I got fierce excited about a 138 million euro proposal to develop a whiskey maturation & filling facility near the village of Moyvore – only a half hour from my home in Westmeath.
It’s the less ‘sexy’ side of the whiskey industry whose main attractions are the actual distilleries with their gleaming copper pot stills.
Whiskey maturation warehouses are simply that – warehouses – but they do smell nice with all that wood & slow release of whiskey to the angel’s share!
Project Vault plans to offer a service to Irish whiskey distilleries whereby the clear new make spirit is transferred to Moyvore – probably by road tanker – carefully filled into wooden casks and then put on the shelves for the minimum 3 years period to slowly take in all the tastes, flavours & colours of the wood before it becomes that fabulous brown spirit I love – whiskey.
Most of the new whiskey distilleries that are currently being built have no storage facilities on site.
The current Dublin distilleries of Teeling, Pearse Lyons, Diageo & Dublin Liberties have no choice. Ever since the infamous 1875 Liberties whiskey fire – no whiskey has been allowed to mature within the confines of Dublin City.
The established distilleries of Bushmills & Midleton are currently expanding their storage capacity on lands adjacent to or nearby their present sites.
Westmeath’s own Kilbeggan Distillery – along with it’s sister Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth – now owned by US giant Brown-Forman is also running out of space due to the increased demand for Irish whiskey throughout the world.
It’s this demand and welcome worldwide growth in Irish whiskey sales that local businessman Alan Wright is trying to satisfy in developing this much needed facility in his home county of Westmeath.
A public meeting to discuss the proposal was recently held in the St Oliver’s Community Centre in Moyvore itself. Excited to hear what the full plans were – I went along.
Cars were strung along the R392 road as the community hall was filled by over 100 local residents. On the top table were Alan Wright himself flanked by Robert Allen – a structural/civil engineer with 35 years experience who works with Allen Barber Ltd engineers who have been commissioned to design & build the facility – and Dr George Smith – an eminent ecologist with Blackthorn Ecology who will be overseeing the environmental impact of the development & it’s ongoing lifespan.
I must confess to bumping into Dr Smith on a number of occasions. The most recent being engaged on an environmental BioBlitz on the beautiful Clare Island where despite the frenzied wildlife finding activities, time was found to enjoy a few whiskeys in the fabulous Sailors Bar!
A short video introduced the project to us.
It laid out the rise of Irish whiskey & the need for more maturation sites. The process by which the site at Moyvore was chosen over & above about a dozen other sites around Ireland. – It should be noted here that to be labelled as Irish Whiskey the spirit has to be both distilled AND matured on the Island of Ireland. – The various land surveys, ecological surveys, transport links & other health & safety requirements that had to be met before even the first sod of turf could be turned on the site. How the developers wanted to work with the local community in allaying any fears or worries about the project & how they wished to consult over any issues that could arise during any phase of the plan.
I considered the presentation a rather thorough explanation as to what was planned, what had been done to date & what would be done in the future to ensure the safe operation of the site for both the workers within, the wider community around and the bio-diversity of the habitat too.
From the outset it became clear the mood was decidedly negative.
Speaker after speaker after speaker voiced their fears about how the development was a threat to the community. Issues were raised over the risk of fire & explosion, increased traffic problems, the threat of black fungus & even a potential terrorist target!
The top table calmly & clearly attempted to explain the actions they had instituted to allay theses issues. Mr Allen said that the safety requirements in the building far exceeded those of the recent American explosion & that a large water storage tank on site to feed a water sprinkling system would extinguish any potential fire within thirty minutes.
The mere mention of a large water storage tank in turn prompted fears of flooding.
Dr Smith outlined they were aware of the black fungus – or angel’s share fungus – which is a particular type of fungus common to distillery sites which creates dis-colouration on nearby vegetation & buildings. There wasn’t much actual research on this species – and certainly I think the whiskey industry ought to do more – but that a planned 100 to 150 metre zone within the site would be planted with a ring of trees to prevent any outbreak from reaching close neighbours.
None of the comments seemed to appease the angry & clearly passionate opposition.
I was taken aback!
No one seemed to think of the increased opportunities for jobs created by such a venture especially given that nearby Longford has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
No one seemed to see the potential tourist development given the nearby Center Parcs site as well as the 40,000 people that visited the Kilbeggan Distillery – that would certainly be a boost to McCawley’s, the only pub & shop in the town!
No one seemed to comment on the growing spend of the Irish whiskey industry both directly & indirectly into the Irish economy of up to 45 million per annum . Maybe some of that money could be used to improve the local roads.
When one of the commentators mentioned there would be no jobs for locals I just had to butt in.
‘I live only a half hour away & I’m a fully qualified haz-chem driver & I’d love to drive a tanker of whiskey up and down the local roads.
Irish whiskey is a growing & well respected product throughout the world. Having such a facility in Moyvore would put it on the world map & lead to a growing tourist industry.
I’m fully in favour of the development.’
Or words to that effect.
Unexpectedly I received a round of applause – almost as loud as that garnished by opponents to the scheme. At the end of the day I was the only person from the floor to voice a positive attitude to the development.
Clearly Project Vault have a hard job to do to convince a divided community of the merits of such a development within their midst. The meeting was certainly an eye-opener to me of all the hard work that often goes on unseen to build the infrastructure that produces the liquid I so enjoy.
I hope Project Vault gets the go ahead.
Irish Whiskey used to be number 1 in the world in terms of sales & quality up to the early 1900’s.
It has the potential to win back that title in the future.
Moyvore is an essential part of that future and I wish all those involved future success.
I should point out I’m an independent blogger passionate about all things whiskey.
All views are my own and I am not connected in any way to the proposers of this plan nor the whiskey industry in general.
The residents of Moyvore have voiced legitimate concerns that I feel can be addressed by the Project Vault team in whom I credit a degree of trust & faith that they can deliver a state of the art facility that is safe, clean and efficient both for the needs of the whiskey industry and the nearby communities.