By Richard Thomas
Coming hand in hand with booming Irish whiskey sales is the rapid expansion of new distilleries, both in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Yet amid all the new projects only one represents a true reversal of the mid-20th Century consolidation of the Irish whiskey industry, and that was the September launch of Tullamore Dew’s distillery.
When William Grant & Sons, makers of Grant’s and The Balvenie, bought Tullamore Dew away from Irish Distillers in 2010, it was with the intent of bringing production of the classic brand back to its home in Tullamore, County Offlay, but that decision brought major hurdles to overcome with it. County Offlay is a notoriously boggy place, and 250,000 tons of bog had to be compressed or shifted to prepare the site on the outskirts of Tullamore for building.
Despite the work on the bogs, piles still had to be driven to support the foundation. Finally, there was no suitable water source locally, so the water for the distillery is piped 14 km from the mountains. From an engineering point of view, the Tullamore Dew’s €35m new home was one of the most challenging distillery projects of modern times.
The original Tullamore distillery, opened in 1827, now serves as the Tullamore Dew Visitor Center, located in the middle of town on the canal. Production there ceased in the 1950s when the brand was bought by Powers, and moved first to Dublin and then to Midleton.
Under the law, Irish whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years, so Tullamore Dew is at least that far away from having even one drop of the distillery’s new production go into the bottles. Yet even later this decade, the distillery won’t be a completely independent concern. With its three standard and one Irish-style pot stills, Tullamore Dew is well equipped to make malt and pot still whiskey, but it as of yet has no Coffey (or column) still for making grain whiskey. That part of producing the company’s main product will continue to be outsourced to New Midleton and Bushmills for some time to come. For now, the bottling is outsourced as well.
Even so, when one looks at the sparkling new facility, with everything from milling to distilling brought under one roof, one sees plenty of room for expansion. Tullamore Dew has a strong presence in the United States, the product being Irish Distillers’ export brand for decades, and is the second-ranked whiskey in its home market. Sales have more than doubled since 2005. The classic brand and their modern, new distillery have plenty of potential to grow, and keep on growing.