Bourbon Industry

Alltech's Irish distillery goes Gothic with restoration of Anglican church

Alltech plans to restore and turn this former Anglican church in Dublin into a boutique whiskey distillery. Blocks away is the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland's top tourist attraction.
Alltech plans to restore and turn this former Anglican church in Dublin into a boutique whiskey distillery. Blocks away is the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland's top tourist attraction.

Alltech is moving its distillery — the one in Ireland, not in Lexington.

Last fall, founder Pearse Lyons bought a centuries-old former Anglican church along "the Dubline," the historic stretch of Dublin from Trinity College to Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) that is now a walking trail.

Deirdre Lyons, Pearse's wife and director of Alltech's corporate image, is spearheading plans to renovate the building, which is surrounded by 300,000 graves, including that of Pearse Lyons' grandfather, John Hubert Lyons.

"I'm working with a historic preservation architect and a team to restore it to its former glory," Deirdre Lyons said. The building hasn't been a church in decades and most recently was a lighting store, so it is in pretty sad shape, she said. Half the steeple and the stained glass windows are gone.

Alltech paid about $900,000 for the building, plus about $45,000 to the Church of Ireland to release the site from covenants that would have prevented the sale or use of alcohol.

The privately held Nicholasville-based animal nutrition, brewing and distilling company will pay $5.4 million to renovate it.

The finished distillery will be small but could have a big impact.

"Ours will be a very boutique distillery," Lyons said. "The nave where the high altar was is where the pot stills will be, with new stained glass, and the fermenters on one side and maturation tanks on the other."

The rest will be a visitors center and museum, she said. "There's great interest now to preserve the history, especially along this strip."

Master distiller Mark Coffman said that once the renovation of the Gothic structure is done, the Vendome copper pot stills that Alltech installed two years ago in Carlow will be moved to the new site.

Another Vendome still might be sent over to increase production; should Alltech need more capacity, Lyons said, they could build on their European headquarters in nearby Dunboyne.

Alltech has made Irish malt whiskey at the Carlow site since November 2012, but the product won't be released for at least another year.

And it doesn't have a name yet. Alltech has been soliciting ideas, some of which might be inspired by the new location on James's Street.

Lyons said Alltech hopes to go before the Dublin city council for planning permission by the end of February and begin renovations soon.

City officials "are delighted because it's sat there disused for so long," she said. "They want to restore the graveyard, with an elevated walkway, so people can see these ancient graves and have wonderful views of other parts of the city."

The city will maintain control of the surrounding graveyard, which slopes toward the nearby Guinness brewery. Also, blocks away is the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland's top tourist attraction, with more than a million visitors a year.

"We're hoping to capture some of those tourists," Lyons said.

They will have company. On Wednesday, Teeling Whiskey Co. announced that it will build the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years, to be located nearby in Newmarket Square in The Liberties. The Teeling distillery will start production at the end of the year, open a visitors center in early 2015 and expects to welcome 50,000 guests the first year.

Lyons said Alltech hopes to have its distillery operating there by the end of 2015, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016.

Irish whiskey has had a huge resurgence in recent years, with phenomenal sales growth in the United States, particularly at the high end. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., sales of premium and super premium Irish Whiskey grew a staggering 365 percent and 1,717 percent, respectively, in the decade from 2002 through 2012.