Johns Lane

The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887. You can find the distillery profile at our Johns Lane overview

John’s Lane Distillery, Dublin.

Our next abacuses expedition was to John’s Lane Distillery, which is situated a short distance from Christchurch Cathedral. Soon after starting we had our first experience of an Irish shower, and received on our devoted heads some portion of the heavy libations poured on “Ould Ireland,” which make her fields so marvellously green; they made us look ruefully blue. Fortunately it did not last long, and by the time we reached our destination the sun shone brightly. The Distillery, the subject of the following sketch, is a large work and reaches from Thomas Street to the Quay. It was founded upwards of a century ago by Mr. James Power, the great grandfather of the present proprietors, who owned the noted hostelry from which the mail coaches started for the north and west of the island.

In the year 1791 this hostelry was converted into a small Distillery, making about 6,000 gallons annually; its chief motive power being a horse mill. But it did not long remain at that small output. The founder was a man of energy and enterprise, and year by year, as his business increased, he continued to extend the Distillery. Since 1871 the whole place has been rebuilt in a handsome and modern style, and every known appliance in the art of distilling added thereto. The establishment now covers six-and-a-quarter acres of ground, and the offices, which abut on the busy thoroughfare of Thomas Street, form a neat and substantial frontage to it.

After making ourselves and the object of our visit known to Messrs. James and Thomas Power, the present partners, we were conducted upstairs to their private office and shown some relics and ancient documents relating to the founder of the Distillery, which greatly interested us. After inspecting these we were introduced to the Manager of the Works, who conducted us through the place and explained the modus operandi from the beginning. Passing through the lofty and spacious public offices, we crossed a paved court and entered the noble block of buildings devoted to the storage of grain. They are five stories high, well lighted, and measure 192 feet long by 100 feet broad; the front part of three of them being divided off into corn receiving rooms, each division measuring 85 feet by 45 feet. The barley is carted to the Distillery by the farmers, and lifted by hydraulic hoists to the receiving rooms. At the entrance to this department there is an enclosed office, with glass roof and sides, in which sits the corn-sampling clerk; a portion of each delivery is handed to him for comparison with the samples of the purchase, which hang in bags upon a frame on the wall. If the sample is not up to the mark he refuses delivery, and reports the fact through the telephone to the corn-buyer’s office. So scrupulously particular is this firm as to quality, that all contracts are void if the delivery is not exact to sample. From the corn receiving department, the corn runs into the two patent cleaning machines placed at a lower level, which are of very clever contrivance, made by Vangelder and Apsiun, 1, Goree Piazza, Liverpool. The visitor would be surprised to see how every particle of foreign matter is eliminated from the corn. We saw pieces of metal, nails, buttons, bits of granite, and small seeds, which had been abstracted from the corn during the process; the small corn is also separated from the bulk, and is used for feeding young horses. From these machines the corn is dropped into a shoot on the ground floor, and sent from thence by elevators to the required lofts, where it is spread out on the floors 2 feet deep to become seasoned, and afterwards is sent through continuous screws to the different departments as required. We noticed that the elevators were all enclosed in cast metal frames, fixed in plates, so as to be easily removed if necessary, and not in timber as in most other places; this arrangement has the further advantage of being fire-proof. Ascending a series of open staircases which run through the floors of the five grain floors, we took stock of these spacious apartments. They are beautifully clean and well ventilated, and contained at the time of our visit 3,000 tons of grain. From this point we began in earnest to attend the death, burial, and resurrection of John Barleycorn. The first process of the manufacture of Whisky now begins, by the corn being sent from these floors to the two Kilns adjoining, whither we next bent our steps. These Kilns are indeed elegant buildings, each measuring 57 feet by 30 feet, with open groined roofs, lined with wood and stained oak, like small English parish churches, in fact far superior to many we have seen. Iron doors shut off these Kilns, which are heated by open furnaces, and floored with the patent perforated Worcester tiles. Retracing our steps to the ground floor, we next visited the Mill Room, a substantial and solid structure, which contains one of Turnbull’s ponderous machines of from 60 to 70 tons weight, and seven pairs of mill stones, driven by a steam engine of 460-horse power, and grinding upwards of 1,500 barrels every twenty-four hours. The dried corn is sent to this building from the Kiln by elevators of the same kind as those before referred to. From the Mill the grist is elevated and passed through two large tubes across the yard to the metal loft. We found this loft a larger apartment than that generally used for the purpose, being 88 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 20 feet high.

