Whisky Magazine Issue 107
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Fred Minnickdiscovers a tale of a botched sale, political machinations and an Irish whiskey name that has weathered the years
Once upon a time in the whiskey world, the Locke name carried as much weight as Jim Beam or Johnnie Walker. A man of marginal status, John Locke learned the whiskey trade at a Tullamore distillery in the late 1830s. This venture proved futile in the "great falling off in the distilling trade," as the landowner said in breaking Locke's Tullamore lease.
Legitimate Irish distilleries dropped from 94 in 1838 to 61 in 1844. These declining distillery numbers coincided with the Great Famine and the Reverend Theobald Mathew, 'the Great Apostle of Temperance,' signing up more than 250,000 in his Temperance pledge movement. But, Locke still saw promise in the business, especially in Kilbeggan, a town on the upper Brosna River.
In the 1800s, farmers used the small river to ship corn, oats and barley to Shannon, while the Grand Canal Company brought patrons from Dublin and Tullamore.
Locke, who married into the Smithwick brewery family in Kilkenny, believed the Kilbeggan distillery was in great proximity for fresh clean water and business interests. The financial terms were also just right.
With the existing lease terminated, Locke rented it for the nominal fee of £200 a year. The Locke family engrained themselves in the community; his sister, Catherine, taught the workers' children, and John helped the poor during the Great Famine. It didn't hurt that people really liked his whiskey.
Three years after he secured a 999-year lease in 1846, John Locke died and left the Kilbeggan dis...