Covid creating problems a decade down the line

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Distillery says Covid could create problems a decade down the line

Ger Flanagan

Nephin Whiskey was last year due to distill its very first drop of Mountain Dew from its new distillery in the small village of Laherdane in north Mayo.
Italian engineers were preparing to fly to the foot of the Nephin Mountains last February to put the final touches on the distillation equipment before the taps were turned. But then Covid-19 swept through northern Italy, and they never departed.
Little did the company’s directors know that in the 12 months’ time they still wouldn’t be operating. The world has yet to get a taste of Lahardane.
“It has been pretty tough from a business point of view because we haven’t distilled our first drop yet,” co-founder Mark Quick, a native of Attymass, told The Mayo News. “If we spoke this time last year, I definitely would have said that we would have been distilling sometime in 2020, but Covid-19 hit and it changed our plan.
“It was quite testing because it wasn’t the first delay we encountered, and we just felt like we had gotten over the previous delays when this arrived out of the blue! Obviously, there was no planning done for a worldwide pandemic, so we just had to react to it, like everybody else.
“So over the last year we’ve built the distillery and finished the construction phase, but we’re looking at 2021 now before it is up and running.”
While timing was bad for Quick and Nephin Whiskey, he admitted that the situation was not as dire as it could have been. They had yet to employ production staff at the distillery in Lahardane, and overheads were not a huge issue.
“The timing could definitely have been worse,” he candidly admitted. “If Covid hit a few months later it definitely would have affected us a lot worse. So we were lucky in a lot of ways. It wasn’t like the situation in the hospitality sector, for example, which was in an awfully difficult situation.”
Nephin Whiskey will be hit hardest, Quick believes, a decade or so down the road.
“We would have been laying down whiskey stock in 2020 to get bottled in 2025, 2028 or 2030,” he revealed. “But because it isn’t going into the barrel now, it won’t be coming out of the barrel in those years and into bottles. So this pandemic will have a knock-on effect for us in ten years time.”

Barrelling on
Speaking of barrels, they’re what have keeping the company ticking over during these months.
Nephin Whiskey’s sister company, Nephin Cooperage, based in Foxford, is Ireland’s only working cooperage. It has been allowed to continue working throughout lockdown, supplying barrels to the 38 or so distilleries in the country.
Quick is keen to praise the product being produced by the other Mayo distilleries. He feels the county is in a strong place within the sector.
“We’re at full capacity in Foxford and flat out every day, repairing and supplying barrels for the country,” he said. “And it’s great in that sense, because I’m a whiskey fan myself, and I’m excited about the new whiskeys coming out, such as ones in Connacht Whiskey and Achill.
“I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say that Mayo has probably the highest concentration of distilleries per head of population in the country, and it’s a great time for the county.”
Nephin Whiskey hopes to be distilling by 2021 or early 2022, Covid-19 depending.
Quick is also aware that the community is eager to see the doors open, and the company is equally as eager to bring much-needed employment to Lahardane.
“They are excited and so are we,” Quick said. “We already employ people from Lahardane in our cooperage, but obviously the distillery will have more staff, and that will mean the young people in the area have greater employment prospects.”