Gala launch opens Slane Distillery

The much-anticipated launch of the Slane Whiskey Distillery & Visitor Centre got off the ground recently with a gala evening which saw guests and VIPs enjoying the hospitality and surroundings of the the Conyngham family’s new distillery, located on the grounds of the iconic Slane Castle in County Meath. 

Due to open on 2nd September, the operation, now owned by Brown-Forman, represents the first distillery the US family company has built outside the US and represents the Brown and Conyngham family’s shared vision.

Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman Executive Vice President and Chief Brands & Strategy Officer, along with Henry Conyngham, the Eighth Marquess Conyngham of Slane Castle and his son Alex welcomed guests to the evening’s celebrations with tours of the new visitor experience and tastings of Slane Irish Whiskey.

Other Brown-Forman guests included John Hudson (Vice President, Innovation Director) and Eric Donninger (Vice President, Director of Homeplace Operations) who met with many of the country’s tourism industry leaders and partners, local business owners and key hospitality, tourism, bar and hotel players.

Henry Mountcharles, the eighth Marquess Conyngham, owner of the iconic estate on which the distillery sits, had wanted to distil whiskey at Slane since the early 80s, not uninfluenced by Thin Lizzy’s playing of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ back in 1981 in the inaugural concert at Slane Castle.

“This is a great coming together of two historic families – the Browns of Kentucky and the Conynghams of Slane,” he told the assembled guests, “Over time, Slane has become a brand,” he pointed out, referring to Robbie Williams’ taking the castle to a global audience when he played Slane in 1999 in conjunction with coverage from Sky TV.

Slane Irish Whiskey is not only selling in Ireland, he added, he’d seen this himself in the US too.

On a visit to Boston recently he’d called into a number of his old haunts to find Slane whiskey behind the bar.

“It was a very spiritual experience,” he stated, with just a hint of tongue-in-cheek.

This success of Slane Whiskey in the US has been made possible by Brown Forman, the owner of Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve, which bought all shares in the Slane Irish Whiskey Company from the Conyngham family in June 2015 and invested $50 million (€44.5m) in the operation.

It also seemed somewhat fitting then that the Slane Castle grounds in which the launch was taking place had been designed by Capability Brown, pointed out Henry Moutcharles.

The marketing of Slane has been driven for some time now by Henry’s son Alex as Slane whiskey’s Global Ambassador, who’s spent considerable periods of time away from his own young family in Slane to help market the brand in the US.

Speaking later that evening, Lawson Whiting paid tribute to Alex’s ambassadorial efforts in getting traction in the Irish and US markets – 600 accounts in Ireland and 10,000 in the US in just 60 days. Indeed Brooke Brown Barzun, a member of the Brown dynasty, described Slane whiskey as “an Irish whiskey for bourbon drinkers”.

It all began when Alex had lunch with Garvan Brown.

“Most things start with a good lunch!” he said of that initial contact back in 2009, “… and the company has more or less stayed with the project ever since.”

Much had been overcome in the intervening period, including obtaining planning permission for the distillery – quite an achievement in itself as the distillery was built right in the middle of protected structures on the Slane Castle Estate.

Everything seems to have been thought of in the distillery, right down to recyling the waste hot water generated by the stills and having it piped across to heat the castle itself.

On the night, Alex Conyngham emerged a fine speaker (who spurns speaking notes) and a canny businessman who knows what he wants and is unprepared to compromise on his vision. For example, despite protestations to the contrary, he insisted on the use of Oloroso Sherry casks in maturing the whiskey alongside the use of Brown Forman’s bourbon casks and virgin oak casks, the essential trinity in the ‘triple distillation’ process.


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