Go West young man...to Connacht Whiskey Company.
I took a well overdue trip out West recently to pay a business/social visit to the new (ish) Connacht Whiskey Company based in the town of Ballina in County Roscommon.
This lovely distillery is the first new distillery built in the West of Ireland in over 100 years and is the brain child of a consortium of Irish and American business men some of whom have worked in the drinks industry for many years and bring a wealth of knowledge to the business.
The distillery is situated on the banks for the river Moy just on the outskirts of the town in what used to be an old bread factory. As I entered the distillery on a typically damp Irish winter’s morning, the unmistakable aroma of malt that hit my senses with a welcome I can take any day! However the real welcome came from PJ Stapleton one of the directors, marketing manager Rachel Nolan and Lindsey Harkins the retail, tour and tourism manager.
The distillery is already producing vodka, gin and poteen which are very important revenue generating spirits. This enables the company to be more self-sufficient at this stage of development. The company operates a small batch production system with whiskey distilling taking place every second week. The essential ingredient of Connacht Whiskey is malted barley and like a lot of the new distilleries, Master Distiller Rob Cassel sources as much barley as possible locally and is working with Irish farmers to produce heritage grain.
Unlike a lot of other distilleries, Connacht uses ale malt to enable them to extract more sugar, the end result which provides for a sweeter and creamier whiskey. The nearby river Moy also plays an important part in the distilling process as all distilleries need a good supply of clean water for the end of the distillation process and the water quality can have a major influence on the process.
If Connacht’s success to date with their range of spirits is anything to go by then the company’s future is looking very healthy. Their Concullin Gin, Strawboy Vodka and Poteen have been winning awards for their quality on the national and international awards circuit. The distillery’s current whiskey offering, the cask strength 57% abv Bushel & Spade is currently sourced from another Irish distiller while Connacht’s own whiskey stocks are maturing. This product was awarded a gold medal at this year’s Irish Whiskey Awards along with their Strawboy vodka taking the award for the Best Irish vodka.
A very interesting product I was privileged to see was the Brothership Irish-American whiskey which is making great strides in the US but not currently on sale here. It is a blend of the Spade & Bushel whiskey with an American rye, a kind of consolidation of the historical Irish-American connection.
Rachel Nolan, the distillery’s marketing manager informed me that there are other products in the pipeline some of which will be ready for launch later in 2017. Rachel, a native of Ballina is no stranger to the world of whiskey having worked for the Jameson brand in Ireland and France for several years. Rachel informed me that the distillery is beginning to see its fair share of whiskey tourists as a unique stop off point for those undertaking the scenic Wild Atlantic Way. Tourists and visitors can undertake a full tour, browse the visitors centre and most importantly spend some time in the tasting bar where they can sample the distillery’s great products.
It really is wonderful to see the amount of time and effort not to mention industry and personal ambition required to get a distillery off the ground especially one that would be regarded as been off the beaten track. But then again that is all part and parcel of the whiskey tourist and connoisseurs modus operandi, to visit these wonderful distilleries and enjoy the journey and spectacular scenery that Ireland has to offer while finding them!
Check our Connacht Distillery's website https://connachtwhiskey.com/connacht-distillery/ or better still pay them a visit.