- 02 Apr 19
A spirit of adventure is of crucial importance in music. Without it, great rock ‘n’ roll would be thin on the ground. And the same is true of whiskey. So when the two come together, in Slane Irish Whiskey, there is a special kind of alchemy involved...
The Beginning of a Great Adventure Parts I and II
Having made rock ‘n’ roll magic happen for the past 37 years, the good folk at Slane Castle are applying the same alchemy to their masterfully blended Slane Triple Casked Irish Whiskey.
“Rock ‘n’ roll and whiskey belong together, they’re a natural fit,” enthuses Alex Conyngham who, together with his father Henry Mount Charles – the man behind the legendary Slane Castle concerts – decided to set up the Slane Distillery in 2015. They also had the vision to set up a visitors’ centre, within the confines of the estate’s 250-year-old stables and grain stores. Three years on, and Slane Irish Whiskey is available in your favourite bar. Just ask...
“Dad doing the first Slane gig in 1981 with Denis Desmond and Eamonn McCann was a maverick move that required really strong conviction and self-belief,” Alex Conyngham reflects. “He knew that there would be hard work and lots of pressure involved. But he saw the potential and, ultimately, he was proven right. The gigs in Slane have been a huge success. Now, the whiskey has that same spirit of adventure about it. It is a real extension of what we were able to create here in rock ’n’ roll.”
In ’81, when Slane wanted to open for rock ‘n’ roll business with Thin Lizzy as headliners, major hurdles had to be overcome before the open-air festival gigs got the green light. The same was true of the Slane Irish Whiskey adventure.
“The 18th Century stables and grain stores are protected structures,” Alex elaborates, “so in order for them to be able to house various parts of the distillery, we had to be architecturally and environmentally sensitive. For example, we built a fish ladder around our fire-fighting millpond to enable salmon to go up-stream to spawn. So we had to come up with bespoke solutions to some fairly unique problems, exactly as dad had to with those early concerts. But we knew that it would be worth it in the long run.
“Because, what we did have from day one were the principle ingredients needed to make great whiskey: water from the River Boyne, and beautiful farmland on which to grow the very best barley.”
Sustainability is important to Alex and the team and something they’re working hard on for future production. For instance; “the close proximity of the barley to the distillery means that food miles are reduced,” he explains. “Nothing will be wasted either, as the spent grains will be fed to cattle. We’ve a recycling programme, a rainwater collection system and the ability to create thermal energy on site, which makes it possible to part-power the whiskey stills and reduce our carbon footprint.”
As it transpires, Slane’s Triple Casked Whiskey has been receiving rave reviews wherever it goes.
“This year, as well as Ireland, I’ve been all over the States, which is the number one market in the world for Irish whiskey,” Alex notes. “We’re also doing really well in the UK, and I’m about to head off to Australia and New Zealand where, again, the reaction to Slane Irish Whiskey has been incredibly positive.”
Forget The Band – Look At The Canons!
There is no hard sell required, Alex says, once people taste the whiskey. “What makes Slane special as a blend is the investment we put into the barrels,” he explains. “We use three types: virgin American oak, seasoned Tennessee whiskey barrels and Oloroso sherry barrels. The result is a robust but flavourful, characterful whiskey.”
As most music lovers will be aware, Slane’s recent history is intertwined with that of U2 who were among the support acts on August 16, 1981 when Thin Lizzy became the first band to headline in its gorgeous natural amphitheatre beside the Boyne.
“Being only six at the time, I don’t think the band will be too insulted that my overriding memory of the first Slane gig is being very impressed by Hazel O’Connor, who was also on the bill,” Alex laughs. “What I do vividly recall was, a few years later, U2 being in the castle and recording The Unforgettable Fire.”
That turned out to be an amazing adventure in itself.
“All of the recording equipment was set up in the house, which we felt obliged to tinker with – much to the consternation of their crew. The band and, of course, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, were there for an extended period, so us causing them engineering problems was quickly forgotten, and I remember having lots of fun with the guys. They found it very amusing when, on a school visit to the castle, some kids getting off the bus completely ignored the band and ran over to the canons instead!” Alex still gets goosebumps thinking about U2’s 2001 return to the castle as part of the Elevation World Tour.
“Such was the demand for tickets that they ended up playing on two consecutive Saturdays,” he remembers. “The first gig coincided with Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Holland, so they decided to show it on the big screen before they played. The cheer when Jason McAteer scored the winner was deafening - but not as loud as the one which greeted U2 when they stepped out on the stage. They really tapped into the emotion of the day, which is what makes U2 one of the greatest bands in the world!”
It’s this same spirit of adventure and desire to be the best they possibly can, which is fuelling Alex and Henry’s Slane Whiskey adventure.
For more information, go to https://www.slaneirishwhiskey.com/
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