“If you don’t tell people what you’re doing, they expect you’re doing nothing,” according to Conor Ryan, who is the head of production operations at Pearse Lyons Distillery in the Liberties, Dublin.

He was speaking at the inaugural Irish Drinks Open Forum, held at the BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry.

Ryan said Irish whiskey is in competition with US and Scottish whiskey, and has to compete. It is clear that the distillery is trying to improve its overall sustainability from grain to glass, as they say, but telling the story of that journey is just as important.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

In 2021, the company started growing barley on the Lyons farm in Co Meath, just 25km from the distillery.

Looking at other companies importing more grain to decrease costs, the teams in Meath and Dublin became adamant that Irish grain had to be used in the production of their whiskey.

Ryan said the distillery is taking part in the re-evolution of grain-growing. It might sound a bit over the top, but he’s right.

Irish farmers are doing really good things on their farms and they need to tell people about it.

This distillery’s plan is most definitely to tell the good story of its production.

Whiskey is the product that fills the casks and the bottles, but the sale of those bottles depends on many things, and the grain used to produce that whiskey – and where it comes from – is at the top of the agenda.

Having a sustainable production model and taking the environment around you into account is becoming more and more important, and that is why Ryan explains they are going back to their roots to “integrate farming and distillation”.

He explained that barley is grown on their farm to produce whiskey for the home and export markets.

However, breaking those markets now requires much more than the label of Irish whiskey.

The sales pitch needs to be better – the consumer is looking for more, and that is why if you travel to the fields where spring barley is growing for Pearse Lyons Distillery, you will see pollinator strips, and in the winter, you will see cover crops.

Ryan explained that the distillery is “constantly looking at measurements and different ways on how we produce our grain”.

They have signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. Pollinator strips that are 3m in width go around every field and provide natural predators for insects like aphids, which cause viruses in cereals. Another natural predator is an owl, so owl-boxes have been erected on the farm to encourage the bird onto the farm, which will also help to control rodent populations.

Away from the pollinator strips, the distillery is planting more permanent breaks by implementing an agroforestry, planting strips of trees in fields.

So far, 450 apple trees have been planted 30m apart in the fields to add diversity to the farm. In about six years, cider or brandy can be made from these orchards.

Over the winter, cover crops are planted to protect and enhance the soil, take up nutrients left over from the spring barley crop, and hopefully fix nitrogen. Clover and tillage radish are some of the plants grown.

Quantifying the measures being taken up will be the next step of the journey.

To hear more from Conor Ryan, Neil Conway and Lisa Ryan, all of whom which spoke at the forum, check out this week’s Tillage Podcast on our website.