Sunday 25 November 2012

The future of Tullamore Dew - Part 2

When William Grant announced their decision to build a distillery in Ireland, it was not at all inevitable that it would happen in Tullamore. The planning documentation reveals that there were another dozen or so sites in the south and east of Ireland shortlisted for consideration. Criteria included proximity to the existing Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre and Clonmel bottling plant, and connectivity to Scotland and export markets.

The Tullamore site is quite boggy, apparently, and thus presents some construction challenges. What clinched it was the golden marketing opportunity of having "Tullamore Dew" made in Tullamore. At least, that's how the documentation puts it. If you talk to William Grant people, they cite their family-owned company's appreciation and respect for heritage. I like that. It's something you can't always rely on in the multinational drinks industry (remember Diageo weighing up whether to pull Guinness production out of Dublin?).

The sites that William Grant passed up, then, weren't the preferred fit for Tullamore Dew, but they might suit another company. The planning docs go into some detail on these other locations so, if you happen to be looking for one, William Grant has done much of the legwork for you.

Here's a visualisation of the proposed distillery at Tullamore. I took it from the planning submission, and added labels.

Proposed distillery. Click to enlarge.

It will be built in three phases. Some highlights from each stage:
  1. 2013-2014
    Pot & malt distillery building, cereal silos, filling store, two maturation warehouses.
  2. 2019-2021
    Grain distillery, visitor centre, cooperage, dunnage, the "Three Sisters", two more maturation warehouses.
  3. 2021-2022
    Nine more maturation warehouses.
24/7 operation is envisaged, with four weeks shutdown each year for maintenance. It will employ about 70 people when fully operational.

No provision has been made in the planning documents for any further development on the site.

Pot & Malt Distillery
Unsurprisingly, Tullamore Dew will remain a triple distilled whiskey. The plans show two wash stills, one intermediate still, two spirit stills and two "possible extra stills". Still capacities proposed are between 9,000 and 21,000 litres (compare that with Midleton's giant 75,000 litre stills).

Maturation Warehouses
Thirteen of these are planned. Each is 75m x 67m (5,025 square metres) with a sloped roof. The average height of a warehouse is 10.4m.

Each warehouse can hold about 55,100 ex-bourbon casks (190 litres apiece). (In reality, of course, there will be a certain proportion of larger sherry butts.)

Visitor Centre
The distillery will be open to tourists. 40,000 a year are projected, catered for by 70 visitor car spaces and three coach spaces. The distillery is central to William Grant's marketing strategy so they say the publicly accessible areas will be designed and landscaped to the highest standards.

The visitor centre will have audio-visual and interactive displays but tours will also incorporate the pot still building, cooperage and dunnage.

Three Sisters
The "Three Sisters" is an administrative extension to the distillery building that doubles as a visual flourish. It has three steeply-raked "pagoda" roofs, intended to recall old-fashioned malting kilns. Once upon a time, distilleries malted their own barley but it's normally outsourced these days to modern malting plants.

As architectural pastiche, I feel these pagoda roofs are a smidge heavy-handed. A working distillery shouldn't really need to imitate the appearance of a distillery. But they will certainly catch the eye of passing traffic and they will help to tell the malting part of the whiskey-making story.

The dunnage warehouse seems to be aimed squarely at visitors. Not much is said about it in the planning documents but it will be constructed in a very traditional manner and my guess is that it will represent the maturation part of the whiskey story for visitors.

This is slated for Phase 2 but even before then some coopering will take place in the filling store. It will be a true, working cooperage, viewable on the public tour from a gallery.

Coopering is a seriously endangered trade in Ireland. Beam almost pushed it off the cliff entirely when they closed the cooperage at Kilbeggan. Kudos to William Grant for keeping it at the heart of the distillery.

See also:
The future of Tullamore Dew - Part 1