When Jim Beam pulled the plug on the Slane Castle whiskey brand, you'd have got long odds on Henry Mountcharles and his son Alex securing major international investment in the brand.
Slane Castle, a minnow in the burgeoning market for Irish whiskey, was reliant on supplies from Cooley Distillery to fill its bottles. When US drinks group Beam acquired Cooley in 2012, it decided it required the distillery's full output for its own purposes and cut off supplies to smaller independent players, including Slane Castle.
At the time, the Mountcharles brand had been on the market less than three years and the move looked certain to end the experiment in diversification. Murmurings of plans to build a distillery on the grounds of the castle seemed far-fetched. Even with the securing of planning permission in 2013 , it looked like Slane may have missed the boat as a whole new generation of independent distilleries was further advanced and the market appeared to be facing a whiskey glut.
At that time, the family was looking at a €12 million investment, roughly half of which was to come from family resources and from an investment by Camus Cognac. The vision was of a “green” craft whiskey distilled on site with barley grown on the estate and water from the River Boyne that flows through it. By-products from the distilling process would be used to generate energy and feed the estate’s cattle herd.
The vision may be intact, at least in part, but the price tag has clearly risen in the intervening period. Taking ownership of the fledgling business, Jack Daniel's parent Brown-Forman reports the scale of the distillery investment as $50 million – nearly four times the projections just two years ago.
The Mountcharles/Conyngham family say they will continue to be involved “at the core of the business into the foreseeable future”, but that is likely more on the branding and raw material side of things as Brown-Forman is now sole owner and there is no mention any more of Camus.
Either way, the arrival of the major US player means the future of Slane Castle seems more assured than at any time heretofore, with construction due to begin this summer and the first of Slane Castle’s output selling in 2017.