August 24th may have been the proposed date for the opening of Slane Distillery – but the practicalities of fitting a modern working whiskey distillery into the protected structures of Slane Castle’s former stable sheds – along with an attractive visitors centre & cosy whiskey bars – often means there are delays – so the Launch Party went ahead as planned in advance of the opening in September.
Fortuitously, an invitation to the Launch Party happily saw me entering under the arches of the stable clock into a large attractive quadrangle surrounded by the almost complete distillery on one side – and a lovely tasting bar set into the former stable bays themselves on the other.
The horse theme continued with the lovely life-size installation of a running horse made out of used whiskey barrels set in the attractive walled garden grounds.
The modern distillery – capable of producing all 4 types of Irish whiskey, single grain, single malt, single pot still & blended – is the latest venture by the Conyngham family to secure the future of Slane Castle which has been in their hands since 1703.
This long lineage – along with rock ‘n’ roll tales of Slane Castle gigs – was explored by the opening speech of Lord Mountcharles – or Henry to his friends – who recalls his joy as a young boy watching the horses being saddled up for a ride in the very quadrangle we now stood – and the new found joy of watching us all enjoy a glass of Slane Whiskey after the first seeds were planted of establishing a whiskey distillery back in 1981 with Thin Lizzy’s headline appearance at the first Slane Castle concert singing their classic ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.
Brooke Brown Barzun – part of the Brown family dynasty that still controls drinks giant Brown-Forman to this day – followed on these historic themes with her personal involvement in seeing the Slane Whiskey project come to fruition.
Lawson Whiting from Brown-Forman spoke about the excitement & joy of being able to see that original dream by Lord Mountcharles become a reality in creating the wonderful Slane Distillery we see today. He also thanked the hard work of Alex Conyngham in establishing thousands of accounts across Europe & America for the current Slane Whiskey bottling, which in true american speak was described as ‘awsome’.
Alex himself rounded of the speeches by thanking all those that had been involved in the project- from the recently hired distillery staff in their smart new livery, the myriad of builders, designers, engineers & electricians who constructed the distillery, the county planners, officials & office staff who assisted over the mountain of red-tape associated with building a distillery in a listed building on the River Boyne Special Area of Conservation, and many others too, but lastly his loving wife & children for his long absences from home to build the future of Slane Distillery.
And with that – a toast was raised to the launch of Slane Distillery – the drinks flowed and the rock ‘n’ roll began!
I used the opportunity to wander round the site firing off a few shots of the cooperage display area, chatting to a few fellow attendees & indulging in a drink of neat Slane Irish Whiskey after forgoing the trendy cocktails offered.
I liked the touch of including LP records of bands that had played in Slane over the years being offered for sale in the well stocked distillery shop – & had another drink.
I bumped into & chatted to old acquaintances & new friends as I continued to asses the quality of the Slane Irish Whiskey blend.
It wasn’t until our rather merry little band of now very happy Dublin bound launch attendees chatted away on the bus home did it dawn on me how inebriated I’d become on an empty stomach!
Luckily for me – the others seemed to be in a similar situation – & what little supplies we had left were quickly consumed along with increasingly animated banter.
I did put forward the proposition that the marvelous marketeer’s dream of the long historic back story of Slane Castle together with the more recent rock ‘n’ roll status of Slane concerts coupled with a similarly aged whiskey heritage of Jack Daniel’s fame & rock connections was such a marriage made in heaven that what was actually in the bottle was mere icing on the cake.
‘Aha’ said another, ‘yer not shy about putting it away however.’
Which indeed I wasn’t.
Testament – if any is required – that behind all the hype, Slane Irish Whiskey is an enjoyable easy to drink blended whiskey with just the right amount of character that stands on it’s own merits – even if I was beginning to have difficulty in that department at this point.
I should point out that Brown-Forman & myself would advocate a policy of responsible drinking.
Apart from a sorehead & a dry mouth in the morning, there were no ill effects a substantial breakfast could’t fix.
Apologies to anyone on the very enjoyable evening I may have accosted with my increasingly incoherent ramblings.
I wish all involved with Slane Distillery future success.
” Slane Castle has survived on Rock ‘n’ Roll and the inspiration for Slane Irish Whiskey came from the first rock concert we staged back in 1981 with Thin Lizzy.
Phil Lynott’s lyric – Whiskey In The Jar – struck me back then and a dream was born.
Throughout the thick and thin of the intervening years Phil’s song stayed with me, nourishing that dream.
Tonight I’m proud to say that dream has become a reality.
Slane Irish Whiskey is definitely in the jar!
Enjoy the music!
Enjoy the craic!
Enjoy Slane Irish Whiskey!”
And with that – Henry & Alex Conyngham released Slane Irish Whiskey – as well as announcing their distillery – to the accompaniment of local rock band Otherkin -who happen to be supporting Guns N Roses next week at the very same Slane Castle.
I must say – as whiskey launches go – this was pretty damn cool!
Otherkin pumping out their own tunes, along with selected classics from bands that have played Slane over the years.
Slane Irish Whiskey flowing either neat – in my case – or with fashionable cocktail suggestions.
