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The Women of McConnell's Irish Whisky

McConnell’s Irish Whisky is rich in history and more has been unveiled in preparation for the opening of their new distillery and visitors centre later this year.

Women have always had a strong involvement in the running of McConnell’s whether it was when it first began or now. As we are celebrating Woman’s Day on the 9th of August, we are going to introduce you to two of the most influential women of McConnell’s: Eleanor McConnell also referred to as Mother McConnell and Sarah Kennedy the brand manager of McConnell’s.

Eleanor McConnell was the wife of Hugh McConnell who founded McConnell’s in 1778. Unfortunately, he met an early demise leaving Eleanor with three young children and one on the way. Instead of floundering and giving up, she continued to raise her children and took over the distilling business. She did this until her sons Johan and James, (JJ Distillery), were old enough to join the business.

Women Bottling at JJ McConnell’s in 1910 (Photo Source ‘Made in Belfast’ by National Museums NI)

Another strong woman within McConnell’s is Sarah Kennedy. We sat down with her to get to know her better.

What attracted you to the industry? While studying at Ulster University I worked in hospitality, and this is where my interest in spirits started. Through that I developed an interest in Irish Whiskey, The Irish whiskey industry is a very exciting fast-moving industry which has seen incredible growth over the past 6 years. My enthusiasm for Belfast City, which is my home and the home of McConnell’s, led me to the opportunity of a lifetime to come and work as the brand ambassador for this iconic Belfast whisky brand. Over the past year, I have learnt so much about the brand and the exciting growing market of Irish Whiskey.

How and when did you start as a Brand Ambassador? After I graduated from university in 2015, I continued to work in hospitality for almost a year,

however, I entered the financial industry through a graduate scheme. I stayed in finance for 5 years, more specifically the insurance industry, but the brokerage that I worked for provided insurance advice to several of the local distilleries in Northern Ireland, which leads me to how I got involved in McConnell’s. In February 2020 I attended the launch of McConnell’s in Belfast City, and this is where I fell in love with the brand story and the enthusiasm the company had for both the product and the brand. Being from Belfast, I connected instantly with McConnell’s and the plans for the future within Belfast City. I also had the opportunity of being one of the first to sample the amazing 5-year-old Irish blend that we all know and love today.

Why did you choose this brand to represent? For me, it was McConnell’s connection with my home City in Belfast. McConnell’s is a Belfast brand, established here at a time when Belfast was heavily industrial and was a great contributor to the export market. Belfast had its hard times through conflict however, in recent years Belfast is growing and thriving and this has a lot to do with how Belfast has evolved, and the people of Belfast wanting peace and progression. This is very similar to the Irish whisky industry. The industry is growing at an incredibly fast rate and to be a part of that growth is what excited me. And more specifically to be a part of the return of a Belfast brand an opportunity that does not come along very often.

What do you like best about being a Brand Ambassador?

It must be the ability to contribute to the brand campaigns and new ideas for future releases, tasting notes and brand content and of course, getting to sample new products.

What trends do you see right now in the cocktail/spirits world?

Irish whiskey is growing rapidly, new distilleries are opening all over Ireland, this is very exciting and encouraging for anyone working in the Irish whiskey industry. With this growth come innovation and new trends. The use of cocktails has become a very important trend in Irish Whiskey, especially when it comes to blends. Cocktails are a fun, tasty, and impressive tool to help attract new consumers and to educate consumers on how Irish Whiskey can be enjoyed.

What’s one of your favourite cocktail recipes and the story behind it?

Cocktails are fantastic, and they have been an amazing tool for me over the past 12 months. McConnell’s was established in 1776, and in the 1800s the company became more industrial and so their distillery was built on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast, the distillery was called The Cromac Distillery. McConnell’s produced large volumes of whisky, so they had several bonded warehouses across Belfast, one of their warehouses in Dunbar Street suffered a large fire in 1909! 500,000 gallons of whisky was destroyed! However, the company showed great resilience and recovered from this loss!

The cocktail I am about to share is called the Dunbar Street Sour, named after the street, where the fire broke out, the cocktail does not represent the fire, it represents the resilience and fight that McConnell’s had in the face of tragedy.

Dunbar Street Sour

40 ml McConnell’s Irish Whisky

10 ml elderflower liqueur

15 ml lime juice

15 ml sugar

05 ml of saline or a sprinkle of salt

Add all the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a frosted rocks glass over ice and garnish with a lime peel.

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