Wednesday 19 June 2013

Echlinville Distillery

Northern Ireland has been teasing us for a while with reports of planned distilleries in Belfast and Derry. In early June, however, Echlinville Distillery on the Ards Peninsula comfortably beat its city rivals to production as the first spirit trickled off its still.

It is only the second distillery in the North (the other being Bushmills) and the first to receive a licence to distil there in around 130 years.

Shane Braniff is the guy behind it. He created the Feckin Irish Whiskey and Strangford Gold Irish Whiskey brands in the mid-noughties. Feckin has been doing very well. It is sold in France, Norway, England, Australia, Sweden and approximately 20 states of the US.

The liquid was made by Cooley but Beam turned the taps off for independent labels when they took over. That brought forward Shane's existing plans to start a distillery and he already had the perfect location for it - the 18-acre Echlinville estate, just outside Kircubbin.

The estate house is a listed building, "a large Italianate gentleman's residence, constructed in the 1850s around the fabric of an earlier, house of c. 1725, which in turn was built around a seventeenth century dwelling."

Photo courtesy of Echlinville Distillery

The stables, courtyard and campanile are also listed and these will be restored to accommodate a visitors centre, shop, restaurant, museum and staff quarters. The distillery itself will be housed in a new building.

Photo courtesy of Echlinville Distillery

Shane is taking advantage of his family's farming background and his own experience in cereal production to grow malting barley for the distillery's exclusive use. A hundred acres has already been planted.

There is just the one still fired up at the moment, though more are on order. Maturing spirit will be warehoused locally, taking advantage of the "unique micro climate" of the Ards Peninsula which, they tell me, is ideally suited to ageing whiskey.

Of course we'll have to wait some years to taste whiskey from Echlinville but they promise other products in the interim. What they will be, I don't know, but Echlinville's Jarlath Watson assures me that he'll keep me informed as they come off the still.

Just as an aside, I have been taking more of an interest in apples these days as Irish cider makers start to experiment with making apple brandy. There is a cooking apple variety called Ecklinville that originated on the Echlinville estate at least as far back as 1800. I'm betting there will be a good whiskey and apple dessert on the distillery restaurant menu.