By Richard Thomas
When Beam Global (now Beam Suntory) bought the Cooley Distillery in 2012, the effect it had in the Irish Whiskey market was akin to what would happen if a major international drinks corporation bought Indiana’s MGP, decided it wanted to get into the American Whiskey market in a big way and moved to keep all the distillery’s production and stock for its own efforts. Several sourced Irish Whiskey brands suddenly found their contracts either canceled or declined for renewal, and had to choose between building a micro-distillery or selling the brand rights, because Ireland had no other sizable source of stock whiskey.
Slane Castle Whiskey was one of these. A whiskey brand associated with Slane Castle, the home of the Conyngham family and an estate that hosts one of the best known summer music festivals in Europe. Slane Castle Whiskey was left out in the cold too, prompting plans to build a distillery on the estate. When I spoke with a representative of Slane Castle in November 2014, those plans had not progressed far beyond having engineering and architectural renderings.
Eventually the folks behind Slane went for option two, and sold the brand to Brown-Forman in June 2015. Progress gained speed rapidly from there, with a groundbreaking on a $50 million distillery taking place in October 2015.
Now Brown-Forman has announced that the Slane Distillery and its visitor experience center will open later this autumn. Now known simply as “Slane Whiskey,” the distillery is just 30 miles north of Dublin and will surely become a well-traveled destination on the Irish Whiskey Trail.
“The new distillery at Slane is the first that Brown-Forman has constructed outside of the U.S. and we believe it will set a new benchmark for quality and flavor, as well as boost spirits tourism,” says John Hayes, Chief Marketing Officer, Brown-Forman Brands. “The Conyngham family long had the dream of producing whiskey at their ancestral home and we are proud to have made that dream come true together.”
The relaunched (and still sourced) Slane Whiskey is now available, and is making its distinctive mark by being a three-wood whiskey, drawing on stocks aged in new oak, used oak and Sherry oak. The visitor center will also include historic presentations about the Conyngham family and the Boyne River Valley, a cafe, gift shop, lounge and bar.
As for the distillery itself, it is equipped with the customary triple set of copper pot stills and six column stills made by Scotland’s McMillan, and is thus capable of making pot still, malt and grain whiskeys. Pot still whiskey production had once contracted down to just New Midleton, but when Slane opens it will become the fourth distillery in Ireland making pot still whiskey and the third making pot still, malt and grain.