There were only four operational distilleries on the island of Ireland in 2010. Between investment by multi-national spirits companies and the raising of finance by pioneering entrepreneurs, money began to flow into the development of new distilleries across the island of Ireland. By November 2020 the number of operational Irish whiskey distilleries had increased to 38 and the map of the Irish whiskey landscape had been radically redrawn.
Over the course of the decade the stories of distillery development and expansion have been remarkable. Two of the largest investments took place in Midleton and Tullamore. The existing distillery in Midleton underwent substantial expansions from development and subsequent expansion of the Garden Stillhouse to the provision of Ireland’s largest column stills. In total, over €400 million has been invested by Irish Distillers in their operations this decade. In Tullamore, William Grant & Sons invested over €100 million in developing a new grain-to-glass production campus encompassing distilling, maturation, blending and bottling at Clonminch on the outskirts of the town. This development represented the largest green-field distillery development in Ireland in decades and generated over 100 jobs, becoming one of the largest single employers in Co. Offaly.
Other provincial towns to see a return of distilling this decade were Ballina, Clonakilty, Dingle, Dundalk and Drumshanbo to name a few, all led by Irish entrepreneurs. A number of new distilleries in provincial towns have moved into vacant industrial premises replacing the enterprises which had previously operated there, replacing lost jobs in the town, supporting the local economy and contributing greatly to the vibrancy and vitality of these towns. A bakery in Ballina, a saw mill in Dingle, a jam factory in Drumshanbo and a brewery in Dundalk are all now thriving Irish whiskey distilleries. Another trend has been the development of new distilleries on historic Irish estates and demesnes including at Slane Castle demesne in Co. Meath, Powerscourt Estate in Co. Wicklow, Hazelwood Estate on Lough Gill in Co. Sligo and Rademon Estate in Co. Down.
Dublin’s Liberties, once the world’s busiest centre for whiskey production, has also re-emerged as a 21st century hub for distilling with four distilleries, two on James Street and two at Newmarket/Mill Street, with the development of Teeling Distillery kick-starting a transformative regeneration of Newmarket.
Many distilleries have also partnered with other local businesses to showcase local food, drinks and craft makers, as well as local food-service providers.
The investments in new distilleries have delivered new jobs, substantial local purchasing as well the additional jobs and spill-overs associated with the construction activity. Distillery developments have made a tangible and substantial contribution to local economic regeneration and to the social fabric of urban and rural communities throughout the island of Ireland. Of course, it’s not all about distilleries. The past decade has seen the development of: company offices, including for non-distillery brands, Irish whiskey bonders, maturation facilities, blending and bottling facilities and non-distillery brand homes. These also bring investment, jobs and spending to communities.
In 2019, the Irish whiskey industry:
- Distilled over 100 million litres of pure alcohol
- Purchased 61,000 timber pallets
- Purchased 270,000 used American oak barrels from the US whiskey industry
- Used over 200,00 tonnes of malt and grain
- Used over 414,000 cubic metres of water
- Had over 3.1 million casks being matured on the island of Ireland
Recent years have seen a very welcome revival of Ireland’s rich and proud heritage of independent bottling and bonding. Once upon a time, pubs and wine merchants would buy distillate from distilleries and mature, finish and blend it themselves. This is how iconic brands such as Green Spot and Redbreast first emerged. Now, a new generation of bonders and independent bottlers, are producing exciting new Irish whiskeys in this famous Irish tradition. This includes many of our newer distilleries who have built brands with sourced whiskey while waiting for their own distillate to mature. These companies have been joined by an increasing number of non-distillery and private label brands resulting in a major expansion of Irish whiskey brands on the market.
In order for this to thrive, adequate capacity is required in terms of contract distilling. Great Northern Distillery, established in 2015 on the site of the old Harp Brewery in Dundalk, is leading the way in contract distilling, supplying high-quality bulk whiskey to a large number of customers who are, in turn, selling to markets around the world. As new distilleries begin to release their own matured stock, the pool of available distillates will also grow and the scope for bonders and independent bottlers to produce new expressions will be endless.