with the subject “about-drinks interview” to redaktion@about-drinks.com – we look forward to hearing from you! +++

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