Irish Whiskey 'Going Green' for Saint Patrick's Day

Posted by Irish Whiskey USA on

Going Green is a Saint Patrick's Day tradition. Did you know blue was the original color associated with the holiday due to its link to Saint Patrick? As the holiday's popularity grew over time in America, the green takeover took root. The shift is attributed to several factors including Ireland's links to the shamrock, Emerald Isle nickname, and its flag. Over half of Americans celebrate Paddy's Day and around 80% will wear green. Maybe it's to avoid being pinched by a Leprechaun. The fun folklore tradition says wearing green makes you invisible to Leprechauns.
The Irish Whiskey industry is also on the forefront of "going green". With so many new distilleries being built over the past ten years, most are adopting environmentally friendly practices. Ireland's agricultural identity seemingly makes supporting sustainability a natural fit. Recycling practices and sustainable energy are being embraced by many distilleries including Midleton, Boann, Clonakilty, Waterford, Powerscourt, and especially Ahascragh in County Galway. 


Ahascragh Distillery introduces Ireland’s first zero energy emissions spirit

The Galway distillery marks a significant step forward for sustainability in the Irish drinks industry with the debut of 'New Born'

Ahascragh Distillery has changed the way whiskey is made in Ireland through the use of wind and solar energy combined with very high temperature heat pump technology (Pictured: Gareth & Michelle McAllister of Ahascragh Distillery)

As the country prepares to turn green for St. Patrick’s Day, Ahascragh Distillery in Galway has announced a significant milestone for sustainability in the Irish drinks industry with the introduction of Ireland’s first zero energy emissions spirit. ‘New Born’, the first new-make spirit from Ahascragh Distillery can be classified as zero energy emissions as fossil fuels or gas are not used to drive the production process in the purpose-made distillery. 

Ahascragh Distillery is Ireland’s first eco-distillery as it is powered exclusively by renewable energy. Housed in a newly renovated mill, Ahascragh Distillery has changed the way whiskey is made in Ireland through the innovative use of wind and solar energy combined with very high temperature heat pump technology coupled with optimal heat recovery and energy storage systems.

While waiting on the first spirit to flow from the distillery, the McAllister’s brought their award-winning sourced Family Bond series of hand-selected releases to market; which includes Clan Colla Irish Whiskey, UAIS Irish Whiskey and Xin Gin. Upon reaching maturation, the zero energy emissions ‘New Born’ spirit will first flow into UAIS.

Whether enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as part of a classic cocktail, once the ‘New Born’ spirit has undergone it’s three year maturation process, it promises to provide an unforgettable blend of Ireland’s heritage and future.

The team have garnered acclaim not only for the outstanding taste of their spirits, but also for their commitment to sustainability and responsible production, having recently been awarded membership to Origin Green, Ireland’s national food and drink sustainability programme, an SEAI Award for innovative deployment of renewable energy and The Spirits Business Award for Distillery Sustainability.

Gareth McAllister, founder and managing director, Ahascragh Distillery, said: “It has been a long journey to get the process right but this milestone represents our ongoing commitment to sustainability and reinforces our belief that responsible business practices are not just good for the planet but essential for the future of our industry. Ahascragh Distillery looks forward to continuing its sustainability journey, contributing to a more resilient future for the Irish food and drink sector.”

This article originally appeared here



This article is part of an OHLQ series tracing the journey of distilled spirits from Seed to Sip. To celebrate Irish Cask and Craft, this installment of Seed to Sip: Ireland will introduce you to the individuals in Ireland who help craft your favorite Irish whiskey and gin.

If you talk to any spirits distiller — whether they’re in the rolling hills of Kentucky or the green pastures of Ireland — you'll likely encounter a passion for the place where they perform their craft. Some distillers began making whiskey from grain they grew themselves on farmland that they grew up on, passed down to them from their father. Others blend spirits and store treasured casks within the same stone walls where their grandmother raised them. Many distillers have traveled and lived all across the globe, finally settling in one place and making it their home. 

In a place like Ireland, on the cusp of a whiskey- and gin-making revolution built on a historic foundation, these stories of place are woven into every seed planted into the ground, and every sip that meets the palate.

“It’s very much part of my DNA, the sense of pride and sense of place about our whole area, really,” says Michael Scully of Clonakilty Distillery. “And it was fundamentally one of the real reasons why I decided to go into whiskey distilling and start a whiskey business. I have this passion for the area we live in, and I wanted to create something that showcased it.” 

Michael is not alone in this sentiment; this pride can be found in Irish distillers all across the country. It’s a key factor that’s motivated many of the brands that are part of the Irish Cask and Craft Collection to showcase their craft in Ohio and beyond.

This passion for place also motivates Irish producers across the supply chain to dedicate themselves to protecting it — taking steps to care for the environment, preserve natural resources, and ultimately set a global standard for sustainability in spirits production. 


In Ireland, you’ll rarely find the mentality of “the grass is always greener on the other side” — much more often, Irish people live by the idea that “the grass is greener where you choose to water it.” This adage couldn’t be a better fit for the aptly named “Emerald Isle,” where 65% of the country’s landmass is engaged in agriculture, and Irish distillers take the environmental impact of distilling as seriously as the craft itself. 

Ireland has long been a place focused on sustainability due to the prevalence of agriculture across the island. “Ireland is a country that is founded on our agricultural products… it’s still our biggest industry, so we really need to stand over what we do from a sustainability perspective when it comes to our food and drink,” explains Henry Horkan, North America Manager at Bord Bia.

