I’ll kick off by admitting I have a bit of a soft spot for Powerscourt as I grew up down the road, and worked in the golf club for many years while in school giving out to golfers for slow play. I also got the 1st (Unofficial) hole in one on the West Course – probably my only claim to fame.
So when I found out that an old rugby team-mate (Ger Ginty – COO) was part of a plan to construct a distillery on the Estate – obviously my interest peaked and I was straight onto WhatsApp to see if I could get some cheeky behind the scenes access. And thats what I got about 18 months ago as myself and two friends were escorted around the Distillery (in hard hats) as it was still being built.
Ger talked us through the story of how Powerscourt came to be, the origin story of Fercullen, and the mission of the business (all things you will learn on the Tour) #no-spoilers-here. At that stage they had only just installed the stills and had a huge amount of work to do on the renovation of the old Mill building. That said – they went into production 4 months later in July 2018.
What immediately became apparent was that this venture wasn’t a smash and grab attempt at profiting from the rising tide in Irish Whiskey sales globally, but it was a genuine attempt to start something special by putting their very best foot forward with investments in Forsyth Stills, Noel Sweeney (Hall of Fame Master Distiller), and a top class visitors centre that can cater for large tours, and intimate gatherings.
Flash forward to just over a month ago (July ’19) when I decided to re-visit with a view to putting together this piece for the blog purchasing the Warehouse Tour (€35) as I love an auld gander at some barrels!
After a brief introduction to the Distillery, the Whiskey making process, and the history of the estate – you are whisked away to a cinema room to watch a short film. If I’m honest, it didn’t do much for me, but it was clearly geared at those who know little to nothing about Irish Whiskey, the Distilling process or the Estate. In time I hope this video can show more “behind the scenes” or old local whiskey stories (or something to that effect). I sat through it – keen to kick on to the Distillery itself.
Once the film ended, we get walked through the various stages of the distillation process: Brewing, Fermenting & Distillation. I loved the way the floor is at a height that allows you to look inside the the Mash and Fermentation tank, as well as seeing the distillate pour through the sprit safe. If you’re brave enough, you also get a chance to taste the barley, the beer, and of course the new make!
My tour guide was super knowledgable, and was able to rattle off complicated responses to difficult questions I had about the cuts on the new make! I’m told the pot still and malt are both Cut in Late & Out Early. This apparently leads to a Smooth & Sweet whiskey which is apparently Noels style. Very accessible and easy to drink. All things that I like. I did taste some of the new make Malt that was coming off the stills. Despite the high alcohol, it was bursting with sweetness, and was surprisingly smooth, which got me really excited about how this will be matured.
Next up we popped over to the warehouse where we were talked through the process of maturation, and I was even allowed to go for a little wander through the Barrels, spying various barrel types. Technically I’ve been asked not to say exactly what they are (beyond the AB1 American Oak Barrels), but I think you’ll be able to spot some other “european” barrel types there too.
After the Barrelhouse tour, I got whisked up through the rest of the building, being shown some private & public tasting rooms as well as some conference rooms (which I’ll likely be bringing my real world team from work to at some stage) before heading to the ‘Cask Members’ tasting room which overlooks the distillery.
Here I got to taste the 3 current releases from the Fercullen range; the Blend, the 10 year old grain, and the 14 year old Malt. Sufficed to say, I do not have a specialised palette, so won’t even attempt tasting notes here, but out of the three, I preferred the 10yo grain marginally over the 14yo – largely because I’d usually find grain whiskeys to be to punchy and this one was super friendly and the fruity notes kept a smile on my face.
The Innovation Room
Then I got access to something a little special (beyond the standard tour). After the tasting, I was brought into the basement into one of the offices where I was presented with an array of whiskies with a multitude of ages and finishes lined up in front of me.
So – While I was explicitly advised that I could not, under any circumstances, divulge what I tasted/saw, I can say two things:
1) That of the samples I tried, I was extremely impressed – both with the aged/finished samples of the Fercullen range, but also by the brand new Potstill “New Make”, and the 1 year old Malt.
