Sazerac Co. - Acquires Lough Gill Distillery at Hazelwood Estate

Sazerac Co., owner of Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, The Sazerac House and museum in New Orleans, Louisiana as well as many other distilled spirits brands, has acquired Irish distillery Lough Gill Distillery at Hazelwood Estate near Sligo in north-west Ireland.

Sazerac Has Big Plans for its New Home for Irish Whiskey

Hazelwood Demesne Limited, owner of the Lough Gill Distillery, sits on a peninsula on the shores of Lough Gill in County Sligo, Ireland. Sazerac plans to fully develop the 100+ acre site, the original demesne of Hazelwood House, to create a world-class whiskey facility and visitor attraction, making it one of the most important tourism centers in the West of Ireland. Once complete, Lough Gill Distillery hopes to welcome up to 150,000 visitors annually and will create a homeplace for Sazerac’s Irish whiskeys, Paddy Irish Whiskey, Michael Collins Irish Whiskey and now Athrú (pronounced Ah Roo) Single Malt Whiskey.

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Sazerac has plans to significantly grow the footprint of Lough Gill Distillery through increasing the distillery’s capacity, adding warehousing capacity and expanding production and bottling lines. All current Lough Gill Distillery team members will remain with the business, and it is expected that Sazerac will increase employment after the expansion. As part of the acquisition, Sazerac will continue the development of the Athrú brand, including global distribution.

“With its rich history of distilling and storytelling, Ireland is an ideal homeplace for our whiskey business to flourish,” commented President and CEO at Sazerac Mark Brown. “In particular, the history of the Lough Gill Distillery, dating back to the 18th century, will be an integral keystone in the restoration and storytelling of this site. We look forward to preserving the history, delighting our future visitors by the stories we share, and further expanding the growth opportunities for Paddy, Michael Collins and Athrú Whiskeys.”

“This is a major announcement for Sligo and a vote of confidence in the potential for Sligo to become a major player in the booming global Irish whiskey market,” said Founder of the Lough Gill Distillery David Raethorne. “The acquisition will enable Lough Gill Distillery to fully develop as a world-class visitor destination and will have significant long term economic and tourism benefits for Sligo, which, for me, was always a personal goal.

Lough Gill Distillery - Founder David Raethorne
Lough Gill Distillery Founder David Raethorne.

“In addition, the maintenance and preservation works undertaken to date on Hazelwood House (a house of national importance) have played an essential part in saving it from dereliction. This acquisition will ensure that Hazelwood House will be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come, another key objective of the project. The Sazerac Company announcement is a culmination of seven years of hard work and determination by the Board of Lough Gill Distillery and the wider team, delivering on our original 2015 vision, when we acquired the site. I would like to formally acknowledge the support of Sligo County Council and its CEO Martin Lydon, which was a key driver in the decision for Sazerac to invest in Sligo.”

Raethorne’s company Hazelwood Demesne bought the Hazelwood House estate, which the distillery is now on, in December 2014. It received planning permission in 2016 that allowed it to transform a former factory at the historic Hazelwood House into a 1,700sqm whiskey distillery and visitors’ center.

Commenting on the announcement, Michael Clarke, Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of Sligo County Council said “This is one of the most significant Sligo investments in recent times. Becoming home to not one, but three, of Ireland’s whiskey brands (Paddy, Michael Collins & Athrú) will have a significant impact on our local economy, both from an employment and tourism perspective.”

Martin Lydon, CEO of Sligo County Council stated “It’s heartening to see the Sazerac Company, one of the world’s premiere distilling and aging spirits companies with a commitment to restoring historical sites, pledge to invest, expand, and restore Lough Gill Distillery. Today’s announcement is proof of the positive and sustaining eco-system for companies to invest in Sligo, supported by Sligo County Council.”

Former Bushmill Master Blender Helen Mulholland to Lead Lough Gill Distilling Team

Lough Gill Distillery whiskey is distilled three times, which is why they have three copper pot stills. The stills are made by Frilli, an Italian company based in Siena, Italy.

  1. The first pot still (called the wash still) holds 15,000 liters,
  2. the second pot still (called the feint still) is 12,000 liters
  3. and the third (called the spirit still) is 7,500 liters.

Alcohol that undergoes triple distillation is lighter in flavor while maintaining a higher strength of spirit, resulting in a cleaner, crisper taste. 

Lough Gill Distillery says the distillate from the third pot still ends up in the spirit receiver where they cut back the spirit from 166 proof (83% ABV) down to 127 proof (63.5% ABV) before it is pumped into ex-Bourbon casks and moved to a warehouse for three years and one day. After that time it can officially be called an Irish Whiskey. 

In tandem with the acquisition, Lough Gill Distillery has also announced that former Bushmills Master Blender, Helen Mulholland, is joining the team.

Old Bushmills Distillery Co - Master Blender Helen Mulholland
Master Blender Helen Mulholland.

In 2018, Helen became the first woman to be inducted into the International Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame and has recently become the first woman to receive a Chairman’s Award for her outstanding contribution to the development of the Irish whiskey industry. 

Helen will lead Lough Gill Distillery’s team in the pursuit of crafting and blending what will become Ireland’s luxury single malt whiskey. Helen will take responsibility for selection and management of the casks for Athrú single malt whiskey, nurturing the Athrú portfolio of premium aged single malts, as well as new product development.

“We are delighted to announce the appointment of Helen Mulholland as Master Blender at Lough Gill Distillery,” said Raethorne. “In her stellar career as a master blender Helen has become one of the heroes of Irish whiskey, and we are confident of even better things to come.” 

Helen Mulholland said “It’s a really exciting time for Lough Gill Distillery. I am very honored to be joining the team as it becomes the home of Paddy, Michael Collins and Athrú whiskies. The distillery, its location, and the incredible team already in place made this a very easy decision. I look forward to bringing my knowledge as a Master Blender to the table to enable us to make some really world-class Irish whiskeys.”

How Much Did Sazerac Pay to Acquire Lough Gill Distillery?

Terms of the acquisition of Lough Gill Distillery by Sazerac Co. were not disclosed.

Hazelwood Estate if the Origin of “The Song of Wandering Aengus”

Hazelwood House was built in the Palladian style in 1722 by Richard Cassels for the Wynne family, who resided there for 200 years. Cassels went on to build many of the great Irish houses of the 18th Century, but Hazelwood House is special in that it is the earliest of his houses to survive intact. He is recognized as one of Ireland’s greatest architects.

The Hazelwood Estate is said to be the very land that inspired W.B. Yeats’ poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus. Here is a version of that poem performed by Michael Gambon, a name most movie fans would recognize as Professor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film series.

Sazerac is one of America’s oldest family-owned, privately held distillers. They operate Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia and The Sazerac House and museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. They have additional operations in California, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, and global operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, India, Australia and Canada.

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