Brian Watts – An Appreciation.

Our great friend and Irish Whiskey Colleague Brian Watts, the Master Distiller and General manager of Great Northern Distillery (GND) died suddenly and unexpectedly on 13 October 2022 at the very young age of just 60 years. In a message to GND clients, John Teeling informed us that:

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that Brian Watts, our highly respected distillery manager and friend to most of you, passed in his sleep early last Thursday.”

The shock within the Irish Whiskey world has been immense and none more so than among the many small Irish Whiskey and other spirits brands who Brian supported with his knowledge, experience and kindness.

I first met Brian when I travelled with my colleague James Murphy from Portmagee to meet John Teeling and his senior management team in May 2018. Little did we know then that this tall, genial Scotsman would become a valued friend and mentor whose skills, experience, kindness, and encouragement would guide us from laying down our first single cask (and by single, I mean just one first cask) of Portmagee whiskey, to building our brand at home and abroad and to begin building our own distillery and visitor centre.

Brian Watts Great Northern Distillery May 2018 meeting Stuart McNamara and James Murphy from Portmagee Whiskey.

Our very first time to meet Brian in May 2018.

I was leading our US launch in Florida last week when the sad news reached me. I had been planning to call Brian on my return to share our launch news and thank him for his support in reaching another great milestone on our journey. Our experience of working with Brian was not unique. Talking to friends and colleagues since my return home, it is obvious that a great many of new small Irish Whiskey and spirits brands owe their growth and success to Brian and his team. A common thread in conversation was that each of these brand owners was made to feel as if they were GND’s most important customer when they visited Ireland’s largest independent distillery. The establishment and growth of this dynamic new tribe of small Irish Whiskey brands encouraged and mentored by Brian has added colour, innovation and diversity to the Irish drinks sector. This will be a large part of Brian’s professional legacy. Of note also is the talented and creative team he built and developed in Great Northern Distillery imbued with his own ethos of kindness and decency. In the words of John Teeling last week:

“Not alone is Brian’s legacy the hundreds of brands he has helped create but the fine young team he has developed to continue the development of Irish Whiskey.”

My personal memories of Brian are many, but my favourites would include his enthusiasm and joy in sharing a test-sip of new make spirit from the still, his warm welcome when I had a family member accompany me on a drop in visit; meeting Brian’s son on the same visit, and sharing a glass of a metallic-tasting 200 year old plus Irish whiskey in his office from a case of hand blown dark bottles he had acquired. But my favourite and most enduring memories of Brian will always be the many great conversations we had as we walked across the yard of GND in Brian time. Brian walked at a pace that was about two thirds that of the rest of us. It reflected his own calm demeanour, and the calm was infectious and even therapeutic as we dropped our pace to fall in step with him. Brian didn’t just take time to talk with you; he made time to talk with you.

I offer my sincere and deepest sympathy on behalf of myself, Portmagee Whiskey and ICADA to Brian’s family in Scotland and to his colleagues and friends in Great Northern Distillery, in Ireland and around the world.

Brian Watts played a key role in developing the Irish whiskey sector. He was also one of the kindest and most generous people in the whiskey world. We will all miss him greatly and will do our best to honour his memory and legacy in all we do in the future.

Rest in peace Brian.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.


Whiskey Blogger
Whiskey Blogger

Stuart McNamara (@WhiskeyBlogger) is an international Whiskey Blogger who edits several International Whisk(e)y and Whiskey Tourism sites including and He is Chair of the Irish Craft And Artisan Distilleries Association (ICADA) and is an elected member of the National Council of ISME, the Irish SME Association. He is also the creator and editor of International Irish Whiskey Day which is celebrated on 3/3 or 3rd March each year and had a global social media reach in 2021 of over 20 Million. He is a Director of Portmagee Whiskey and has also acted as both a brand and product development consultant to several other Irish Whiskey and other spirits producers.

International Whiskey Reviews by Irish Whiskey Blogger Stuart McNamara