Blimey, it's Friday already! A Valentine's Day Friday, no less! Well, today we only have eyes for delicious Irish Whiskey as we move onto the third and final instalment of this bumper blog post.
Back at the start of Part 1, I mentioned Teeling Whiskey Company's recently confirmed plans to build a new distillery in Dublin, the first in 125 years. This post will cover this and many other projects that could see the number of distilleries in Ireland double, treble, or perhaps even quadruple!
First though, I'll try to briefly run through some other news and developments, starting with the fact that in 2011 Beam Inc. bought Cooley, introducing another big player alongside the giants of Pernod Ricard and Diageo and leaving Ireland without an independent distillery once again (albeit briefly...).
Part 1 - The History of Irish Whiskey
Part 2 - Styles of Irish Whiskey (with yummy examples!)
Part 3 - New Distilleries, Recent Developments and The Future...
Whiskey marks the spot! Turning the sod at the site of the new Tullamore D.E.W. distillery.
New Distilleries, Recent Developments and The Future...
Upon purchasing Cooley, Beam binned many of their more experimental projects, and also had little interest in supplying retail own brands or other companies, something Cooley had previously specialised in. As a result, many brands of independently bottled whiskey either struggled or fell by the wayside. Thankfully this gave birth to new and exciting projects as some came to the conclusion that it was time to build their own distilleries whilst others (whether supplied by Cooley or otherwise) already had their own plans in the pipeline. With the category still growing impressively and with the trio of big boys (one of which may be about to get a whole lot bigger!) continuing to bang the drum for Irish whiskey for the foreseeable future, there's probably been no better time to open a new distillery on the Emerald Isle!
Beam, meanwhile, concentrated on the core range, with special interest in the Kilbeggan blend and brand. They even renamed the company they'd taken over, which became 'Kilbeggan Distilling Company'. The Kilbeggan distillery had been reopened for part of production by Cooley in 2007 (initially with just one still) and as the oldest producing distillery in the world (yep), with appealing, historical buildings and an established brand in the US, it's no surprise that Beam adopted it as the new focus point. They soon invested in the site, especially in facilities for visitors. On 13th January 2014, it was subsequently announced that Suntory had offered to purchase Beam for the princely sum of $16 billion, having previously been interested in purchasing Cooley themselves. This deal will make Suntory the third biggest drinks company in the world.
Suntory are in the process of acquiring Beam.
Pernod Ricard's Irish Distillers have been busy establishing an impressive range of single pot still expressions over the last few years, their goal being to add a couple every year for a decade or longer. Alongside the impressive range mentioned yesterday, we've also recently seen a Redbreast 21 Year Old and we can probably expect returns for Mitchell and Son's Blue Spot and Red Spot in due course (and frankly we hope they have a whole Dulux colour chart at their disposal!). In 2013 they also finished almost doubling production at the Midleton site from 34 million to 60 million litres! (This includes all the spirit for the Jameson blends, but is still an absolutely staggering amount from one distillery!)
The older Midleton stillhouse has been renamed after Master Blender, Barry Crockett, who retired during the 'Housewarming' celebrations for the expanded site.
It's estimated that around €400 million has been invested in Irish whiskey distilleries in recent years, including around €45m by Diageo, upgrading Bushmills. Let's turn our attention now to the new ones, though, and with the belief that there are only 3 Irish whiskey distilleries still ingrained in the minds of many, let's see just how far from the truth this may soon become...
(Advanced warning that you may be about to get quite sick of 'artist's impressions'.)
Kilbeggan (reopened 2007)
Kilbeggan, originally founded in 1757 (27 years before Bushmills), shut its doors in 1957. The newly-formed Cooley purchased the brand and the distillery (which was still in good condition, having been maintained as a museum by locals) back in 1988, but they initially only made use of the warehousing facilities, rather than the distillery itself. That would all change in 2007, when a single still from the old Tullamore D.E.W. distillery was installed and used for the second distillation of spirit brought over from Cooley's main site.
