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In the heart of West Cork lies the vibrant and colourful heritage town of Clonakilty, population of around five thousand. Being part of the well-renowned Wild Atlantic Way, the town is famous for its artisan food and drink, its festivals and friendly atmosphere. Its proximity to miles of sandy beaches, including the blue flag Inchydoney beach, make it a popular destination for tourists and surfers. The multi-award-winning town is also famous for Clonakilty Blackpudding which originated in the 1880s and is savoured around the world. Certainly, worth visiting is the Model Railway Village, a 1/24th scale representation of the village as it was in the 1940s. The Choo Choo Road Train can be taken from here which provides you with a fun and relaxing tour of the town through the narrow streets and lanes of the town. If history is your interest, then Michael Collins House in Emmet Square is a must-visit. The museum presents a fascinating insight and overview of the history of the “Big Fella” alongside the struggle for independence in an easily accessible manner through guided tours and interactive displays. As of March 4th, a further amenity has been added to the long list of attractions in Clonakilty, with Clonakilty Distillery officially opening and becoming the 23rd operational distillery in Ireland. The €10m distillery is set to become a major attraction along the Wild Atlantic Way. Founded by local businessman Michael Scully and his wife Helen the distillery is set to provide employment for about forty people and the visitor centre is expected to host 35,000 visitors per year. In May this year we visited the distillery for a tour and chat with Michael and Head Distiller Paul Corbett. Michael is an eighth-generation farmer on the family farm in Ardfield on the outskirts of Clonakilty. The farm has been there for 300 years and as Michael says they are “well-rooted in the local soil”. He has been farming all his life but also spent 15 years travelling around for business. We asked Michael how the idea to start a distillery came about. Michael says “I got tired of living my life in airports and I started to look out for a business that I could work from home without too much travelling and at the same time showcase the fabulous soil and maritime environment that we have in our locality which is something special and unique and being a farmer I think working with food elements and barley and whiskey is a very natural progression.” “I always wanted to do something which would showcase the very best of what we could produce and grown on our own farm, and many years ago I did look at farmhouse cheese production and dairy products but for one reason or another that never went ahead. But I came back and still wanted to do something and originally started working with UCC (University College Cork) to develop a few products based on our milk. As time went on, I realised the opportunities of the whiskey industry and knew that it could work so well with the ethos that we wanted to show to the world, and from there it just grew." "The fact that we grow our own grains for our whiskey right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean is something special for us. We’re really interested in an agronomic and whiskey point of view what will be the results of that. Our fields are out on a peninsula right out under Galley Head lighthouse and it’s actually really good farmland which you wouldn’t expect on a peninsula but the soil is up to two meters deep, really sandy soil, really good for growing grain and because it’s literally right next to the Atlantic Ocean with centuries of salt spray working its way into the heart of that soil it’s going to be different and will work its way into the flavour of the whiskey.” “As I started looking into the business, I realised that the whole tourist side of things was very important to the business plan in order to provide us with the cash flow for the first three, four, five years while we are waiting for our own whiskey to properly mature. Obviously being in the local town made a lot more sense to attract visitors than being well outside the town. The distillery itself is in a former bank. It is located right in the centre of Clonakilty on the N71 which is highly visible on the Wild Atlantic Way so I certainly hope that over the next three or four years this will become an iconic tourist destination for the people of West Cork and County Cork.” What has been the local reaction to the distillery? “We’ve got absolutely fabulous reaction from the local community. They’ve been fully supportive, fully behind the whole project from day one and we see this as being a big boost to Clonakilty. We have forty employees at the moment and that would include visitor guides and staff in our restaurant which is part of the whole complex and we’re pretty much close to full employment here in Clonakilty at this point in time. Of course, as the brand grows, and we spread out into other markets in Europe and the US then we’ll see the employment numbers rise pretty rapidly we would hope.” What are your markets? “Our primary market is our home market because our home market is the market we want to be respected in and recognised in. I think you need that to go on to become a serious brand in other parts of the world. In the US we’re in New York and Florida for the last twelve months and recently expanded into five other states. We hope to be in Canada and twelve US States by the end of 2019. In Europe, we are in seven markets and in active discussions in two or three more to expand our footprint there. Irish whiskey has doubled its global footprint over the last ten years and the indications are that it will double again over the next years. The Clonakilty contribution to that overall is going to be tiny in the overall scale of things but I think we can make a difference and we can be a player. We intend to a player and a serious player in a niche space within those markets.” We had the opportunity to get a tour of the distillery with Head Distiller, Paul Corbett, and afterwards, we sat down for a chat. We asked about his background and how he got into the industry: “I’m originally from Grange in Cork and I just moved back about a year ago. I’ve bought a house just 31 doors to the left of where I grew up. It’s great to be back home.” “I’ve always been interested in whiskey. My father worked at Cork Distillers back in the 80’s so we would have always had whiskey about the house. I remember what caught me a lot was the burning of the pudding at Christmas.” “I went to college in UCC (University College Cork) and studied microbiology and after I finished, I started working in pharmaceuticals. I had planned on going to do the Master Brewer course in Edinburgh straight away, but an opportunity came up to do some travelling so I spent three months in Japan and a year than in Australia working in a vineyard. I came back to Ireland in 2010 at the height of the recession and it was hard to get a job, but I got back into pharmaceuticals. I spent a further thirteen months there.” “The fact that we grow our own grains for our whiskey right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean is something special for us” “I got back to my original plan of wanting to be a brewer and distiller, so I packed in the job and moved to Edinburgh did Master Brewer and Distiller course at Heriot-Watt University. I came back to Ireland and was lucky enough to get a job in C&C in Clonmel where I spent a year and a half. A position came up in Teeling as a distiller and I applied and worked there for two and a half years. I saw that a distillery was opening in Clonakilty, so I threw my hat into the ring and it all worked out.” What do you enjoy about working in Clonakilty Distillery? “What I really like about Clonakilty Distillery is the fact that we grow our own barley and we are not going to be focused on yield of alcohol. If we get a good yield out of it that’s a by-product but the flavour is going to be our main target here. I originally started in microbiology and I’m going to have a chance here to experiment with different yeasts in the coming years, At the moment, we’re just after commissioning the plant so we’re concentrating on getting spirit into the wood. As soon as we have the brewing and distilling process nailed down, we’ll experiment more with things like grains and yeast.” “Double distillation really focuses the grain but when you triple distil it focuses the fruity flavours and esters which are from the yeast. There’s a lot of room to play with the yeast, maybe isolate some local yeast.” The three copper stills are manufactured by Barison from Italy and have a capacity of 7,000L for the wash still and 4,600L each for the intermediate and spirit still. The operational output of these gives about 250,000L pure alcohol per year. The distillery also houses a Muller gin still with a capacity of 230L. What is the impact of the distillery on the local community? “We always try and use as much local produce as we can. We get all our grain from Malting Company of Ireland and use our own raw barley. Even in our restaurant, the Whales Tail, the coffee is from a local company, Roasted Beans of Clonakilty. Clonakilty is a real foody town. The addition of the distillery will only enhance the food profile of the town.” “I think the flavours will change quite a bit over time but as long as I’m consistently producing something that is of high quality then that is fine by me.” Can you tell us a little about your releases? “Our flagship is Clonakilty Single Batch. It is a mix of eleven-year-old mal
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