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Pearse Lyons Whiskey

Irish whiskey fans are spoilt for choice in Dublin now. But it’s hard to imagine you’ll see a more striking sight in the city that once ruled the whisky world than a distillery housed in a church, complete with pot stills sitting on top of an altar. A short distance from the Guinness storehouse is St. James’ Church, a structure that dates back to the 12th century that is home to the Pearse Lyons Distillery.

The brand is named after its founder, Dr. Pearse Lyons, who sadly passed in 2018 at the age of 73, but not before he had a chance to realise his dream. He made his money in the animal nutrition industry, but Dr. Lyons was always a booze man at heart. He was the first Irish man to get a formal degree in brewing and distilling from the British Institute of Brewing & Distilling and did his internship in John’s Lane, Powers Distillery in the 70s before it closed down. He then worked with Guinness and after that, was one of the main engineers that built Midleton Distillery.

Sixth generations of his family have been involved in Irish whiskey. On his mother’s side were the Dunnes, coopers with their own cooperages. His grand-aunt was actually the first female cooper ever registered in Ireland. Distillery operations are now overseen by his son, Mark Lyons, the 7th generation of his family involved in the Dublin whiskey industry.

After opening a brewery and then a distillery (Town Branch) in the US, the Dundalk man returned home, importing two Kentucky Vendome stills, Mighty Molly & Little Lizzie (named in honour of the Lyons family’s distant relatives), to Carlow in 2012. The whiskey made there was ready to bottle while St James Church was being converted to a distillery. It’s actually his old family church.

The church was deconsecrated in the sixties and was in ruin when Dr. Lyons purchased it, but as a national monument, it took almost five years and €20 million to renovate. Now, the church’s stained glass windows depict four stories associated with the art of the cooper, Irish whiskey, and St. James, as well as the Camino de Santiago. But the most striking detail of all is the stills, sitting proudly at the centre of the church on the altar.

Mighty Molly, the wash still, was designed with a neck and ball configuration to assist in refining the spirit character, while Little Lizze, the spirit still, is somewhat unusual as she has four rectification plates installed in her neck to further purify and refine the spirit. Pearse Lyons has its own inclusion in the Irish whiskey technical file because of Little Lizzie’s swan neck and rectifying plate.

Milling takes place elsewhere and the grist is broken down to specification, but every other stage takes place at St. James’ Church, from the mashing and fermentation to the distillation. The brewhouse is like a craft beer setup, fermenting in steel first and then in Oregon pine open washbacks. Barrels are imported directly from its sister distillery, Town Branch in Kentucky. All Pearse Lyons whiskies are bottled at 43% ABV with no chill-filtration or additional colouring.

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