By 2010, with the addition of another still, 4 Oregon pine washbacks and a wooden mash tun, it was, by anyone's standards, a 'proper' distillery once again. Since the Beam takeover, it has, however, ceased to be the home of some of Cooley's coolest experiments and increasing become the visitor-friendly face of 'Kilbeggan Distilling Company'.
Kilbeggan distillery, back in business.
Led by Oliver Hughes (who was also a founder of the The Porterhouse Brewing Company) Dingle came on stream in October 2012, becoming the most westerly distillery in Europe. Aided by John McDougall, this craft distillery is proud of its small scale production (output is up to 16 hogsheads a week) and excited about the triple-distilled malt whiskey it's producing. They're also offering an opportunity for 500 'Founding Fathers' to purchase their own individual single cask (sherry, bourbon, wine or port wood). Future releases could include Dingle Whale Tail (100% bourbon matured) as well as Dingle Green and Dingle Gold single malts. An excellent introductory video can be found here.
Hidden away on a lower level at Dingle is another still, producing Gin and Vodka. The gin uses "nine traditional and locally grown & harvested botanicals: rowan berry, juniper, fuschia, bog myrtle, heather, chervil, hawthorn, angelica and coriander", and both the gin and vodka are presented in handsome bottles (that are particularly reminiscent of No. 209 Gin).
The stills (designed by John McDougall) arriving at Dingle Distillery (2012)
Now, Alltech are an American biotech company that "improves the health and performance of people, animals and plants through natural nutrition and scientific innovation". They may not be the first people you'd imagine opening an Irish whiskey distillery - but the company are experts in yeast fermentation. Founder Dr Pearse Lyons has a master's degree in brewing and distillation, as well as a doctorate in yeast fermentation, which he studied for after working at both Harper and Guiness breweries, before going on to work for Irish Distillers as a biochemist. Oh yeah, he's Irish by the way! Nineteen years after setting up Alltech, they began applying their scientific expertise to brewing beer, and in 2012 Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. opened Town Branch Distillery in Kentucky, producing bourbon, single malt and a coffee liqueur (made with bourbon).
Wasting little time, 'Alltech’s craft distillery' (it still doesn't even have a proper name!) was subsequently opened in Ireland in November 2012, on the site of Carlow Brewing Company (O'Hara's Brewery), less than six months after Pearse's first conversation on the subject with Seamus O'Hara! The distillery is fully manual, is equipped with two Vendrome pot stills made over in Kentucky (interesting as the pot stills they have in Kentucky were made in Scotland!) and will produce double-distilled malt whiskey.
'Alltech Craft Distillery'
Echlinville Distillery (2013)
The first of our independent bottlers to take production into their own hands, Feckin Irish Whiskey was launched by Shane Braniff back in 2005. In the Summer of 2013 their Echlinville distillery on the Ards Peninsula became the first new distillery in Northern Ireland in over 130 years! As well as Feckin, Echlinville will produce Dunville branded whiskey (a once famous brand produced at the biggest distillery in Belfast). Hopefully this means we'll be seeing single pot still Irish whiskey that's been produced in Northern Ireland released within the next few years! They're also growing their own barley, having planted about 100 acres of the stuff and have planning permission for a complex that will include a visitors’ centre, bar and museum.
Feckin Shane Braniff
Tullamore D.E.W. (under construction)
Ever since William Grant & Sons took over the second biggest selling Irish whiskey brand, Tullamore D.E.W., in 2010, the construction of a new distillery has been a very real possibility. Returning to County Offaly after a 60 year absence, work began on the the new €35m distillery in Clonminch (on the outskirts of Tullamore) in September 2013. Unfortunately for them, the old Tullamore stills are sitting happily at Kilbeggan, of course!
The new Tullamore D.E.W. distillery (an artist's impression)
Teeling Whiskey Company (planned)
It didn't take the Teeling family long to get back into the Irish whiskey industry as they founded Teeling Whiskey Company, initially an independent bottler, in 2012. This time it was John's son Jack at the helm, and since then his brother Stephen (who had continued to work for Cooley following the sale to Beam) has now also joined the project. Although synonymous with Cooley for so long, the family can actually trace their association with whiskey back to 1782 when Walter Teeling set up a distillery in the Liberties, in central Dublin.
