Whisky Magazine Issue 64
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A unique occasion in the history of Irish whiskey took place recently – an old distillery came back to life –our man was on the spot for the first drops of spirit
My last visit to Kilbeggan was in the summer of 2006 when tourists were making their way around the old mash tuns, machinery and giant pot stills – all silent and ghostly reminders of Irish whiskey's glorious past.
This time things were different and the contrast could not have been more marked.
The first sign of this contrast was seeing the old 1887 steam engine in full working order with a surrounding buzz of activity. However, it was soon to be upstaged by the gleaming copper pot still which would be the day's star turn.
While other relics of Ireland's distilling past are fading away, Kilbeggan is distilling again and on its 250th birthday.
The Old Kilbeggan Distillery has held a distilling licence since 1757. This makes it the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland. 2007 sees it celebrating its 250th anniversary and what better way to mark the occasion than by starting to distil again.
Matthew McManus was the original owner but it was under John Locke in the second half of the 19th century that the distillery became a major business. Mothballing enabled it to survive the 1920s and 30s, troubled times for Irish whiskey, but rising debt and declining sales eventually brought the company into receivership. In 1953 the stills went cold, the buildings and stocks were sold and Kilbeggan seemingly joined the long list of silent distilleries that litter the history of Irish whiskey.
Despite changes in ownership, much of the old machinery remained in situ and the buildings ...