Louise McGuane of Chapel Gate Whiskey Company is making her mark on the industry
When Louise McGuane left her career in the fine drinks industry after 20 years, she knew she wouldn’t be out of the game entirely. Pairing her knowledge of the business side of the field with her desire to move home to her parents’ farm in Ireland, McGuane swiftly made history. Not only is McGuane now the first whiskey bonder Ireland has seen in 50 years, she’s also the CEO of the only all-female Irish whiskey brand in the world.
“I wanted to do what I’d been doing for big corporations for myself, in my own way,” McGuane told me at the New York launch of Chapel Gate Whiskey Company’s J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey. The key to McGuane’s success is right on the label of every bottle. McGuane was inspired to take up whiskey bonding after hearing the story of the original J.J. Corry, a Irish whiskey bonder in the 1800s. Fascinated by Corry’s work, McGuane transformed a portion of her family’s farm in County Clare into a bonded whiskey rackhouse. McGuane’s whiskey barrels age on the farm until they’re ready to be bottled.
When it comes to being a woman in the whiskey industry, especially in Ireland, McGuane told me there was “so much to say.” While she says it’s better on the corporate side now than it has been in the past, McGuane says that “the men in suits are still the gatekeepers of everything that is Irish whiskey.”
Though McGuane admits it’s probably harder for her company to generate attention and admiration among the whiskey old guard than it is for companies run by men, she doesn’t see it as a setback.
“When people didn’t take me seriously, I saw that as an advantage,” said McGuane. “It’s very powerful to be underestimated. You need to not be offended by it, you can tell a lot about someone who underestimates you.”
Though McGuane is proud of the work she and her team are doing, she told me she wishes that a female-led brand didn’t have to be “a thing,” and is hopeful that soon companies like hers will be more common. She maintains that the demographic of whiskey consumers is shifting away from older men, and that the industry leaders will have to change to reflect that.
It’s important to McGuane that her consumers don’t think a female-led whiskey brand is synonymous with a whiskey exclusively for women. McGuane sees her work more about relating to women in a different way than other liquor brands have done in the past. She noticed in tastings that women were interested in her product’s flavor and in the experience of tasting, while the men tended to be more interested in technicalities. Because of these findings, McGuane makes sure that J.J. Corry is all about taste, and that the brand has a rich story.
“We can speak to women in a way that they want to be spoken to.” said McGuane “We’ll support women who like whiskey, and hopefully they’ll support us as an all-female brand in return.”