Crossing a gangway over the yard, we stepped on to the top of the Brewing Coppers, which are protected by an iron floor screen, which runs along over the whole of them. These vessels are so large that they occupy a house to themselves, and all of them are heated by furnaces. Descending by an iron ladder, we reached the ground level and entered the Brewing House, which is under the Meal Loft. It contains two Mash-tuns, each 33 feet in diameter and 7½ feet deep, possessing the usual stirring gear, and each capable of mashing 35 tons daily. The false bottoms of these Mash-tuns are composed of perforated iron plates, 3 feet by 2 feet, each numbered and ingeniously arranged in order. The worts drain from this vessel into the Underback, from which receptacle one of Drysdale and Co.’s three-throw pumps sends them into the Worts Receiver, a handsome metal vessel, placed under cover, holding 25,000 gallons, from whence they flow through the Refrigerators into the Wash-backs. From the Brewing House we crossed the pathway to the Back House, a building of great height, 140 feet long by 44 feet broad, which adjoins the Still House. Entering the centre door we saw at a glance the proportions of the enormous Wash-backs ranged along its walls; they are circular timber vessels, eight in number, and each vessel holds 38,000 gallons. The platform is composed of ribbed wood, and kept as white and clean as a new pin. The wash is pumped from these backs to the Wash Charger, which is placed at an elevation in the Still House, and contains 34,000 gallons.

A noble-looking building is the Still House. It is 68 feet long, 66 feet wide, and 57 feet high, containing five Pot Stills, all kept as bright and clean as burnished gold; the wash flows by gravitation to the two Wash Stills, each holding 25,000 gallons, and said to be the largest Pot Stills ever made. The product from these stills called “Low Wines” is pumped up to the Low Wines and Feints Receiver and Charger, both of which hold 10,000 gallons each; passing from thence into the Low Wines Stills, each holding about 20,000 gallons, and afterwards to the Feints or Spirit Stills, each of the same capacity, where, by the various distillations, the spirit becomes perfected Whisky. At one end of this house there are five Spirit Receivers, each with an average capacity of 7,000 gallons.

On the north side of the yard, connected with the Still House, there are three circular wrought iron worm tubs, the only iron ones we have seen; they are 30 feet high and 20 feet in diameter, and contain a compilation of copper coils, ranging from 13 inches in diameter, in which the spirit is condensed. The Can Pit Room is opposite the Still House, and only separated by a narrow passage. In former days cans were placed in the pit underneath the Receivers to catch the spirit, hence the name of Can Pit. In this room we were shown the safe, a very handsome and elaborate instrument, 20 feet long, composed of solid mahogany and brass, the most ingeniously-arranged one we have ever seen; it was designed by Mr. Henry Angus, the late distiller in this establishment. Following the progress of the Whisky, we next visited the Spirit Store, a lofty apartment, where there are three vats to receive it, of an average capacity of 3,500 gallons each. Here the spirit is reduced with water to an average strength of 25 over proof. It is then filled into casks, weighed, and taken account of by the excise, before being sent to the different Warehouses. Of these there are seventeen in the Distillery, which contained at the time of our visit, upwards of 12,000 casks. At the suggestion of our guide, we proceeded to visit these spacious bonds by way of the cask track, an incline tram rail, some 300 feet in length, on which the filled casks glide down to the Warehouses. The path opened into a long avenue of casks, waiting their turn to be deposited in the various bonds. Arriving at the end, a large opening appeared, and we were asked to step on a platform, when “hey presto,” we descended to the depths below, but not into darkness, as we expected, but to a well-lighted chamber, some 200 feet by 80 feet, filled with casks of Whisky of various ages.

