Enduring Irish heritage

Gavin D.Smith looks at the legendary home of one of Ireland's celebrated whiskeys.
By Gavin D. Smith
While the whisk(e)y brands associated with many of the distilleries featured in this series are long dead and gone, Tullamore Dew is very much alive and kicking. And though it is no longer made in the eponymous County Offaly town, you can still celebrate the whiskey and its fascinating story in the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre at Bury Quay.Some of the site has been cleared, though there are still many tangible signs of the old distillery, and the Heritage Centre,boasting re-created aspects of the production process, is housed in a former bonded warehouse which dates from 1897.Tullamore distillery was established in 1829 by Michael Moloney, probably on the site of an earlier plant, which had been operational in the late 18th century. During the 1780s there were no fewer than 32 active whiskey making facilities in what is now County Offaly, and one of the key attractions of the Tullamore location included its central situation in Ireland, amid prime barley-growing countryside.Additionally, the distillery stood beside the Grand Canal, which facilitated the transportation of coal, barley and casks of spirit. The railway network also ultimately provided an important communications lifeline.Tullamore was a medium-sized distillery in its early years, with EB McGuire writing in Irish Whiskey that “…in 1833 duty was paid on 20,000 proof gallons to which must be added whiskey put into bonded warehouses and also sold in bond. At that time there was a second distillery in the town paying duty on half as much again, but it did not last long.” After Michael Molloy died in 1846 the distillery he had created passed to five of his nephews,and ultimately ended up in the hands of one of those nephews, Bernard Daly. A crucial moment in the history of Tullamore came when Bernard Daly’s son, also Bernard, promoted his distillery engineer to the position of general manager during the 1880s.Daly Jr was more interested in hunting, playing polo and horse racing then in the family’s whiskeymaking business, and so handed the running of Tullamore to Daniel Edmond Williams, who had joined the distilling company at the age of 15.Williams encouraged his employer to expand the plant,and Tullamore ‘Dew,’ an acronym of his initials,was launched. The marketing slogan ‘Give every man his Dew’was soon famous throughout Ireland and beyond, with sales booming on the British mainland and even as far afield as Australia.When Alfred Barnard visited the distillery in the mid-1880s this international trade was already thriving, and he observed that Tullamore was equipped with a pair of 16,000 gallon wash stills, a 5,500 gallons ‘low-wines’ still and an unusually large 10,500 gallons spirit still.Output stood at some 270,000 gallons per annum.In 1903 B Daly & Co Ltd was established, with the Williams family as shareholders, and in 1931 they took total control of the operation. Unlike many of its competitors, Tullamore survived the 1920s and ’30s, albeit with a period of closure, and in 1948 became the first Irish distillery to install a Coffey still to facilitate the production of blended whiskey.In that same year, a recipe for a traditional Irish liqueur made from whiskey, heather honey and herbs was fortuitously sourced from an Austrian refugee, and Irish Mist was launched to great success.Such was its impact that in 1953 the firm changed its name to The Irish Mist Liqueur Company Ltd.However, demand for Tullamore whiskey was now being outstripped by supply, and the decision was taken to close the distillery in 1954 and concentrate on the production and marketing of Irish Mist.What was now the blended Irish whiskey brand Tullamore Dew was subsequently acquired by Irish Distillers Ltd,who went on to replicate its light and delicate character, and production now takes place in Irish Distillers’ Midleton distilling complex in County Cork.However, in 1994 the brand was sold to Cantrell & Cochrane Ltd, a subsidiary of Allied Domecq, which re-established it in international markets. Cantrell & Cochrane Ltd was launched as C&C Group plc on the Irish Stock Exchange in 2004, and in recent years the firm has enjoyed great success with its Magners cider brand, as well as with Tullamore Dew.