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“We spend a most interesting time at the Distillery, and were more than ever convinced that woolen mills and barracks are not only suitable, but more convertible buildings for distilling purposes than any other…” Alfred Bernard describing his visit to the Midleton Distillery in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 1887.
In September 2013, the Midleton Distillery in Co Cork formally launched its €100m expansion. Since the mid-1970s, IDL’s four massive pot stills and seven column stills at the site had been the engine that drove Irish whiskey’s growth across the world. The success of the Jameson brand in particular meant that it was time to invest to meet demand, doubling the distillery’s capacity to an astonishing 64 million litres of alcohol per year. It’s a scene that’s worlds apart from what greeted Bernard, apart from those onion-shaped copper stills that have been the cornerstone of traditional Irish whiskey distilling for centuries.
The distillery is high-tech, but still produces an impressive range of whiskeys with great craft and character. It was designed to produce and mature pot still and grain spirit for three of the then four remaining Irish distillers, who joined forces in 1966 to tackle Irish whiskey’s spiralling decline.
As part of the plan, Jameson’s Bow Street and Powers John’s Lane stills would fall silent, ending the era of whiskey distilling in Dublin, once the world’s greatest whiskey distilling city.
There was space to build beside the Old Midleton Distillery, which belonged to Cork Distillers, the third member of the IDL partnership. And so, one September day in 1975, production stopped at the old facility and moved a few hundred yards to the new one. A new chapter in Irish distilling history had begun.
From the time the new stills took up the baton until only very recently, the Midleton Distillery was the only source of traditional pure pot still Irish whiskey, for many is the quintessential style of Irish whiskey. It forms the heart of the Jameson and Power’s blends and can be experienced in all its glory in the likes of Redbreast, Green Spot and Yellow Spot.
Pure pot still had been the mainstay too of the Old Midleton Distillery, which was originally founded in 1825 when brothers James, Daniel and Jeremiah Murphy bought an old wool mill near the town. The 1823 Excise Act had just been passed and there was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to cash in on legal distilling, providing it could be done on a large scale. The Murphys took full advantage.
By 1830, they were employing over 200 men and capacity was reaching 400,000 proof gallons per year. By 1866, the distillery had merged with the other main Cork distilleries of North Mall, Watercourse, The Green and Daly's. During this time there was a lot of rationalisation, but Midleton remained as the epicentre while the others saw most of the cutbacks.
In the 1920s, a seven-year-old pure pot still whiskey was the company’s flagship brand. It had been made popular by one of the real characters in Irish whiskey at the time, Cork Distillers sales rep Paddy Flaherty, and it eventually bore his name – Paddy Irish Whisky. Versions of it are still on sale today. The new distillery, however, has added considerably to the range, producing an ever-expanding range of Jameson, Power’s, Midleton, Tullamore Dew and many more whiskeys.
The Old Midleton Distillery is now perfectly preserved as a visitors’ centre and museum.