On this episode of Barrel Room Chronicles, I speak with Lia Niskanen, founder of Barrel Strength Talent about how her whiskey journey inspired her to start her own company. Then later in the show I’ll speak with Teeling’s Master Distiller Alex Chasko about his new wonders of wood series in whiskey whereabouts.
Introducing our new Speak Easy Q&A segment, you ask questions of our guests, and we get you the answers! Have questions for Alex or Lia? Ask them on our socials @1stReelEnt or better yet, leave us a voice message on our Anchor page. Your message may be played in our next Speak Easy!
Visit Barrel Room Chronicles for this episode's show notes and to learn more about our guests.
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Alex Chasko of Teeling Irish Whiskey
Kerry: Welcome to this week's edition of whiskey whereabouts today's guest is Alex Chasko, master distiller and blender for teeling Irish whiskey. As you may recall, Philip and I spoke with Alex's bosses, Jack and Steven teeling back in November of 2020 in episode 22, a Spirit's whiskey.
But today I have the pleasure of talking to the man who's behind the new expression aged in Virgin Chapkin Oak Alex.
Alex: Hi, Carrie. Thanks. It's great to be
Kerry: here. Great. It's great to have you. So tell me, how did an American snag, the master distiller gig and the first distillery open in Dublin in a hundred years?
Alex: That's a good question. Basically the short answer is my wife is Irish.
That's how I ended up over here in Ireland. So as John teling the father of Jack and Steven teling likes to remind me when iwhenever I see him in the distillery, I came to Ireland for Lu. And and as a byproduct, that I get to make, Irish whiskey.
Along with it. Yeah.
Kerry: That's awesome. So how did you meet your wife and how long have you been in Ireland and were you in Ireland before you got the job or did that kind of simultaneously happen?
Alex: Ah, that's a good question there. So there's a bit of a story there. So we first met in a pub in Edinburgh, on the Gilbert Gilford arms pub and ed Mero, just off of princess street a Irish woman and a, I was a brewer at the time.
In a pub who would a guest? And we were both out with friends and the rest, they say carries history. We were in Edinburg for, I don't know, six, nine months. And then moved to Singapore. Yeah we would, I've never won to shy away from an adventure. We decided let's move to Singapore and see what the, as they say here in Ireland, what the crack is with.
English has spoken at Singapore cuz you're the second bunch of Irish folk that I've known to. Oh,
Alex: Singapore. Yeah. That's yeah, there's an interesting question. In Singapore they have several different languages.
There's English, there's Mandarin Chinese, and there's Malay. And then there's also I wouldn't know exactly which one it is, but there's an. Dialect also that's there. It's a former British colony, that got independence after world war II and yeah there's a whole mixing pot of people there.
So it's not hard to,
Kerry: to talk to people
Alex: then. No, it's very, yeah. I thought it was a global fix. We were there for two years. I was running a little brew pub there called the pump room making beer. And yeah, it was great. There's a real kick in the pants, as I say where I think what I got, there was a lot of confidence of I don't know exactly how it's gonna happen, but I'm pretty sure we can do it.
I don't know. I don't know how we're gonna get hops into Singapore, but I know some people I can call and email and we have money and people usually sell things for money.
Kerry: So, uh,
How did you end up back in
Alex: Ireland then ended up back in Ireland. There was one very drunk St.
Patrick's day night where I admitted that. Yes, I had dragged her halfway around the world from her friends and family and that she should get to pick the next place that we moved to. And I knew that the gig was up. I knew that we were moving back to Dublin. Yeah, happy to be in Ireland. I've always liked Ireland.
We moved back here. Two end of 2000. What was it? 2008. End of 2008, right before the big crash. Yeah we came back to Ireland, as everybody was leav. Ireland. And there wasn't a whole lot of opportunities going on at the time. And I was looking at different things and thinking about, I started out at my career as a brewer.
