Whiskey distilling returned to County Carlow after an absence of over 200 year today as husband and wife, Bernard & Rosemary Walsh, the founders of Walsh Whiskey Distillery officially opened their €25million Irish whiskey distillery by the banks of the River Barrow at Royal Oak, County Carlow. Royal Oak is now distilling Walsh Whiskey Distillery’s whiskeys, The Irishman and Writers Tears, which are already sold in 40 countries worldwide.
Officiating at the opening with the Walshs was Augusto Reina, Chief Executive of Illva Saronno SpA of Milan (owners of drinks brands Disaronno and Tia Maria) which has a 50% share in the Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak.
Located on an 18th century estate comprising 40 acres of pastoral land, the distillery is the only independent Irish whiskey distillery producing all three styles of Irish whiskey – pot still, malt and grain from its two production lines using both pot stills and column stills.
At full tilt the Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak has the capacity to produce 650,000 cases (two and a half million litres of pure alcohol (LPA’s) or 8 million bottles) of whiskey annually which is 9.7% of the total Irish whiskey exports in 2014.
The company actually commenced distilling on Easter Sunday this year and is laying down stocks for release from 2019 onwards after the minimum three year maturation process has been completed.
The new distillery puts Walsh Whiskey in control of its own destiny. The three key differences the distillery at Royal Oak makes to Walsh Whiskey are:
1. Increased Supply to Markets: The considerable production capacity will enable the company to increase supply to the 40 markets where The Irishman and Writers Tears are already sold – especially the core markets of the United States, Canada and Europe (including Russia).
2. Target New Markets in Asia: The company is already leveraging its partner Illva Saronnos’ established relationships in the Asian markets which hold great potential for Irish whiskey. Illva Saronno has major operations in India and China as well as an extensive distribution network. Countries targeted, other than India and China, include Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
3. Increase the Range of Irish Whiskey Expressions Through Greater Innovation: The keys to whiskey’s character and taste are the oak barrels used to mature them and what they have previously contained. Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak has sourced a great variety of barrels and butts from its own and its partner Illva Saronnos’ international contacts to create every taste and hue possible for whiskey drinkers to experience.
These include bourbon barrels from Kentucky (USA); sherry butts from Jerez (Spain); Rum barrels from Saint Lucia (Caribbean) and Marsala wine casks from Illva Saronno’s own Florio Marsala Winery in Sicily (Italy).
Walsh Whiskey Distillery will allocate up to 15% of its annual production to contract sales and has recently sealed its first deal with Altia (a leading wine and spirits company in the Nordic and Baltic countries).
There was a strong attendance by the company’s international distribution partners with representatives from 22 of the 40 countries across 4 continents that already distribute The Irishman and Writers Tears. The countries represented were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Malta, Northern Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom & the United States of America. There were also some interested observers in the form of drinks industry executives from India and Australia.
The distillery at Royal Oak will also include two maturation houses with capacity for 60,000 barrels. Work on these buildings will commence in 2017.
The distillery, which is also designed as a visitor experience, will be open to the public from this July. The tours will also incorporate the 18th century Holloden House (c.1755) in a few years when renovations are complete. A total of 75,000 ‘whiskey tourists’ are expected to visit annually by 2021.
The operations at Royal Oak will create a total of 55 permanent and part-time jobs in the Carlow area, over 5 years. TheDepartment of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, through Enterprise Ireland, is supporting the project.
The founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Mr Bernard Walsh said: “After 17 years in business, the opening of our own distillery is both the fulfilment of Rosemary and my own dreams and a game changing moment for the company. We are now in control of our destiny and have the capacity, variety and relationships to play our part in the continued revival of Irish whiskey which is one of this country’s great traditions.”
He added: “That we can do this in a place like Royal Oak which is blessed with an abundance of the best natural ingredients as well as being a place of beauty and tranquillity is idyllic. We look forward to sharing our whiskeys and Royal Oak with the world.”
Mr Augusto Reina, Chief Executive of Illva Saronnno, Walsh Whiskey’s strategic partner said: “Illva Saronno is enthusiastic about the opening of Royal Oak and proud of the partnership with Walsh Whiskey Distillery. We look forward to continuing our support in the coming years through our know-how and expertise in the global spirits’ market.”
Michael Cantwell, Divisional Manager for the Food and Drink sectors at Enterprise Ireland said: “Enterprise Ireland is pleased to have supported this project at Walsh Whiskey Distillery. We have worked very closely with the team throughout the development of the project and welcome the employment that will be created at a local and regional level”
The distillery comprises 4,000 cubic metres of concrete, 60 kilometres s of cabling, 400 tonnes of structural steel and 30 tonnes of copper and steel whiskey distilling equipment.
Walsh Whiskey Distillery has prioritised environmental responsibility in the design of its operations including:
· By product from the production process (draff and pot ale) is recycled back into the farming industry as animal feed.
· Cooling water from the distillation process is recycled back to the River Barrow.
· The entire facility is heated using its own energy generated by the whiskey production processes. This heat supply will also eventually heat Holloden House, which dates back to c.1755, when it is fully restored in a few years time.
· The building materials used are sympathetic to the environs. The buildings are roofed in slate roof in keeping with Holloden House, copper fittings are applied, the warehouses will be clad in green and creeper plants trained up the walls and the roadways are sunken to limit visibility in what is a pastoral rural setting
· Royal Oak is home to seven species of oak tree and Bernard Walsh has commenced plans to develop an oak arboretum by planting more species under the guidance of consultant horticulturalist, Daphne Levinge Shackleton. Three young oaks (Turkey Oak and English Oak) were recently planted in from of the distillery to replace trees lost to storms in recent years.
· A stone wall restoration program will also be implemented.