THE Crolly Distillery Company is set to become the first to successfully distil whiskey in Donegal for more than 180 years in the coming weeks.
Letterkenny-based businessmen Joe Devenney, Conor McMenamin and Kieran Davis are the promoters behind the new whiskey distillery and visitors’ centre on the former Crolly Doll factory site.
This week, distillers from Belfast were on site bringing a number of magnificent traditional copper pot stills used for distilling whiskey to life.
Three years is the minimum maturation period for the spirit, so it will July 2023 before the first whiskey produced in Donegal in over 180 years comes of age.
A large number of early casks have already been pre-sold to buyers through the exclusive Crolly Founders 180 Club. The casks, which retail at €6,600, ex duty, contain 200 litres of whiskey.
“We launched the 180 Club programme before Christmas and we were well through sales when Covid hit. Investors who pre-purchase a cask of whiskey can open it up in five years time, personalise bottles and use them as corporate gifts or for personal consumption.
“It’s 180 years since whiskey was last legally produced in Donegal by William Leathem in Bohillion, Burt. We’re almost ready to go into production while James Doherty has plans for a distillery in Ardara. Whiskey is making a comeback,” Mr Devenney explained.
They hope to produce over 15,000 litres of alcohol annually for the first five years and their focus will be on the tourist industry and the international whiskey market.
Mr Devenney, of Cólaiste na Rosann, said for him Crolly was the perfect location.
“I know the building, it is an iconic building, with architectural merit and it is in a fabulous location on the Wild Atlantic Way,” he said.
“We are so honoured to be re-establishing the distillation of whiskey in Donegal after so many years. Our aim is to reach 12-year-old single malt but that’s many years down the road yet. We’ll be laying down whiskey for an extended period of time as it only improves with age after seven, ten or twelve years,” he said.
The distillery will also open a new visitor centre as part of phase two of the project.
“The focus to date has been on getting into production and we’re almost there. That gives us breathing space of three years before we have Crolly whiskey – by law we have to let it rest for three years and a day – which allows us time in the interim to work on Phase B which is the bar, restaurant and visitors centre,” he said.
“We want to tell the history of the factory and the area. We are custodians of a building that was put there to alleviate the abject poverty of the area at that time,” he added.
The construction of the building was completed in 1903 by the Congested Districts Board. The Board promoted industry and crafts with particular emphasis on indigenous crafts and traditional skills.
The first employer to the Crolly Factory in 1903 was Messrs. Morton & Co., an Ayrshire Carpet Manufacturer. They also established other similar factories in Killybegs, Kilcar and Annagry. The factory closed during the War of Independence and when it reopened in 1939, it became a soft toy manufacturer.
Later production moved from soft toy production to the production of the internationally famous Crolly Doll. The factory was ahead of its time, in that it was quite self-sufficient having its own peat-fuelled heating system and its own source of electricity.
In the 1980s and 90’s it was to become a toroidal transformer producer and it contributed significantly to the local economy through all these years.
“This iconic building has lay dormant for the last twenty years. We want to record the history of the factory and the area for generations to come,” he said.
“We also have plans for a whiskey academy where people get an opportunity to learn all the skills associated with brewing and distillation,” he added.
Údarás na Gaeltachta has provided financial support for the project to the tune of €121,000 and will involve the refurbishment of the old Crolly doll factory.
“We’re put in a substantial investment and we’ve received great support from Údarás,”