Bord Bia, the Irish organization dedicated to bringing Ireland’s outstanding food, drink, and horticulture produce to the world, developed what’s called the Origin Green program in 2012 to bring the industry together under this mission.

“The drinks industry has really been at the vanguard of Origin Green in terms of sustainability,” continues Henry. “And in one sense, it’s putting a process behind what they already would have done.”

More than half of the distilleries coming to Ohio as part of the Irish Cask and Craft Collection are Origin Green certified distilleries. Four of the featured distilleries — Boann Distillery, Clonakilty Distillery, Powerscourt Distillery, and Waterford Irish Whisky — have achieved Origin Green Gold Membership, a prestigious honor of excellence across multiple areas of sustainability. 

“So many companies that are part of Origin Green, or our farming community which is the bedrock of what we do, they would be doing this anyway… they have an inherent care for the environment that’s passed on from generation to generation.”


From spent grain to pot ale, crafting your favorite spirits creates byproducts that don’t make it into the bottle. Many Irish distillers are able to responsibly reuse their byproducts through partnerships with other local businesses and farms.

“We recycle all our byproducts as much as we can, so all the byproducts coming out of the distillery, such as spent grain, pot ale, and spent lees, will be fed back to the cattle on the farm,” shares Michael Scully, founder of Clonakilty Distillery. 

Pot ale and spent grains are both very high in protein, making for perfect feed for local farm animals.

Ireland's largest waterfall in County Wicklow, the water source for Powerscourt Distillery

Another important ingredient in spirits production is water; it’s estimated that on average, 37 liters of water is used to produce 1 liter of distilled spirit. Clonakilty Distillery, as well as Powerscourt Distillery, Skellig Six18 Distillery, and Boann Distillery not only take care to manage their byproducts but also have implemented systems to responsibly manage their water usage. Each of these distilleries source water from rainwater harvesting systems or natural sources nearby. Powerscourt even has its own aquafer on its Estate that flows from Ireland’s highest waterfall. Additionally, these distilleries use mechanisms such as closed loop water systems to recirculate water utilized in spirits production to help produce the energy that powers various parts of the distillery. 

A common thread among these Irish producers is a deep respect for the resources their land provides to them, with no drop of water or grain of barley gone to waste, if it can be used elsewhere. The relationships between farmers, distillers, and others throughout the supply chain empower each individual to consider how “one person’s waste could become another person’s treasure.”

“It’s pretty easy to keep a relationship with people and develop it when you have these advantages,” Michael reflects. “The fact that I’m a farmer myself helps… it’s a small community, we know each other pretty well.”


Distilling is also a very energy-dependent industry, with energy needs ranging from tens of thousands of kWh (kilowatt-hours) per year for a small craft operation to millions of kWh for a large industrial facility. Sustainable energy sources such as solar power and other renewable energy sources enable distillers to protect the environment while improving the overall energy efficiency of their business.

When Michelle and Gareth McAllister decided to open Ahascragh Distillery, it was important for them to build an eco-conscious operation to protect the environment and Ireland’s natural beauty.

“We were never ever going to build from new, for sustainability,” Michelle says. “There are so many beautiful old buildings around Ireland that are just left to ruin.”

Ahascragh Distillery’s refurbished mill that uses 100% sustainable energy sources

Like many Irish producers, the McAllisters honed in on resources already available to them, building on a historical foundation.

Refurbishing a dilapidated mill that ran sustainably on hydropower for over 300 years, they created Ireland’s first zero-emissions gin and whiskey distillery. “We do not burn anything,” Gareth explains. “All of our operations are through green electricity: renewable power, solar, and coming soon hydro from our mill.”

Every unit of energy put into a typical gas boiler for distillation outputs 0.8 of a unit. For every unit of energy Ahascragh Distillery puts into their green energy systems, they get out three to four units of energy. All of this makes for a more eco-friendly distillery that runs just as efficiently, if not more so, than if they’d utilized a gas boiler, and allowed the McAllisters to achieve one of their main goals: running their distillery in a way that would help preserve the natural beauty of Ireland for generations to come.

“We live our life this way ourselves, trying to be conscious of our environment,” says Michelle. “And we’ve got two lovely grandchildren  and we’d like to see this Earth continue to be a lovely place for them.”

For the McCallisters, any doubts about the possibility of a zero-emissions distillery only motivated them further. “We were told it couldn’t be done. And that spurred us on more,” recalls Michelle. Gareth adds on, “I knew the technology existed and worked, it had just never been applied to a distillery.”

Barley growing in a field near Clonakilty Distillery

Clonakilty Distillery has also kept a laser focus on its sustainable energy efforts, using 100% renewable energy to power its operation. To reduce its environmental impact even further, the Clonakilty team leans on their relationships to source any resources that they don’t grow themselves from within a 15-kilometer radius.

“We use more barley than we’re physically able to grow on our farm, so we contract with local farmers in the direct area,” Michael Scully says. The majority of them are within five to six miles of the distillery, so we work very closely with them.”

Among all Irish distillers, there is a strong sense of pride in being from a magnificent, green country. They hold a deep respect for their country’s natural beauty, and the urge to protect it permeates society, especially when so much of the land has been cared for and cultivated over generations. Passion for this place is woven into every step of the spirit production process to create something symbolic of their homeland while preserving its natural resources.

So, next time you’re sipping your favorite Irish spirit, make sure to raise a glass — responsibly — to the Irish distillers making exceptional spirits and protecting the environment for us all in the process.

Featured image courtesy of Clonakilty Distillery.

This article originally appeared here

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