Quite literally rising from the rubble, Ahascragh Distillery’s beautiful copper pot stills have become a shining beacon of hope for a bright future in the area. This is the story of Ahascragh Distillery…
When Gareth and Michelle McAllister first set eyes on this derelict old flour mill from the 1800s, it was nothing more than a collection of roofless walls covered in ivy and bushes - yet they had a clear vision for how they would transform these ruins into a state-of-the-art, almost futuristic, distillery and visitor centre. Co-founder Michelle says; "We always wanted to build our distillery in the West of Ireland; it’s a beautiful part of the country and the climate offers ideal whiskey making conditions. We were living in Hong Kong at the time and I had seen the mill on a website for old buildings. We enquired with the owner but then life took over and we forgot about it. About 9 months later we were in Galway at a business meeting for something totally different. Gareth said ‘Dya remember that place we were looking at? Will we try and find it?’. When we pulled up outside you could hardly see the building but we both immediately said it was the place we wanted to be."
Located just 11km from Ballinasloe in East Galway, Ahascragh is a picturesque village near the Bunowen River. This very river, along with its small and mighty canal, are responsible for a long tradition of industry which will now continue into the future thanks to the commitment of the Ahascragh Distillery team. “Our ethos was always to be eco-friendly, and what better way to do that than repurposing an old building?!” asks Michelle, excitedly. "We’re learning that it would have been easier to just build something in an empty field, we would have been ready to go ages ago - but, no, we both thought this mill needed to be brought back to life, along with the village. The village is wonderful and this building has always been the centre of it. It’s really nice to bring employment back to rural places like Ahascragh. There are lots of villages like it all over Ireland that need a bit of love, encouragement and dedication to bring them back to how they used to be. The community has got behind it and we couldn’t do most of what we do without them. They have been amazing."
Despite a small population of around 200 people, this rural community has always written headline stories in the worlds of business and culture. Milliner to the stars, Philip Treacy, hails from Ahascragh and the village was immortalised on RTÉ’s comedy show Don’t Feed The Gondolas with the infamous (and fictional) Monica Looley! The team at Ahascragh Distillery hope to write similar stories long into the future, merging innovative enterprise with tradition. Though rooted firmly in the heritage of their surroundings, Ahascragh Distillery is a business with their eyes set firmly on the future as they strive to produce Ireland’s first carbon-neutral whiskey and gin. Gareth McAllister explains; “That mill used to take in grain, produce flour and support the community in a very green way because it was all powered through the two water wheels either side of the mill race. That was over 250 years ago, so it was always run sustainably. When we bought it, all the old equipment was still there; pulleys and conveyors that tied the power all together in a very efficient way. We were never going to come along and put fossil fuel or gas in a big boiler with a huge chimney!”
Renewable energy powers Ahascragh Distillery and Visitor Centre, 30% of which will be produced on site. Some of that will be obtained via the roof’s solar panels but it’s the stream where old will meet new in spectacular fashion, as the original mill wheel will be re-installed alongside high-tech submersible hydro turbines. The challenge with clean electricity, though, lies in converting that into a medium that is capable of driving an energy-intensive process such as distillation. That’s where Gareth’s expertise comes in; "My background is in chemical engineering and I’ve used very high temperature heat pump systems industrially around the world, most recently in China. So I know that technology works, in terms of decarbonising your industry. It is proven from other industries but it’s new to the distilling industry. We know for a fact it hasn’t been done before in Ireland or the UK, and nobody else has come back to say that they have done something similar, so we are assuming that we’re the first in the world! We have it coupled with an energy storage system, a closed-loop system, which means all the heat produced from the process is recovered. For every 1 unit of electricity, we get 3 to 4 units of energy output. It’s a very efficient process!”
You can now witness that impressive process in action for yourself on a distillery tour, spurred on by Gareth & Michelle’s attention to detail and commitment to doing things the right way as well as the hard-work of their staff of 19 full-time employees. That crew of 19 will grow to around 40 when the distillery is fully up and running over the Summer. The story of Ahascragh Distillery is certainly one full of positive Irish spirit!
Read more of the Ahascragh Distillery Story and Book a Distillery Tour HERE.Published on Updated on