Irish whiskey flows as new distilleries open in Dublin and around country

Old St James’s Church the latest site as €10m-plus centre set to open in summer

Alltech co-founder Pearse Lyons at the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Dublin could well become the whiskey capital of the world with the planned summer opening of another distillery and visitor attraction and two more over the next two years.

The Pearse Lyons Distillery in the former St James’s Church on James’s Street is almost ready for its official launch, and around the country there are even bigger plans with 16 distilleries already operating and 14 more in the pipeline.

Irish-born Pearse Lyons and his wife Deirdre are founders of Alltech, a $2.1 billion (€1.9bn) animal nutrition company based in Nicholasville, Kentucky and a European Bioscience Centre in Dunboyne, Co Meath. They also own a brewery and distillery in Kentucky.

The church was purchased for €690,000 and the refurbishment has cost €10.5 million to date.The renovation of the church and adjoining buildings has been ongoing since 2014.

Alltech co-founders Deirdre and Pearse Lyons at the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin. Photograph: Conor McCabe

“A few months after we purchased St James’s, it was made a national monument,” said Deirdre Lyons. “The consequence of that meant we have had to employ conservation architects for the renovation.”

The roof trusses turned out to have dry rot and had to be replaced at a cost of €1.3 million. Some of the limestone pillars were also damaged and replaced by stone from Caen in France.

While preparing for the crane to hoist in the stills, ancient remains were discovered and archaeologists were engaged to document the findings.

The former St James’s Church on James’s Street, Dublin

The two-acre graveyard, which dates from 1190, was so full that burials overflowed into other parts of the grounds. In some cases up to nine people shared single graves.

A church has stood on the site since the 12th century, and the most recent building dates to 1859-60. It was a Catholic church that became Protestant after the Reformation in 1539, and was deconsecrated in 1963. More recently, it was used as showrooms for Lighting World.

The church has been enhanced with specially made stained glass windows depicting the steps of distilling. One window is devoted to the Camino de Santiago, as it is from here pilgrims began the journey to Spain.

When the boutique distillery is up in running, it will produce 1,000 litres of whiskey per week. The new facility is expected to attract up to 75,000 annual visitors.

Liberties distillery

The next distillery to open will be the Dublin Liberties Distillery in Mill Street , where the 300-year-old former mill and tannery is being converted and upgraded. Once again there will be a visitor attraction centred on the traditional distillation practices.

The Dublin Liberties Distillery in Mill Streetwill open in late Spring 2018 following a €15 million spend on the project. Photograph: Dublin Liberties Distillery/Twitter

The new distillery will be home to Quintessential Brands’ The Dubliner and The Dublin Liberties whiskeys, which are already established in international markets.

The distillery and visitor centre will open in late Spring 2018 following a €15 million spend on the project.

Diageo, owners of Guinness, announced recently that it will also be adding a distillery in the Liberties, in the former Guinness Power House on James's Street, an unusual redbrick Victorian style building. Planning approval has been sought for the new facility, which will include a visitor experience. It will be called Roe's Distillery in honour of whiskey maker George Roe, who is credited with bringing about the golden era of Irish whiskey in the 19th century.

Diageo already draws 1.6 million visitors into the area to visit the Guinness Storehouse.

The Teeling Distillery, opened in 2015, was the first new distillery in Dublin 125 years, and had 60,000 visitors in its first year. The Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield reopened in March after a six-month’s closure for an €11 million refurbishment. Visitor numbers had reached almost 300,000 in the year before the closure.

The Irish Whiskey Association Tourism Strategy optimistically envisages a growth no less than 1.9 million visitors to various Irish distilleries by 2025. In 2013 there were just four distilleries in operation, none of them in Dublin. Now there are 16 and a further 14 with planning permission.

New distilleries around the country include Slane Castle, Powerscourt, Glendalough and Dingle.