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There are those who’d have you believe that Irish whiskey is always triple distilled and never peated. That was the case until Ireland’s second whiskey distilling company, Cooley was established in 1988.
The heady days of Irish whiskey were at the beginning of the 19th century, when there were some 2,000 whiskey distilleries operating in Ireland. From then on the industry has been plagued with bad luck including the Total Abstinence Movement, partition, civil war, a British trade embargo and US Prohibition. By the early 1970’s only four distilleries had survived 150 years of bad karma. Feeling somewhat beleaguered they merged to form the Irish distillers group with two distilleries, Middleton in the south and Bushmills in the North. The whiskies made by this now French owned group are triple distilled and aren’t peated.
Ask a Scot about the merits of triple distillation and he’s likely to tell you that Scottish distillers manage to get it right in two attempts. As for peat free, he’ll probably take the view that even his fellow countrymen are not so tight as not to invest in some added natural flavours.
Well back in those heady days of Irish whiskey distillation there was more than the odd Irishman that held the same opinions. Back then there was more diversity in the Irish whiskey category. Some Irish whiskey brands were double distilled and some were even peated. Cooley was established by a bunch of whiskey loving Irishmen who sought to reincarnate forgotten old Irish whiskey brands such as Tyrconnell, Lock’s (est. 1757), Millars (est. 1843) and Kilbeggan (est. 1757) and make them the way they were once made with a range of styles and flavours.
Our hero’s overcome the challenges and costs of converting a forma government potato spirit distillery and then waiting up to eight years for the whiskey to reach sufficient maturity to be sold. Their financial plight was such that in 1994 they were too broke to distil and were only saved by a $1.6 million deal with Kentucky distillers Heaven Hill who invested in stocks to sell in the US market. How they must laugh now. In 2012 after selling to Beam these whiskey loving entrepreneurs are laughing all the way to the bar to order another one of their highly regarded whiskies.
Cooley Distillery lies in a beautiful corner of Southern Ireland close to the northern boarder. Formally a government owned distillery, turning potatoes into industrial alcohol, it was designed by Czech architects and resembles a beached battle ship.
When southern Ireland split and went it’s own way, us Brits attempted to squeeze the new republic by enforcing a trade embargo. This not only hit Irish whiskey distillers, but also farmers of the countries most important crop, potatoes. So the Irish government built five identical distilleries to buy potatoes and turn them into internationally marketable industrial alcohol. Due to the British embargo they had to turn to Eastern Europe for expertise and equipment. The armour platted Cooley distillery was one of the five identical distilleries built for this purpose. It is the last to survive, probably because it was the closest to Dublin where the civil servants that ran them were based.
Cooley’s do not have their own malting facility but buy from a specialist maltster. Cooley's main plant at Dundalk is a column still facility while their newer second distillery at Kilbeggan only has pot stills.