On our last day in Dublin, my wife and I decided to take a little bus trip to see a bit more of Ireland than just its biggest city. So we took the 9am bus from Dublin city centre to Galway, which stopped in a small town about 90km away from Dublin called Kilbeggan. Here you find Kilbeggan Distillery, the oldest licensed distillery not only in Ireland but in the whole world. It was founded in 1757. Owned by four different families over the years, the distillery has a very moved history. It was around during the heyday of Irish Whiskey, but it also existed during times of war as well as the Total Abstinence Movement in Ireland and the prohibition in the United States.
In 1954, production was stopped and in 1957 the distillery had to close its doors. Because of the hard times the distillery went through, there had never been enough money to modernise the equipment. That was one of the reasons why the Locke family, who owned the distillery in the 1950s, could not run their business in a competitive way any longer. So it took another 50 years until the Teeling family – at that time owner of Cooley Distillery – bought the rights for Kilbeggan in the 1980s. Step by step, they rebuilt Kilbeggan Distillery together with the inhabitants of the town. Since 2007, destillation and maturation of whiskey have been running again.
Arriving at the bus stop in Kilbeggan, the walk to the distillery took us only a few minutes. The first thing you will see when you walk along the main street is the white face of the distillery building and, of course, the wooden water wheel. Before you have even entered the building, you can already feel that this is a place with a lot of history. Unfortunately, we could not go on the Distillers Tour that day, because there was a misunderstanding when we tried to arrange it the day before. Not only was the tour sold out, but it was also only offered in French that day. Instead, we had the chance to go on the Apprentice Tour. As there were no other visitors that morning, our guide Carol was doing a private tour just for me and my wife.
It was very impressive to see the old facilities and the vintage equipment of the distillery. As there was a storm loss the day before, we could not see some of the outer parts of the building. But it was a great experience nevertheless. The old copper stills were sold after the distillery closed as the copper was very valuable. Yet, they have later been replaced by the old copper stills from Tullamore Distillery, which is only about 10km away. There are also parts of the roof that have to be renewed and there is still a lot of work to do in the future. But that did not have an impact on the tour. This ancient relict of history offers such a big contrast to a modern distillery like Teeling, which we visited just two days before. If you read this blog regularly, you might have stumbled upon my review of the tour. Anyway. We are very lucky that there are people that keep places like Kilbeggan Distillery running!
Carol was not only a great guide with a lot of knowledge about the history and the production of Irish whiskey. She was also very patient when it came to answering my questions – of which I had plenty as my wife remarked afterwards. Of course, we also got to taste the distillery’s products. Kilbeggan Distillery belongs to Cooley and there is only a small quantity of whiskey produced directly at Kilbeggan nowadays. It is used in the different bottlings that sport the distillery’s name, because the people of Kilbeggan believe that all of their whiskey should at least contain a bit of spirit produced at the place “where it all began”. Seldomly, they also release bottlings that are solely produced at Kilbeggan Distillery. But none of them were available at the time of our visit. Maybe there will be new such bottlings in the future. But now, back to our tasting. It started with the Kilbeggan 8yo, a single grain Irish whiskey. After that we tried the Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey, which is mainly known for mixture drinks in Germany. I found it to be surprisingly smooth and figured I’d switch to drinking it neat in future. Finally, we were served my favorite whiskey for this day, Locke’s 8yo Single Malt Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey. It had a small percentage of peated whiskey in it, which is quite unusual for Ireland. Another peculiar fact is that the whiskeys of Kilbeggan Distillery and Cooley are not triple distilled. They only distill their whiskey twice.
If you ever have the chance to visit Kilbeggan Distillery, you should definitely do so. Though the middle of Ireland might not be the first place you think about when you plan your holidays, it is quite easy to get there for a day trip. It is less than 90 minutes away from Dublin and it should take about the same amount of time to get there from Galway. If you then happen to have a guide as fantastic as Carol, you will have a great time in this small town.
Name: Kilbeggan Distillery
Type: Whiskey distillery
Address: Lower Main St, Aghamore, Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, Ireland
Opening hours: 9am to 6pm
More info: http://www.kilbeggandistillery.com/ (Website)