It's no secret that the Teelings have been looking to follow in Walter's footsteps and return whiskey distillation to Dublin for some time, but in January 2013 they finally announced their plans for a new €10m distillery and visitor centre in Newmarket Square, in the Liberties. Production could begin before the end of the year, with the good stuff expected to trickle from the still in early 2015.
Whiskey returns to Dublin (an artist's impression)
Walsh Whiskey Distillery (planned)
The Irishman emerged as an independent whiskey bottler in 2007 (by way of being producers of Hot Irishman Irish Coffee since 1999) and they subsequently created the Writer's Tears brand in 2009 (a blend of single malt and single pot still whiskeys). With the financial support of Illva Saronno (the company behind Disaronno and Tia Maria), a new €25 million distillery will now be built by the banks of the River Barrow in Royal Oak, Carlow (not far from those Alltech chaps!). It could be producing malt, grain and pot still whiskeys for their brands by 2016, with a capacity to cater for private labels as well.
Walsh Whiskey Distillery
Slane Castle Whiskey (planned)
Slane Castle Whiskey was an independent bottling that first appeared in 2009, and was distilled at Cooley up until 2012. It's a real castle by the way, home to the Conyngham family in County Meath since the 18th century. (If you ask The Most Hon. Henry Vivien Pierpont Conyngham, Eighth Marquess Conyngham nicely, he'll tell you the one about King George IV's romance with his great, great, great, great grandmother.) Having lost their supply, they now have planning permission for a €12 million distillery on their grounds that will produce triple-distilled single malt and single pot still, using barley from their own estate. They will also produce their own column still grain whiskey, which by the sounds of it, may also use their barley as opposed to maize, which would be interesting.
Slane Castle Whiskey distillery (an artist's impression)
Niche Drinks (planned)
Producers of Irish Cream Liqueurs such as Saint Brendan's (as well as their own brand, Shannon's, and a number for supermarkets) plan to move to a new site within Derry, where they also plan to distil their own whiskey. Planning permission for their £15m project was granted in 2013.
The Belfast Distillery Company (planned)
Lottery winner Peter Lavery's company is yet another independent bottler who plan to turn their hand to distilling - having already had success with his Danny Boy and Titanic brands. The plan is to turn part of the former Crumlin Road Prison in north Belfast into a distillery, where they will also produce a new product: Jailhouse Poteen!
Jailhouse on the Rocks?
Horse Island (planned)
Horse Island, just south of Cork, is owned by Adrian Fitzgibbon, whose company, Roaring Water Farm & Enterprises, applied for planning permission at the end of 2012 for a distillery that would include a mash house, a fermentation house, a still house, a visitors' centre, two warehouses and a restaurant-cafè with whiskey bar. They propose to produce single pot still Irish whiskey, but it's unclear whether they'll ever get the investment or support they need to get the project off the ground.
We've heard a couple of other rumours too, but certainly nothing more concrete than that. The Dingle Brewing Company (not be confused with the Porterhouse Brewing Company who are connected to Dingle distillery) did have plans to also distil spirits, but that seems to have gone quiet for now. One that doesn't count, it seems, is West Cork Distillers, who make "brown spirits" and "spirit drinks" that are "cask oak infused", or use "malt steeping", with some containing "Celtic whiskies". None of which sounds terribly promising...
So what are we up to? 14?! (You can view them all on an Interactive Map on one of our Pinterest boards). Whilst perhaps not all these projects will reach fruition, these are undoubtedly extremely exciting times for the Irish whiskey category and I for one very much look forward to tasting plenty more new expressions from a range of distilleries in the future!
Irish Whiskey: Standing Tall.*
* Although I'm an Englishman, and no matter what he does during this 6 Nations, I'll always love Brian O'Driscoll and the other 2009 Grand Slam winners. When I was at uni we decided who would get which room in our new house by each picking a 6 Nations team out of a hat before the tournament. I got Ireland. And the master bedroom. Aces.