Monday dawned, cold and bright. My car told me it needed a service, as a fug of diesel exhaust hung in the air. I quickly scraped ice from the windscreen; it’s -7°C. I had to get in early, this was a brew day like no other. The car tyres bit the gravel, and I crunched on my way, it was a PMD21 kinda day.

Our Head Distillery John is fond of abbreviations, thus PMD.

Before we go any further there are four things you need to know:

  1. PMD is the code name Head Distiller John Wilcox uses for his single malt project.
  2. PMD is to Irish whiskey as WMDs are to a knife fight.
  3. Never ask John what PMD stands for.
  4. I need a new car.

2021 marks our third year of whisky production, so PMD21 is our third single malt vintage. In the past, we used imported peated malt as we couldn’t get enough at home, but 2021 would be different. This would be our first PMD single malt using barley that is 100% Irish-grown and malted.

As I pulled up outside the distillery in Ballyduff, a thought struck me. We used to import some grain, but over the past three years, we have moved entirely to Irish-grown and malted grains. That’s because a whole industry has built up to service microbrewers and distillers. An ecosystem of small mutually dependent Irish producers has sprouted and now needs nurturing.

So who are these heroes, who are the men and women helping small producers like us? Covid and a 12-year-old Renault Laguna allowing, I’ll bring you as many stories as I can in 2021. So let’s start with Monday’s brew…

Irish Craft Malts

Barely Bags
09:00 hrs Monday 25th January 2021: Something is waiting for Steve our brewer

Ireland produces some excellent malt, and at Blackwater Distillery we deal with the biggest (Malting Company of Ireland) and the smallest (Irish Craft Malts), it’s great to have choice. What the lads at Irish Craft Malts do is clever, they know they can’t compete on a like-for-like basis with the big guns, so they do their own thing. They focus on malting with peat. So here Irish grains and Irish peat come together in a craft that hasn’t been practised in Ireland for close to a century. That’s pretty special.

To give this tale some context, for close to 50 years we’ve been told that Irish Whiskey is triple distilled, smooth and unpeated – so to push against that unholy Trinity of nonsense is, if nothing else, quite brave.

Irish Craft Malts
Brendan & Paul

Meet Brendan and Paul. They are Irish Craft Malts and the company operates from Brendan’s farm in County Meath. This is some of the finest land in Ireland, so it’s not surprising the barley grown here is exceptional. There’s nothing new in a farmer wanting to add value to a raw material, there are farm shops right across the country. But malting barley is a lot more difficult than erecting a roadside honesty box for eggs. Malting, like brewing, is part chemistry, part engineering, part wizardry.

Grain vagon
Loading the grain, one tonne at a time

At a craft level, it’s also a very physical enterprise. Everything is either incredibly heavy, awkward, loud, cold, hot or wet.

Especially when you consider the size of a single grain of barley.
Loading the furnace

But we are here for the smoke. Focusing on peated malt was super smart, it gives the lads a great USP in a country where many small distilleries are pushing against the status quo. One of the biggest things micro-producers can bring to the party is inconsistency. Yes, you read that correctly. Whisky (however you spell it) is agricultural, it’s of the land and from the land. It’s not an Easy Singles cheese slice; uniform, filtered and dyed to within an inch of its life. Though all too often that is what we are sold.

Seasons change, weather changes, shouldn’t whisky?

Peat smoke runs through vats of water so as not to scorch the barley

What ‘craft’ producers across Ireland have in common is the ability to immerse themselves in something, to go way above and beyond what is needed in order to make something special. It’s great when the numbers add up, but that is never the primary motivation. Does it smell good? Does it taste great? Those are more important questions, also ones that John, our Head Distiller obsesses about.

John at the Mash Tun

The good news is that this peated malt is wonderful, and quite different to the stuff we imported. This is smokier, with floral overtones of heather and a wonderful weetabix sweetness. The mash was a dream, and our yeast loved the wort so much, John took to Instagram…

Stainless pot

As John says, stay tuned for a release sometime towards 2025/6.

Wash: Almost honey sweet, with hints of campfire, the forest after rain and a distant reek of peat.

New make tasting notes will follow w/c 1st February 2021.

Irish Craft Malts in numbers

  • 500kg batch size
  • All Stainless Steel 3 process plant
  • Steep tank, dynamically monitored
  • 2 x Rotating Drum Germinators
  • SS kiln filled by direct and indirect solid fuel, oil and also electric to fine tune kilning stage
  • Barley and oats grown on our own farm
  • Only Irish maltster to peat oats and barley
  • Contract malting possible with your grains
  • Malt supplied in 20kg or 500kg bags


But what comes in must go out and next month we’ll follow the grain back to the land.