Founded in 1757 by Mattias McManus, the Kilbeggan distillery has seen a great deal of tumultuous Irish history. Demand for Irish spirits in the US and England was high at the time so the distillery produced whiskey to meet those needs and that of local markets. In short, business was thriving. McManus had a son named John who eventually took over as distillery manager and was the last of his bloodline to own the distillery. The founding legacy ended in bloodshed when John McManus was executed for political crimes in 1798.
The Codd family, who had taken a stake in the company in 1794, took complete control after John McManus’ death and expanded it’s distilling capacity. There was still a nice global demand for Irish whiskey and for the next 40 something years there was peace throughout the land.
Everything was going smoothly until 1938 when The Temperance Movement put Irish distillers in a headlock. Over 1.5 million members of the movement abstained from alcoholic drink and raged against its consumption and distribution. This was a global phenomenon that left the Kilbeggan Distillery in shambles. The Locke family took over the distillery in 1843, and using his export connections in England and New York, John Locke did his best to expand the distillery with these diminished sales.
Again, it seemed like things were gonna be a-okay. Then, in 1919, the Irish War of Independence started, and was followed shortly by US prohibition in 1920. This deadly combo completely eviscerated the Irish whiskey industry. And by the time prohibition had been lifted, Scotland was able to out-produce them with their adoption of the Column Still. Production ceased entirely in 1957.
Twenty-five years later in the late 1980s, the people of the town rebuilt the distillery into a museum with the equipment that had been lovingly preserved over the years.
Around the same time John Teeling had purchased an old potato schnapps distillery up north in County Louth on the Cooley peninsula. He had installed column stills and bought the rights to produce Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell at this new Cooley distillery. Soon after, Cooley also took over the Kilbeggan Distillery Museum and adjacent restaurant.
In 2007 the Kilbeggan distillery fired up its stills for the first time in 50 years to celebrate it’s 250 year anniversary. The still used was over a 180 years old at the time and is the oldest working still in the whiskey world. Visitors to the distillery can currently see new whiskey being made the same way it was made over two centuries ago.
Below are some of our favorites that come from this historical place:
First produced in 1762, by the now shuttered Watt distillery in Derry, Tyrconnell is now produced at the Cooley distillery and the recently revived Killbeggan distillery.
This is a delightful, emphasis on the light, double distilled single malt. Notes of cereal, vanilla, and fruit. Light spicy finish.
While peated whiskies in Ireland used to be more common, there aren't many on the market these days. Connemara was launched in the 1990s as an homage to the almost forgotten style.
The smokey dram benefits from a few drops of water to bring out more smoke. The peat is less intense than an Islay, but still present. This is not a sweet whiskey, instead exhibiting notes of new leather, peat, and a hint of sweet apple.