Donegal’s Sliabh Liag Distillers has completed the first distillation of spirit at its new Ardara Distillery.
Ex-bourbon oak casks have been filled with a smoky, heavily-peated, triple distilled single malt, with operations commencing just 51 weeks after the foundation stone was set for the distillery in the festival town of Ardara, on Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way.
This phase one build of the distillery is the latest chapter in the company’s mission to reclaim the distilling heritage of Donegal.
Built with local contractors and Forsyth’s of Rothes – the revered coppersmiths – to the specifications of James and Moira Doherty, the distillery can produce 500,000L of whiskey per year, in both single malt and traditional pot still styles.
James Doherty, who co-founded Sliabh Liag Distillers with his wife Moira, is delighted with the progress to date.
He said: ‘Construction of the Ardara Distillery began in October 2020, and despite the many challenges that these past few years have thrown at us – from the pandemic to Brexit and everything in between – we managed to go from putting in the foundations to distilling in less than a year.
‘We couldn’t be prouder of all the team who pulled off such an amazing feat in super-quick time. It’s a standout building housing some truly beautiful copper stills – a fantastic new landmark for the county.
‘As a company, we want to create spirits that honour the deep traditions of whiskey making in this part of the world, so we’re distilling a rich, smoky whiskey in an authentic Ulster style.
‘The first spirit to have flowed from the stills is truly outstanding – I’m sure my grandfathers, who were both poitín men, would approve. I think the spirit will take wood well, but we must now let the magic in the casks happen and busy ourselves with patience to see what effect maturation has.’
Moira Doherty added: ‘Sustainability has also played a huge factor in the design of the new distillery, with a focus on waste and energy reduction through initiatives such as our “all grains in” approach that also sees waste going on to being used as cattle feed. We have also moved Meabh, our gin still, to the Ardara Distillery.’
The company’s operations in Carrick will become the hub for all administration, bottling and the home of Silkie with ten full time jobs based at the site.
Sliabh Liag Distillers will provide up to 40 full time jobs in the area when the Ardara Distillery is fully operational. The distillery’s interim visitor centre will open in time for the summer season 2022.
Plans are also underway to commence work on phase two of the distillery – a dedicated gin still-house and increased visitor centre capacity. There will be no café in the distillery, with visitors encouraged to use the town’s superb food and drink offering.
The distillery has also appointed Newcastle man Graeme Bell as its new distillery manager. Graeme has experience of working in the great whiskey making areas of the world, Speyside in Scotland for Scotch and Kentucky, USA for Bourbon and more recently Hamilton in Canada.
Graeme said: ‘I feel fortunate to be in at the start for the Ardara Distillery, working in a beautifully designed new distillery with the finest copper stills from Forsyth’s in Scotland, which have been made specifically to reflect the distilling traditions of this area. Our goal is to use locally grown barley and oats to make both single malt and pot still whiskeys and to bring back many traditional whiskey-making methods from the past.
‘The opportunity to move to Donegal and be part of a very special revival was too good to miss. Since moving to Ardara, I have been struck by the friendliness of the people and the magnificent scenery, and I’m delighted to be part of this community as we set about sharing the next chapter of distilling in Donegal.’
With casks now being filled, whiskey enthusiasts can become a ‘Seanchai’ and join the journey by buying a cask for themselves. Just 600 are available, with full, transparent details of the costs involved available at www.sliabhliagdistillers.com.
If after five years buyers don’t wish to empty the contents for bottling, the company will buy the cask back off them for the purchase price plus interest (3% CAGR). Visit www.sliabhliagdistillers.com
Donegal’s Sliabh Liag Distillers has completed the first distillation of spirit at its new Ardara Distillery under the watchful eye of Distillery Manager, Graeme Bell