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Whiskymag 137 July _Aug 2016

Locke's Kilbeggan Distillery

Also known as Locke’s or Brusna, Kilbeggan Co Westmeath1757 to 1958.

Resumed production 19th of March 2007.


The three natural raw materials required for whiskey distillation were readily available. A supply of peat from the bogs. The locally grown grain and water from the Brusna River. The water from which contains minerals from the limestone catchment area and the influence of the peat bogs these combined to create the distinctive flavour of the whiskey.


January 17, 2012 - Beam Inc. one of the worlds leading global premium spirits companies,  completed the acquisition of Cooley Distillery and Kilbeggan distilleries.


The distillery was established in 1757 licensed to Mathew MacManus who possibly was already distilling in the area.


The next recorder owner was Patrick Brett in 1833.


John Locke acquired the distillery that is situated on the banks of the river Brusna or Brosna in 1843.


By 1887 the distillery had been passed on to John Locke’s sons John Edward and James Harvey.


A branch of the Grand Canal extended into Kilbeggan with the proximity of railway stations located at Horseleap, Tullamore and Clara, provided ideal supply and delivery links to the outside world.


The Lockes were benevolent employers providing accommodation for their employees either for rent or purchase via an in house mortgage scheme. They also provided a field called “cow and calf park” for the employees to graze a cow and calf for a nominal fee. A wagonload of coal was provided at the start of the winter and paid for slowly out of each weekly wage over the following months. They also permitted other “perks”.


This kind approach paid off as in 1866 the Boiler blew up. Locke’s did not have the, or the means, money to purchase a replacement. With the distillery and 70 jobs threatened the local townsfolk raised the cash for a new one. The plaque from the boiler can still be seen in the visitor centre restaurant.


As with all Irish distilleries they fell on hard times during the 1920s American Prohibition started in 1919, there was punitive duty rises in Ireland combined with the “troubles “ and the formation of the Irish free state with the resultant trade war with England, which denied sales to the then UK and the then “British Empire” and colonies.


By 1931 all that was left, in the free state, of the great Irish whisky industry was Locke’s, Tullamore and the giant Dublin distilleries of Powers and Jamesons plus the Cork Distillers Company.


During this period of difficult trading John Edward Locke died in 1920 and his brother James Harvey died in 1927 on the latter’s death his shares passed to his daughters Florence and Mary, However they had to surrender these shares as collateral to the Hibernian Bank. At some point the sisters relinquished day-to-day control to two senior employees Joseph Cooney, Company secretary and Joseph Coffey Chief distiller.


From 1931 the distillery was experiencing an up turn in fortune and in 1938 built a new warehouse, due to the sales achieved by Joseph Cooney in the USA and Canada.


In 1947 the Sisters decided to sell the distillery. Three fraudsters attempted to gain and sell the large quantity of mature whiskey stock for a large profit. They failed to produce the deposit money and this minor scam should have been forgotten. However an ambitious opposition member accused government officials of being involved in the scam. This so called scandal (that never was) filled the Irish newspapers for months, badly damaged the distillery’s reputation and drove away any buyers or investors.


The 1949 distilling season had to be extended due to the old 1890s distillery equipment breaking down and had to be repaired. However a talented distiller  J.J. Hogan joined the company and invested £55,000 in new equipment.


In April 1952 the Irish government raised the spirit duty from £6.85 to £8.80 a proof gallon considerably cutting demand. By the November of 1953 Locke’s could not afford the duty to release the whisky from bond for the Christmas period and distilling ceased.


The company struggled on until November 1958 when a debenture issued to the bank in 1953 became due. Locke’s could not raise payment so the bank called in the receiver and ended 201 years of distilling history.


The receivers sold the property and stock to K H Mellor for £10,000 despite the fact the whiskey was worth far more than that. The earthen crocks that the whisky was supplied in were smashed and used as hardcore and the property was turned into a piggery.


Mellor sold the property in 1969 to Powerscreen (a Volvo Plant Dealer) who completed the vandalism by selling of bits and pieces of the redundant equipment. ripping out the stills and worms for scrap copper


During the early 1980s a local campaign was started to restore the distillery as a visitor attraction. This gained government support and funds were raised for restoration. The roofs and building were repaired, the mill wheel and steam engine restored.


In 1987 the distillery was acquired, from its then owner Lee Mallaghan, by the Cooley distiller for an exchange of Cooley shares and a place on the Cooley board. Under this new investment the warehousing was restored and used by Cooley to mature its output from its distillery at Riverstown, Dundalk.


Outside the distillery buildings the stills from the Tullamore distillery are stored. All the owners that have come and gone have maintained the £5 annual distilling license. So who knows Kilbeggan could return?

Irish Whiskey 1757 to 1958

Reborn 19th of March 2007

Locke's Distillery And Museum,


Co. Westmeath,



Telephone: 0506-32134

The Oldest Licensed Whiskey Distillery in the World

Comes Back to Life - 19th of March 2007


New distillery opens in 250-year-old Kilbeggan Distillery


Established in the 1750’s the Old Kilbeggan Distillery is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world


Refurbished old pot still fired up 53 years to the day distilling stopped in 1954


New 15 Year Old Super Premium Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey launched to honour the event

Cooley, the independent Irish whiskey distillery,  announced the start up of Irish whiskey distillation in the Old Kilbeggan Distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.  The Old Kilbeggan Distillery  celebrated 250 years of existence on the same site in 2007.


The distillery, which uses a single pot still, last used in the 19th century, will initially produce up to 250,000 bottles of whiskey a year that will mature in the adjacent stone warehouses. This is the oldest pot still working in Ireland and will revive a traditional style of distillation not seen in Ireland for many years.


The firing of the pot still was witnessed by direct descendants of three families – the Mc Manus, the Codds’ and the Lockes who between them operated the distillery for over 200 years.


John Teeling, Chairman of Cooley Distillery plc, said:

“This is a rare and wonderful occasion. Cooley bought the Kilbeggan Distillery in 1988 intending to restart distillation. Now, 19 years later and 53 years to the day since distilling stopped we have achieved our objective.


As part of the experience for people visiting the Old Kilbeggan Distillery and Locke’s Museum, visitors will now be able to see a real still in operation. But this is only the first step. We intend over time to bring back into operation the three giant pot stills which loom over the distillery.


This is an important step in the rejuvenation of Irish whiskey, which is witnessing a renaissance with double-digit growth worldwide. Irish whiskey is dominated by the two largest multi-national drinks companies in the world.


Cooley a small Irish owned company is the only alternative. Over the past 20 years we have had to be innovative to survive and prosper. The start up of only the fourth whiskey distillery in Ireland is vital for the further development of the Irish whiskey industry.”


Cooley Distillery Bottlings of Kilbeggan - Locke's Irish Whiskey

Kilbeggan Blended Irish Whiskey

Kilbeggan 18 year old Blended Irish Whiskey

Killbegan Distillery Reserve Malt Whiskey.


Older Discontinued Bottlings

Kilbeggan Blended Irish Whiskey 15 year old Limited Release

Lockes Blended Irish Whiskey

Locke's 8 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Locke's 8 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey Crock

Locke's 9 year old GrandCrew

Locke's 9 year old Premier Crew

Locke's Whiskey Review Locke's Whiskey Review Cooley Page Buy Irish Whiskey Buy Irish Whiskey