The late Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder of Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dublin, was honored with a Chairman’s Award by Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey on Thursday. He is the first to receive recognition in Ireland and the United States for his outstanding contribution to both the Irish Whiskey and Kentucky bourbon industries.
Outstanding contribution for Irish Whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon
Lyons was recognized by the Irish Whiskey Association for his outstanding contributions to the Irish Whiskey industry during the bi-annual Chairman’s Award ceremony on Nov. 26, 2020. The Chairman’s Award, which acknowledges the leaders and legends of the Irish Whiskey industry and category, accompanies the many other varied achievements Lyons accumulated over the course of his career. This Irish award complements his Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame recognition, which was bestowed upon him in September 2018. Created by the Kentucky Distilling Association in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in 2001, the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a significant and transformational impact on bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness.
“Pearse would be so honored to receive this recognition,” said Deirdre Lyons, Pearse Lyons’ wife and the co-founder of Alltech. “Although he traveled the world and worked in several industries, his heart was always in distilling. As he raised a glass of whiskey at the opening of Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin, Ireland, in August 2017, he was fulfilling a dream that was bigger than himself. A descendant of five generations of Irish coopers, he was furthering his family’s legacy.”
Passion for brewing and distilling
Lyons’ legacy and his contribution to the Irish Whiskey and Kentucky bourbon industries is vast. From his pioneering work on yeast fermentation to developing new distilleries in Kentucky and Ireland, his passion and enthusiasm was evident early in his career.
Raised in Dundalk, Ireland, Lyons hailed from five generations of Irish coopers who made barrels for distilleries across Ireland. At the age of fourteen, Lyons got a job at Harp Brewery, where he got to know the influential brewer Dr. Hermann Muender. This experience led to Lyons working at Guinness during the summer while obtaining his degree in biochemistry. Lyons was the first Irish man to receive a Masters in Brewing and Distilling at the British School of Malting and Brewing, University of Birmingham in 1968. After university, Lyons’ first job was with Irish Distillers, where he was part of the design team that built the Midleton distillery in Cork.
Moving to Kentucky
In 1976, Lyons and his young family, including son, Mark, and daughter, Aoife, moved to the United States, settling in Kentucky. Ever the visionary, Lyons saw an opportunity to apply his fermentation expertise to provide smarter, more sustainable solutions for agriculture. From the garage of his home, he and Deirdre established Alltech in 1980, which has grown to become a global leader in animal and plant nutrition. Celebrating 40 years this year, Alltech’s reach has grown far beyond yeast-based additives for animal feed to include award-winning beers and spirits, a crop science business and even promising research into human health challenges, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Founding the Alcohol School in Lexington, KY
At the time of Alltech’s founding, Lyons also established The Alcohol School in Lexington, KY, one of the few schools at that time for the distilling industry and ran it for 25 years. He published and co-authored “The Alcohol Textbook,” a text that evolved over four editions and soon became a key source for the beverage, fuel and industrial alcohol industries.
Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.
As Alltech continued to grow, Lyons maintained his passion for brewing and distilling. In 1999, Lyons — along with his son, Mark — revived the Lexington Brewing Company, restoring the tradition of craft brewing in Kentucky, well ahead of the trend. In 2012, the operation expanded to become the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. with the addition of Town Branch, the first new distillery to open in Lexington in more than a century. Built with Kentucky limestone and featuring glass walls to showcase two copper-pot stills, the 20,000-square-foot facility produces Town Branch® Bourbon, Town Branch® Rye, Town Branch® Malt and Pearse Lyons Reserve®. Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. is now the largest craft brewery in the state, with an ever-growing following for its flagship brew, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale®. This iconic and innovative “beer of bourbon country” was among the first ales to be aged in bourbon barrels and became a top-selling four-pack of beer in the United States.
Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dublin
In 2012, a long-held dream to open a distillery in Ireland began to take shape when Lyons and his wife Deirdre discovered St. James’ Church in the Liberties district of Dublin. They were drawn to its location and rich history, which includes a connection to the Lyons family and their Irish ancestry. The historic church had been deconsecrated since 1964, but the Lyonses could see the possibilities amidst the dilapidation. Deirdre, who oversees corporate image and design at Alltech, took on the complicated, multi-year restoration and renovation project with fervor, meticulously managing every detail of the process. Lyons, with his great foresight saw the need to begin distilling whiskey before the distillery doors opened. Two copper Vendome pots stills were shipped to Carlow Brewing Company in February that year, where they were commissioned before being placed into their forever home at Pearse Lyons Distillery in 2016. The distillery opened its doors in 2017 and produces a line of award-winning Irish Whiskeys, including an innovative single malt. The five-year whiskey was the first to be produced by a new distillery in Ireland in more than 25 years, marking a historic milestone in the re-evolution of the Irish Whiskey industry. Pearse Lyons Distillery was awarded Dublin’s Best Visitor Experience in 2019 and was bestowed a Travelers’ Choice Award in 2020. The distillery is recognized in the top 100 attractions in the world by Tripadvisor.
Dueling Barrels, Pikeville, Kentucky
Following the successes of Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. and Pearse Lyons Distillery, Lyons along with his wife Deirdre set about creating a similar venture in Pikeville, Kentucky. Nestled deep in the Appalachian foothills sits their third venture in brewing and distilling: Dueling Barrels Brewery & Distillery. The distillery and brewery were designed to initiate tourism and generate jobs in the region. Though Lyons passed in March 2018, his wife Deirdre completed the three-year project with her team to open doors in June that year.
“My father’s legacy and passion are reflected in our family of breweries and distilleries as well as the craft of countless brewers and distillers that he helped to educate and inspire,” said Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech. “He was an Irishman who chose Kentucky as a second home, so it is truly special to see him recognized in both Ireland and Kentucky for his significant contributions to the whiskey industry.”