First McGregor, now Bono enters the whiskey game

Musician backs a €50 million distillery and visitor centre in Monasterevin

U2 frontman Bono has been named as an investor in a proposed €50 million whiskey distillery and visitor centre in Monasterevin, Co Kildare being developed by businessman and property investor Paddy McKillen.

The news comes at the same time as MMA athlete Conor McGregor launches his Proper No Twelve whiskey, made at the Bushmills Distillery in Co Antrim, on the Irish and US markets.

The spirits industry has previously proved attractive to celebrity investors, with a tequila company co-founded by the actor George Clooney being sold to Diageo for up to $1bn last year.

A planning application was lodged with Kildare Co Council last week for the redevelopment of Ballykelly Mill, a listed structure dating from 1801 on a five-acre site running along the Grand Canal. The development includes provision for an artisan distillery, tasting rooms, visitor centre and exhibition spaces. The application was lodged by Jewelfield Ltd.

Paddy McKillen said: “We’re restoring a beautiful 200-year-old mill and reviving Monasterevin’s rich heritage in producing the finest whiskey going right back to the 18th century.”

The mill was previously owned and operated by the Cassidy family, who made whiskey there from 1784 until 1921.

“We have assembled an amazing team of world leading experts and we will produce a world class product. We’re investing €50m into this initial phase, which is the start of a long-term strategy. It fits very well with our existing hospitality businesses and the great global interest in Irish whiskey over the past number of years.”

McKillen’s son, Paddy McKillen junior, heads up the hospitality conglomerate Press Up Entertainment. The group recently opened The Grayson, a restaurant and bar on St Stephen’s Green, its 34th venue, spread across 25 brands.

McKillen senior is said by his spokesperson to be “very excited” about the planned whiskey distillery, which follows on from his development of the Château la Coste winery in Provence, which is now the biggest biodynamic vineyard in France.

The proposed Monasterevin distillery and visitor centre is one of many in the planning stages, under construction, or recently launched in Ireland. According to the Irish Whiskey Association, there are currently 13 whiskey distillery visitor centres in the planning or development stage, in Leitrim, Donegal, Sligo, Louth, Dublin (two), Wicklow, Cork, Clare, Waterford, Longford, Derry and Down.

Last year Slane Distillery and visitor centre, a project initiated by Lord Henry Mount Charles and his son Alex Conyngham, opened in the grounds of Slane Castle in Co Meath. The distillery business was sold in 2015 to US company Brown Forman, which invested in the region of €45 milllion in the project.

As well as contributing to the domestic tourism sector through visitor centres and exhibitions, the boom in artisan distilleries is also boosting export sales. A recent Irish Spirits Report, compiled on behalf of the Ibec-affiliated Irish Spirits Association, shows overall sales of Irish whiskey have continued to rise, up 10.6 per cent last year, with exports on target to exceed a 2020 target of 12 million cases.