Grinder for unmalted barley in an old distillery

© RicardMN Photography

© RicardMN Photography

Grinder for unmalted barley, wheat and rye, powered by a water wheel, Locke’s Distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, Kilbeggan, Westmeath, Midlands, Ireland, Europe.

The distillery was founded in 1757 and, by 1798, was in the hands of Matthias McManus, whose son was executed in Mullingar due to the part he played in the United Irishmen rebellion of that year.

John Locke took over the distillery in 1843, from when it remained in the hands of the Locke family for many years, being inherited by Mary Evelyn and Florence Emily, granddaughters of John Locke, in 1943. In 1947 the distillery was purchased by The Transworld Trust. This, together with the economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s, took its toll on Locke’s and on 19 March 1954 production ceased, with the distillery closing completely in 1957 and the building began to fall into disrepair. Twenty five years after its closure, the community of Kilbeggan restored the distillery and opened it to the public as a whiskey distillery museum. Cooley Distillery bought the license to produce Kilbeggan and Lockes Whiskey, and later took over the museum along with opening a new working distillery in Kilbeggan.

Today the distillery is known as Kilbeggan Distillery. The distillery can also be powered by a steam engine, which is in working condition but rarely used. It was installed to allow the distillery to continue operating in times of low water on the river.

Whiskey production recommenced in 2007, the year in which the distillery celebrated its 250th Anniversary. One of the two Copper Pot Stills that is being used in Kilbeggan was made in the early 1800s and is the oldest working Pot Still producing whiskey in the world today. It was once used in the distillery in Tullamore. In 2010 Kilbeggan became a fully operational distillery once again, with the installation of a mash tun and fermentation vats. Although the whiskey now in production at Kilbeggan will not be ready for sale until 2014, the three brands associated with the distillery Kilbeggan, Locke’s Blend and Locke’s Malt have, for many years, been made at the Cooley Distillery in County Louth from where they are transported to Kilbeggan to be stored in a granite warehouse over 200 years old. In late 2009, the distillery released small ‘3-pack’ samples of its still-developing “new make spirit” at 1 month, 1 year, and 2 years of age. (In Ireland, the spirit must be aged a minimum of three years before it can legally be called “whiskey.”)

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