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Interview: Slane Irish Whiskey: From Rock Roots To A Castle Born Spirit

Slane Irish Whiskey has deep roots … from castles, to rock and roll, to the family that runs it.

Founded by the Conynghams of Slane Castle, whose origin in the village of Slane, Ireland, date back to 1706, a partnership with Brown-Forman has helped the brand grow.

Slane Irish Whiskey is a triple-distilled, triple-casked whiskey with notes of rich caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, dried stone fruits, and subtle spices.

But beyond the brown spirit, Slane is a family affair that was shaped by the hard edge of the rock concerts they’re known for.

Alex Conyngham, co-founder of Slane Irish Whiskey, recently visited with The Whiskey Wash, and from U2 to one of the most highly-anticipated Irish whiskey launches, this is his story of how Slane Irish Whiskey was born.

Slane Irish Whiskey
Alex Conyngham, co-founder of Slane Irish Whiskey, recently visited with The Whiskey Wash, and from U2 to one of the most highly-anticipated Irish whiskey launches, this is his story of how Slane Irish Whiskey was born. (image via Brown-Forman)

The Whiskey Wash: Tell us a little about the history of the Conyngham family, the origin of the village of Slane, and the castle.

Alex Conyngham: “My family has been in Slane since 1703, when my ancestor Henry Conyngham, after whom dad is named, purchased the lands around Slane village. Legend has it that the name Slane comes from Sláine mac Dela, the first High King of Ireland who is thought to have been buried here. At the center of the estate was a fortified castle that became Conyngham Hall, and this was then rebuilt and extended by the family in 1785 to become Slane Castle … which is where the family still lives to this day. It is surrounded by 1,500 acres that span either side of the River Boyne and contains an important, protected landscape full of architectural and natural heritage.”

TWW: How did Slane become synonymous with monumental rock and roll concerts?

AC: “It started in 1981 when my dad, Henry Conyngham, launched the first Slane Concert, which was the same year as the Irish hunger strikes … it marked a difficult, tense time for the people of Ireland. Dad felt that music had the power to bring people together in a break from that tension during this turbulent time. So that began the first Slane Concert, which was headed up by one of Dad’s favorite acts, Thin Lizzy, and supported by the up-and-coming U2. Since then, Slane Concerts have been headlined by iconic bands like The Rolling Stones, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Oasis, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, and many more.”

TWW: How does this rock connection fit into the progression of Slane’s Irish whiskey?

AC: “Slane Castle carries a unique history and heritage and is also famous for the rock and roll concerts that have regularly hosted audiences of tens of thousands of people since 1981. We’re continuing to host relevant, well-known artists and bands at Slane – for example, Harry Styles is headlining a concert at Slane Castle in June. Since the beginning, the concerts have always brought people together, and I feel that Slane Irish Whiskey does the same thing, capturing that spirit of connection and progression.”

TWW: How was Slane Irish Whiskey born?

AC: “I grew up drinking Irish whiskey with my father and grandfather, so I always had an interest in our national drink and the culture and history around it. After working in Australia for several years as a brand ambassador for an Irish whiskey brand, I returned to Ireland in 2006. In 2008, dad suggested starting our own whiskey brand and we developed and launched the Slane Castle Irish Whiskey brand in 2009. We owned this brand until we partnered with Brown-Forman in 2015, and then launched Slane Irish Whiskey in 2017.”

TWW: How did the partnership with whiskey leaders Brown-Forman come about?

AC: “Slane and the Brown-Forman brand are a natural fit as they both were founded on heritage, quality, and authenticity with a next generation and beyond perspective that is an important component of being a family-driven, long-term business. Irish whiskey has also been the fastest-growing segment in the global whiskey category over the last few years, and Slane marks the company’s first entry into distilling Irish whiskey. As our partners, Brown-Forman brings their whiskey-making and barrel-making expertise to this growing category, and together, we created an exciting, full-flavored taste profile for the blended Irish whiskey category.”

TWW: Where did the partnership take the liquid itself for Slane?

AC: “Brown-Forman is the only whiskey company in the world that also crafts their own barrels and this meant that Slane gained direct, unique access to barrels that play a key part in shaping the flavor profile of our whiskey. For example, the virgin American white oak cask is a customized, brand-new cask that would typically be used for making American whiskey. Its heavy toasting better caramelizes the wood sugars and produces a sweet, aromatic hit of vanilla that is a distinctive tasting note on Slane. The partnership also meant we could tap into their expertise in blending and the final Slane blend was a collaborative effort between the team in Slane, which included myself, and those in the U.S. to create a full-flavored Irish whiskey blend.”

TWW: How has Slane Castle remained relevant and how is that an advantage for the Irish whiskey brand?

AC: “Our family motto is ‘Over Fork Over,’ which is a clear inspiration to never stand still. We have to keep evolving and progressing to stay relevant as we continue to protect Slane Castle and its surrounding built and natural heritage for the next generation. That means working with progressive artists on the concerts and festivals, pushing for more sustainable practices in our land management and agriculture to address biodiversity loss and climate change, and developing plans for the castle and estate that will protect and enhance it for the long term.”

“All of this also needs to be done in ways that allow for fun along the way … dad always taught me to do what you love and that means enjoying it too. That attitude of long-term thinking and the care and attention that involves, combined with a spirit of progression and adventure, is also at the core of Slane Irish Whiskey’s identity which will, I hope, help to ensure that this is a brand that is built to last.”

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