Construction has started on a new distillery that is both bringing Tullamore’s namesake spirit back home and inspiring a new generation of craft distillers in the region.

The Irish town of Tullamore has not produced whisky for decades, but last month construction began on a new distillery that will bring its namesake spirit, Tullamore Dew, back home to the Midlands Region by summer 2014.

“People here are incredibly proud of Daniel E Williams’ legacy,” said Cathy Sullivan, a Tullamore resident and the brand’s marketing executive.

In 1862, a 14-year-old Williams arrived in Tullamore to work at the local distillery. By the late 1880s, he’d become manager of operations, and his initials had been added to the brand’s logo. But a series of events – namely US prohibition from 1920 to 1933 and a 1930s trade war with England – left Ireland’s whisky business in Scotland’s dust. The Tullamore Dew distillery shut down in 1954, and the brand was sold and moved to a distillery near Cork.  

When ownership changed hands again in 2010, efforts began to bring the brand home. In summer 2012, the Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre opened inside a restored, bonded warehouse that Williams helped build on the banks of Tullamore’s Grand Canal. In addition to the visitor centre, construction of the 35 million euro pot still and malt whisky distillery will bring more than 100 jobs to Tullamore, whose 12,000 residents have been keenly involved in the spirit’s homecoming. 

“We asked people to donate whisky artefacts and stories, and many have been incorporated into the visitor centre tour,” Sullivan said. On a recent visit, displays included various farm tools such as rakes and shovels that were used on the surrounding farmland.

A white whisky revival
Meanwhile, this regeneration of the Irish Midlands’ whisky legacy has inspired a new generation of craft distillers, two of which are focusing their efforts on poitín, an un-aged white whisky that’s been produced by Irish home distillers for hundreds of years.

American distiller Rusty Figgins Jr teamed up with Irish expat Ashlee Casserly to create the brand 1661 Poitín, a nod to the year in which the Irish government outlawed the potent spirit. Poitín was made legal again in 1997, and today can only be made in Ireland, just as Champagne production belongs to France. The duo plans to begin production of their smooth, slightly sweet recipe in 2014 on a private property about 35km north of Tullamore. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, parts of the County Westmeath farm date back to the 1750s.

Casserly and Figgins’ efforts coincide with the rise of Glendalough Poitín, a sugar beet-based version created by four Irishmen. The team may open a distillery on the east coast of the Irish Midlands within the next year. In the meantime, bottles are available in Dublin’s Celtic Whisky Shop.