This Warehouse consists of four floors, all equally well filled. On ascending to the ground level, we visited No. 12 Warehouse, which is 120 feet long by 80 feet, a dry and well-ventilated bond; the other fifteen we did not enter. The firm have splendid bonds at Westland Row and The City Markets; we drove down to see them both, and were amply repaid for the trouble.

The Warehouses at Westland Row occupy the basement or arches of the new station, and are over 500 feet long by upwards of 300 feet broad, from one central avenue numerous arches branch to the right, and all the casks are placed on the ground. There is a Warehouse Manager’s Office at the entrance, and like the other bonds, it is connected by telephone with the Head office. We next visited the Warehouses underneath the New City Markets; they are 353 feet long and 226 feet wide, consisting of brick arches, supported on rolled iron beams, perfectly ventilated, and lighted by large area windows, lined with white enamel brick, and in addition to which fresh air is constantly introduced into the centre of the Warehouses, and diffused by shoots to every part, so that the temperature, both in summer and in winter, is carefully arranged; we noticed thermometers on the walls of every division, which have the constant attention of the warehouse clerk in charge.

On returning to the Distillery, we proceeded to the Engine Department, at this establishment a special feature, one of the members of the firm being a practical engineer. The following is a brief description of some.

In No. 1 Engine Room there is a compound beam-engine, working a pressure of 80 lbs., and developing to 400 effective horse power; it was erected in 1879, by Turnbull, Grant and Jack, of Glasgow. No. 2 Engine Room is a handsome lofty apartment, with a polished floor, and contains a beautiful horizontal engine, by Courtney Stevens, of Dublin, which was exhibited in the Dublin Exhibition of 1882. No. 3 Engine Room contains a remarkable little ancient warrior, being an engine upwards of forty years of age, and still doing its daily work with all the vigour of youth. It works day and night without stopping, except for cleaning purposes, and the proprietors say that they would not change it for the best engine in Ireland of the same power. No. 4 Engine Room contains a 30-horse power engine, used principally for the saw mills and the engineers’ and fitters’ shop.

Last, but not by any means the least, comes the No. 5 Engine House, lately erected, which is well worth a visit. It is built with Athy stock and Staffordshire bricks, with chiselled granite base, granite window sills; the windows are 13 feet high and 5 feet wide, filled by one sheet of plate glass. Inside it is lined with enamelled bricks from floor to ceiling, and the interior of the roof with pitch pine, panelled. In the wall, set in granite, there is a splendid double-faced clock, visible day and night from inside and outside.

The engine bed consists of huge granite blocks, the bed itself costing £800. It would be impossible for us to describe the engine technically, so we therefore adopt the engineer’s graphic description. “It is a compound beam engine of 250-horse power (manufactured by Messrs. Turnbull, Grant and Jack, of Glasgow), with box bed-frame and entablature, supported on six polished columns, having the cylinders attached to the walking beam on opposite side of the main centre. The high pressure cylinder is 22 inches diameter and 1 foot 9 inches stroke, fitted with an automatic cut-off valve-gear, regulating the speed of engine by the amount of cut off. The low pressure cylinder is 26 inches diameter and 3 feet 6 inches stroke. Both are steam jacketed and fitted with pistons, having Jack’s patent automatic packing, which gives both a vertical and side adjustment to the packing rings. The crank shaft, crank, connecting rod, and valve gear are all of wrought iron, and the walking beam, piston rods, and crank pin of Siemen’s steel.” The power for driving the Mash Tuns and Pump gear is transmitted by ropes direct from the crank shaft, which gives a very smooth and easy drive. All departments which this engine works are connected by electric bells, this being also the case with the other engines of this firm. At the end of the Engine Room there is a pit, about 30 feet deep and 6 feet by 9 feet wide, the bottom of which is floored with black and white encaustic tiles; this pit contains a Centrifugal Pump for pumping spent wash. This pump being below all other vessels in the concern, they can be emptied by it in case of accident to the other pumps. Following our guide, we next visited the Boiler House, where there are several Boilers, 35 feet long and 7 feet in diameter; afterwards to the Saw Mill, Carpenters’, Engineers’, Fitters’, and Coppersmiths’ Shops. The chimney stacks are 95 feet and 120 feet high respectively, and are of ornate design.

