The Great Northern Distillery (GND) has begun to distil in the first of two distilleries built on the former Harp Brewery site in Dundalk, Co. Louth. The two new distilleries adapted and extended, at a cost of €10 million, the world class brewing facilities which existed on the site which had been brewing for 120 years up to 2014.
Following the investment by GND a 30 million bottle a year capacity three-column still grain whiskey distillery is now producing new spirit. This will be casked in oak barrels and matured in bonded warehouses for at least three years before it can be called Irish whiskey. A sister distillery on the site is being commissioned and will begin distillation by the end of August. The second distillery has three large copper pots capable of distilling 12 million bottles a year of single malt and pot still whiskey.
The site, only the third grain distillery in the country, was identified as being most suitable to house the distillery due to a range of factors. A dedicated water supply, perfect for distilling whiskey, is piped directly to the site from the Cooley Mountains. Natural gas is delivered on site. A sophisticated effluent control system feeds into the Dundalk Town sewerage system. Excellent local engineering skills were available and a deep pool of skilled workers. Some of the new employees, in what is a largely automated plant, are former Harp workers.
GND will supply a range of whiskies to the new Irish distilleries coming on stream and to the Retail Own Label and Private Label segments worldwide. Irish whiskey is growing rapidly and is expected to double sales to 250 million bottles by 2024, still only a small fraction of Scotch sales.
As more and more international drinkers discover the superior qualities of Irish whiskey, mellow and smooth, the range of Irish whiskeys offered is expanding to serve different tastes. The bulk of Irish sold will be a blend of grain and/or malt or pot still. Most of the new distilleries under construction or consideration are pot still. The owners will need a consistent supply of quality grain whiskey to blend with their premium malts and pot still whiskeys. GND expects to be a major supplier to this market.
The second market for GND is Retail Own Label and Private Label whiskeys. These will be mainly entry level and value labels not of interest to most of the new distilleries. GND has the scale and the capacity to supply these markets on an international basis.
GND is owned by the Teeling family and two former directors of Cooley Distillery, Jim Finn and David Hynes.
John Teeling co-founder of GND, commented “It is 95 years since the last whiskey stills went dark in Dundalk, where the Dundalk Distillery had operated since 1800. It is 120 years since brewing started on what is now the Great Northern Distillery site. Dundalk is a good town for business. Good local skills, a good tradition of engineering, a pro-business council all combined with a strong project management team and a top class distiller. We are reviving the whiskey tradition and continuing alcohol production on what is a wonderful site. With fair winds, distillation will continue on the GND site for the next 100 years.
Irish whiskey is on a roll – but from a tiny base. When the Dundalk Distillery was set up in 1800 Irish whiskey was the dominant force in world markets. Up to 1860 this strengthened to a position where Irish had about 60% of world sales and was sold all over the world. Due to a combination of circumstances and poor management, Irish whiskey was virtually wiped out. From hundreds of distilleries it fell to one in 1973. The share of Irish in the world market fell to less than 2% of Scotch. Even then it was mainly sold in Ireland as brands and aboard as Irish coffee.
When the GND founders set up Cooley Distillery in 1987, it was the first new Irish whiskey distillery in 100 years. It was a long road to success. Now look at Irish whiskey, the fastest growing brown spirit in the world. Most of the world’s major drinks companies are now in the sector. There are 20 plus new distilleries in the works. But, critically, Irish is now the drink of choice for 25-39 year olds, almost half of them female. The revival is only in its infancy. Irish is not available in most of the world. Worldwide sales are about 10 million cases now. The Indian market for whiskey is 350 million cases!!! Carpe Diem.
GND has an important role to play in the renaissance. We know how to distil good whiskey. Because of the size and automation of our distilleries we can supply at good prices. We have the capacity to meet needs for a long time.”