Historian brings collection of long-lost whiskey recipes back to life

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A collection of long-lost Irish whiskey recipes unearthed by a historian have been brought back to life for the first time in almost a century.

The first casks have been produced, some made using ingredients – or mashbills – which date back to the 1800s.

The recipes were unearthed and brought back to life by leading whiskey historian Fionnan O’Connor, who wrote a thesis on the lost distilling process.

Irish Whiskey
Leading whiskey historian Fionnan O’Connor, who discovered a collection of vintage whiskey recipes (Boann Distillery/PA)

Co Meath’s Boann Distillery, on the outskirts of Drogheda, took on the mammoth task of bringing the vintage mashbills back into circulation through its pot stills.

Only 144 casks are being made available to the public.

It reintroduces the art of creating whiskey using malted barley, oats, wheat and rye, leading to a “tug-of-war” between flavours depending on the varying grain percentages used.

The spirit is transferred into 200-250 litre bourbon, rum, NEOC (French red wine barrels) and sherry casks, and matured for a minimum of five years in specialist warehousing.

“What was the reason for creating a mashbill? What was going through their heads when they were putting them together?

“There’s a lot of things you can do to whiskey to influence the taste. The bulk of these mashbills haven’t been tasted in over 70 years and the earliest ones I’ve found come from the early 1800s.

“It would be a shame if all that history and those flavours were lost. This project has been about making up for lost time.

“Many people know the story of Irish distilling’s rise and collapse, but the story of the lost tastes and aromas, the knowledge that most of those whiskeys were different to ours, comes as news to most people.”

He first discovered the mashbills in archives in the Republic and Northern Ireland, and credits Boann’s courage in bringing them back into production.

Irish Whiskey
Michael Walsh, head distiller at the Boann Distillery, with Fionnan O’Connor (Boann Distillery/PA)

It will include experts from Ireland and Scotland and is in association with Heriot-Watt University’s brewing and distilling programme.

Boann managing director Pat Cooney said his family, which employs 15 staff operating three huge copper pot stills, want to be seen as “one of the most progressive distilleries in Ireland”.

“Every mashbill tastes different, depending on whether there’s more barley, less malt, more wheat, less rye,” he said.

The family is also in the process of building a visitor centre, an online shop and launching Silks Irish Gin, named in honour of the local Bellewstown Races, running since 1726.

Boann is producing samples of each different mashbill, with an arrangement that customers can book their cask by paying a deposit and choosing their cask after tasting the various mashbills.

Inquiries can be made at caskoffer@boanndistillery.ie.

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