While the craft beer revolution took its hold in Ireland, Steven Murray sought to start a movement of his own by distilling artisan spirits in County Monaghan.
Steven’s journey to becoming a distiller began as he watched in awe while the craft beer movement swept across Ireland. He was never tempted by its charms however and instead, the Carrickmacross native, spotted a way of channelling its momentum to fuel his own long-standing dream of distilling artisan spirits – a process which had always intrigued him and one which he describes as being shrouded in a mysterious ‘black magic’.
When craft beer really began to take hold in 2014, Steven decided it was the perfect time to take his first tentative steps into the world of distilling. He explains: “I contacted a distilling course in Seattle USA and found myself booked up and on a plane over to them not long after.
“When I was in Seattle, I worked with some of the best distillers out there. It was great to see them pushing the boundaries, I made up my mind and was fully committed to moving forward with the dream.”
On his return to Ireland, Steven contacted his local enterprise office, who offered him advice on where to begin. Through this he was entered into the prestigious ‘Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur’ competition – where he won the regional round and represented the North East in the final.
Three years later, Steven was granted his distilling license and after much research, he opened his distillery: “In September 2016 I became the first distillery to open in County Monaghan in 156 years.
“Our gin hitting the market in March 2017 – three years to the day from when I was in Seattle doing my distilling course.
“I based my distillery in an old flour mill, just on the outside of Carrickmacross town, this old mill has seen better days, but I fell in love with the place and couldn’t see it anywhere other than here.”
By sheer coincidence it turned out that the old flour mill, which Steven had found himself inexplicably drawn to, had a backstory of its own and it was one that would lead him down an exciting new path: “Over the years the history of the mill was lost but a whisper of the former owners remained.
“The only information I had was that the former owners had left Ireland and set up a vineyard in France.”
Not one to give up and fuelled by his passion to find out about the history of the building, Steven began researching and eventually traced the owners to the Barton and Guestier (B&G) Vineyard in Bordeaux: “My next step was to contact them and tell them the story, unfortunately, this proved easier said than done but thankfully luck was on my side.
“I travelled to Florida to take part in a wine and spirits trade show and lo and behold two or three stands down form me was the B&G stand – I quickly introduced myself and told them the story.
“On my return to Ireland there was an invite for me to travel to Bordeaux and meet the team at Chateau Magnol, I soon found myself on an aeroplane again.
“When arriving at Chateau Magnol It was just like a movie – the charm was everywhere!“Sitting down and chatting it became very clear this was the same Barton family that owned the mill in Carrickmacross.”
In celebration of their connection, B&G gifted 50 of their flagship wine barrels to Old Carrick Mill and Steven plans to use them to age the mill’s first ever whiskey, later this year. He hopes it will be ready after five to eight years.
In the meantime, it’s full steam ahead on the gin front as he continues to distil his small batch product, in his custom-made gin still. Steven prides himself on adhering to age-old Irish tradition, whilst embracing modern techniques: “Most of Ireland’s distilling is done in copper pot stills and the normal thing to do would be to follow this chain but when in Seattle I seen first-hand what you can do with vapour, distilling, resting and aging.
“I designed my own gin still and got it manufactured to my spec. This allows me full flexibility and control.
“I take all the good points of each process and use them the best I can; it’s very like cooking, some people are better at it than others.”
As well as his focus on gin and whiskey, Steven tells us that now he has established the brand in Ireland, he wants to take it further afield and already has a foot on the export trail, with plans to expand to further markets later this year. He also has hopes to show off his beloved old flour mill for tours, soon.
A little bird told us that a limited edition gin is also set to be released next year, so keep your eyes peeled if you enjoyed Old Carrick Mill in this month’s Gin Discovery Club…
Written by: Hannah Gunn