The model Stables, which attract many visitors who are fond of equine pursuits, next claimed our attention. They were built under the immediate superintendence of one of the partners, who is a noted breeder of hire horses. The Stall Stable is built of enamelled bricks and has an ornamented open roof, the sides of each stall being lined with close fibre matting and paved with blue Staffordshire bricks. From the lofts at the side are corn sluices running down to the manger, by touching a button one bait of corn only is delivered at a time. Adjoining these Stables is the Harness Room, containing the usual Weighing Machine and other appliances. On the other side are three loose Boxes, and across the court a Horse Hospital, or “Slick Boxes,” built of enamelled bricks, same as the stables, and paved with blue Staffordshire bricks. The Coach House and other buildings complete this department.

The Offices before-mentioned are very complete, and combine Excise and Clerks’ Offices, Waiting Rooms, Luncheon Hall, Sampling Room, private offices for each of the two partners, Telegraphic and Telephonic Rooms, Lavatories, &c.

There are twenty-five clerks and two hundred and fifty workmen employed on the premises. The water used in this Distillery is principally from the “Vartry,” hereafter described in another chapter. Some of the old-fashioned customers of this firm still send with their orders two empty casks - one to be filled with whisky, and the other with water from a special tap on the premises, with which they reduce their whisky on its arrival at its destination, thus uniting once more the same natures so rudely separated by the Still!

The Distillery, altogether, is about as complete a work as it is possible to find anywhere; being built on a hill, and running down from the main street to the quay, it thus has the advantage of natural gravitation.

The annual output is 900,000 gallons. The chief Excise officers are Messrs. Jarr, Davy, Lees, Royston and Smith.

On completing our tour of inspection over the Distillery, we accepted the hospitality of the partners, and did ample justice to a substantial luncheon. We had previously sampled the firm’s make of 1885, which we thought good and most useful, either as a blending or single whisky. The old make, which we drank with our luncheon, was delicious, and finer than anything we had hitherto tasted. It was as perfect in flavour, and as pronounced in the ancient aroma of Irish Whisky so dear to the hearts of connoisseurs, as one could possibly desire, and we found a small flask of it very useful afterwards on our travels.

As the frontispiece to this volume, we give an etching of a curious old portrait of the founder of the firm, which hangs in the private room of the senior partner. It is quaintly and beautifully worked in coloured silks, the face being painted by hand and ivory. It is said to be an excellent likeness of this famous pioneer of the Irish Whisky trade, and our artist has succeeded in catching the portrait with true fidelity.

It may be interesting here to note that is was Sir John Power, the first Baronet, who laid the first stone of the O’Connell National Monument. We were shown the massive silver trowel with which he performed the ceremony, and upon which the following was engraved:

“This Trowel was used by Sir John Power, Bart., of Roebuck, co. Dublin,23rd Sep., 1854, on laying the first stone of the National Monument to the Liberator of Catholic Ireland - O’Connell."’His victory in a glorious strife To feeling, faith, and freedom dear,Cost not one patriotic life,A wound, an outrage, or a tear.’“Presented by the O’Connell Monument Committee.”

Images of Johns Lane