2) The Presentation / boxing of what will be coming down the track will (in some cases) be on par with what our Scottish counterparts are doing for their premium ranges (and we definitely do not do enough of in Ireland).
So watch this space – exciting things are coning!
The Cask Programme
After this special insight, I exited through the gift shop, where I had an opportunity to talk to Kevin McParland & Ger Ginty about their Cask Programme. I’ll let the brochure tell the story/do the marketing, but in short, there are 397 (200L AB1 ex-Bourbon) casks (with limited number remaining), for €7,800 each – and I believe Powerscourt are one of only 3 distilleries with an open cask programme at the moment (I stand to be corrected).
I did the maths on this, and assuming a heavy angels share @2% a year over 10 years, you’re looking at 163 liters (or about 233 bottles) of whiskey at the end of the 10 year term (assuming you wait that long). Thats about €33.50 a bottle (before excise, bottling etc) which is pretty damn good considering you will have the opportunity to finish your Malt or Pot Still in various casks.
In addition, you have the option of pulling bottles as you wish throughout the term of the investment, and once a year there’s a big cask members party where everyone can see how their juice is coming along! There are lots of other benefits listed in the brochure so check it out.
Genuinely, I would struggle to put together €7,800 for something like this (as I’d hate to see my wife in jail for murder) but if anyone else reading this has an interest in putting a syndicate together, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
Speaking with the Powerscourt team, it looks like the next 3 releases will be an 18 yo Malt (due just before Christmas), and a 21 yo shortly after. There will also be a 16yo Single Cask (Marsala finished) which will only be available to the Cask programme members.
Long Term Potential?
I’ve been thinking hard about the long term potential of Powerscourt given the plethora of new distilleries which have been popping up all over the country, but I firmly believe that if you take a 10yr+ view on it, I think great things will come of it – and I also believe the above Cask Programme will also be worth the money – heres why:
- Financial stability – Powerscourt is well funded, and doesn’t rely on having to produce other spirits to be financially viable – its focus is solely on whiskey.
- They have invested in the best equipment – like the Forsyth Stills (just like Midleton use)
- Their mission is to produce a top class whiskey from the best local ingredients.
- They’ve invested in Hall of Fame Master Distiller – Noel Sweeney.
- And lastly….. one of the biggest opportunities….. Tourists…..Lots of them!
Let’s take that item alone. Powerscourt (Estate) hosts 500,000+ visitors a year to its Gardens, Golf Club, & Hotel etc – predominantly from America, China, Germany & France – but also many people from the wider Leinster region looking to get out of Dublin for the day with the family.
If Powerscourt Distillery can capture even 10% of these visitors , they will automatically be in the top 5 most visited distilleries in the country after Bow St, Midleton & Teeling (I believe). Imagine now you can convert that to 20% or more? Suddenly you have 100k people pa going back to America & China (or wherever), with a bottle of whiskey they probably can’t buy locally (kudos). So what happens in 5 years time when this whiskey then starts appearing on their local shelves? Brand recognition (and hence demand) will thrive. And wheres there’s an imbalance between demand and supply – thats where values go up! Remember – Powerscourt will only ever be able to produce 1m litres of spirit a year (vs 64m in Midleton).
So all in all – I really enjoyed my time at the Distillery and I look forward to watching their progress in international markets, as well as see how their juice will improve with age. For those of you passing through Wicklow, I highly recommend dropping in – and if your other half has no interest – they can simply pop into the gardens, the hotel spa, or the golf club! (win win). And for those who can’t make it down, you’ll also be able to catch the team at the upcoming WhiskeyLive event in Dublin on the 22nd & 23rd of November.
PS: A special thanks to the team whom I met on the day:
– Caleb (my tour guide)
– Ger Ginty (COO)
– Carla Gardiner (CMO), and
– Kevin McParland (Head of the Cask Programme).
I look forward to coming back soon!