Ireland’s first craft distillery, Glendalough, was founded by a couple of mates in 2011, with the aim of recapturing “Ireland’s lost heritage of great spirit production” – and the results so far haven’t disappointed.
Founded by Barry Gallagher and Brian Fagan, along with Gary McLoughlin and Kevin Keenan, the team behind the distillery has a wealth of spirits industry knowledge. Gallagher and Fagan are drinks analysts working in the finance area of the industry, while McLoughlin and Keenan are advertising specialists who’ve spent years working with some of the best brands in the market.
The distillery has taken a forward-thinking approach to production and has so far produced a sterling range of liquors with overwhelmingly positive results.
In a sense the lads looked back to go forward and started off making poitín (pronounced pot-sheen), a traditional drink that the Irish are pretty keen on. In essence, poitín is new make spirit made from barley and has evolved over the centuries into whisky as we know it today, mainly through the introduction of oak casks for ageing. Records dating as far back as 584AD show that Irish monastic settlements like Glendalough were the birthplace of distilling in Ireland, predating Scottish clergyman Frair John Cor’s efforts by almost 1000 years. Whisky, along with the bagpipes, are Ireland’s gift to Scotland, much like the Kiwi fruit is Australia’s gift to New Zealand.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, there were more than 200 licensed (and many unlicensed) stills operating throughout Ireland, most of which were producing poitín for local consumption. As regulations were tightened, the vast majority of those stills were closed down – and now Glendalough is seeking to bring back part of the pioneering spirit that saw Irish whisky evolve into the wonder that it is today.
Spurred on by a great local reception for their poitín, the company decided to purchase their current base of operations in Glendalough village, County Wicklow. Not surprisingly, the site was chosen for its superb water, drawn from the nearby Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough’s patron saint, St Kevin, can be found on every bottle that comes through the distillery.
While Glendalough makes poitín and even gin, it’s long term plan has always been the revival of Irish single malt whisky. Earlier this year the distillery released it’s single malts on an unsuspecting, and now ever grateful, whisky world with a huge splash at two of the world’s “grand slam” blind tasting competitions, the San Francisco Spirits Awards and London’s Spirits Masters. The 13 Year Old was named Best Irish Whiskey and Best Single Malt Irish Whiskey in San Francisco, while the 7 Year Old, our whisky this month, backed it up with a Master in London.