Raise A Glass…

To our amazing distilleries now driving international sales and drawing staycationers

It was really quite a triumph last week for the whiskey and wider spirit distilling industry here which was brought into sharp focus by a week-long celebration now recognised as Ireland’s largest Irish Whiskey Festival, a colourful event that, I am delighted to report, included a number of our member companies such as Bushmills Distillery in Co Antrim, Rademon Estate Distillery in Crossgar, Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, Boatyard in Enniskillen and also Manor Chocolates in Castlerock.

The organisers of this important event deserve huge congratulations for reinforcing Northern Ireland’s growing reputation as a genuine world class distiller of exceptional single malt and blended Irish whiskeys, now immensely popular particularly in North America, the most significant market for the iconic golden spirit, as well as gin, vodka and, of course, poitin. 

Irish whiskey and poitin are both recognised by the EU as synonymous with the island of Ireland and cannot be produced anywhere else. 

Whiskey and gin distilled and blended here are now making an important and strengthening contribution to our export sales and are clearly positioned to play an even greater role in the years ahead.

The week saw the launch by Rademon, home of the globally acclaimed Shortcross Gin, of its new single malt crafted in Crossgar by master distiller David Boyd Armstrong who is now recognised deservedly throughout the industry in Ireland as a key influencer. 

He follows the trail blazed over many years in Ireland by our good friend Colum Egan, the hugely respected master distiller at Old Bushmills and his expert associate and master distiller Helen Mulholland, who is also highly regarded in Ireland and further afield.

Old Bushmills also raised the bar again during the week with the independent launch of its highly innovative American Oak Cask Whiskey that’s likely to be another outstanding success from this impressive distillery in the US.

The Belfast Whiskey Week celebration also showcased the outstanding innovation of smaller operations such as Two Stacks blenders and bonders in Belfast and Killowen Distillery in Rostrevor. They combined to produce two small batch whiskeys under the imaginative Time Well Spent branding. Killowen also added its own 11-year whiskey to the overall festival blend.

And the historic Limavady Single Barrel Single Malt whiskey was reborn with the announcement of an exciting collaboration between Darryl McNally, the master distiller behind the revived whiskey, and WhistlePig, a US rye whiskey giant.

In addition, the week saw new business in Singapore and with Sainsbury’s in Northern Ireland for Jawbox Gin.

Another significant initiative during the week was the introduction of a unique Whiskey Passport by the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) in Dublin to encourage staycationers and tourists to enjoy the Irish Whiskey experience by including distilleries with visitor centres on the itineraries. Many of our distilleries – and several breweries – have wisely invested in visitor centres. And it was good to see Rademon Estate resuming tours again with two new ‘experiences”.

Part of IWA’s inspirational IrishWhiskey360° banner to promote distilleries across the island, the passport isdesigned to provide a unique record of a journey through “extraordinary Irish whiskey distilleries”.

IrishWhiskey360° includes a colourful and highly informative video of several Northern Ireland distilleries. Overall, the initiative showcases the emergence of distilleries as tourism destinations with the potential to make a substantial contribution to economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Belfast Whiskey Week is clearly a celebration with potential for even greater growth especially when the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic is lifted and more people from across the island and from further afield are able to experience the traditions, heritage and innovation of Irish whiskey and distilling in general here.