Current Publication Date: 28/09/2007
Kilbeggan Distillery re-activated after 53 years
John Teeling Chairman of Cooley Distillery
John Teeling, Chairman of Cooley Distillery, re-activated an old pot still at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, at a ceremony in Kilbeggan last week.
On the 19th March 1954 production of whiskey ceased at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.
As part of the Kilbeggan Distillery 250th Birthday celebrations, the old pot still was re-activated 53 years to the day that the last drops of whiskey were distilled at the Kilbeggan site.
The distillery which uses a single pot still, last used in the 19th century, will initially produce up to 250,000 bottles of whiskey a year which will mature in the adjacent stone warehouses.
This is the oldest pot still working in Ireland and will revive a traditional style of distillation not seen in Ireland for many years.
At the re-activation ceremony, John Teeling, Chairman of Cooley Distillery said: “This is a rare and wonderful occasion. Cooley bought the Kilbeggan distillery in 1988 intending to restart distillation.
“Now, 19 years later and 53 years to the day after distilling stopped we have achieved our objective. Visitors to the Old Kilbeggan Distillery and Lockes Museum will now be able to see a real still in operation. But this is only the first step. We intend over time to bring back into operation the two giant pot stills which loom over the distillery.”
The firing of the pot still was witnessed by direct descendants of three historic whiskey families, who between them operated the distillery for over 200 years – the Mc Manus, the Codds’ and the Lockes.
“This is yet another step in the rejuvenation of Irish whiskey which is witnessing a renaissance with double digit growth worldwide. Irish whiskey is dominated by the two largest multi-national drinks companies in the world.
Cooley a small Irish owned company is the only alternative. Over the past 20 years we have had to be innovative to survive and prosper. The start up of only the 4th Irish whiskey distillery in Kilbeggan is vital in the further development of the Irish whiskey industry,” said Mr Teeling.
Cooley’s biggest selling brand, the Award winning Kilbeggan Irish whiskey, is named after the old distillery. To mark the occasion a special bottling of Kilbeggan 15 Year Old whiskey is being released and was unveiled at the launch of the new distillery. This Super Premium limited edition whiskey will be rolled out in Ireland and export markets over the coming months.
The Kilbeggan Distillery dates back to 1757 and is acknowledged as the oldest licensed distillery in the world. The distillery had been a stalwart of the Irish whiskey industry through the glory years of the 1800’s when Irish whiskey was the spirit of choice around the world.
However the early 1900’s signalled the demise of Irish whiskey due to a combination of factors including the War of Independence, Prohibition in the US and resistance to change to modern whiskey distillation techniques. This resulted in a major slump in Irish whiskeys traditional export markets and caused many well established distilleries to close. The Kilbeggan distillery was a victim of the industry malaise and stopped distilling in March 19th 1954.
The Old Kilbeggan Distillery was rescued in 1988 when Cooley Distillery bought the old distillery “lock, stock and barrel” with the aim to maintain the working distillery as a museum and utilise its extensive warehouses to mature its whiskey.
As part of Cooley’s strategy to resurrect an ancient brand of Irish whiskey they named their flagship brand “Kilbeggan”.
Kilbeggan Irish whiskey has won a host of different medals over the past 10 years including “Best in Category” at International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2005, Silver Medal from the IWSC 2006 and Silver Medal from International Review of Spirits 2006.
The Old Kilbeggan Distillery and the Kilbeggan whiskey brand are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year. This is a landmark by itself but to celebrate Cooley have decided to take a further step to resurrect the heritage of the Kilbeggan brand by re-commencing distillation on site in the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.
© Athlone Advertiser,2007