Interview with Tom Jensen, an American Making Whiskey in Ireland

Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD pictured after officially opening The Connacht Whiskey Distillery's new €10m plant in Ballina . Going into production later this year,the distillery will generate 40 new jobs, provide a wonderful visitor centre for all it's visitors, and produce up to 70,000 cases per year. Pictured with An Taoiseach at the launch of this exciting project for Ballina and the entire Mayo community were The Connacht Whiskey Distillery Directors from left Tom Jensen, P.J.Stapleton, Master Distiller Robert Cassell and Company CEO David Stapleton. Picture Henry Wills.

There’s opportunity in America for Irish whiskey.

Although the category still trails scotch sales in the U.S. by about 1 to 4, it is gaining steam. Pernod Ricard’s Irish lineup has performed impressively in recent time, while new distilleries are popping up throughout Ireland.

This includes the first American-owned Irish distillery.

After two years of planning, Connacht Distillery opened this year in the province of the same name. The team behind this venture includes a number of industry veterans: Tom Jensen, former President and CEO of Remy Cointreau USA, P.J. Stapelton, former Chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and Robert Cassell, master distiller.

I recently spoke with Tom Jensen (above, left) about Connacht Distillery.

SW: Why start an Irish distillery?

TJ: I’ve been in the spirits business for over 30 years and have watched the scotch category really grow and develop. This is helped by the way scotch regionalizes their brands. There’s more craft, more local flavor. With Irish whiskey, you’ve always had mega companies producing mostly everything. Irish whiskey does not have enough regionalization. We looked for a way to create that.


And the success of Jameson has brought Irish whiskey back to the forefront. People are discovering that it’s an entirely different category.

Inside Connacht Distillery

SW: How will you regionalize?

TJ: Our distillery is in Western Ireland. The whole purpose of working with Irish whiskey was to be on the west coast, against the Atlantic Ocean. That makes for a completely different product than if you were producing elsewhere in Ireland.

What we’re trying to do is recreate a Laphroaig feel: the way they pay homage to their region with their product. Being next to the Atlantic Ocean puts us in a very temperamental area, which will affect the whiskey as it ages.

Like our distillery, our flagship whiskey will be named Connacht. We really want people to think of Western Ireland when they drink it.

SW: How are you aging?

TJ: In used bourbon barrels, American oak. We’re expecting that it will take four to five years before we can put out any whiskey. Of course, we don’t know for sure.



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