The Dublin Whiskey Distillery Company, or D.W.D for short, was once, one of the six great distilleries of Dublin during the second half of the 19th century. This was a time when Dublin Pot Still Irish whiskey ruled the world, with nearly ¾ of global production based in the city.
This was to change however, as a succession of unfortunate events led the great distilleries and their revered craft to a sad demise. By the outbreak of the second world war, D.W.D was one of the last of these distilleries still standing, however political machinations and back-room scheming would lead to its closure and asset-stripping during the war years. All this was despite the fact it had no debts and was a profitable enterprise owning vast maturing stocks of the finest Irish whiskey.
D.W.D was widely known as “Dublin’s Own” and held a special place in the city’s heart, as can be noted by the significant amount of iconic bar mirrors still present around the city 70 years after its original closure. It was for this reason, among many others, that a group of industry veterans took the story to their heart and adopted the arduous task of resurrecting the fallen giant. Only by making this a work of passion could the monumental effort succeed.
So, we talked with Lorcan Rossi, CEO of D.W.D, to find out what inspired the endeavour and why D.W.D is so important for Irish whiskey.
How did you come to the decision to revive the iconic D.W.D Irish whiskey brand?
It was the story that captured us. Anyone who’s spent time in Dublin will have come across the ornate D.W.D mirrors and signs in pubs across the city, but has probably never thought too much about the name D.W.D When we delved deeper into the story, we found it could have been a political thriller. To go from top of the world, with arguably the finest whiskey in the world and such a deep dedication to perfection, to destitution, in the space of a few years, was astounding. Dublin is a city that’s never beaten, and, embodying that spirit, we felt D.W.D deserved redemption.
You tried 117 blends before deciding on the final D.W.D blend for the first bottle, what were the flavour elements you knew you wanted to capture?
We were very fortunate, with our industry contacts, to have a significant range of whiskeys available to us, as well as truly amazing expertise on hand from Ireland and Scotland. While we wanted to offer something unique, and yet familiar, to our audience, it was imperative that the whiskey had to do justice to the name of D.W.D. The challenge was not necessarily to capture specific flavour elements but to ensure the complexity of the whiskey had structure. Complexity is the numerous inviting flavours and bouquets for the senses to enjoy, however the right structure ensures these flavours complement and reveal themselves in a natural progression. There should be no surprises or unfilled expectations, the nose clearly indicates what to expect from the first sip and the palate eases into the finish. Following a very long process of refinement, I think we’ve even managed to exceed our initial goals. The feedback on our first expression has been excellent and is testament to the talent of the team which made possible the first release of Irish whiskey under the D.W.D name in over 70 years.
Have modern tastes moved on too much or is there a place for the more robust tastes of Dublin whiskey from the 19th and early 20th centuries?
There’s always space for people who want to try interesting flavours, especially ones with unique historical significance. The experiment of the Mackinlay malt whisky, which was abandoned by one of Shackleton’s Arctic expeditions in 1909 and later recreated, is one that has captured the imaginations of whiskey lovers everywhere. I believe a similar opportunity exists for D.W.D, to recreate its historical whiskey profile, given our access to rare unopened bottles of D.W.D Irish whiskey. Our research has also discovered documents dating back to the 1880s which describe D.W.D as tasting like fine old brandy, which makes the challenge of crafting such a whiskey all the more intriguing.
Could you tell us a little about your plans for future bottlings?
One of our primary objectives for D.W.D is to have continuity of supply for our signature whiskeys, so that our community can rely on having the same experience from their favourite D.W.D expressions years down the road. Our Heritage edition fulfils that ambition and we will release future signature expressions when we can ensure that same continuity.
With nearly half a dozen distilleries now in the capital, do you think Dublin can become a major production capital again, or will the focus be on boutique and small batch offerings?
The current boom in Irish whiskey makes for a very exciting time for everyone in the industry. For Dublin, with its huge place in the history of world whiskey, having quality representatives at the table is very important. Due to location restrictions, competing with more rural distilleries will be difficult but we will definitely have a major part to play in providing boutique and interesting whiskeys for whiskey lovers across the world.
Taking on the D.W.D name comes with a huge weight of history, how do you plan to protect and develop that heritage?
D.W.D’s story is iconic and we are very aware of the respect it carries and is due. We have written and researched a huge amount about its history and we want to engrain its ideals and philosophy, and particularly those of its founder, John Brannick, into our own ethos. Taking on this name provides a great opportunity, but also puts constraints on what we want to do. It’s why ensuring continuity and propriety over our whiskey was so important. D.W.D. is back and we intend to re-establish D.W.D’s reputation for whiskey making excellence.
With big players like Diageo and Pernod-Ricard getting increasingly involved, is there a long-term future for independent distillers and bottlers like yourselves?
I am impressed by how the Irish whiskey industry has really come together like players on the same team, we all want the best for the industry. From our own experience, the assistance we received from the major players has been invaluable, they opened doors and were very supportive with their advice. We’re very lucky on the island to have many different voices, but also a spirit of team-work, which has been enabled by the Irish Whiskey Association. This drive and diversity I believe will continue and will most certainly benefit the industry as a whole into the long term.
Have you received much government support for your project, and do you have any suggestions for how should they best support the industry?
Some support is available, but limited. Exports are growing significantly, and it is an iconic and unique Irish product we are selling to the world. The government has released its policy document on Irish whiskey and is very keen to promote the Whiskey Trail aspect for the benefit of tourism. However, one of the most important aspects of visiting a distillery is, naturally, tasting the whiskey and buying bottles directly. Under existing regulations, compliance to do so is very probative for start-up distilleries in terms of investment. It would be very beneficial for the industry (at very little cost to the exchequer) for the government to allow a specific licensing regulation for distilleries to promote and sell their product on site and support the visitor experience.
If you can say, what is your favourite whiskey personally?
D.W.D aside, a great feature of whiskey I believe is that your palate evolves over time and specific whiskeys fall in and out of favour. Having said that, for me Blackbush is a timeless classic and anything from the Redbreast range is simply excellent.