And delightfully tasty tit-bits of food served up by the trusty Eastside Tavern crew where the launch was held.
An eclectic gathering of people came to witness this event including Phil Lynott’s mum Philomena fresh from unveiling a refurbished statue to her famous son & all enjoying the the bright sunny Dublin evening that was in it.
But what about the whiskey?
Well it’s obviously not from Slane Distillery itself – which is due to open it’s doors to the public in August.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a sourced blend of quality malt & grain spirits blended and matured together in 3 different types of casks under the watchful eye of Brown-Forman master distillers Chris Morris and Steve Hughes.
Like Otherkin – this is a young, fresh & gutsy whiskey that grabs your attention.
The soft smooth nose captures elements of both the virgin oak and oloroso casks used in a sweet sherry bouquet. There is a bit of depth to the taste with some wood notes & a welcome soft spice from the seasoned American casks too. This all develops into a friendly warmth that gently fades away.
This raises Slane Irish Whiskey up a notch or 2 in my book as the spirit exudes a bit more punch & flavour than standard blends. It would perform very well alongside Jameson’s Crested, Bushmills Black Bush as well as Diageo’s Roe & Co if you’re familiar with these brands.
The bottle is also attractively designed in muscular black with contrasting white & red labeling together with the raised Slane motif on the sides.
If this is a sign of things to come from Slane Distillery I can’t wait for their own offerings of single malts & single pot stills from their 3 copper stills in the years to follow.
Slane Irish Whiskey and Slane Castle Distillery – to borrow a line from Queen who also played Slane.
With Guns N’ Roses performing a headline gig at Slane Castle in 2017 – surely it would be an opportune time to launch a whiskey – especially one from Slane Castle itself!
Brown Forman – owners of Jack Daniels – are currently building a distillery at the castle.
Maybe the band would prefer Slane Irish Whiskey than the Jack?
Some reports suggest the band are off the booze however.
So at the recent Whiskey Live Dublin I accepted a pre-release sample of Slane Irish Whiskey.
It’s a sweet child o’ malt and grain whiskey blended in virgin, seasoned and sherry oak casks – according to the great looking mock bottle poster – to produce a lovely smooth & mellow tasting experience.
Prior to the Beam/Suntory takeover of the Kilbeggan/Cooley distillery, it was the only independently owned distillery in Ireland. (This situation has altered again due to the many new entrants into the market). A number of brand names were dropped from the portfolio during the changing process which has led to exciting developments in the Irish Whiskey industry.
The 1st notable omission from the current line-up is Locke’s Single Malt.This is a fine example of a smooth tasting pot still Irish whiskey. The fact that the Locke’s family ran the Kilbeggan distillery for over 100 years through the ups and downs of the whiskey trade and that there name was synonymous with a good dram – it seems a startling miss out. For further reading there is a very informative book – “Locke’s Distillery, A History.” by Andrew Bielenberg, produced for the 250th anniversary of the distillery. Well worth getting hold off. I got my copy at the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society shop in Tullamore.
The main beneficiaries of the sale to Beam were the Teeling family. Brothers Jack and Stephen wasted no time reinvesting their share in building the 1st new distillery to be opened in Dublin for 125 years. I’ve been lucky to have visited it already. It’s a grand building and will produce some very fine whiskeys indeed judging by the Teeling releases currently out there which are all presently spirit made at Kilbeggan/Cooley. There is a must see documentary called “The Whiskey Business” soon to be screened on Irish TV on June 5th which follows the boys making their dreams come true.
Father John is also building a grain distillery at Dundalk – no doubt to supply his sons (and others) with one of the main ingredients for blended whiskey.
There are a number of other clients who previously sourced their spirit at Kilbeggan/Cooley who have gone on to develop their own distilleries.
Lottery winner Peter Lavery previously released the Titanic and Danny Boy whiskey brands. He is now behind the release of McConnell’s Irish Whiskey prior to the development of Crumlin Gaol in Belfast as a whiskey distillery.
Meanwhile – a whiskey I have tasted and enjoyed – Michael Collins – is taking a rather different approach. The Sidney Frank Importing Co is suing Beam for the cessation of it’s whiskey stocks!
There is also the rather unknown quantity of “own label” brands – supermarket chains for example -that would have got their spirit from Kilbeggan/Cooley. This is a major business – but often hard to get information on. The requirement is only to state which country produced the whiskey – not the distillery – but Kilbeggan/Cooley under Teeling supplied this lucrative market.
One example is O’Reilly’s Irish Whiskey which is available in Tesco’s. It has the Cooley Business address on the back. It is still on the shelves at present so whether stocks have been secured post Beam – or pre Beam – I don’t know. I’ve aslo not tasted it. But it is an example of the many different labels a distilleries output can end up in!
The above are only a small sample of whiskeys manufactured at Kilbeggan/Cooley during the time John Teeling was at the helm – 1987 to 2012. Many are no more – but some may survive. I certainly enjoy hunting them down and experiencing the differing tastes and styles on display – marvelling that they were all produced at the same distillery!