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Distilling returns to The Liberties

Jack & Stephen Teeling

Jack and Stephen Teeling

 

For the first time in nearly forty years, a type of whiskey unique to Ireland is being distilled in the Liberties.

 

Dublin has long been desirable for distillers and brewers. The city has no shortage of water and barley is abundant. As the capital recovers from a difficult few years economically, the Teeling family and the Dublin Whiskey Company promise to revive the traditional spirit of the city.

 

Although spelling is the most obvious difference between foreign “whisky” and the Irish offering, a much deeper distinction has been formulated over four centuries. Circumstances changed constantly and distillers developed an instinct for improvisation and innovation.

 

The malt tax was introduced in 1670, prompting whiskey producers to use unmalted barley. Licensing of stills became compulsory in 1760 following widespread tax evasion. Poitín was distilled illegally in isolated areas to evade the law.

 

Walter Teeling began a family tradition in 1782 when he opened a distillery at Marrowbone Lane, around the corner from Arthur Guinness’s brewery at St James’s Gate. That distillery operated for almost forty years.

 

The distilling method used overseas was actually a Dubliner’s idea. Excise officer Aeneas Coffey designed a column still in 1831 with speed and efficiency in mind. The practice of conducting several distillations at once was embraced overseas but Dublin distillers rejected the idea for fear that it would compromise quality. Old fashioned pot stills continue to be used in Ireland, but a blend of column and pot-still whiskey has become the norm.

 

The turn of the twentieth century was turbulent for the Irish economy. Following the First World War, newly independent Ireland entered a trade war with the British Empire. Tariffs on Irish goods gave a competitive advantage to Scotch whiskey in much of the English-speaking world.

 

While Irish Catholics took a pledge not to consume alcohol on the advice of their church, authorities in America banned it altogether. Prior to prohibition, Irish whiskeys were among the most popular in the United States. Scarce supplies were smuggled and bootlegging became common. When the ban was lifted, there was renewed competition from Bourbon whiskey originating from the United States.

 

From 1973, Irish exporters could take advantage of the European Economic Community’s (EEC’s) open borders. Nevertheless, distilling in Dublin ended when production of Jameson whiskey moved to Middleton in Cork three years later. The Bow Street Distillery in Smithfield, which operated for almost two centuries, remains a popular tourist attraction.

 

Sales of Irish whiskey have grown steadily over the past few decades. About 90% of Irish whiskey is exported and Teeling’s highlights that exports have increased by 220% over the past ten years. Whiskey is also the key ingredient of a range of popular liqueurs.

 

The economic recovery and the craft beer craze have heightened demand for specialities from bars and off-licences. The two new distilleries will make small batches of hand-crafted products to be sold in Ireland and abroad. The new stills at Newmarket are the first to be installed in Dublin for 125 years. The former site of the Busby distillery is being brought back to life.

 

Wexford native Marie Byrne’s Dublin Whiskey Company is to begin distilling in the coming months. The company is offering casks of its whiskey for pre-order. By law, Irish whiskey must be aged in a wooden cask for at least three years before bottling, at which point the maturation process ends.

 

In a neighbouring building, brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling will be able to distill half a million litres of whiskey annually from using a still imported from Italy. Teeling Whiskey is already available across Ireland and in more than 30 foreign markets.

 

Their father John is a business lecturer at University College Dublin and the owner of the Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth, which is in its twenty-eighth year. Cooley produces Kilbeggan and Greenore whiskeys and even a brand of Poitín.

 

For bartenders across the capital, the new products do not disappoint. The citrus Whiskey Sour remains ever popular. More creative concoctions complement old favourites, with more elaborate ingredients ranging from  egg white to aperitif wine.

 

The two distilleries are located at Newmarket, close to St Patrick’s Cathedral. A total of 60 people will be employed permanently. Visitor centres will open later this year, allowing Dubliners and tourists alike to see the new distilleries for themselves.

By Jack Burgess

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