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Sliabh Liag hires distillery manager

Irish spirits producer Sliabh Liag Distillers has appointed Graeme Bell as distillery manager for its new Ardara site, which is expected to open this spring.

Sliabh Liag has completed the first distillation of spirit at its new distillery
Sliabh Liag has completed the first distillation of spirit at its new distillery under the eye of Graeme Bell

Founded by husband and wife James and Moira Doherty, Sliabh Liag gained planning approval to build a distillery and visitor centre in Ardara, County Donegal, in 2019. The interim visitor centre will open in time for summer 2022.

Hailing from Newcastle, Bell joins the Irish distiller after working in whisky-making areas such as Speyside, Kentucky and, most recently, Canada.

He previously managed the Collective Arts distillery in Canada, and worked for Diageo in Dufftown, Scotland, and Louisville in Kentucky, US.

Bell said: “I feel fortunate to be in at the start for the Ardara Distillery, working in a beautifully designed new distillery with the finest copper stills from Forsyth’s in Scotland, which have been made specifically to reflect the distilling traditions of this area.

“Our goal is to use locally grown barley and oats to make both single malt and pot still whiskeys, and to bring back many traditional whiskey-making methods from the past.

“The opportunity to move to Donegal and be part of a very special revival was too good to miss. Since moving to Ardara, I have been struck by the friendliness of the people and the magnificent scenery, and I’m delighted to be part of this community as we set about sharing the next chapter of distilling in Donegal.”

Distillery plans

Plans are also under way to start construction on phase two of the distillery – a gin still house and increased visitor centre capacity.

James Doherty said: “Construction of the Ardara distillery began in October 2020, and despite the many challenges that these past few years have thrown at us – from the pandemic to Brexit and everything in between – we managed to go from putting in the foundations to distilling in less than a year.

“As a company, we want to create spirits that honour the deep traditions of whiskey making in this part of the world, so we’re distilling a rich, smoky whiskey in an authentic Ulster style.”

The distillery expects to create up to 40 full-time jobs once it is fully operational. The company’s operations in Carrick will be home to administration, bottling and Irish whiskey brand The Silkie, with 10 full-time jobs based at the site.

The distillery recently completed distillation of its first spirit – a ‘smoky, heavily peated’ triple-distilled single malt filled into ex-Bourbon oak casks.

Sliabh Liag’s new site will have the capacity to produce 500,000 litres of whiskey per year, in both single malt and traditional pot still styles.

Sliabh Liag is also putting 600 of its whiskey casks up for sale on its website. After five years, the company will offer to buy the cask back from the owners if they choose not to bottle the liquid.

In September 2020,  Sliabh Liag Distillers surpassed its €1.5 million (US$1.7m) fundraising target in under two weeks.

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