John Brannick founder and master distiller of the Dublin Whiskey Distillery Company was born into a renowned family of Irish whiskey makers. His father Patrick and Uncles were established distillers with Sir John Power of “Powers” Irish whiskey fame, and in time both John and his younger brother Patrick Jnr would follow in their father’s footsteps.



1845 was a seminal year for John Brannick when at 15 years of age he joined the Sir John Power distillery to begin his formal apprenticeship. Powers distillery was one of the great distilleries of Dublin city and young John’s early experiences would lead to a lifelong passion for the fine art of whiskey making.



The young Brannick was quick to demonstrate a talent and natural flare for the craft of whiskey making. These early years, working within the hallowed halls of the Sir John Powers distillery would lay the foundations for Brannick’s later entrepreneurial exploits within the Irish whiskey industry. In time his reputation became known amongst the other great distilleries and eventually in 1852, George Roe & Sons would entice John Brannick to join the House of Roe with the promise he would someday become a Master Distiller.



After nearly 20 years of perfecting his craft with the House of Roe, Brannick had risen to the illustrious position of Master Distiller. His reputation amongst the great distilleries of Dublin city was now firmly established. Brannick eager to realise his long held ambition to build “the finest distillery in the world” secured vital backing and made the faithful decision in 1870 to leave his position and establish the Dublin Whiskey Distillery Company Ltd.



Brannick’s passion to create the “Finest Whiskey in the World” and fervent belief that all the Great Distilleries of Dublin were duty bound to uphold this fine tradition brought him into legal conflict with his former employer, George Roe & Sons. Every September the price of whiskey was set following the annual harvest. As the price of grain was a key element in whiskey making, depending upon how the harvest performed in a particular year, the price of distilled whiskey spirit would rise or fall accordingly. In 1878, the harvest in Ireland was particularly poor leading to a shortage of native grain and higher prices. All the Dublin distilleries raised their prices accordingly except George Roe & Sons.



Brannick continued to expand and develop his distillery. The D.W.D. Great Bonded Store was finally completed in 1879 with its imposing main gate modelled on the gates of Dublin castle. The warehouse was immense with a capacity to store 20,000 barrels of maturing whiskey. Brannick embraced innovation and technology wherever possible. He continually strove to create the most technologically advanced distillery in the world.

The installation of a wind turbine was followed by hydroelectric power. Only the best and latest in equipment would do, including a Pearn of Manchester pump capable of moving 1000 gallons a minute and a 50 horsepower Leffel electric turbine both of which were their first of their kind in an Irish distillery.



Irish whiskey today is regulated and controlled by both international law and the Irish Whiskey Association. The definition of Irish whiskey and the method of production is globally defined and enforced to ensure industry standards are protected and maintained at all times. However, back in 1880 no such legal definitions existed. The global success of Irish whiskey was attracting the attention of disreputable character’s intent on passing off various spirits and concoctions as Irish whiskey. The problem was made worse as the “Great Distilleries of Dublin City” considered their sole purpose to produce the very best Irish whiskey using only Pot stills



Brannick’s achievement and D.W.D.’s greatness was formally recognised by two seminal publications in 1887; The Whisky Distillery’s of the United Kingdom, by Alfred Bernard and the Industries of Dublin by Spencer Blackett. Bernard’s work has been referred to as possibly the most important book ever written on whisky. It was Bernard who first recognised D.W.D. as one of the six “Great Distilleries of Dublin City” by choosing to inspect the Distillery in the summer of 1886.



Blackett in his publication “Industries of Dublin” hailed D.W.D. whiskey in unequivocal terms “elevating still higher the reputation and remarkable standard of excellence already attained by Dublin Whiskey. For many years Dublin whiskey has taken the lead in all the markets of the world and it is only fair to say that the introduction of the D.W.D. brand has created a revolution and brought the production to a degree of perfection never before attained.” As a result, “D.W.D. whiskey may found in every quarter of the globe from the polar latitudes of North America to the remotest inhabited islands south of the equator.”



D.W.D.’s ethos of innovation was demonstrated in 1888 when the distillery first launched the famous D.W.D. 15-year-old reserve contained within its novel three-sided glass bottle. The design at the time was ground breaking, challenging long established industry traditions and norms of packaging and design. Imitation is a form of flattery, as the saying goes and the original D.W.D. three-sided bottle design would go on to be adopted and appropriated by others. However, a handful of original and unopened D.W.D. 15-year-old reserve bottles have remarkably survived to this day and stand testament as to the originality and source of this iconic bottle design.



The start of the 20th Century witnessed the very peak of Irish whiskey production when annual whiskey volumes reached 63m litres, five times what it is today. The growth in demand for Irish whiskey was export driven and distilleries such as D.W.D. had become heavily reliant on international markets. 1901 marked an important year in D.W.D. overseas expansion when the distillery established a collaborative venture with two other great Dublin distillers, George Roe & Sons and William Jameson setting up an overseas subsidiary in Sydney Australia to market and sell their respective brands.



