What The Shed Distillery Is Doing to Raise Spirits in Drumshanbo

Drumshanbo’s rich nature and history inspired P.J. Rigney to establish The Shed Distillery here. Now the world’s largest family-owned gin distillery, it’s helped revitalize Drumshanbo through employment, a new nature reserve, and much more — all centered on the craft of extraordinary Irish spirits.
Kate Colby headshot
Kate M. Colby

Located in the heart of County Leitrim, Ireland — roughly two hours northwest of Dublin — the quiet town of Drumshanbo belongs on a postcard. Meaning “ridge of old huts” in the Irish tongue, Drumshanbo lies at the lower tip of Lough Allen, surrounded by woodlands and rolling hills that rise into the Sliabh an Iarainn (“Iron Mountain”). Standing proud at 585 meters / 1,919 feet tall, the mountain was home to coal and iron mining for over 300 years.

And that’s where the tale of The Shed Distillery — home of the extraordinary Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka — begins.

An Irish Love Story

The Shed Distillery’s charismatic founder, P.J. Rigney, has been a force in the drinks business for more than 30 years. P.J. made a name for himself by creating and revitalizing brands for other companies, yet he always dreamed of establishing his own distillery in his home country.

But it couldn’t just be anywhere in Ireland — an explorer at heart, P.J. has always been drawn to the world’s wild, untamed places. Places of curiosity and inspiration, immersed in nature and rich history. After some thought, brilliance struck. Why not return to Drumshanbo, a beloved village from his childhood?

“It is, after all, very much the road less traveled,” P.J. says.

P.J. and Denise Rigney outside the distillery - The Shed Distillery
P.J. and Denise are rightfully proud of The Shed Distillery and their exceptional craft spirits, like Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey.

P.J.’s mother, Mary, had worked as the bookkeeper for the Arigna coal mines, which were in the mountains near Drumshanbo. P.J.’s father, Seamus, worked as an auditor and would ride the train up from Dublin to review the mining company’s books. Brought together by their work, the two fell in love and were married in Drumshanbo’s Saint Patrick’s Church.

Throughout his childhood, P.J. enjoyed exploring the village and its wild, surrounding countryside, traipsing through the meadows and across the rock escarpments. These carefree days would inspire his love of adventure — and eventual return to Drumshanbo.

A (Gin) Shot in the Arm for the Local Community

P.J.’s homecoming came at a rather fortuitous moment for the village. Over the years, Drumshanbo had fallen on hard times. The worst came in the early 1990s, when the jam factory that employed nearly a quarter of the village’s small population (then 875 people, today just over 1,000) closed. With roughly 200 people out of work, the community was devastated.

Seeking to restore job opportunities, the community council bought the former jam factory building and split it into separate units to create the Drumshanbo “food hub,” a group of local, food-and-drinks businesses — framing what would become an ideal locale for the distillery that P.J. and his wife, Denise, were envisioning. With the help of their new head distiller Brian Taft, The Shed Distillery in 2014.

Exterior - The Shed Distillery
The Shed Distillery is a vibrant part of the Drumshanbo food hub.

More than just a watershed moment for the village, The Shed was the first distillery to open in west Ireland in over 100 years. And ever since, it has breathed much-needed life into the sleepy hamlet of Drumshanbo.

Though it started as a mighty team of three, today, The Shed is one of Drumshanbo’s largest employers with over 100 people working for the distillery and packaging teams. Many more are employed at the distillery’s Jackalope Café, Honey Badger Bar, Curious Gift Shop, and visitors’ experiences — which includes a tasting room furnished with a grand table made from the salvaged floorboards of Saint Patrick’s Church, where P.J.’s parents tied the knot so many years ago.

The community-mindedness that fuels The Shed Distillery extends beyond       Drumshanbo — they’ve also opened their arms to refugees from Ukraine. In fact, County Leitrim has welcomed more Ukrainian people per capita than any other county in Ireland. Fifteen refugees now work at the distillery and have become a vital, respected part of the town. In the nearby community hall, Irish and Ukrainian musicians join to play each country’s traditional songs, blending them together into a new, uplifting melody. (Served with a dram of some incredible Irish gin, we’re sure.)

