New Challenge for Noel Sweeney at Powerscourt Distillery

New Challenge for Noel Sweeney at Powerscourt Distillery

“The distiller’s challenge nowadays is to produce a style”, according to Master Distiller Noel Sweeney (right).

We were visiting the new Powerscourt Distillery on the estate, a visit hosted by Marketing Manager Caroline Gardiner who arranged for us to have a tasting with Noel.

He doesn’t particularly think that you can attach the word “innovation” to any of today’s various finishes as they’ve all been done before. But he reckons that there may be room for innovation at the other end, in the mash bill, and mentioned the Teeling Rye as an example.
Powerscourt Distillery and Visitor Centre

All aspects of spirit production and whiskey maturation fall under Sweeney’s careful supervision at Powerscourt Distillery. And we were privileged to have a chat and a tasting with Noel.

We started with the Fercullen 10-year old Single Grain. He is not surprised that it is successful, “a star performer”, and thinks that particular category is generally “under-rated”. It is indeed hugely enjoyable and I bought a bottle in the shop on the way out.
All set up for our tasting

His long experience of this style shows in the Fercullen whisky, experience gained and tempered in the good old days when grain matured in “good Bourbon barrels” became very popular as Greenore (now replaced by Kilbeggan Single Grain). 

Powerscourt have just begun to lay down their own whiskey and the three we tasted are based on old stock made by Sweeney while at Cooley where he began his 30 plus year whiskey career and stayed on after founder John Teeling sold to Beam in 2011. 
The Mash Tun

Noel is one of just a handful of Irish distillers to have been inducted into Whisky Magazine’s ‘Hall of Fame’ and Powerscourt are indeed lucky to have him, as Caroline emphasised.

After that lovely and light, smooth and sweet 10-year old grain, we tried the well-rounded Premium Blend. This, with its nicely judged blend of youngish grain and older malt, has a lot to offer, according to Noel, pointing to its “different maltiness” and excellent body.

We finished with the 14 year Pure Malt, matured in Bourbon barrels, the darkest of the three and also the strongest (46%). It has intense aromas, is smooth on the palate and that bit spicier. You may well need to add a drop or two of water to this.

If Noel didn’t hit the sweet spot with the 14-year old - and I reckon he did - he is even more sure of having done it with the soon to be released 18 year with its abv of 43%. Watch out for that!
In the warehouse

You enter the new distillery visitor centre via the Old Mill House steeped in history and built using local Wicklow granite. This has being faithfully restored  - you’ll see some of the original machinery under the glass floor - and extended to help accommodate the distillery’s development. The bell that adorns the northern west wall was originally used to herald the daily lunch break to workers in distant fields.
Whiskey in wine barrels

Must admit I didn’t see the bell that day. The rain was bucketing down and we couldn’t even see the Sugar Loaf mountain whose silhouette appears on all the Fercullen bottles. The next day, also wet, we got up close (and very wet) when we visited the Powerscourt Waterfall, the source of the water that the new distillery uses.

The history of the Powerscourt Estate can be traced back to the 9th century to a territory that stretches across fertile plains and rugged mountainous land.

Known in native Gaelic tongue as “FeraCulann” or Fercullen, it is located in the foothold of the Wicklow mountains, close to Dublin. Ownership has been claimed by many over the centuries, from the native Clans of O’Toole and O’Byrne, to the Norman house of LePoer (who built a castle here and from whom the estate takes its name.)

The new distillery (2018) has moved past the 1,000,000 bottle mark recently. The whiskey is being stored in casks (mainly bourbon, but some also in European barrels, mainly from the wine trade) in the on-site warehouse. More storage space will be needed in the not too distant future!
No shortage of fresh water in Powerscourt
The first big item you come across on the distillery tour itself is the Mash tun and from there the steps from grinding to mashing to fermentation to distillation to maturation are explained to you by your guide. You will have picked up some excellent information too in a short video that you start with. The three impressive copper stills were manufactured in Scotland by Forsyths.

And of course, every tour includes a tasting. Indeed, there are no less than six individual tasting rooms. There is a Distillery tour and also a Distillery and Warehouse tour. Some of the rooms are suitable for large groups so corporate visits can be comfortably facilitated and tailored to suit the group’s needs.

They also have a bright and airy café here and if you call in for a cuppa or something more substantial, be sure and try out their Fercullen Whiskey Ice-cream! 

The shop is alongside, very well laid out. And here you may buy a bottle or two or more. The three Fercullen whiskeys are also available, in miniature bottles, in a handy gift-pack. 

And no shortage of other souvenirs. I also spotted the Móinéir Wines (made here in Wicklow by Wicklow Way Wines) and also those delicious biscuits from the Lismore Food Company.

And if you’d like to get involved in the new distillery, check out their Cask Programme. Restricted to a membership of 397 (200L) casks only, each one is intended to represent a foot in height of the nearby 397ft Powerscourt Waterfall. Available to private subscription, the programme offers an exclusive level of involvement with the distillery’s exciting whiskey future. Details here

Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Eircode: A98 A9T7
Phone: +353 1 506 5656

Also on this trip:
The Wicklow Heather
Powerscourt Hotel