We sat down with Jennifer Graham, Brand Ambassador for Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, to find out what her unique job entails and to learn more about Kilbeggan (which is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in Ireland!).
Your title is “Brand Ambassador” – how did you get this position and what does the job entail?
I got the job through a graduate program back in Ireland. It’s Ireland’s longest running international business graduate scheme and looks at pairing Irish business graduates with companies exporting Irish products. I am based mostly out of San Francisco but I also travel a lot around the US to help increase distribution in cities like Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indiana and New York. My role involves sales, marketing and everything in between. Brand education is a huge part of my job. I educate bartenders and consumers not only on our whiskeys themselves but also the Irish whiskey category as a whole. I also work with our national marketing team on brand strategy and upcoming projects going on in my market. It’s a very diverse role.
Keep reading for the rest of the interview!
Old Kilbeggan Distillery is said to be the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in Ireland. Is today’s product similar to the first whiskey produced there, or have changes been made over the years?
Yes, today’s product is very similar to the original Kilbeggan recipe. Small changes are bound to have happened over 256 years. The whiskey is currently a mix of 4 to 6 year old blended whiskey. This would have varied over the years slightly but Kilbeggan has always been several years older than the 3 years that Irish whiskey legally needs to be. What has not changed is the fact that Kilbeggan is double distilled. This results in the liquid having much more whiskey character than other Irish blends out there.
How is Kilbeggan made? What makes it different than other whiskeys, like Canadian or American Whisky?
Most Irish whiskeys are triple distilled. Kilbeggan is one of the only Irish whiskeys to be double distilled. The reason we double distil is because every time a liquid is distilled it is being purified an extra time, meaning extra flavor removed. We wanted to leave as much flavor as possible in Kilbeggan which is the reason it is double distilled.
Kilbeggan is also 4 to 6 years old, meaning it has had more time on the barrel to interact with the wood. This results in a more sophisticated, mature tasting whiskey. A lot of other Irish blends tend to be matured for the standard 3 years that Irish whiskey needs to be matured to be called Irish.
Kilbeggan is also made in the oldest working pot still in the world at 180 years old. This adds a lot of authenticity and tradition to Kilbeggan.
The main difference between Irish whiskey and Canadian or American whisky is that the Irish climate is very conducive to whiskey production. It never gets too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, which results in Irish whiskey being a lot smoother than other whiskies out there.
What are your favorite Irish traditions related to whiskey?
One of my favorite Irish whiskey making traditions is the use of peat. The art of making peated Irish whiskey was lost for hundreds fo years until our distillery released Connemara, currently the only Irish peated single malt. The reception to Connemara in the US has been extremely positive.
We also have another single malt range called Tyrconnell. Tyrconnell is one of the very few Irish single malts out there, making it quite unique. Many people think of Irish whiskey as being predominately blended, we wanted to show that it can be so much more than that. That’s where Tyrconnell and Connemara come in.
Then moving away from tradition we have created Greenore, the only Irish single grain whiskey. It’s like the Irish version of a bourbon, made primarily from corn. We call it the “New Generation of Irish Whiskey.” So at the Kilbeggan Distilling Company we have quite a wide variety of expressions of Irish whiskey, both traditional and new.
What is the best way to enjoy Kilbeggan?
The best thing about Kilbeggan is how versatile it is. My favorite way to drink it is with soda and lime, or in a whiskey sour, but it is equally good drank neat or with a cube of ice. I always say it depends on the occasion. Kilbeggan Irish coffees are hugely popular.