Glengarry Wines‘ Operations Manager, Tonci Jakicevich, was lucky to participate in a tour of distilleries in Scotland and Ireland during February. Here Tonci recounts his experiences of Glenglassaugh, BenRiach, GlenDronach, The Speyside Cooperage, and Slane in a five part series.
Upon arrival into Dublin we were quickly whisked north to Slane on what is touted the straightest road in Ireland, built to give King George IV the quickest route (no pun intended) to his mistress the Marchioness of Conyngham of Slane. Our accommodation for the night was the Conyngham Arms Hotel, three doors down from the jovial Boyles Pub, host to the talented Wednesday Gang, a session band that returned on a Thursday for our group especially. Boyles was an absolute classic of an Irish pub, where the bell for “Last Call” didn’t really mean anything except “You want another round yet?”
After the loud and joyous night in Boyles, our group was a little ginger the next morning as we made our way to Slane Castle, the stables of which now house the state-of-the-art and incredibly energy savvy Slane Distillery. Our tour guide was Alex Conyngham, an Earl and son of the 8th Marquess of Slane Henry Conyngham.
The distillery is not yet fully operational, although they hoped to be up and running a week or two following our visit. The Conyngham family have merged projects of rebuilding and renovating the original stables complex and the developing a new source of income for the Conyngham Estate at Slane Castle, with the commissioning of their new distillery, done in partnership with Brown-Forman. Using the heritage listed complex has added a complexity to this project, and influenced the design of the system including the shape of the three stills, which are narrow and deeper than commonly seen. The swan-necks of the stills are pushed through the walls of the building, with the condensing units outside due to the buildings limited internal space.
Slane currently has only one expression on the market, made using a mixture of Grain and Malt whiskies purchased at various stages of maturation. These whiskies were then blended to create the base which was then vatted into three forms of cask; Virgin American Oak barrels (made with a medium char and heavy toast), Ex-Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskey Barrels, and Olorosso Sherry Puncheons. A unique offering, this whiskey is bursting with ripe orchard fruits, caramel and butterscotch with brown sugar and spice. Well suited to being enjoyed neat or on ice, this whiskey also provides a good base for many classic cocktails including the Irish Coffee.
Slane has long been famous for the music festivals hosted on the grounds, making full use of the natural amphitheatre at the base of the castle itself. Since 1981, the famous acts to play have include Thin Lizzy, The Foo Fighters, U2, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis.
Although production has yet to begin, I look forward eagerly to trying the Slane Whiskeys as they plan to produce a wide range including Single Grain, Single Malt and the Irish specialty of Single Pot Still Whiskey made using a large portion of un-malted barley. This is a style of whiskey the Irish developed to avoid taxes on malted barley, but resulted in a unique flavour profile.
A tour of Slane Castle proper only served to highlight the unique footprint that the Conyngham family have left on their country, a rich tapestry of stories and history that will only be emboldened with their latest project.
Slane Hill, which rises above the town itself, is the site St Patrick lit the first Paschal fire, a sign of Christianity and the start of the annual celebration St Paddy’s Day. A visit and cheeky dram on the hill was consumed before we made our way back to Dublin. Two nights of pub and bar visits, taking in the Friday and Saturday nights of Dublin then a repeat of our 36-hour odyssey home.
With the whisky (or whiskey) adventure now complete, I’m left with a raft of lasting memories highlighting the rich history behind Uisge Beatha, the characters that carry forward the traditions or look to lay the foundations for new traditions. Until next time, Slainte!