Ardara Distillery. Donegal’s New Whiskey Distillery.
It is always great when you hear of good things happening for nice people. In the Irish Whiskey World, people don’t come any nicer than James Doherty of Sliabh Liag Distillers in Donegal. Over the last few years I have personally seen and heard of many examples of James giving freely and generously of his valuable personal time and expertise to other new entrants to the Irish Whiskey and Distilling worlds.
After a succesful career operating at strategic level in the International Drinks World, James and his wife Moira relocated to the ancestral home of his great grand parents in South Donegal near the world-famous Sliabh Liag Cliffs – the tallest sea cliffs in Western Europe..
It was there as Owner – Director of Sliabh Liag Distillers, that he established a small, but very successful Irish Gin Distillery producing An Dúlamán Maritime Irish Gin. He also developed the award-winning The Silkie Irish Whiskey Brand recognisable by its distinctive tall, slim and elegant bottle.
I was delighted to hear today that the “starting gun” has now finally been fired on his ambitious vision and plans to bring whiskey distilling back to Donegal County for the first time in 177 years. Sliabh Liag Distillers, producers of An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin and The Legendary Silkie Irish Whiskey, has acquired the “Show Field” in Ardara in South Donegal, and will be formally submitting a planning application to Donegal County Council this week.
James and Moira Doherty, along with fellow Company Director, James Keith will lead the development and construction of the new whiskey distillery. Building is scheduled to start later this year, subject to planning approval, with distilling operations planned to commence in 2020.
The new Ardara Distillery building has been carefully designed by Corner Stone Architecture to complement Ardara village and its beautiful natural surroundings.
The new €6m distillery aims to employ at least 40 people and will have the capacity to produce 400,000 litres of pure alcohol per annum, which equates to approximately 1,700 filled casks, and over 1.2 million bottles of whiskey when the spirit is finally sold.
As well as producing whiskey, the company’s An Dúlamán gin still named Méabh, will be moved from its current location in Carrick to the new building. A Distillery visitor centre is also planned. The visitor centre will include a poitín museum, exhibition space, Irish Whiskey tasting bar and shop and will be an additional reason for tourists on the Wild Atlantic Way to stop in Ardara. No café or restaurant is included in the Ardara Distillery design as visitors will be encouraged to make use of Ardara village’s many food and tourism offerings.
The company plans to create a number of brands, including the Ardara and Sliabh Liag single malt and single pot still Irish whiskeys, which according to James will be heavily peated and authentic to the style of 19th century whiskeys from the county.
Commenting on the news, James Doherty, Managing Director of Sliabh Liag Distillers, said:
“The design of the development is a mix of contemporary and traditional finishes which complement the village of Ardara. We have put considerable thought into the visitor experience and aim to create an opportunity for visitors to park in the village, walk along the Owentocker river, across a new footbridge and into the Show Field. It is important to us that local businesses benefit from the foot fall, and if we can get visitors walking in the village, increasing their dwell time, then so much the better for the entire community.”
Gavin Shovelin of Distillery Designers Corner Stone Architecture said:
“We have really enjoyed working on this exciting project and designing such a major landmark for what is my home town. We see spin offs for all aspects of the community and have designed a building that we think is truly unique but will look very much part of the town.”
“Enhancing Ardara’s offering to its community and visitors has been a major consideration throughout the design process. We intend to conserve the portion of the land nearest to the village as an open green space, with walk ways and ponds providing a beautifully landscaped area to be enjoyed by everybody,”
Following a public consultation in Ardara on 2nd April at The Nesbitt Arms Hotel, the Planning Application was submitted on the 4th April.
I have had the privilege of knowing James since he arrived back home to his roots in Donegal some years ago. As such, I am well aware that this has been a long, challenging and sometimes frustrating journey to reach today’s benchmark moment.
I wrote an article in 2018 describing the journey of James, Moira and the Sliabh Liag Distillers Team, which was shortlisted for Best Food and Drink Blog Article in the 2018 Blogger Ireland Awards. I am quite sure that the nomination had more to do with their great story than it had to do with my writing!
As I said then, the new distillery and visitor centre will give the tourism and hospitality economy of its host village and also South Donegal an incredible boost. This is one of the most exciting new tourism projects to hit Donegal in recent years and I have no doubt that under the leadership of James, Moira and James Keith that it will be a tremendous success for both Sliabh Liag Distillers and Ardara Village.