Big money, huge plans: Liberties Distillery embodies the Irish whiskey boom

Nate Brown

Nate Brown

13 March 2019

Here’s what €28m could get you:

A Coca-Cola production plant in Ghent.

Valderrama golf resort near Gibraltar.

Alternatively, it could get you a shiny new whiskey distillery in the Liberties area of Dublin.

That’s a lot of money, even for a distillery project. Although when you find out that this distillery has access to its own ancient water source via a bore hole; consider the year-on-year double-digit growth of the category; factor in the prime city-centre location; and wrap it in the rich, fertile history of the neighbourhood’s distilling provenance, you can begin to understand what drove Quintessential Brands to take the leap.

Hence Dublin Liberties Distillery. The new home of Liberties Copper Alley, Oak Devil, The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey and grain-heavy expression Dubliner has opened to a thirsty public. Enthusiastic whiskey-philes will be met by an ominous ‘Welcome to Hell’ sign behind the front desk, alongside that fresh new-distillery smell.

But this is not hell. Not even close. Least of all for director of Irish whiskey Darryl McNally. His Northern Irish lilt belies his 17 years as distilling operations manager at Bushmills. ‘The ambition is innovation, for us to be seen as an independent, and bringing back the distilling history to the area,’ he says.

He’s got all the right tools to do exactly that. A 10,000-litre wash still accompanies two 6,000-litre spirit stills. According to McNally, the plan is to probably do triple-distilled single malts only, citing the style of Irish whiskey that predated the Malt Tax of 1850 – which gave rise to the resurgent pot still style synonymous with Irish whiskey today. He’s not ruling out any double distilled releases or components, however. Innovation takes precedence, and so the future is unpredictable.

Ageing happens offsite in Quintessential’s facility in Wexford. It’s not just that the price of Dublin real estate is prohibitive. Clearly cash isn’t the company’s foremost concern. No, more that it’s illegal. Years ago, a big fire put paid to maturation of any kind inside the city boundaries.

Maturation plays a huge part with the brand’s expressions. McNally reckons 75% of the flavour profile comes after distillation. But with over a third of the €28m budget spent on the distillery build itself, McNally recognises the importance of starting the process on the front foot: he aims to source all of his barley from Ireland, though he acknowledges that this may not always be possible, what with the mad weather we had last year.

Appropriately then, the distillery launch has coincided with the launch of three new expressions to the Liberties range. Murder Lane is a 13-year-old single malt finished in Tokaj casks; Keepers Coin is a 16-year-old single malt finished in Pedro Ximénez casks; and King of Hell is a 27-year-old single malt finished in Bordeaux premier cru casks, with just 50 bottles released.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend €28m, should you be so inclined. Either that, or you could generously pay Cristiano Ronaldo’s unpaid tax fine.

Read more about the Irish whiskey boom and the threat of the distillery manager skills gap

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