There is a World Whisky Day. And an Irish Whiskey Day. But there should be an Ulster Whiskey Awareness Day. The south gets far too much limelight.
Northern Irish whiskey doesn’t begin and end with “Bushmills”. And the ‘e’ in the spelling is optional rather than compulsory.
“The Spirit of Belfast” has been revived by the Echinville Distillery near Newtonards. It also makes “Jawbox Gin”.
William Napier and John Dunville began their wine and spirit business on 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 its own railway siding, football club and ground. Echinville opened in 2013.
In its portfolio is 18-year-old Port Mourant Rum Finish Single Malt from Demerara rum casks from Guyana’s “lost” 1732 Port Mourant Distillery.
Owner Shane Braniff says:
“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 Northern Ireland shouldn’t miss 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 moreish single malted peated.
Brendan Carty’s Killowen Distillery started after the former architect discovered Belgrove Tasmanian whisky while working in Sydney. 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. We malt on-site as much as possible and smoke the grain too.”
The Copeland Distillery 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 was the first Irish whiskey to be wholly distilled and released by a new Irish whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland since the 1920’s.
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.
In an industry first, the inaugural batch of was matured fully in Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux Red Wine casks before being finished in chinquapin oak. It has just unveiled Shortcross Rye & Malt Irish Whiskey.
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 whiskey. The whiskey 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 founder and former defence industry engineer David Boyd-Armstrong.
Belfast’s McConnell Whisky is perhaps the most unusual unique Irish whiskey. It doesn’t spell whisky with an e like other Irish whiskies.
McConnell’s Irish Whisky was originally established in Belfast, Ireland, in 1776 by two brothers, John and James McConnell. It is written without the ‘e’ due to how it was originally spelt.
After more than 90 years, the McConnell’s Irish whiskey brand was resurrected in 2020.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of Shortcross Whiskey and Hinch Distillery