Meet the teachers: Certificate in Irish Whiskey
Ahead of launching the Certificate in Irish Whiskey, we caught up with course creators Matt Healy and Fionnán O’Connor to find out more about their passion for the spirit of Ireland and how they put their expertise and enthusiasm into the material to share with whisk(e)y lovers around the world.
I am a young, yet very passionate Irish whiskey professional that is dedicated to spreading the good word of Irish whiskey around the world. My job is multifaceted, I look after the global brand and liquid management as well as the export sales of an independent Irish whiskey brand.
Pre-COVID-19 my role involved a lot of travel. Two weeks of every month I would have been in a new export market, working with the local teams to train sales teams and execute the brand plans locally. Since COVID-19 my role has been based at the distillery, where I work with my export markets globally. This allows me to work closer with the distillery team here on future innovation projects.
Whiskey was always peripherally on my radar from working in bars across Ireland, a national spirit is hard to ignore. Although, it wasn’t until I moved to Canada in 2013 that I was properly introduced to the world of whiskey, working in a bar selling over 280 malts, bourbons, blends and pot stills. I was swept away by the fact that in the modern world we live in, with nano technology and super computers, you still could only make whiskey with three basic ingredients plus time.
My background was in Economics and then International Business Management. I decided to couple these backgrounds with my love for whiskey to create a career that I was really impassioned by. I initially worked with whiskey education and sales and then moved to the US to work as an Irish whiskey brand ambassador. Coupling my professional experience with my enthusiasm for the category, I have loved working hands on with a brand in this new distillery.
In creating the course material, I enjoyed being able to collate and present crucial information that underpins the industry but may not always readily visible to people trying to explore the category. Writing this course not only allowed me to outline key pieces of information but it also enabled me to explain why they are important and what implications they have for the industry, which is information I have not witnessed elsewhere.
Anyone that wanted to expand their knowledge in Irish whiskey would enjoy taking this course. The Certificate in Irish Whiskey is packed full of in-depth, marketing-free information on all facets of Irish whiskey, but it is presented in very digestible format. Whether you’re beginning your journey into whiskey or simply want to deep dive to bolster your existing knowledge, you’ll find a treasure trove of information here.
This course is a brand neutral culmination of information on Irish whiskey. That means if you are a whiskey industry professional that wants to bolster your information, this course will give you a fantastic foundation to your professional knowledge. A terrific launch point for anyone entering the Irish whiskey industry as a professional, and a great introduction for any enthusiasts likewise.
I write about whisky, both as a freelance commentator and as an academic historian. My job involves a complex tango of commercial aloofness and bumblingly conspicuous enthusiasm!
Academically, I'm in the midst of a PhD on the history of lost Irish mash bills. That largely consists of sitting head bowed down in public archives, reading up on 19th century agricultural economics and dreaming about writing about whisky.
As an undergraduate I studied a cocktail of medieval history and literature, with manuscript translation and archival work following me into the postgrad level. By the end of it I was mainly translating poems about damnation. Needless to say, it drove me to drink!
Writing the course material was immensely enjoyable. It’s an honour to tell the history of Irish whiskey with the depth it deserves but also to do so hand in hand with a program grounded in Scotch whisky education.
The history of the Irish and Scottish whisky industries was interconnected for centuries. Too often they're treated as if they occurred in isolation. The chance to partner with the EWA and to build a course that engaged with that relationship was a real thrill. If the graft behind it was enjoyable, I can only imagine how much fun it must be to read!
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whisky you ever tasted?
Matt: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey.
Finn: In reality, Powers. Formatively, a nicked bottle of Irish Mist out of the family cupboard. Not a whisky but I didn't know better at the time. I told all my friends it was and they didn't know better either. Education only went up from there.
Best whisky you have ever tasted?
Matt: Knappogue 1951 – a 36-year-old, old school mixed mashbill single pot still whiskey from a long dead Irish whiskey distillery. Very different from the current global whiskey palate but an unforgettable imbibing experience.
Finn: Personal favourite has been either the Irish Whiskey Society Marrowbone Lane cask or the Friend at Hand Redbreast 25 single cask. On the scotch side of the house, I had a 1970s Ardbeg once that's never since let me live and love other drams in peace since.
Who is your ‘whisky hero’?
Matt: John Quinn, Global Brand Ambassador of Tullamore D.E.W. would be my whiskey hero. He has spent his whole professional life working in Irish whiskey, promoting, and lifting the category in the good times and the bad times. He is free and welcoming with his knowledge and his story telling abilities are second to none.
Finn: Oliver Hughes (RIP)
What person, dead or alive, would you most like to share a whisky with?
Matt: I think that Lewis Capaldi is the top of my list. He seems like someone that would not take whiskey too seriously but be interested in learning all about it, while having fun.
Finn: Father Mathew
Favourite distillery to visit?
Matt: Killowen Distillery in Co. Down, Ireland’s smallest distillery is true romantic vision of two lads whiskey making in the hills of Ireland.
Finn: Killowen. Usually ends up as a late night in Brendan Carty's living room drinking stuff from all over.
Ultimate bottling for your collection?
Matt: The Irish Whiskey Society released a centenary bottling in 2016, celebrating the 1916 Easter Rising. This is called Marrowbone Lane and was reminiscent of whiskey released in Dublin in 1916. Heavy single pot ttill distillate with a juicy cask maturation. Likely to never be repeated.
Finn: I'm an awful collector. Can't seem to hang onto the stuff.
Favourite non-whisky drink?
Matt: Japanese Shōchū is a secret passion of mine. Koji fermented beverages utilising mould saccharification instead of malting is fascinating and flavoursome and Shōchū takes the place of my favourite non-whiskey drink.
Favourite whisky and food pairing?
Matt: Salted crackers and soft cheese, literally can’t go wrong.
Finn: Dark chocolate and Bushmills 16.