The Kilbeggan Distillery Experience - Kilbeggan
The Kilbeggan Distillery Experience is situated in the heart of Ireland. It is in the small town of Kilbeggan in Co. Westmeath - make sure you get off the M6 motorway when travelling from/to Dublin-Galway . This old distillery, which had closed in 1954, is now once again distilling and maturing whiskey and is open to visitors all year round. It is the oldest continually licensed distillery in Ireland and has enjoyed the good times, but also the tough times for Irish whiskey, over its 250 year history.
It was established in 1757 by the McManus family, starting a 250-year plus link between Kilbeggan and Irish whiskey. In 1794, the Codd family, long associated with the local malting trade, took a stake in the Old Kilbeggan Distillery, and in 1843 John Locke bought the assets of the Old Kilbeggan Distillery from the Codds.
The next 50 years proved to be extremely successful for the Irish whiskey industry and for Locke’s Distillery in Kilbeggan, with a very strong export trade to the United Kingdom and Commonwealth markets. However, the Kilbeggan Distillery suffered from the same ill-fate as all the other Irish distilleries in the early part of the 20th century: Irish civil war, trade war with Great Britain, American prohibition and the availability of cheap Scottish blended whiskies. The Locke family battled to keep their heads above water and managed to keep the distillery operating longer than many of their competitors, right up until 1954, making it one of the last distilleries to close in Ireland.
Unlike most other closed Irish distilleries, the story did not end with the stills going silent. In 1988 the Cooley Distillery acquired the Kilbeggan brand names and the use of the old distillery warehouses for maturing whiskey. Fortunately, since the 1970’s the Old Kilbeggan Distillery had been saved by a handful of local people who had maintained the distilling license and preserved almost all of the old distillery equipment. This labour of love has meant that the Old Kilbeggan Distillery retains the character and history of its previous owners.
Today, there are daily guided tours with multi-lingual guides or guests can take a self guided tour. Amongst the many artefacts of the distillery are the 19th century water wheel, still in use, and the steam engine, which is still fired up on special occasions. To celebrate 250 years of existence on the same site, an ancient pot still that was last used in the 19th century (it is believed to be the oldest operational copper pot still in the world), was painstakingly refurbished and fired up on the 19th March 2007, 54 years to the day when distilling had last taken place in Kilbeggan. In June 2009, Kilbeggan installed a second small still and guests can now witness new Kilbeggan whiskey flowing directly from these copper pot stills. Outside, not in operation, are 3 much larger and very interesting stills - the original stills from the old Tullamore Distillery. The old stills from Kilbeggan were sold and removed in the early 1970's, but when Cooley acquired the distillery, they bought the stills from Tullamore and had them transported. Amazingly, when they were lifted into place, they fitted exacly into the empty brick stonework left behind by the original stills.
The tour ends with a complimentary sample of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey – and for guided tours, two lucky visitors are invited to participate in a special sampling of all whiskeys produced by the Kilbeggan Distilling Company.
Another option and one of Kilbeggan's best kept secrets is their Gold Medal Tour. This two hour private guided tour includes a Premium Tasting, full tour of the old distillery, visit of the on-site maturing warehouses and a personal tour of the new working distillery with Kilbeggan Master Distiller, Andrena Fitzgerald. You can only book this tour on line or by phoning the distillery directly, so check out their website below for more information on this and all their other tours (self guided, group or silver medal).
The Kilbeggan Distillery is a must for anyone remotely interested in Irish whiskey. However, a visit shouldn’t be reserved just for whiskey fans - the setting of the distillery, along the river Brosna is spectacular and there is a very good restaurant on site called The Pantry, making it an ideal place to stop for anyone travelling the Dublin-Galway route.
Please refer to the Kilbeggan website below for excellent detailed information on the history of the distillery and distillery tours.