Limavady founder Darryl McNally loves to tell people that while his first distillery job at Bushmills was in 1998, his Irish Whiskey education began almost half a century ago when he was born.

“I literally came out of my mother and went straight to my family’s Irish bar,” he jokes. While McNally might be exaggerating slightly, he’s not entirely kidding. McNally spent his entire childhood in his family’s local pub in Limavady, Northern Ireland where he was educated on all facets of hospitality and spirits, including Irish whiskey.

It was little surprise to his parents when he scored a job at Bushmills upon graduating from University with a degree in corporate financial management. “My first position at Bushmills was in procurement,” he explains. “It was my job to buy the corks, caps, and bottles, all that good stuff.”

McNally was thrilled to have found work in an industry he loved, but he knew from the onset that the financial track was not his passion. He wanted to make whiskey. Seven years later, the aspiring distiller was selected to be trained in a fast-track distillation program. When Bushmills’ production director agreed to teach him, McNally returned to school and earned a degree in distilling and biochemistry. “I got the highest marks on all three exams at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in 2010, and at that point, I was dedicated to making whiskey.” Shortly after that, McNally was promoted to Master Distiller.

For the next 10 years, McNally found himself traveling the world talking about whiskey. When Diageo sold the company to Cuervo in 2015, he had trouble wrapping his head around how a tequila company could run an Irish Whiskey house and decided it was time for change. The whiskey landscape in Ireland was growing rapidly at this point with dozens of distilleries in the planning stages. McNally knew he would be in demand and put himself out there.

“I was getting phone calls from people looking for help setting up their distilleries, so I decided to part ways with Bushmills. I landed at Dublin Liberties Distillery, a start-up in Dublin. That was a five-year project where we launched The Dubliner and The Dead Rabbit Irish whiskeys. But behind the scenes I was plotting my life’s dream of opening my own distillery in Limavady, where I was born and bred.”

“I literally came out of my mother and went straight to my family’s Irish bar.”

— Darryl McNally, on spending his entire childhood in his family’s local pub growing up

McNally stayed with Dublin Liberties until 2020, then spent another year as a consultant while planning what would become Limavady. He had the vision, the know-how, and the contacts in Ireland to make it happen. All he was missing was the finance. This puzzle piece came from an unlikely source when he connected with , WhistlePig, an American rye company in Shoreham, Vermont.

“I put together a 45-page dossier about what I wanted to create for Limavady. I received a call from WhistlePig, who was looking to launch an Irish whiskey company and wanted to work with me. I told them I was intent on launching my own family brand and sent them my dossier. They returned in two days and said they wanted to get involved.”

The partnership was perfect for McNally. He had creative freedom to develop the product, and WhistlePig would handle the rest. This included hiring a team, compliance, and distribution. After a few initial meetings, McNally asked where he could sign.

“With the right partner to find success, it made it much easier for me to make the leap.”

The ink sealing the partnership between WhistlePig and McNally was barely dry before the distiller worked with sourced single malt whiskeys to build his brand. What’s in the bottle is pure malt aged in first fill bourbon barrels (meaning used only once to age bourbon), then finished in sweet Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry casks, which he sourced through his contacts from his Bushmills days. While the whiskey is aged 4-5 years before finishing in PX barrels, McNally is proud of how Limavady drinks like a much older whiskey.

“Since we use first-fill bourbon barrels and top-quality PX, the flavors here are very complex. You get all these spices and vanilla from the bourbon barrel and taste summer fruits and dark chocolate from the sherry cask. It’s a single barrel, so there are fluctuations between one cask and the next. But we focus on attaining a relatively tight range of flavors. The fact that there are subtle differences from one cask to the next makes it more fun.”

Largely thanks to the partnership with WhistlePig, Limavady came together for McNally quickly. But there is a longer-term plan in the works for the Master Distiller. He drew up plans to build his own distillery on his Dad’s farm, located 6 miles outside of the Limavady Valley on Ireland’s North Coast. The location has a perfect climate for growing barley. The idea is to source local grains and distill in his family’s barn, a project that’s been in the works for six years, long before McNally took the leap with WhistlePig. With them involved, however, the project is close to fruition.

“Building this distillery on my Dad’s farm is a lifelong dream of mine, and I am so grateful to see its finally coming into view. It will still take 7 years before Limavady is self-sufficient, but I am confident we will get there.”

“Building this distillery on my Dad’s farm is a lifelong dream of mine, and I am so grateful to see its finally coming into view."

— Darryl McNally

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.