John Teeling, the entrepreneur who led a renaissance in Irish whiskey from his Cooley Distillery in Louth, is looking outside the county for a location for his Great Northern Distillery's warehouse after local opposition to a proposed site in Kilcurry.
Residents in Kilcurry, a rural part of north Louth, have raised concerns about the potential environmental, traffic and fire risks at the proposed development of initially six warehouses spanning a 45 hectares site (111 acres).
“The warehouse won’t be in Co Louth,” Mr Teeling, told The Irish Times. “What’s the point when someone else will come after us.”
Great Northern Distillers, which bought the site for a seven-figure sum, is now scouting other locations around Ireland.
“We were going to spend over €20 million on the complex and we were directed there by Louth County Council, who thought it would be a good place to go to,” said Mr Teeling (72). “We paid top dollar for it and we have spent half a million on EIAs [environmental impact studies], bat studies and heritage studies to do it right thing.”
Teeling ended Irish Distillers’ long-held monopoly in the late 1980s when he launched Cooley Distillery in Louth.
His sons, Stephen and Jack, went on to establish Teeling Whiskey, initially using stocks of Cooley's whiskey, after Teeling sold up to alcohol giant Beam Suntory for €73 million in 2012.
“We have been very good to Co Louth and they have been good to us,” said Mr Teeling. “Cooley had and still has 100 employees. We have 30 on the [GND] site and that’s going to grow.”
Mr Teeling said the warehouse would have attracted a maximum of three trucks a day due to the time required to mature whiskey, while there hadn’t been a major distillery fire since the 1870s.
Upon reflection, he believes GND, which is on the site of the former Harp Lager brewery in Dundalk, made the mistake of having too many public meetings early on.
“We should have had a public meeting the day before we put in the planning application,” he said. “By giving them a chance to see what was there, we gave them a chance to organise and there were 41 observations – of which 37 were all the same. They were entitled to do that, but it got its own momentum. Between ourselves and the council, we made a hames of it.”
GND has warned that a lack of warehouses to store casks will lead to distillers going out of business.
“There are some people below the radar, but we got on the radar,” said Mr Teeling. “You can establish small warehouses under 25,000sq ft without any hassles because they are subject to different rules and regulations.”
He said there was planning permission for houses at the Kilcurry site and they could go back and get permission to build.
“We will certainly apply for retention of planning on that part of it and we could look at other options,” he said. “It will be done. It won’t rot.”
In the meantime, GND is growing 100 acres of barley on the land to be used in its own distillery.
“It will be very special and it will be called Kilcurry pot still whiskey,” he said. “Is it worthwhile for the money [spent on buying the site]? Not at all.”