Wise man that he was, the writer J.B. Priestley knew that “Man, the creature who knows he must die, who has dreams larger than his destiny, which is forever working a confidence trick on him, needs an ally”.
His was tobacco. Mine happens to be Irish whiskey.
Confront the Irish malt whiskey lover with Nature and he must commune with it. The world twinkles and hums about him; life becomes miraculous and everything everlastingly picturesque.
With a short in his hand, a decanter by his side, a gil in his bloodstream and a couple of miniatures in his pocket, the whiskey devotee feels that he has life taped; he feels envied and enviable; sane in a mad world. Particularly, in my case, if it’s from Northern Ireland.
There’s nothing wrong with Ulster whiskey. Its Irish whiskey too. And it doesn’t begin and end with “Bushmills”.
“The Spirit of Belfast” has been revived by the Echinville Distillery near Newtonards. It also makes “Jawbox Gin” and “Weaver’s Dry Gin”.
William Napier and John Dunville began their wine and spirit business at no. 13 Bank Street ,Belfast in 1808. By the end of the century they were producing 14 million gallons of whisky a year. “The Royal Irish Distillery” had five huge pot stills, its own railway siding, football club and ground as well as sixteen washbacks and staff housing. Distilling ceased in 1935 and the company was liquidated. Echinville opened in 2013.
Part of its portfolio is 18 year old Port Mourant Rum Finish Single Malt from Demerara rum casks from Guyana’s “lost” 1732 Port Mourant Distillery. says owner Shane Braniff ; “ As Northern Ireland’s first farm distillery our whiskey has field-to-glass traceability – something which is increasingly important in the global food and drinks industry.”
Irish whiskey is the world’s fastest growing drinks category. And the north is not missing out. Hinch Distillery, in the Killarney Estate near Ballynahinch, makes a Single Pot Still, Sherry Cask malt, Bourbon Cask and Double Wood finished malt as well as a very more-ish Single Malted peated Irish whiskey.
Brendan Carty’s Killowen Distillery started after the former architect discovered Belgrove Tasmanian whisky while working in Sydney. He started making poitcin for farmers and eventually with two childhood friends started exporting Irish craft beers and spirits. Inspired by whiskey tastings in Dublin’s Dingle Whiskey Bar, he set up “ a shabeen type of situation” in a shed in the Mountains of Mourne on the old Napoleonic brandy route. A shabeen being an unlicensed and slightly disreputable drinking establishment.
“We mix our wort by hand, mill on-site and get our oats from the local area,” he says. “We malt on-site as much as possible and smoke the grain too.”
The Copeland Distllery in Donaghadee offers its Merchants’ Quay bottling, named after the local harbour. Produced in collaboration with Brian Watts, master distiller at The Great Northern Distillery, the expression brings together three different types of whiskey- double-distilled malt whiskey aged in a first-fill bourbon cask, triple-distilled malt whiskey aged in an Oloroso sherry butt, and grain whiskey finished in a virgin oak barrel.
The Rademon Estate Distillery’s inaugural release is the first Irish whiskey to be wholly distilled and released by a new Irish whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland since the 1920’s and the first whiskey to be released outside of the Old Bushmills Distillery since the closure of the Old Comber and Coleraine distilleries.
The whiskey was double distilled in a 450L copper pot still which at the time was the smallest whiskey still in use on the island of Ireland.
The whiskey has been matured in a unique cask combination that uses neither traditional bourbon or sherry casks. In an industry first the inaugural batch of Shortcross Irish Whiskey was matured fully in Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux Red Wine casks before being finished in chinquapin oak, the first time this unique cask combination has been used in Irish Whiskey.
The whiskey has been fully matured for 5 Years, and is the first of a new wave of releases from new Irish Whiskey distilleries to carry an age statement on whiskey that has been produced at the own distilleries.
Says co-founder and Managing Director, Fiona Boyd-Armstrong noted “This has been the combination of over 10 years work to build a new distillery in Northern Ireland and in doing so created exceptional spirits. As the first woman to found and operate a modern Whiskey distillery on the island of Ireland this release feels like a significant landmark for both Rademon and also the Irish Whiskey industry as a whole.”
David Boyd-Armstrong, a former defence industry engineer and his wife , a property surveyor, also make Shortcross Gin at Downpatrick , Co Down and are planning to release a whisky. The whisky was a vanity project has turned into a business.
“ I first discovered Irish whiskey at Bristol airport when I had some Connemara Turf Mor!” admits David.
Concludes Boyd-Armstrong : “County Down could become the epicentre of distilling and distillery tourism, Its accessible as there aren’t large distances between the distilleries and other tourist destinations. The future’s bright.”