THE first thing that strikes you about Clonakilty’s new €10 million distillery and visitor centre is just how much attention to detail has gone into the project.
The development comprising the Whale’s Tail Bistro, visitor centre and the distillery itself has just been officially opened by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and looks set to become a major attraction on the Wild Atlantic Way in West Cork.
The brainchild of local couple Michael and Helen Scully, the development is a welcome addition to Clonakilty’s local economy, as well as adding a major attraction to the wider West Cork tourist offering.
Michael’s family have farmed in nearby Ardfield for generations and following the turbulent ups and downs of the Celtic Tiger years, he decided it was time to set up a new business in his local community.
“We had been a bit battered by the global recession,” Michael said. “I decided I wanted to spend less of my time in airports and started to think seriously about opening a business in the local area.”
Michael and Helen began tentatively looking for opportunities that might suit their skills and the food and drink sector was the most likely candidate.
“Food and drink was going to be the obvious choice for us, coming from a farming background and given the quality of the natural resources we have around us,” said Michael.
“Gradually, we got the idea of whiskey. It’s the only product in the sector I know that doesn’t have a sell-by date and it improves with age, so it there were real business reasons behind the decision!”
That was back in 2013, but from the initial idea there was still an awful lot of work to be done to make the Clonakilty Distillery a reality. In 2014 they began to seriously research the idea, travelling to Scotland and all over the world to see how other distilleries were run and operated.
It was 2015 when the Waterfront buildings in Clonakilty were secured as the new home for the distillery, bistro and visitor’s centre. The development had been idle since the local gaelscoil moved to a new permanent home.
“One thing led to the other,” Michael said. “We were lucky enough to find these buildings back in 2015, which are perfect for a distillery. If you were to design a distillery in the morning it probably wouldn’t be a whole lot different.”
The couple decided early on that the tourist offering would be fundamental to the distillery. “That’s one of the things that is different about us compared to some of the other start-ups in Ireland,” said Michael.
“This has been designed from the start very much with the tourist offering in mind. We have this great location here right in the centre of town, literally on the Wild Atlantic Way so you really have to make the most of that.”
It’s an approach that very much reflects the way Clonakilty does business in general, mixing tourism, local enterprise and outside investment. “It’s a great town,” added Michael. “We hope that what we are doing here can provide a boost to the local economy and the wider West Cork area as well.”
The fit out and design of the complex is really quite something and you can see where the investment has been put to good use. From light fittings salvaged from a Russian ship to interior doors from Dublin’s Cafe en Seine, every aspect of the visitor experience is top class. Guided tours take in the impressive distillery itself where visitors will be able to get up close and see head distiller Paul Corbett and his team at work, as well as getting to taste some of Clonakilty’s signature products.
Those currently include Clonakilty Whiskey and Minke Gin. The latter, researched and developed by Helen, takes its name from the majestic cetaceans that can be spotted off the nearby coast.
Now officially open to the public, the entire enterprise between the Whale’s Tail Bistro, visitor centre and distillery is providing 35 local jobs and Michael is confident the business will continue to expand in the coming years.
“It’s early days but we are hoping it will do well,” he said. “We are bringing an all-weather attraction to the town and to all of West Cork and hoping that this place will become one of the must- see iconic tourist destinations in the area within the next few years.”
The ambitions don’t stop in west Cork, however, and the ultimate plan is to develop a truly worldwide business based in Clonakilty.
“We want to become a global business here,” added Michael. “We are already selling product in the States for the last 12 months. We are in New York, Florida and will be in Pennsylvania shortly. We are also in Canada and in Europ, we are already in Germany and in Italy.
“There’s a trend worldwide both in food and drink that’s being driven by the consumer, who wants provenance and wants to know where their food and drink is coming from.
“They want it to come from an area that uses local ingredients and that’s what we offer.”