So I was thinking about the craft beer and that, but I'd also done my master's thesis on single malt. New flavors in single mal. So I got my master's from Harriet university in Edinboro, Scotland. Yeah. And Brun and distilling
Kerry: in Scotland before, when you met your wife.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. I was finished. I had finished my master's project and was working for a little company called Dio doing just a small, yeah, small little company doing interesting flavors in single.
Yeah. And what happened will, so there was I'd heard about the teling family that they were doing. Interesting things. They, at the time owned the Cooley distillery met Jack and John teling. And was telling 'em about my thoughts and views on Irish whiskey and where I was gonna go and what I'd seen with craft beer.
And they agreed. And they said that they had a list of things that they had wanted to do, but they had never been able to find anybody to get things, rolling. And the next thing I know, I'm the innovation manager at the Cooley distill. And then, yeah, and that get, then that was about maybe year and a half that I was that role.
And they sold Cooley to Jim beam. And at that point became clear that the teling family wasn't going to be staying in the Cooley distillery and was talking to Jack and saying, that list of things that we had talked about before, like I'm still interested in that sort of stuff. And he was like, yeah, I'm still interested in too.
And next thing you know, you're the first employee of the teling whiskey company. Nice.
Kerry: So how long was it between when they sold to, when you started making whiskey again? Cause I know there was a build period.
Alex: Oh yeah. Okay. So they sold in November, December of 2011 and then the. Steeling whiskey company was formed in 2012.
I came on in June of 2012. And so we had some existing stock, that the family brought with when they sold. And my first part of my job was to take that stock and make a a whiskey from it, which became small batch. And then to work on building of the distillery. So the distillery finally got built and completed in 2017.
So things don't happen quickly in whiskey, is what I'm trying to say there. Like it's a long game. It's not oh, I think I'll set up a whiskey distillery. Oh, that sounds like a good idea. Forward two weeks and there you go. You've got a whiskey distill, it's more like fast forward a number of years.
Kerry: Exactly. Now I do know that you guys were the first distillery to return to Dublin, but now there's several. So were you guys running against the clock to try to finish before other people or were you way ahead of everybody and then other people are like, Hey, they're gonna do it. We should do it
I think a lot of people had the idea. But it's not an easy idea to get off the ground. And yeah, there's probably other projects that were in discussion at the same time and we had a bit more momentum behind us. We had a bit more experience behind us. And so we might have gotten a bit of a jump on the game there.
But to be fair, it's it. It's not something that like we Carrie and I can't just decide, Hey let's start a distillery. Yeah. That's a great idea. Why didn't I think of that? And then start a distillery. So we had to go for planning permission. We're the first people to go through modern planning permission with the city and everything.
And you're saying to them things like we want to be like Guinness, not as big as Guinness. And they're like why don't you wanna be as big as Guinness? And you're like, Give us 270 years and exactly, we'll see what happens, right? Like we'll take over by then. yeah. They've been around for a while, right?
Yeah. So yeah, there's a lot of, I education that had to be done educating of both. Government and the local and regional and then also education of Finding suppliers. So it's it's not exactly something you can go to a catalog and say, I'll take that one there.
That's the perfect one for me, right? Yeah. Cool.
Kerry: The reason we have you on the show today is because you are responsible for this new dream. And I to know, first of all, how you chose this particular Oak? Ooh, I like that box. I have. I have the
Alex: cute, you've got a pretty cute little box there too.
Yeah. This is the one that it actually comes in. Yeah. It's very nice. Somebody's been drinking mine. I don't know who that was. It wasn't me. I
Kerry: wasn't there. I have to be discipline. When I get small ones, I was like, oh, I really can't open this until the. Until the thing, otherwise it'll be gone,
Kerry: So let's talk about this. So how did you decide to use this? A
Alex: particular Oak? Yeah. Chin pin is a bit of an unusual name, right? Of course. But it's it's essentially American white Oak. So typically American white Oak is Alba.
