Whisky Advocate

Whiskey flows from Kilbeggan distillery

June 5th, 2007

A new chapter in Irish whiskey distilling began this past March 19th, when Ireland’s fourth and newest Irish whiskey distillery–Kilbeggan–started making whiskey. We use the phrase “new” loosely, given that this distilling site is actually the oldest continuously licensed distilling site in the world, dating back 250 years.

According to David Quinn, the distillery manager who toured me around the distillery this past May, whiskey-making was fairly consistent from the time it started up in 1757 until 1953, when spirit last ran off the stills. The Locke family began running the distillery in 1843, and to this day the distillery is often referred to as John Locke’s Distillery.

The rebirth of the new Kilbeggan distillery actually began in 1987 when a group of investors led by John Teeling purchased the Cooley distillery in Ireland.

“The Cooley distillery was owned by the government at the time,” John told me as he drove me down from his office outside Dublin to the Kilbeggan distillery to meet with David. “They were using ugly potatoes to make alcohol, among other things. They closed it in 1986.”

He continued: “We needed a place to store the whisky we were making at Cooley because they didn’t have any warehouses. Cooley is 400 yards to the Northern Ireland border. We didn’t want to build a warehouse there, fearing theft–or worse–so we purchased the silent Locke distillery site in Kilbeggan in 1988. In 1989, we started making whiskey at Cooley. We also bought the old Irish Mist warehouse in Tullamore in 1991, and we bought the copper pot stills from the Tullamore Dew Distillery after it closed. These stills are now at Kilbeggan.”

In addition to aging Cooley whiskey at Kilbeggan, there’s also an Irish whiskey museum on the site, providing tours of what remains of the old distilling equipment. And naturally, there’s a gift shop selling Cooley whiskeys.

For now, only the second distillation occurs at Kilbeggan. The wort, wash, and low wines from the first distillation are all coming from Cooley. A tiny spirit still, from the old B. Daly (Tullamore Dew) distillery is used at Kilbeggan right now for the second distillation. The big pot stills remain silent. John told me that he believes that the small pot still was first used in the 1830s, and last distilled in 1878.

“We’re currently making 325 liters per day of spirit,” David Quinn told me as we were watching the still pump out spirit through the spirit safe. We also acquired two copper column stills from Tullamore Dew, but we don’t have plans to use them. We’ll put them on display here in Kilbeggan. We do, however, have plans for putting in a wash still to complete the distillation. Our wash for the distillation will continue coming from Cooley.”

It will be at least three years before Kilbeggan whiskey can be legally sold as whiskey. In the meantime, we can sip and savor a 15 year old blended Irish whiskey call Kilbeggan, which was produced at Cooley. This special whiskey was bottled this year to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Kilbeggan distillery. And with it, we also toast the rebirth of whiskey-making at Kilbeggan.

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