We sat down virtually with Jennifer Nickerson of Tipperary Boutique Distillery recently to find out more about her very interesting journey into the whiskey Industry. Jennifer is the daughter of Stuart Nickerson who has over 40 years experience in the industry and has managed a number of distilleries such as Highland Park, Glenfiddich and Balvenie but Jennifer has well and truly made a name for herself in her own right with Tipperary Boutique Distillery. We chatted about the influence growing up in Scotland has had on her and the whiskey she produces, the role we all play in making the whiskey industry more inclusive for women along with discussing the future of Irish whiskey and the opportunity we have to showcase how innovative and unique we are here in Ireland. Along with producing whiskey, Tipperary have recently released their first ever Farmhouse Distilled Gin which we cannot recommend enough!
How did you get involved in Whiskey? Tell us about your route to where you are now!
I took a very rambling route as I didn’t go straight to accountancy (before Tipperary, Jennifer was a Tax Consultant with KPMG) – I went first to study veterinary as I had a passion for animals, especially horses but quickly decided that being out in the cold and wet didn’t suit me. I left that and spent some time working in bars before going back to college and starting Business and Law, after a while I then focused on Business and Accounting. I loved working in tax and in KPMG, but I’ve always had a passion for whisky and the drinks industry. When moving to Tipperary, I didn’t want to do something that I didn’t love and I was in a unique situation because of my passion for the spirits industry, my husband having the family farm and looking for ways to innovate and also my dad’s experience in the whisky industry – the passion and skills were evident on every side and I didn’t think there would be another opportunity like this. If I wasn’t here doing this – no one would be making this whiskey!
Did you consider Whiskey before studying Veterinary?
I had thought about it, and I had met with some people who my dad worked with. I was interested in project management because you get to work in pretty much everything – that really stood out to me, but at the time I really wanted to do veterinary. Whiskey was always in the background, there was always a part of me that loved the industry and I stayed involved by helping my dad out with shows and events even while I was working with KPMG.
How did you find the process of opening your own distillery?
I can compare it to planning a wedding for anyone who has done that – it’s a lot of work, it’s enjoyable and you put so much effort into it but I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone else to do. I was organised, had business plans and also scoped out the investment, timeframes, and understood how much we needed to sell but at the end of the day, they are numbers on a spreadsheet and the reality is very different. I honestly didn’t think it would take 5 years to get permissions and stills up and running. I also wouldn’t have recognised the full value behind marketing and sales when it came to running a distillery. There’s so much involved in the whole process from social media, design, construction to so much more – there are also a million different things that I never thought I’d have to know about, such as using a bottling machine! Through it all, 2018 was a tough year as things were hard, we were persuading people that we would make it. We of course knew what was coming down the line but others didn’t so it was tough for everyone to keep hearing what we were planning but not seeing any output.
It’s so worthwhile now, had you told me how difficult it would be 5 years ago I honestly don’t think I would have believed you.
On the distillery front, will you be opening up to tours in the future?
We are planning on doing tours in the future, but we’re not in a position to do that at the moment. We are aiming to look at that in 2022.
Moving on to the whiskey you produce, were you looking for a specific flavour profile for your whiskies? Are there different profiles that you are interested in pursuing?
I’ve always had the example of a distillery in Scotland that was mothballed because they were trying to get a specific profile from their whisky. They were never able to get exactly what they wanted due to the profile of the water at the distillery. I know what I like, but I don’t want to aim for a particular profile and then the reality does not match with the water or the grain we have here. We tried so many different spirits when we started and we all like different things but the common denominator was always that we liked balanced and complex whisky with a decent finish. We know we don’t want a smooth whisky, we want to be complex and have different layers of flavour to our whiskey.
We also have a mixture of casks onsite from wine, sherry, bourbon along with some Scotch barrels, We want to play about and see what comes from the different barrels we use.
Whiskey is very much seen as a male dominated industry – do you think there is enough being done to make it more inclusive, both for women to get involved as a hobby or to work in the industry?
There is responsibility on brands to be aware of how we are positioning ourselves and who we are positioning our whiskey to. Your whiskey needs to be available and accessible to everyone, not just targeted to the stereotypical Irish whiskey lover of a male between 30-60.
There is also responsibility on women already in the industry – if we see a female putting themselves out there, it’s upon us also to support and promote them. There’s so many guys with higher profiles or a more established set up that it can be easier to follow them, but to see more women in the industry we have to support them and elevate their voices.
We won’t see a more seismic shift in the industry until we see the bigger brands do this – but we also can’t wait for them. We need to show them that we want it and that we are pushing each other. If you’re a woman in the industry, there is some responsibility on you to stand up and speak out too – it can be so hard to do this, but through doing that will the industry start to change.
Over the last number of years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of distilleries being established in Ireland (currently 39 operating distilleries). Where do you see Irish whiskey being in 5 years? Can and will that growth continue?
There is a limit, I think the target for reaching and exceeding Scotch is ambitious but there is more than enough capacity for 39 distilleries.
We need to understand that Scotch and Irish whiskey are two different markets, we don’t need to compare ourselves or reach or surpass Scotch whisky to be successful. Scotch is so well established and you know what you get from each of the regions – but we’re at a different stage and life cycle.
For our Irish distilleries, many of which are new, we’ve a lot of growing up to do as an industry. There is so much experimentation going on with Irish whiskey that we should be selling Irish whiskey as being young, innovative and experimental. Irish whiskey will of course continue to grow but it will taper off, but we need to shift how we market ourselves and not be trying to compare ourselves to Scotch at every turn.
A number of distilleries name their pot stills – do you have a name for yours in the distillery?
We ran a competition for the wash still and the winning submission was Dagda’s Cauldron. We are still thinking about our other stills, but our white spirit still is called Brigit, as she was Dagda’s daughter and also Brigit is the name of the last witch killed in Ireland, who was from Tipperary.
From our conversation with Jennifer, we got to witness how innovative Tipperary Boutique Distillery are and how open they are to experimenting with their spirit. We at Hip Cask are very excited to see what the future holds for Tipperary and are looking forward to trying their first whiskey distilled onsite in the meantime you can check out their current range on their site or at Irish Malts! As much as we love whiskey, we cannot recommend their first batch Gin enough – it’s a beautifully complex, citrus-y gin and really worth getting your hands on a bottle!
Tipperary Boutique Distillery is located on the Ahern family farm in Ballindoney, Co. Tipperary where they are growing the barley to be used in their whiskey. The distillery have released a number of bottles over the last few years from their initial bottling of The Rising in 2016, Watershed Single Malt (ex-bourbon cask) and Knockmealdowns 10yr Single Malt (ex-bourbon cask) to the recent release of their homegrown Single Malt (ex-Rioja cask). You can check them out on Facebook and Instagram and purchase their products from Irish Malts, L Mulligan Grocer and James Fox’s.