And this is just another species called chin pin chin. Pin's nothing new. It's actually been used quite a bit in Ry. Production. It's been now. I am by no mean an arborist, right? I'm not out there. So I make whiskey for a living. I don't know. I told you that Carrie . So this is what I was told with regards to Jacobin.
Jin is a smaller tree. They call 'em like a scrub. Tree. And they tend to grow in the rockier soil. And they get mixed up from time to time with the larger trees when there's the harvesting going out there in the forest. But they are suitable for being made into casts.
And what the main difference is that they have is they don't have as much vanilla in them, so there's less Banin in it. And it's. More of a coffee, gingerbread, nutty smell going onto it. And there's a little bit of spiciness and there's that little bit of spiciness and the fact that in Ry, of course, you've got loads of spice.
Exactly. And I thought pot still has spice. Let's see if that spice can because when you're doing something new, you don't wanna go full, crazy. You don't wanna just. Totally go for it. You have to have some base of something in there that people can be like, oh yes, I recognize that element.
So I thought the spice let's go with the spice and hopefully that spice will carry through into a spicy pot still, which people. Traditionally, like
Kerry: now I noticed in my kit, I got the original pot still, also. Now, did you just take this the same juice and age it in something different or did you do, was it completely
No, it's the same juice as you say, right? It's the same pot still? Yeah, the it's filled into Virgin Chinon cast. And so it was fully matured and only the Chinon Oak. The normal pot still are our. Standard pot still that you have there that's aged in both American Virgin Oak. So Alba Oak CA and then used bourbon cast and then also in OSA, Sherry CA.
So it's got a bit of that OSA sharing us, and this doesn't have the OSA sharing us. This has, I think it's like a midway between an American Oak and a European Oak. How European Oak your limousine Oak tends to have that spicy nut. Characteristic. I think that's more of what this has got, but not as spicy as let's say the mu Oak.
All right. I'm gonna taste it now. I'm give it a go. See what you think of it. Bottled to 50% alcohol. So a hundred proof.
Kerry: Oh, that's lovely. Oh, Alex, that's really good.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. I'm very happy with it.
Kerry: It's very different from other things that I've tasted from you guys. Now I'm gonna go back to the regular pot still and see
Alex: how different okay. . Yeah. I like that. I like the fact that things are very different than something else, right?
Oh yeah. We don't wanna make something different.
Kerry: No, that's very different. I love it. And you can send the, and the, I don't have enough in here, but the the color on the, in the chin
Alex: pin is yeah, absolutely. So that Virgin Oak sounded a lot more cannons, a lot more. Of the Lidon degradation products in there.
So it's got more color to it.
Kerry: It also has a really good legs on this one. Yeah. It's got a very good mouth feel. It's very Hardy.
Alex: Yeah. I think maybe a bit more bourbon, like than the normal pot still. But again, it's. Corcus Alba. So it's not the vanilla minty kind of, cherry that you would associate with your Alba.
Kerry: I feel like it feels like a Ry because it's nice and spicy, but it tastes
Alex: Yeah, but a little softer.
Kerry: Yeah. A taste Irish, but it's got a nice spice. It's like a CRO, I don't know. You think bourbon, I think more, more rye really.
Alex: Yeah. Just yeah. I'd agree with you. Exactly. Yep.
Kerry: That's delicious.
All right. So what other fun, fun expressions do you have coming out soon? Are you allowed to say, ah,
Alex: we've got lots of other fun expressions we have. So the wonders of wood, is a series that we have. Great. And I'm saying that as I'm looking down here at the box, so people might see on there, we've got this love.
Tree then right with the Phoenix fire. And part of this is Irish whiskey. Doesn't have to be aged and only Oak Irish whiskey can be aged and other types of wood also. And so this is gonna be a series that we're gonna explore both Oak and other types of wood also. We have the first one is the chin APIN right.
The next one is gonna be a European Oak. Although one that's not primarily talked about as far as a European Oak variety. Can I, let me see if I probably not allowed to fully say what it is, Carrie, but it's a country that starts with P and is on the Iberian P. Okay.
