First of all, so we get this neat, what’s the difference between The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Company and J.J. Corry Whiskey?
The company name is Chapel Gate, the name of the brand is JJ Corry. Best if you just refer to it as JJ Corry Irish Whiskey.
Before you took to whiskey, you were working in the drinks industry across the globe. How long were you working in it and what exactly was it that you did?
I started my career in working with champagne in various marketing roles, I lived in a 17th-century mansion in Reims in the converted attic for 2 years, creating the first ever website for Champagne Veuve Clicquot. Then I re-launched vodka brand Stolichnaya globally and spent a lot of time in Russia down in Tambov where the wheat for Stoli Vodka is grown and where it is distilled. In the end, I was living in Singapore working with Diageo running this enormous programme called World Class. It essentially was a huge talent competition and educational programme for bartenders across 50 countries. It culminated in a big event every year. For my final year doing that I hired a cruise ship and packed it with 300 bartenders from all over the world and we spent a week sailing around the Caribbean, whilst hosting the bartender competition on board or on shore. It was an amazing time.
Are you planning on keeping the company all female?
So far we are all female and it works really well. Technically it’s illegal to discriminate by gender when employing people. I think I will continue to hire like-minded people who fit the company ethos.
Can you mention a specific case you have experienced related to gender bias in the industry?
I faced some pretty significant sexual harassment throughout the years, senior executives following me back to hotel rooms and banging on the door or trying to climb in my window. Yes really. When I started out, the drinks industry was a very different place. There are better safeguards in place now for young women in the industry, the older guards who tolerated that sort of thing are mostly retired now. In general, over the years I think the biggest gender bias I experienced was in how I was perceived, simply because I’m female. I remember once at a national sales meeting, I did a presentation. I presented directly after the sales team leader, who was a pretty macho and quite an arrogant guy and who clearly came off that way. I got up and did my 10-minute presentation, in my usual confident manner and I was criticized by a senior male exec afterwards for being too self-important. I remember laughing, I was the only woman that day to present to a room full of men who had no trouble being talked at by alpha males all day. However, the moment a confident woman got up to speak they took offence. There is not much you can do to control the egos and emotions of others in those situations, but I will tell you that experience is one of the reasons I left my corporate job.
We agree with you when you say we should keep whiskey out of the gender war, how do you see the future of this ‘war’?
I think it’s about time all of this stuff came out and it is being addressed. It allows people to speak freely about inherent discrimination going on, whether at work or in society. I hope this will give young women the confidence and the freedom to speak out about workplace discrimination. I certainly did not have that confidence early in my career. We need that. Men and women are fundamentally different, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that men will stop making stupid decisions based on sexual desire just because we are free to talk about it now. That will still happen, there are still bad people in the world. What I do hope will happen, though, is a broader shift towards society being less and less tolerant of this. I am conflicted though as to how far this will go. I would hate to live in a homogenized society where flirtation was considered offensive. We need to realize that when carried out with respect, that delicate attraction dance between men and women is a wonderful thing.
What music do you usually listen to in the rackhouse, what is J.J Corry’s lullaby?
Oh, it depends, Sia is on repeat a lot…
Are you allowed to tell us which bourbon used to be in your barrels?
I buy my casks in Kentucky and I pick them out specifically based on the flavours of what has been in them prior. Right now I am loving Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve casks.
What other spirit/brand is a staple in your cupboard?
Campari, I am a sucker for a good Negroni.
What about food? What is your favourite food to pair your whiskey with?
I am lucky that we live by the ocean in County Clare in Ireland. We have an oyster bay up the road and our seasonal crab is pretty spectacular. When the summer rolls around there is nothing I like better than a glass of JJ Corry on ice and about a dozen oysters.
Where is Chapel Gate Whiskey Co. right now? Anything exciting on the horizon?
We have some great things in the works. I’m working with a few master craftspeople on a pretty amazing ultra-premium whiskey and I have a very exciting upcoming collaboration with a bartender buddy of mine. We are currently exporting to the USA, Germany, Poland, UK, Lebanon, and soon Hong Kong and Singapore. We are going from start-up to scale up so it’s pretty intoxicating times!
J.J Corry Whiskey