The famous Powers’ Distillery at John’s Lane may have closed its doors in 1975, but much of the historic fabric remains in place as the campus of National College of Art & Design (NCAD). Among its most distinctive features are three 19thC pot stills, now standing rather ignomiously at the edge of Red Square (the main public space of the college), but previously housed within the large Distilling House that was once the heart of the distillery.
John Power & Sons Distillery, known colloquially as John’s Lane Distillery, was among the most innovative of Irish whiskey distilleries. Founded in the 1790s by James Power, a local hosteller, the brand grew in prestige and remains one of the best know whiskey brands to this day. Considered the most technologically advanced facility of its day when it was substantially remodelled in the 1880s, among its innovations, Powers was the first distillery to bottle its whiskey on site, a game-changing innovation. Powers merged into Irish Distillers in 1966. In the mid-70s production relocated to Middleton in Cork and the distillery closed. In the 1980s, the site was repurposed to become a new home for NCAD. While many buildings were demolished (including the Distilling House itself), some notable features remain.
The pot stills were where the ‘wash’, made from malted and unmalted barley, was distilled – not once or twice, but uniquely three times as only Irish whiskey is, with over 33,000 gallons reduced to 3,000 gallons by each distillation. By the 1880s, John’s Lane Distillery was producing over 900,000 gallons of whiskey a year. One of the stills, known as Jack Still, had a capacity of 7,500 gallons and was specially constructed for Powers’ by Turnbull, Grant and Jack of Glasgow. It was in constant use in John’s Lane from 1888 until the closure of the distillery.
The setting of the three remaining stills is now much changed and they have been exposed to the weather for over 40 years, eroding brickwork and tarnishing the copper. Some limited repairs to the stills were made in 2016. The current work, which includes clearing much of the overgrowth around the stills and creating a new seating area, proposed to repoint brickwork and also to burnish up the copper covers. The work is being undertaken by specialist contractors EML Construction with support from Irish Distillers Ltd.
Once completed in early summer, the stills will be a high point of the self-guided Past | Present Tour of the Distillery, details of which you can find in Grey Square, just inside the main campus entrance at Thomas Street. While you are there check out the delicious lunch treats available at The Goodies.
You can take a look at the working distillery in the early 1970s, shortly before it closed, on this RTE Archive piece.