The year saw the first use of the famous D.W.D. advertising slogan The “Finest Whiskey in the World”. Advertising as we know it today was still in its infancy in 1902 however D.W.D. was in the vanguard recognising the innovative potential of this new discipline. D.W.D. was one of the first consumer brands to adopt a consistent marketing message for D.W.D. Irish whiskey across all its international markets.



Irish whiskey was the “liquor” of choice in the United States and the U.S. was one of D.W.D.’s most important markets, due no doubt to the tireless efforts of the colourful Mr James M. McCunn, the legendary New York liqueur wholesaler who represented D.W.D. in the USA. In 1903 McCunn finally delivered on his promise to have D.W.D. listed by Macy’s department store. D.W.D. was one of a select few Irish and Scotch whiskies listed by the iconic retailer reflected in “The Sun” newspaper advert from September 1903. Positioning D.W.D. Irish whiskey for the princely sum of .93c per bottle.



Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages that began in 1920 and remained in force until 1933. US Prohibition obviously had an immediate adverse impact on the Irish whiskey industry as the legal closure of the US market not only reduced distillery revenues but also depressed prices with excess stocks flooding alternative markets.



Four years after the creation of the Irish Free State any hope the Irish whiskey industry may have held that the new Irish Government would support the industry was firmly dashed by the passing of the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act by the Free State Parliament. The Act increased the minimum maturation age of Irish whiskey from three to five years, a unique requirement anywhere in the world.



The rescinding of US Prohibition in 1933 should have marked a welcome relief and opportunity to the Irish whiskey industry. Unfortunately, the Prohibition years had deeply tarnished the once premium status of Irish whiskey amongst US consumers. Irish whiskey had been the liquor of choice prior to Prohibition.



These series of challenging events forced D.W.D. to reduce it’s distilling operations to a trickle in 1926 and by 1941 it was widely considered that the venerable D.W.D. was on ‘life support’. However, the fact was D.W.D. remained a hugely valuable business by virtue of its production assets and massive maturing stocks of highly valuable Irish whiskey.



D.W.D. distillery gates stood closed and barred. The great distilling hall now silent; the four towering copper pot stills had been carefully dismantled and shipped to Scotland. The great bonded store stood empty. The cutting-edge machinery which had made D.W.D. one of the most technologically advanced distilleries in the world was long gone, sold for scrap. Finally on the 17th October 1946, the distillery and its four acre site was sold at action with a suggestion that its expansive buildings would provide ideal storage space.



The events of 1941 leading to the closure of D.W.D. had not gone unnoticed. In the following years, questions would be asked in the Irish Parliament seeking explanations, inferring suspicion and consternation. Responses from Government Ministers were evasive and dismissive. Finally, on the 8th of July 1953 Mr Tom O’Higgins, member of parliament and future Chief Justice of Ireland ensured the exploitation of Brannick’s great endeavour, D.W.D. the “finest whiskey in the world” would not be forgotten when he stated on the record that the events leading to its demise as “one of the greatest scandals that ever happened in this country”.



Finally, the Irish Government recognised the Irish whiskey industry would require a strong export market for long term survival. The Licensing Act 1960 reduced the minimum maturation period of Irish whiskey from 5 years to 3 years and alcohol strength from 43% abv to 40% abv in line with Scotch whiskey. These changes to the legal definition of Irish whiskey would be vital if Irish whiskey exports were to have any chance competiting against Scotch Whisky.



However, all was not completely lost. Some astute bonders and publicans had acquired barrels of mature D.W.D. Irish whiskey during those last frantic months when D.W.D. was being dismantled and sold off piece meal. Over the coming decades these rare D.W.D. stocks were carefully managed.



A chance meeting of old friends amongst the bustle of Dublin on a Christmas Eve quickly retired to the Palace Bar on Fleet Street to catch up on old times. Neither party even noticed the Victorian D.W.D. mirror on the wall although one did inexplicably ask the barman about the very old unopened bottle of Irish whiskey with the faded D.W.D. label sitting protected in its glass case.



DWD then and now was so much more than the stone that bound its walls, or the oak that held its whiskey, it was a confluence of ideals and principles that allowed it earn its reputation as ‘the finest whiskey in the World’. The challenge was to bridge the chasm of the lost years, and reclaim its rightful heritage. It was Shaw who recognised that “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”



D.W.D. today is not a copy of the past or a simple reproduction for the sake of nostalgia. Time has moved on and the knowledge today of those generations who have since passed simply cannot be ignored. However, some universal truths are timeless and remain valued today as they did when John Brannick laid the corner stone of his great distillery in the glorious summer of 1872; real character, brave resolve and a true sense of belonging.