On the South West coast of Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way you’ll find a small seaside town by the name of Dingle. It’s your typical Irish seaside town, busy pubs & cafes, ice cream parlours, fish & chip shops, oh and not to forget Foxy Johns a hardware shop that also happens to be a pub. You’ll also notice a ton of dolphin icons around the town, that’s because the tourist board have went the extra mile in promoting Fungie the Bottlenose Dolphin. Fungie took a wrong turn on his way to Benidorm from the Caribbean back in ’83 and has been loitering in Dingle harbour ever since.
As much as Fungie currently has the limelight it won’t be long until his crown is taken away, because the Dingle Distillery is slowly creeping up the ladder to become the crown and glory of town. Being located on the West Coast of Ireland it makes it Europe’s most westerly distillery.
The Dingle Distillery was the brainchild of the late Oliver Hughes his cousin Liam LaHart and friend Peter Mosley, the folks behind the Porterhouse Brewing Company which was setup in ’96 where they started out making some of the best craft beers possible. It was during a time when craft beers to most Irish people were only drank by buck daft eejits, but oh how they were wrong, just look at the craft beer market now.
Oliver was quoted saying “At the time everyone said ‘that will never work,’ even our accountant said that it would be the most expensive piece of bric-a-brac that pubs had ever seen. Within two years, sales wise, we became the fifth biggest pub brewery in the world. That really spurred us on;”
For around 20 odd years they continued to make craft beer until Oliver and Liam’s next project sprung to mind of opening a distillery.
Tucked away in the back end of Co.Kerry, upon a peninsula in the small town of Dingle a fever of activity was happening during the early months of 2012 converting what was once an old saw mill into a distillery.
Not many knew, only a chosen few
In the bleak mid-winter of 2012
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Recession on recession,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago an idea of opening a distillery came to fruition, with the first casks being filled on December 18th.
To help with costs Dingle offered the opportunity to everyday punters with a bitta cash lying around to purchase one of the first five hundred casks to be produced thus becoming one of The Dingle Founding Fathers.
Oliver Hughes on owning one of the casks – “Rather than put them into the main production, the first five hundred will be sold to individuals. It is a single cask, single malt limited to one cask per person. These people will become founders of the distillery. The funds from that will be used to progress the second phase of the distillery, which is the visitor’s centre.”
Speaking of visitor’s centre, it’s time to move onto the next part of the blog, visiting the distillery itself.
Now as I mentioned before, the distillery itself is situated within an old saw mill and rough round the edges, but in a good way. It’s very much a working distillery with a tour fitted in afterwards, so don’t expect the glamorous settings of Teeling or what The Boann Distillery will be when it opens. With space limited inside you’ll find yourself waiting for the tour to start just outside or a small holding area inside while being able to observe the daily workings of a distillery from a few feet away.
Once your tour starts it’s up into the rafters of the tin shed to pick your seat amidst the rugged wooden benches, it’s dark with just the right amount of light being provided by the perspex sheets in the roof. It’s then over to your tour guide who will talk you over the history of whiskey amongst other things. Our tour guide was Joe, and what a character he was. He gave what felt like a very personal account of Whiskey, Irish Whiskey and how Dingle came about, which made it that much more interesting. No fancy info boards or gimmicks just a man with a mighty voice and the gift of the gab.
After a warm welcome and a quick history lesson its time to get a look around. I’ve been in many distilleries and been up close to equipment thanks to friends providing that little bit of extra access, but everything here is compact, the stills, wooden fermentation tanks (wash backs) and everything else you’d find in a distillery are all within a few feet of each other, meaning its very easy to take in everything you’re being told. It’s a fantastic overload of the senses, watching the production team go about their daily grind a few feet away as well as the smells coming from the wooden wash backs with their lids open.
Dingles Pot Stills come from Forsyths in Scotland. I’m not too sure on their capacity, I totally forgot to ask, though I’ll try and find out. They’ve also recently taking delivery from Forsyths or a shinny new Gin Still.
Fun Fact – They make roughly 800L on average (4 casks) per day. To put some perspective on that, in the almost 6 years they’ve been producing whiskey, they’ve produced less than Midleton do every day! Now there’s a fact to wow your mates down the pub.
It’s then back to the wooden benches for the main reason punters are there, the tasting! On offer, their current single malt release which was Dingle Batch 3 at my time of visiting along with either their vodka or gin.
Batch 3 Single Malt – 46.5% ABV
Matured in Bourbon and Port barrels.
Nose: Youth, chocolate, salted caramel and the seaside.
Palate: Malty with a good whack of dried fruit bringing balance to the palate.
Finish: Spice, menthol, seaside air and a hint of dulse.
It’s not perfect and maybe someday it will be, but it has fantastic character for such a youthful single malt. I love the characteristics it holds from being matured beside the Atlantic Ocean.
I’ve no notes on the Vodka or Gin sorry. Though I can confirm I enjoyed the Vodka.
Tour and tasting over its back downstairs where you will come across the bottling line with a new labelling machine on the way out. I guess the romance of hand labelling had to come to an end at some stage, although it’s still a hands on affair with loading the bottles, putting the cork in and adding the seal. Oh and don’t forget to pop into the gift shop on the way out.
For me that wasn’t my day over, because before my tour started I got talking with Master Distiller Michael Walsh who had offered to personally show me around again after my tour and answer any questions I had along with the possibility of popping up to their warehouse located 2 minutes away.
Warehouse tour you say? Oh hell yes. A dream for any whiskey fan.
Getting to look around their warehouse at all the types of casks being used, taking in the smells, watching casks be filled, and nosing around at the founding fathers casks to see who owned them. A few names jumped out.
What happened next I wasn’t expecting, Michael pulled a sample straight from the cask of Pot Still laid down on November 6th 2015 with a 50/50 mash bill and 70% ABV for me to try.
Glass, whiskey and water to hand I went straight in, no water added, I wasn’t passing up that chance to try it at cask strength, but of course it was needed to enjoy properly. With each sip I added water bringing out more flavours and texture each time. I only wish I had the time to savour & enjoy fully while taking notes but I knew Michael was super busy as well as myself being on a time limit.
I can’t thank Michael enough for his hospitality and time. I knew Michael was flat out with making sure the council visit that day went well, along with getting set up for the Founding Fathers party that week. I should have said not to worry about visiting the warehouse and left him to his work but I just couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Apologies Michael.
Some good news for the folks across the pond in the Land of The Free, around the 3000 bottles 750ml in size will make there way across for release.
I’m sure that will be music to the ears of Matt – VaultedBarley.com.
I’d advise pre-booking because the tour we were on was sold out before arrival as were the following two tours.
Tours cost €15/£13.50 Per Adult and can be booked here Dingle Distillery Tour
Transparency – This was a free tour thanks to Dave Cummins who works for the Dingle Distillery. Though this in no way has influenced my views.
Thanks to everyone involved at Dingle for their hospitality. I’m already planning my next trip.
Until next time folks, keep safe & keep drinking whiskey responsibly.
Over & out.
Jamie. Whiskey JAC
Drink Responsibly. Please visit Drink Aware UK for more information.