John Neilly with his apprentices Darren Leonard (left) and Ian Leonard (right) in Nephin Cooperage.

Whiskey company honours late Kilbeggan cooper John

The life of a Scots-born cooper, who lived in Kilbeggan for 26 years is to be commemorated by the Nephin Whiskey Company.

The Cooper Commemorative Edition is a special release whisky, celebrating the life of Master Cooper John Neilly (1951 – 2018) who was a well-known and much-loved character in the Irish Whiskey industry.

John Neilly started training as a cooper in his native Glasgow, at the age of 15, in the cooperage where his father worked, and spent the next five decades of his life, practicing this craft.

In 1992, Dr John Teeling offered him the opportunity to move to Ireland and work in Kilbeggan Distillery and so Kilbeggan became his home for the next 26 years.

John joined Nephin Whiskey Company in 2014 and founded Nephin Cooperage, providing cask repair services to Irish distilleries and he set about training the next generation of apprentice coopers.

"John was a master craftsman who dedicated his entire life to the art of coopering." said Mark Quick, Director at Nephin Whiskey Company which is based in Mayo.

"On the day of his daughter’s wedding, he was late walking her up the aisle because he was in the carpark showing me something he had been researching in The Cooper’s Encyclopaedia!"

The whisky is a 12 year old single malt, sourced from the Highlands of Scotland, which spent 2 years in the last 5 Octave casks that John handmade before he passed away.

"This is a very unique bottling not only because of the 5 Octave finish, but because of the real history it represents." said Yiorgos Manesis, Managing Director, James J Fox, Dublin.

"John made an important contribution to the revival of Irish Whiskey at Cooley and Kilbeggan Distillery and his impact on the next generation will continue through the work of coopers at Nephin Whiskey. I think this is a fitting tribute to that legacy."

The Cooper Commemorative Edition is limited to 360 numbered bottles and retails for €250 with half of all profits from the sale of this commemorative edition going to John’s widow, Liz.

James J Fox, Dublin are exclusive retailers of The Cooper Commemorative Edition, at their Grafton Street store and online at

A single malt Highland Scotch Whisky, bottled at 46% without chill filtration or added colour, the drink was matured for 10 years in Bourbon barrels, then transferred to 5 Octaves for a further 2 years. An octave is an old style of cask that is 1/8 the size of the European standard cask, holding approximately 62L.

These octaves were handmade by John Neilly from wood sourced from larger casks - a recharred American Oak barrel, a French Oak Tawny Port, Premiere Cru Sauternes, Rum and Amarone casks.