A Spring 2016 Update On Ireland’s Distillery-Building Boom
By Richard Thomas
Irish whiskey is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world whiskey industry, a fact that has led to a strong revival of Ireland’s distilling scene. At one point the Emerald Isle had only two working whiskey distilleries (and one of these, Bushmills, was in Northern Ireland to boot!). Now Ireland boasts more than a dozen operating distilleries in the whiskey making business, with most of those having opened in just the past few years.
Numbers like that in a small country like Ireland equate to the kind of boom where six months can bring a lot of changes and new faces. Since our last report on the expansion of Irish whiskey distilling in November 2015, new distilleries have opened, others have moved from other spirits into whiskey-making, and some new, very promising projects have arisen.
Although the grand opening is not until next month, the new €25 million County Carlow distillery owned by the makers of The Irishman and Writer’s Tears is up and running, having made it’s first new make on Easter Sunday 2016. Located on an 18th Century estate, the distillery can produce all three types of Irish whiskey—malt, pot still and grain—with a billed capacity of 650,000 cases per year.
The Waterford Distillery project went operational in record time, no doubt because it is converted from a (merely) nine year old Guinness brewery. Mark Reynier, formerly of Bruichladdich, and his partners bought the distillery from Diageo, reportedly for far less than the €40 million estimated value of the site. The distillery is slated to produce both grain and malt whiskey, and the first spirit run came in November 2015
Rademon Estate Distillery
This distillery has been operational as the makers of Short Cross Gin for some time now, but it was only recently that they announced their intent to move into whiskey-making. The first steps in that move should take place later this year.
Connacht Whiskey Company
Products like Spade & Bushel 10 Year Old are obviously sourced, but Connacht Whiskey Company went operational late last year. The Ballina, County Mayo distillery aims to produce a signature pot still whiskey, but in the meantime they have bottled whiskey blends and poitin.
Works In Progress
When what is now Beam Suntory bought Cooley Distillery, they began closing out Ireland’s several sourced whiskey brands. This was one of the events that put the current distillery building boom into motion, and one of those brands that was left out in the cold was Slane Castle.
Although Slane Castle was one of the earliest new Irish distillery projects announced, it was stuck in the planning stage for years while the brand itself became semi-defunct. That logjam was broken when Brown-Forman bought the Slane Castle brand last summer. They followed up on that acquisition rapidly, breaking ground on a $50 million distillery in October 2015.
Alltech, owners of Lexington, Kentucky’s Town Branch Distillery, should have had an operating distillery years ago. Their original plan was to create another brewstillery by making whiskey at Carlow Brewing. The Vendome-made equipment had been shipped to Ireland, but the decision was made to relocate the prospective distillery to the more tourist-friendly Dublin and locate it in a historic church. Problems relating to renovating a registered building stymied the project for a few years, but those difficulties have been solved and the project is moving forward again. Now christened the Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dublin’s second whiskey-making attraction should be open next year.
The first whiskey project announced in Dublin will likely be the last to become an operational distillery, but things are looking better for Dublin Whiskey Company. The start-up was bought by Quintessential Brands this past March, and Quintessential promptly hired former Bushmills Master Distiller Darryl McNally to run the operation. Dublin Whiskey Company is expected to open in the summer of 2017.
Finally, Powerscourt Distillery has reportedly raised €3 million for what is projected as a €10 million distillery. While not quite the same thing as breaking ground or receiving a truckload of copper equipment, it is much further along than many Irish distilling projects and shows promise. As was and is the case with many similar efforts in the United States, announcing the new distillery and actually building one are two widely separated milestones.