WHISKY INTERVIEW with Sally – Anne Cooney, Boann Distillery, Drogheda, Ireland

I stayed a couple of nights in Drogheda, it was only right I should visit this new distillery. A little bit of local history was made in Drogheda when the copper pot whiskey stills were delivered to the new Boann Distillery. The three nano-copper pot stills, one with a capacity of 10,000 litres and the other two 7,500 and 5,000 litres respectively, were hand made in Sienna, Italy. The stills mark a significant milestone for the distillery which is set to open in 2016. Typically they were given female names—Sunshine, Sally-Anne and Celestine after the female members of the Cooney family. “The plan is now to distil in early 2017 and open up the visitor centre by the end of 2017” Sally – Anne.

When it opens next year the €20m facility will include a whiskey distillery, craft brewery and taproom. The taproom will be an experiential space for a craft beer experience where they will have tasting stations for tutored tasting through their range. Boann Distillery will create a range of Irish single malt, pot still and blended whiskies from the technologically advanced nano-copper pot stills. A small batch premium gin will also be produced in a custom made 500 litres Bennett Still.

Sally – Anne continued “We launched “The Whistler range “at Whiskey Live Dublin – 3 expressions of Irish single malt whiskey we have been aging and finishing in sherry Oloroso casks for the last two years– a 7yo 46% non chill filter , no colour / 7yo cask strength 59% non chill filter, no colour / 10yo 46% non chill filter , no colour. We will distil single malt and Irish pot still whiskey on site using 100% Irish barley. It will be aged in predominantly Bourbon but cask experimentation (rum, wine, fortified wines etc) will be practiced with a % of all stock also for special expressions”.

Boann Distillery is a family company, with a combined wealth of experience, including 40 years building the Gleeson Group from a small independent bottler to a company turning over  €300 million p.a. The Cooney family understands what it takes to create successful, premium brands.

What is your background and role Sally – Anne? “I am the Marketing,PR and hospitality Director. I am a qualified accountant and spent years in the wine trade, most recently managing Gilbeys, Ireland largest wine company. My love of barrel maturation and experimentation comes from this. Our whiskeys will be crafted as Irish malt and pot still whiskeys. Irish pot still being uniquely Irish, came about with the introduction of the 1682 Malt Tax. To avoid paying full excise taxes on the whiskey, the Irish introduced unmalted barley to the mix. Using our own well water from the Boyne Valley we will mill, mash and distill on site. Our distinctive pot stills have been specially designed to maximise traditional methods and also use modern techniques, special reflux cooling jackets and patented nano copper technology. We will produce the purest spirit of great character —a  contemporary spirit with a unique provenance. Maturation will all occur on site in our cellar and custom-built warehouse to produce a whiskey of distinct character with a real sense of place”.

Where are casks sourced? Bourbon barrels are sourced from USA. Sherry Oloroso casks from Jerez and we will also have special finish casks.  We bottle in house, thus controlling the whole process from grain to glass. Whilst we wait for our whiskey to mature we will also be crafting a special gin, incorporating local hedgerow botanicals, from our small Bennett gin still. Once again a unique product linked closely to its’ place of origin.

Paul continued along with a drink in hand …
How is it having a still named after you? It is very special ! The wash still is “Sunshine” after my mother Marie , the intermediate still is Sally Anne , the Spirits still is Celestine after my sister and the Gin still is Isabella after my daughter Isabella, the first grandchild. Three generations of strong women!

Do you have any thoughts about finishing? Port, Sherry etc. More and more finishes are now on offer. In fact, do you have a favourite finish (mine is sherry)? A sherry finish is a personal favourite , however I have a real interest in wine cask finishes with my history in wine and look forward to experimenting with this in the future.

Where do you see the whiskey (Irish) industry being/going in 5 years from now? The Irish whiskey industry is on a roll at the moment and we predict big growth internationally over the next 5 years for Irish Whiskey following the current trend – led by innovation and experimentation. New, smaller, independent whiskey distilleries have the flexibility to experiment with finishes and styles and I believe that Irish whiskey style is going to evolve and differentiate from the crowd. Watch this space.

Many thanks Sally-Anne and I hope to return next year to see all working and delivering spirit, am excited now just thinking of it!

PAUL MCLEAN www.whiskytours.scot & www.mcleanscotland.com