Raise A Glass To Global Achievements Of Our Distilleries And Craft Brewers

There was a time, not too long ago, when Northern Ireland had just one working distillery, Old Bushmills in the picturesque Co Antrim village of the same name. We’ve spoken fondly about possessing the oldest distillery in the world. Licensed in 1608 Bushmills proudly boasts being around for over 400 years and not going anywhere soon. It continues to prosper and leads the way in new products and exports. As well as racking up international awards for the outstanding quality and taste of its single malt and blended Irish whiskeys, the historic plant has also become a magnet for tourists from all over the world.

Bushmills continues to pull in over 100,000 tourists to an impressive visitor centre, making it Northern Ireland’s most successful example of industrial tourism and one of the most popular on the island. The distillery complex has long been arole model for other producers across the island especially members of the Irish Whiskey Association, the trade body for the rapidly expanding industry here and throughout the island.

As well as the oldest distillery, it appears that now we may have some of the youngest. I was delighted, to see six local craft distilleries collecting no fewer than 15 major awards in the prestigious annual International Wine and Spirit Awards(IWSC) a week or so ago in London. Two collected gold medals – Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee for its strongest gin to date, and Mourne Dew in Warrenpoint for its Kilbroneyflavoured gin, a nice local touch.

Others winning awards were Joe McGirr’s Boatyard Distillery set in a stunning location overlooking Lough Erne in Fermanagh and Shortcross Gin, from the beautiful RademonEstate in Crossgar, the pioneers of gin distilling here after a century of absence.

Other successful local distilleries were Hinch at Ballynahinch, a producer of Irish whiskey and Ninth Wave Irish Gin and Niche Drinks in Derry, a longstanding leader in Irish Cream Liqueurs such as Saint Brendan’s which rivalled the market Leader Bailey’s Original and most recently The Quiet ManIrish Whiskey, now being produced in conjunction with US distiller and distributor Luxco.

Winning at the IWSC, among the world’s largest and most influential international spirit awards, is a tremendous achievement and another endorsement of Northern Irelands skill in the drinks sector. IWSC prides itself on providing expert, impartial evaluation, benchmarking, increasing brand awareness and boosting sales. The organisation’s supporters include eminent professionals and offers companies access to key buyers and influencers. It sets out to “reward excellence in drinks worldwide, ensuring recognition for the very best wines and spirits”. A high bar indeed.

One more notable local distiller which has been collecting many prestigious awards is Echlinville in Kircubbin which produced the iconic Dunville Irish Whiskey, Echlinville Gin, Jawbox Gin and Ban Pointin. Dunville is reviving what was once the biggest selling Irish whiskey brand in the US, before Prohibition devastated practically the entire Irish whiskey industry.

Today, Northern Ireland produces award winning Irish whiskeys, gins, vodka and poitin for international customers. For example, Hughes Distillery in Moira, another continues to enjoy tremendous success with its potato vodka and Ruby Blue liqueurs.

And new talent keeps emerging. The new whiskey brand, Two Stacks in Belfast, was also launched last month by the recently formed Irish Craft Beverages which has also contributed hugely to development of the pioneering KillowenDistillery near Rostrevor which also produces premium whiskeys, gin and poitin. There’s also Symphonia gins in Benburb and Walled City in Derry with its Amelia Earhart gin.

I think back to a major strategic report of many years ago which recommended that there should be a focus on developing more internationally recognised brands in spirits and beers. We have now exceeded this target in both spirits and beers. In beers, furthermore, we have brands achieving great success such as Whitewater in Castlewellan and Yardsman in Belfast. Downstream has also achieved international recognition with Irish Craft Beverages as the first beer applying blockchain traceability technology. MourneMountain Brewery, Warrenpoint, was also successful in a major competition.

The industry has achieved much in the past ten years. Northern Ireland continues to build its reputation as an outstanding region producing high quality and award-winning drinks, even in the face of major challenges from draconian local licensing laws. My wish for the industry is that it will receive tangible and worthwhile support as the companiesendeavour to rebuild markets impacted adversely by the global lockdown so that we nurture many more iconic brands like Old Bushmills.