Copeland Distillery & Ireland's Smuggling History

Posted by Irish Whiskey USA on

Copeland Distillery brings the story of Ireland's smuggling history into US pubs

Copeland Distillery is based on the coast of Co Down

Copeland Distillery's commercial director Mark Prentice and founder Gareth Irvine

An innovative distillery inspired by Ireland’s history of smuggling and sea battles has been breaking into a growing markets in the US. Copeland Distillery is based about 26 miles away from Belfast in Donaghadee, Co Down, on a beach overlooking the Irish sea.

It got its name from the nearby Copeland islands, which were used to smuggle goods into Ireland during the 16th and 17th centuries. The two islands sit just half a mile from Donaghadee harbor, which is steps from the Copeland Distillery.

"We look straight across to Scotland, it's only about seven miles away,” Copeland’s commercial director Mark Prentice told “On a good day we can almost see the farmers in their fields. We're probably one of the closest Irish distilleries to the sea.”
The distillery's location influences all of its products. The bottles are decorated with sailboats and compasses; botanicals are foraged from the nearby islands; and the product names are steeped in history - which is of particular interest to US customers.
The American audience is so interested in our history, particularly the history associated with our Jones 1778 Navy Strength Gin," said Mark. "The name was inspired from the Battle of the Copelands.

"The battle took place at sea about two miles from the coast of Donaghadee, and it was the first time that the newly independent US navy sank a British navy ship in British waters. The captain of the US ship was called Captain Jones."

Donaghadee is located on the coast in Co Down 

What customers also appreciate, Mark said, is that the company makes gin, rum and whiskey - an unusual feat for an Irish distillery. They started off making gin when they first opened in 2016, and began producing whiskey in 2019.

Mark said: "The Copelands were used for smuggling whiskey, tobacco and rum into Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. So we got into making rum as well, and we call it Smugglers Reserve Rum in honor of that history.

Copeland Distillery has only been selling its products in the US for six months, but they can already be found in nine different states and in several popular New York pubs. The company recently hired a new head of sales in New York, and another employee to help with distribution.

A selfie taken by the Copeland team on a flight to Philadelphia
The Copeland team on the way to Philadelphia

“There’s a lot of investment in the US but it can be tough because even though it’s called the United States, every single state is so different. They have different liquor laws; different taxation. It was almost like getting into nine different countries,” said Mark.

The results of the expansion have been worth it, however, and some of the results have been surprising. “We weren't sure how things like our pink gin would do in places like Kentucky and Tennessee, but it's gone down an absolute storm there," said Mark.

“People are also drinking our Navy Strength gin as straight up shots instead of with tonic in places like Colorado. We always knew the whiskey would do well, but even the rum has surpassed our expectations.”

Mark said that while the US hasn’t yet seen the recent gin boom experienced in Ireland and the UK, the current expectation is that Irish whiskey sales will overtake Scotch in the US by the end of this decade. Europe, meanwhile, is seeing rum rise to prominence.

A hand sticks out of the ocean holding a bottle of Copeland's Merchants' Quay Blended Irish Whiskey with a lighthouse faded in the background
Copeland's Merchants' Quay Blended Irish Whiskey 

“We’re getting a lot of new drinkers coming into Irish whiskey because it tends to be lighter, slightly fruiter, less smokey and it’s not as heavy,” said Mark.

“We have a lot more states interested in taking our products on and we’re really keen on expanding our points of distribution - bars, restaurants, off licenses - in places like New York, Denver and Atlanta. We’d love to get into another five states by St Patrick’s Day.

“I have to say that the Irish connection, the Irish storytelling, and some great products have really helped us start to build across the US.”

This article originally appeared here.

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