THIS month sees the launch of a new premium Irish whiskey brand dedicated to 16th century Irish pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, born into Irish nobility in Mayo in 1530.
The brand will be a collaborative venture between Co. Mayo businessman Stephen Cope, Irish marketing expert Jeff Burns and brand building entrepreneurs Stefan Hansen and Hendrick Melle, based in Berlin.
The idea for a whiskey dedicated to Grace O’Malley was initially conceived by Stephen Cope over 10 years ago, combining two of his passions in equal measure - quality Irish whiskey and the legend of Granuaile.
“I was on an annual pilgrimage with some friends to Inishbofin and brought a book about Grace by Anne Chambers with me to read on the trip. The social aspect of the trip, the combination of the scenery around Bofin, Turk and Clare Island, along with the stories of this formidable woman who ruled the west coast during a particularly turbulent time in Irish history were inspiring.”
Cope is passionate about the story of Grace O’Malley. Throughout Grace’s long life, she was an active and fearless mariner, a great negotiator with impressive political acumen, a wife, mother, lover and matriarch.
Grace did not follow convention, was omitted from Irish history books, but her story of rebellion, bravery and charisma lived on through Irish folklore.
In recent decades these stories have been corroborated from ancient manuscripts to see her navigate her way from the abyss of Irish mythology back on the map of historical record.
“The idea was born on the trip, inspired by Grace and explored over a whiskey or two! The basic bottle design, in cross stitch leather, was drawn on the back of a napkin which I still have,” says Cope.
Fueled by the plan to launch a range of whiskeys in Grace’s honour, Cope filed trademarks around the brand name, Grace O’Malley Irish Pirate Queen, Granuaile and Black Oak O’Malley, the O’Malley chieftain who was Grace’s father.
Cope brought his friend Jeff Burns on board to explore the market for investors which led to a meeting of minds in Berlin.
Stefan Hansen and Hendrick Melle, entrepreneurs with strong links to Ireland, were familiar with the Grace O’Malley story. With a background in advertising, both have vast expertise in brand building for international companies such as P&G, Volvo, BMW and Lufthansa.
Under the umbrella of Private Pier Industries, their joint enterprise has a number of business interests, including a fashion brand, premium pet food, music publishing and promotion and now a majority stake in Grace O’Malley Whiskey. With close ties to Ireland, Private Pier Industries has several branches and subsidiaries on the island.
With a team in place, all were in agreement how Grace’s outlook and mindset was a very modern one and they set about developing a Grace O’Malley Whiskey brand to reflect this. Celebrating female leadership through rebellious spirit, the Grace O’Malley team believes in Grace as not just one of Ireland’s, but the world’s most inspirational and extraordinary female trailblazers.
While the brand will celebrate female empowerment and freedom, the aim is to cast the net to a wider consumer group with Grace’s story as the driving force, one that will resonate with and inspire an international audience, regardless of gender.
Launching initially with a Captain’s range of premium, aged Irish whiskeys, including a selection of 18 Year-Old Single Malts with special cask finishes, the Grace O’Malley team aims to challenge the status quo in the whiskey industry, largely dominated by brands with the older male audience in mind. Grace O’Malley will include a Crew range at entry level to be launched in June, including its core product, Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey, a special blend created with a range of whiskeys of varying age statements up to 10 years old, aged perfectly in different barrel types, including American bourbon casks, rum barrels and French oak.
While whiskey will be the main focus for the Grace O’Malley brand, the Crew range will include a heather infused Irish gin and a golden rum.
Private Pier Industries have secured a large contract from Great Northern Distillery. They currently have significant whiskey stock available for maturation and finishing under the Grace O’Malley brand and will be increasing substantially year on year, with plans to become one of the larger whiskey stock owners within the next decade.
Just like Grace, who earned her maintenance by land and sea, the company procures fine spirits from the best of Ireland and worldwide adventures to create something truly special in, and from the heart of Co. Mayo. “The brand is rooted in the west of Ireland, but buoyed on themes of travel, collaboration and a sense of adventurous spirit. It is modern Irish with international flavour. We are taking this great quality liquid to a worldwide market with the very best experts at the helm,” he added.
Amongst the team of experts is Paul Caris, cellar master and blender and director at Alteroak. Caris is an internationally renowned expert and leading consultant in the spirits industry, working on a wide range of spirits in over 15 countries across the globe.
Developing a distillery and visitor destination in Co. Mayo are part of the discussion for future plans but building the Grace O’Malley brand is the priority for now.