Rigneys outside the Drumshanbo Methodist Church - The Shed Distillery
The Rigney family receiving the keys to the former Drumshanbo Methodist Church.

Another way The Shed aims to bring the community together is through the acquisition of what was formerly the local Methodist Church, which was on the verge of dereliction. The team plans to repurpose the building as a community space, as well as to restore its prized organ, which played for Queen Victoria in Belfast before being transferred to Drumshanbo. (Serendipitously, the church was founded by the Laird family, former owners of the defunct Drumshanbo jam factory.)

Preserving the Natural Beauty of Drumshanbo

Beyond its socio-economic initiatives, The Shed Distillery is also firmly focused on eco-stewardship at every level of operation. The Shed has held Origin Green Certified Status since 2017 and runs on electricity from 100% green sources. Moreover, the distillery is a proud member of Repak, a non-profit organization that helps Irish businesses recycle their packaging. Member fees help fund household recycling bins, bottle banks, civic amenities, and business back-door packaging recycling in communities like Drumshanbo across Ireland.

The Shed is also an enthusiastic supporter of Tidy Towns, an annual competition organized by Ireland’s Department of Rural and Community Development. It encourages communities to take pride in their cleanliness and appearance by honoring Ireland’s tidiest, most attractive cities, towns, and villages.

As for the ingredients that produce The Shed’s remarkable spirits, they’re sourced locally or nationally wherever possible. For example, the nettles for Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka and the meadowsweet for Gunpowder Irish Gin grow wild in the fields around Drumshanbo. When foraging, the team takes great care to leave enough of the plants untouched so that they can replenish themselves for the next growing season.

The barley and oats for Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey come from the Midlands and Southeast of Ireland, respectively, as the climate in County Leitrim is too foggy and wet to grow these crops. However, The Shed donates all the spent grain from the whiskey mash to local farmers to feed their cattle.

Livestock in Drumshanbo nature reserve - The Shed Distillery
A bird’s-eye view of livestock grazing in the commonage of Drumshanbo’s new nature reserve.

In March of 2023, The Shed acquired land outside of town to establish a nature reserve. Overseen by Roisin Rigney — P.J. and Denise’s daughter, who also spearheads marketing for the distillery’s visitors’ experiences — the property includes 32 hectares / 80 acres of nature reserves plus 40 hectares / 100 acres of commonage for livestock, which The Shed shares with about two dozen local farmers.

Roisin and her team have exciting plans for the property. Just this month (April 2024), they planted 150 native Irish hedgerows and put in fencing to keep the sheep and deer separated. They’re also creating a Bee Haven with six hives, each of which holds 40,000 bees, and native Irish wildflowers to support the bees and encourage the return of wildlife to the area. Additionally, they’ll restore the old stone cottages on the land and are assessing a mountainous valley with areas of peatland for further preservation.

Through the nature reserve, The Shed Distillery team will promote the natural biodiversity of the countryside, as well as provide local farmers and outdoor enthusiasts with a new resource. And, perhaps most significant to the Rigney family, it will preserve the beautiful, wild landscape that inspired P.J. to return to Drumshanbo to craft his exceptional Irish spirits.

The Future Looks Bright for Drumshanbo

When asked about their plans for The Shed Distillery, the Rigney family simply replied, “Keep going the way we’ve been going!”

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin family - The Shed Distillery
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gins are instantly recognizable by their brilliantly colored glass bottles, which are inspired by the botanicals they feature.

The Shed is currently the largest family-owned gin distillery in the world, and the Rigneys are incredibly proud of it. They want to keep it in the family and are thrilled to see Roisin, as the next generation, taking on a larger role in the business.

Even more so, the Rigney family and The Shed Distillery team are honored to be part of Drumshanbo. Their commitment to the community, its people, and its nature is at the core of every decision they make, and they will continue to support the village in every way they can. Indeed, the care the team extends to the community is reflected in the care with which they craft their remarkable, artisanal spirits.

And these extraordinary spirits, in turn, reflect the vibrant culture and pristine, natural surroundings of their hometown to the world. They are pure tastes of wild Ireland, as could only be produced in Drumshanbo.

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