Irish whiskey journey for ancient oak felled by storm

Irish whiskey journey for ancient oak felled by storm

An ancient oak tree that fell during a storm will be given a new lease of life as Irish whiskey casks.

The 1,000-year-old Irish oak tree, which had a 10-metre girth, used to stand tall on the grounds of Swainstown Farm in Kilmessan, Co Meath, until it was brought down by powerful Storm Elin last year. In a unique project, Meath’s Boann Distillery and the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel cooperage in Kildare will transform the oak into barrels.

These barrels will then be used to age and produce Preston’s brand of single pot still Irish Whiskey. The Preston family, who live on Swainstown Farm, are descendants of the famous Preston’s of Drogheda, Co Louth, who ran a major whiskey bonding business for almost a century from 1886.

Peter Cooney of Boann Distillery said it is “extremely rare” that Irish oak is used to craft casks. He said: “The idea was first mooted six years ago after I told Arthur Preston about our plans to revive the Preston’s Whiskey brand, using an old whiskey recipe, called a mashbill, and dating back to the late 19th century.

“We made a deal that, in return for the casks I gave him for his Swainstown Farm shop, he would let me know when an old Irish oak tree on his grounds would become available for cutting. Arthur had one old tree in mind that had stood in the front paddock of the Preston Estate, and when it fell during last December’s storm, I got the call from him to come and check her out.”

A large section cut from the lower body of the tree will now be shipped to a facility in France, where it will be split and made into staves and air-dried for two years. The staves will then be transported back to Kildare, where coopers will turn them into Irish oak casks before they are filled with a unique mashbill to reproduce Preston’s whiskey.

Arthur Preston said it was an innovative collaboration between “heritage-rich estates, seasoned distilleries and renowned cooperages”, adding: “I can’t wait to taste the final product.” The Preston’s mashbill that will be laid down once the casks are ready is a secret Vintage Mashbill XI from Boann’s 2021 Vintage Mashbill project, which brought old whiskey recipes back to life.

Mr Cooney added: “By using Irish oak, we can bring a piece of ancient Ireland to the glasses of future connoisseurs.”