Julie Christie is one of the key members of the team behind the iconic Celtic Whiskey Shop. She is the Marketing Manager of the company and, besides looking after the famous award-winner retailer, she coordinates the efforts to promote related ventures including the Irish Whiskey Experience and the Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder in Killarney, as well as the prestigious events Irish Whiskey Awards, Whiskey Live Dublin and Gin Experience Dublin, and the more recent addition to the family, Celtic Whiskey Auction.
Growing up in a small farm about 20 minutes from Stirling, in the heart of Scotland, she found herself working a summer job at the local distillery, Deanston, before starting college at the age of 18. They were just opening a visitor centre and she recalls how her three-week training sparked her passion for the whiskey industry.
Four years of summer and Christmas work intertwined with her college studies in Business Management with German at Edinburgh Napier University, proved to be more than enough time to confirm to herself that this was the career path she wanted to follow in the long term.
Joining the Celtic Whiskey family
“The plan was to stay a year but I’m still here”, Julie says, as she recalls her beginnings in the company as a whiskey specialist in the Irish Whiskey Experience and Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder in Killarney.
“Ally [Managing Director] and the Celtic Whiskey Shop team organise a whisky trip to Scotland every year for 4-5 days and in October 2015 visited an array of distilleries, one of which was Deanston.” They happened to visit Deanston Distillery while Julie was on her final year in university.
“It was our last tour of the day, 4pm, and I joked with my colleague that I should take the tour as there could be a potential career opportunity at their store in Dublin.” Turned out the opening was in Kerry, at the soon to be launched whiskey experience and bar. Offered the opportunity to move to Killarney, Julie’s answer was “sure, why not” and she moved in June 2016.
“After a year in the role of Whiskey Specialist, I was ready to start using my degree.” She points out that while her job was enjoyable, she wanted to get into the business side of things. Timing favoured her as the company’s Marketing Manager was leaving and Ally Alpine offered her a three-month trial in the role.
“This was August though, meaning Christmas for a bar and shop”, she adds that the Irish Whiskey Awards and Whiskey Live Dublin also had to be organised so the challenge was afoot. Her talents and the support of a small but efficient team helped her prove she had what it takes and so she was able to stay in the position.
Regarding her favourite part of the job, she takes her time to decide. “I love the creative side of things, but getting to know new products, new brands, seeing what they are doing differently, how brands are innovating is what really excites me. The events although stressful at times, are highly rewarding – bringing customers together with their favourite brands but also introducing them to new ones.”
Talking Whiskey with Julie
While she points out “there is no typical week” for her, the only constant is an intense level of interaction with the different teams, “shop team, office team, marketing team, wholesale team, shipping team, bar team, kitchen team and Ally of course.” She notes that the marketing team is comprised of herself and another full time person plus a part-timer, so “serious prioritisation” is crucial.
Because we are a small team, the communication is very strong. I can’t do a day’s work without chatting to at least 4 different areas.”
Another central need for her role is to stay on top of what is going on in the industry. When speaking about Irish whiskey’s promising aspects and challenges she considers that “the demand for Irish whiskey is increasingly promising but it’s also the biggest challenge, sustaining it.”
She also talks about brand loyalty, a topic to which she dedicated her fourth year dissertation in college (Scottish but can still be applied), and the conclusions she drew from it was “there is very little brand loyalty from people that are into their whiskies, they are more open to trying new brands.” While she acknowledges that makes it difficult for distilleries to retain customers, she is in favour of healthy competition. She sees single pot still as “a good place to start” when it comes to promoting Irish whiskey.
Regarding the demographics of whiskey lovers, she notes that “in the last few years, a lot of younger people are getting into whiskey and a lot more women too, although there is still progress to be made in these areas.”
She celebrates the fact that “the stigma behind whiskey has gone”, and previously rigid consumer stereotypes are changing. “I believe this is partly down to palates diversifying, the introduction of spicier foods, different cuisines and cocktail trends – meaning that more people are developing a taste for whiskey.”
On Organising Ireland’s Best Spirits Events
Besides the numerous tastings, tours and other activities organised by the Celtic Whiskey crowd, there are three major events that take a good chunk of Julie’s time and that have become the highlights of Ireland’s whiskey and gin enthusiasts: The Irish Whiskey Awards, Whiskey Live Dublin and more recently, the Gin Experience.
When asked about how do whiskeys earn the award and how to mantain the credibility of the title and the event, Julie explains that “judging for the Irish Whiskey Awards is done by the different whiskey societies in Ireland – this year it was the Irish Whiskey Society, Cork Whiskey Society, Celtic Whiskey Club, Kilkenny Whiskey Guild, Dingle Whiskey Chapter & Galway Whiskey Trail.”
She adds that herself and the marketing team organise blind tastings and go to the various counties and invite members from the societies to attend. They also send out a small amount of tasting packs to overseas members of the Celtic Whiskey Club.
As a whiskey retailer, we cannot be biased.”
The judges taste the whiskeys and score them out of 100, then Julie and co. take an average of all the scores and the winner is selected. “For the white spirits, beers and liqueurs we ask bartenders to do the same and for the whiskey bars, we ask members of the societies to vote.”
As for the other two events, the process for each starts almost a year in advance and the first step is an evaluation of the previous year to figure out what aspects they could improve on as well as to share ideas and possible innovations.
“Signing up stands is very easy and the majority will request the same space as the year before, and we organise a marketing campaign to begin ticket sales”, she says, adding that Whiskey Live Dublin has become so well established that when they announced tickets in January, two hundred were sold straight away, eleven months ahead of the event.
So, what is next for Julie and her team?
“Don’t worry we’re not resting on our laurels”, an easy temptation when things are going well. “There is always something in the pipeline with Celtic Whiskey Shop, and at the moment we are concentrating on our latest venture Celtic Whiskey Auction.”
The initiative was launched in November, and the second auction is coming up this January. If you’re into rare or collectible whiskeys (and some wine), this is a branch from the Celtic Whiskey tree you will want to keep an eye on.
Before saying goodbye to Julie, she recommended us a few of her favourite bottles to try in different occasions…
Introduce beginners into Irish whiskey
Irishman Founder’s Reserve (€35.95) – One of my favourite Irish blends and a relatively inexpensive whiskey.
Make a perfect Old Fashioned
Knob Creek Straight Rye (€60.99) – Just the right amount of spiciness that works well with an ale or marshmallow syrup.
Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old (€131.99) – it’s an old favourite of mine, but absolutely delicious. Glorious sherry flavours with a savoury/salty character.
Share without breaking the bank
Dunville’s PX Cask 12 Year Old (€89.95) – in my opinion this isn’t breaking the bank, and if it is it’s worth every cent!
Surprise your tastebuds with the unexpected
Connemara 12 Year Old (€78.99) – a surprise to the taste buds because a lot of people expect Irish whiskey to be unpeated, which it usually isn’t. Well worth trying if you are interested in Scotch but want to try Irish whiskey too.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.