And yeah. And yeah, I think it's gonna be interesting to to see these different countries, and these Oak casts and these non Oak cast, they're primarily, let's be honest things that are used in the wine. So a lot of our inspiration is coming from wine and fortified wines that are around Europe and other countries and seeing how they have an influence on Irish whiskey.
And one of the things we've also done with this that I'm really proud of is we're taking some of this money that we make from the wonders of wood series and using it to go, we've teamed up with, I wanna make sure I get. Name correct here with the Irish, the tree council of Ireland. Oh, wow.
So we're with the tree council of Ireland. We are replanting native Irish trees. Awesome. Not Oak necessarily like a variety. So the idea is that we're planting a diverse Woodlands, and areas that Don. Have them now not to try and create the next cast for teling whiskey. But to try and bring back some of the native yeah. Trees of Ireland, because after the battle of can sail when the English, I dunno if you've heard about it, the English colonized Ireland for number a few years. Yeah. And. And when they did that they cut down all of Ireland's trees. and so we're doing our little bit to, to bring it back
Kerry: sometimes, they, I don't know.
What why take the trees, I guess they had to build houses, but you don't need all the trees.
Alex: You wouldn't have had the green rolling Hills of Ireland without it,
Kerry: all right. Alex, it's been a pleasure having you on the show. I am doing a whiskey tour of Ireland in the fall in October.
And hopefully I will get to stop in and visit you all there at the distillery, which would be a fantastic treat being as that. You're the first distillery back in Dublin in a hundred years. I do love having you on the show. So anytime you wanna come back and talk about the next expression that you release, we would love to.
Alex: I would love to come and back on the show and also to see you in, in person, Carrie when you come to see us in Ireland, it'd be great to show you around the distillery and looking forward
Kerry: to it. Fantastic. Now, if I wanted to buy this where's the best place to go. Should we go to,
Alex: oh it is available in all fine liquor stores across the nation.
I always get in trouble when I start giving specifics,
Kerry: is there a website or something we should follow? Do you have a good social following to tell us about your updates?
Alex: Yes, of course. We're on all the social medias and you can go to the te Facebook page and we're very a active on that. So if somebody is looking for the wonders of wood chin.
Addition, know, please get in touch on Facebook and we'd be happy to point people in the right direction.
Kerry: Great. Thank you so much, Alex. I hope to see you soon. Yeah.
Alex: Cheers. Thanks Carrie.
Alex Chasko, Master Distiller
Alex Chasko is the Master Distiller at Teeling Whiskey, overseeing distilling, maturing, and blending. As the first employee of Teeling, he has been involved in developing the whiskey products and the Dublin distillery from the very beginning.
Previously he was the Innovation Manager at the Cooley Distillery and began his career at Bridge Port Brewery in Portland, Oregon. Alex graduated from the prestigious Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he completed his MSc in Brewing and Distillery.
Lia Niskanen is dedicated to the power of story telling, and is a passionate whiskey advocate.
Lia is an Executive Bourbon Steward (Stave and Thief Society) and award-winning distillery visitor experience professional with a deep passion for whiskey history.
Most recently, Lia spearheaded the premiere public tour program for Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York. As their first Manager of Tours and Events, Lia created and developed KCD’s onsite distillery tour, winning the TripAdvisor “Certificate of Excellence” in 2017, 2018, and 2019. During her tenure at KCD, Lia also executed a wide roster of other educational activities including private tours, tastings, classes, and large events. Pivoting during the pandemic shutdowns, she created a virtual whiskey tasting program for a range of corporate and private guests.
Prior to her tenure at Kings County Distillery, Lia developed and conducted day long tours of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for Mint Julep Tours in Louisville Ky, educating and entertaining guests with history and production information on such landmarks distilleries as Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace.
She is now embarking on a new venture as founder of "Barrel Strength Talent", providing a dynamic roster of world class spirits creators and industry insider professionals for virtual and in person events nationwide.
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