Women Making Waves: Jennifer Nickerson, MD of Tipperary Boutique Distillery

We chat to the co-owner of new Irish whiskey brand, Tipperary Boutique Distillery, on leaving the corporate world to take a chance on something exciting
Jennifer is optimistic about the future of TIpperary Boutique Distillery

One of the most recent additions to our renowned whiskey making industry is Tipperary Boutique Distillery Limited. It launched in 2016 and is headed up by Scottish woman Jennifer Nickerson, her huband Liam and her father, Scott.

A former chartered accountant, you could say Jennifer has whiskey in her blood. Her dad, Stuart has worked with Scotland’s biggest distilleries and is a leading international consultant in the world of whisky (and whiskey!). Jennifer grew up beside distilleries and even wrote her university thesis on Scotch whisky.

It seems a sort of fate brought Jennifer together with her now-husband Liam too. Liam’s family are barley farmers in Ballindoney, Co Tipperary and, as the couple discovered, the farm offers near-perfect conditions for making whiskey. Hence: Tipperary Boutique Distillery.

Just two years old, Tipperary Boutique Limited is already winning awards for its ‘expressions’ (an indicator or what style of whiskeys the distillery will produce) and Jennifer was given the title of Whiskey Brand Ambassador for Ireland by Whisky Magazine – UK, Ireland and Scotland.

We caught up with her to find out how she made the move from accountancy to distillery and how she navigates creating her own path in a notoriously male-dominated industry.

Was it always your intention to get involved in the whiskey industry?

It wasn’t my specific intention to get into whiskey, but I always wanted to do something exciting with my life. However, when I married my husband we talked about the unique situation we had with my family’s experience in the whiskey industry and my husband’s heritage as a barley farmer. It became clear that we had an amazing opportunity to make a truly special Irish whiskey, and it was this challenge that inspired me to start Tipperary whiskey.

What were your biggest concerns about setting up your business?

Like any good gambler, we decided what we could afford to lose and made sure that we only gambled that. Having said that, I suppose the biggest concern is always failure. We’ve all heard the statistics about how many start-ups fail within the first three years, and I have never been someone that is very accepting of failure. I always want to be on top, so the biggest concern for me is that we’ll somehow fail and I’ll have to admit defeat.

What was the greatest challenge you overcame?

I can say with certainty that my greatest ongoing challenge is time management; and trying to split myself in two on some days. Whilst leaving the safety of a really secure job was the biggest challenge I’ve undertaken to date, on a daily basis, I’m challenged by time and lack thereof.  I’ve had to become really ruthless about managing my time and prioritising tasks.

What is the best piece of advice you were given?

There are two pieces, if I may! From my mum and dad: “You can do anything.” My parents absolutely instilled this as a belief in me growing up. I have never believed that there was anything I couldn’t do. And from a former colleague of mine: “It’s only tax, nobody dies." This applies to most things in life. I have made mistakes, I’ve missed opportunities and I’ve just gotten things plain wrong. It’s important to do your best and be careful of making mistakes, but with this in mind, take risks and don’t be afraid of mistakes.

Do you have any advice for women trying to succeed in traditionally male dominated industries?

I’d like to say that equality is here and woman can do whatever they want, and they can. However, we’re still judged more on how we look and behave, than on our work ethic or abilities in some situations.

I’m not sure I have much advice except this - be ready to have a thick skin when you inevitably have to make hard calls and people get upset because they dislike being told things this way from a woman. And make sure that you have the confidence and self-belief to let all of this slide off your back when you go home and not have it weigh on you.

What are the plans for the future?

Field to bottle distillation! We are currently building on the farm and should be distilling onsite before summer. We already have a warehouse in place for maturation and we’re hoping to have a really cool new product out this summer. Then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to world domination!

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