We all have a journey to whiskey, but for some, it is a more winding path that guides us here. For Daithí O’Connell, sailor, pilot, and founder of W.D. O’Connell Whiskey Merchants, the journey was geographical as well as spiritual.
Daithí started his career in hospitality aged just 15, working in a local hotel and he moved into the bar side of hospitality, focusing on the late bar and nightclub scene. He then shifted to auctioneering, studying property management and valuation and when he completed his studies, and found himself working in a bar in Cork city. Shortly after he went travelling in Australia, then moved to Denmark before O’Connell started back in Ireland as a partner in an a pub in Kinsale before graduating to nightclubs and the live music scene in Cork City. In 2009 he moved to Australia where he trained to become a pilot, and was just shy of his commercial license when he moved to Hong Kong in 2010, where he was lured with the prospect of opening a bar with a group of Irish entrepreneurs. He spent five years in Hong Kong– running bars, setting up a boat hire business, and moving into the fin-tech sector specialising in payment solutions for events.
While building up the later business he started looking for a new project, and whiskey was in his sights since starting the bar in Hong Kong and by late 2015 he had a site sorted and was ready to sign contracts with distillers, still makers and all the key components of the project but decided against it after some soul searching. In April 2019, he quit his job and threw himself completely into becoming an independent whiskey bottler. Bottlers are something of a rarity in Ireland – much of this had to do with the scarcity of distilleries. Bottlers need a diverse range – not just of whiskey styles and casks, but of sources.
In Scotland, indie bottlers are revered as being able to offer unique offerings from well-known, lesser-known and long-dead distilleries. In fact, indie bottlers are so important to Scotch whisky that the late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson said of bottlers Gordon & MacPhail that if it were not for this firm, single malts as we know them would not exist today.
It is in this mould that we see this firm – to be the biggest indie bottler in Ireland by 2035. Working with support from Bord Bia we hired a creative agency to design our brand – with his love of flight and sailing, a compass rose forms a central part of the brand, while the rest is based around family
Right now, W.D. O’Connell is a one-man show, chasing the highways and byways to get his product and his brand out there. Beyond that, we are envisioning a central hub, akin to Gordon & MacPhail’s Elgin headquarters, which would operate as a home for the brand. We are still looking for the right place for a brand home. It may well be a long road ahead for W.D. O’Connell – Gordon & MacPhail were founded 123 years ago, Cadenhead’s 148 years, but we are looking to build something that will outlive us long into the future.
Ever the navigator, one of the reasons Daithí loves the indie bottling model is because of the sense of adventure – finding new distilleries to source stock from, new worlds to explore, and a new chapter in his whiskey journey.
Original article by Bill Linanes – read more here