Ancient oak which fell in storm to live on as casks for revived whiskey brand

A 1,000-year-old wild Irish oak tree toppled by a storm is set to be resurrected in the form of rare whiskey casks.

The ancient giant, with a 10-metre girth, stood tall on the grounds of Swainstown Farm in Kilmessan, Co Meath, until raging Storm Elin brought it crashing to earth late last year.

In a unique project between Meath’s Boann Distillery and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel cooperage in Kildare, the old oak will be transformed into barrels that will age and produce Preston’s brand of single pot still Irish Whiskey.

The Preston family, who live on Swainstown Farm, are descendants of the renowned Preston’s of Drogheda, Co Louth – operators of a major whiskey bonding business for almost a century from 1886.

“It is extremely rare that Irish oak is used to craft casks, making this a unique project,” said Peter Cooney of Boann Distillery.

“The idea was first mooted six years ago after I told Arthur Preston about our plans to revive the ‘Preston’s Whiskey’ brand, using an old whiskey recipe, called a mashbill, and dating back to the late 19th century.

“We made a deal that, in return for the casks I gave him for his Swainstown Farm shop, he would let me know when an old Irish oak tree on his grounds would become available for cutting.

“Arthur had one old tree in mind that had stood in the front paddock of the Preston Estate, and when it fell during last December’s storm, I got the call from him to come and check her out.”

A large section cut from the lower body of the tree will now be shipped to a facility in France, where it will be split and made into staves and air-dried for two years.

The staves will then be transported back to Kildare, where coopers will turn them into Irish oak casks before they are filled with a unique mashbill to reproduce Preston’s whiskey.

“We typically source our barrels from American white oak shipped directly from bourbon and whiskey distilleries,” said Mark Quick, managing director of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel.

“With this venture we will revive traditional whiskey cask crafting in Ireland using Irish oak from a tree that stood for over 1,000 years, so we are very excited about it.

“It’s great to see the idea evolve from a conversation in 2018 to an innovative collaboration between heritage-rich estates, seasoned distilleries, and renowned cooperages,” said Arthur Preston.

“I can’t wait to taste the final product.”

The Preston’s mashbill that will be laid down once the casks are ready is a secret Vintage Mashbill XI from Boann’s 2021 Vintage Mashbill project, which brought old whiskey recipes back to life.

“By using Irish Oak we can bring a piece of ancient Ireland to the glasses of future connoisseurs,” said Peter Cooney.

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