Eoin Holmes, the Co-Founder and Head Distiller of Lough Mask Distillery, has been devoted to the lyrical Lough Mask landscape in County Mayo since fishing its lake as a child. Today, his distillery is as much an award-winning spirits producer as it is an ode to the gentle, lakeside hills in which it lies. Each spirit—available at Ashford Castle—takes the surrounding countryside as its muse, and is made with wild local botanicals and the all-important Lough Mask water. Here, Eoin shares the fairy-tale world of Lough Mask.
Tell us why you love Lough Mask and County Mayo…
“I think it was Izaak Walton who, in the 1600s, wrote: ‘The Gods do not deduct from a man's allotted span the hours spent angling.’ If you’ve ever sat in a small rowing boat in the middle of Lough Mask, you'd soon realise how true that is. As for Mayo, there is a positivity and a gentle energy about people in this part of the world that I love. Not a day goes by here without me finding someone or something that makes me smile.”
For anyone visiting, Eoin advises to take it slow. “Is slowing down an activity? I don't know, but don't rush around ticking the boxes: duck into a non-touristy pub, have a slow drink and a long chat. Find a small lane or boreen and walk down it. Ask the guy leaning on a gate in the middle of nowhere about the area around him. Do something unplanned: it's the little discoveries and accidental meetings that will stay with you.”
How much of the local culture is reflected in your spirits?
“Everything we do at Lough Mask Distillery is inspired by the rugged beauty of the wilds that surround us. We are nestled in the foothills of the Partry Mountains overlooking Lough Mask: what we've set out to do is capture the spirit of this magical place in the gin, vodca (Irish spelling) and, ultimately, whiskey we make. We’re also inspired by the wonderful combination of robustness and gentleness, of resilience and creativity in the people that surround us. Our spirits aren't genteel and overly refined; they're robust, flavoursome and just a little bit wild.”
As for Eoin’s personal inspiration: “I love this part of the world—I've fished on the lake since I was a child. Secretly, I thought I could marry two passions, do a bit of distilling and a bit of fishing… So far that plan has proved disastrous—since starting production I've had no time to do any fishing!"
What can we expect from Lough Mask Distillery’s spirits?
“There's one general difference between gin and vodca: flavour. Gin must have juniper in it—in fact, the name gin comes from the anglicisation of the Dutch word for juniper. Vodca on the other hand has no flavouring nor additional ingredients added; it's alcohol and water! Our award-winning gin and vodca share one local ingredient, Lough Mask water. In addition, our gin is made from locally foraged botanicals. We use wild honeysuckle, fuchsia and elderflower found around the lake. As for the distilling itself, we use a very ancient type of stills, Alembic Pot Stills, the design of which hails back to the dawn of distilling. While they may not be very sophisticated nor efficient, they do produce wonderful spirit… slowly, very slowly!"
Lough Mask Distillery is set to become a boutique protagonist in the Irish whiskey renaissance that’s beginning to disrupt the international spirits world. “We've started to lay down whiskey for ageing. By law, Irish whiskey must be aged for three years before it can be called Irish whiskey. We've had huge interest from around the world in our whiskey, and so are offering a very limited number (40) of Inaugural Year Casks to people interested in purchasing their very own cask of Lough Mask Whiskey. Ours is a small distillery: our single malt will be a rare whiskey from the day it’s released—the Inaugural whiskey rarer still.”
Lough Mask’s Loch Measc Gin incorporates botanicals found across the estate of Red Carnation Hotels’ Ashford Castle. The distillery’s award-winning products can be sampled in the Castle’s bars.