Gin cou­ple mix it up with launch of malt whiskey

North­ern Ire­land’s first gin dis­tillery is shrug­ging off Brexit and still ex­pand­ing, writes Fearghal O’con­nor

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

RADEMON Es­tate Dis­tillery is shrug­ging off the threat of Brexit and pre­par­ing to take a whole new di­rec­tion later this year with the launch of a sin­gle malt Ir­ish whiskey.

The Cross­gar, Co Down-based team, led by wife and hus­band Fiona and David Boyd-arm­strong, has al­ready made a big splash in just four years with Shortcross Gin, North­ern Ire­land’s first mod­ern gin.

The pair have just fin­ished a ma­jor €2.8m ex­pan­sion of their craft dis­tillery, bring­ing to­tal in­vest­ment at Rademon to over €4m.

That ex­pan­sion, which has tre­bled pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity, saw the ad­di­tion of two new cop­per stills in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity to over 50,000 litres of al­co­hol per an­num, mark­ing the com­ple­tion of a 20-month in­vest­ment pro­gramme. Like other North­ern busi­nesses, the cou­ple are wait­ing anx­iously for politi­cians to “stop show­boat­ing” on Brexit and “get on with mak­ing some de­ci­sions”.

“We just don’t know what it will mean,” said David, who is Rademon’s head dis­tiller.

“Al­though we’re a small busi­ness, we have a sup­ply chain of up to 75 sup­pli­ers, both lo­cally and across Europe. If tar­iffs come in, are we look­ing at hav­ing to re­model that whole sup­ply chain? But we can’t even look at it re­al­is­ti­cally un­til we know the cards we are dealt.

“We fo­cus on what we can con­trol. We can’t con­trol Brexit. I didn’t want it to hap­pen. It’s hap­pen­ing. We just have to get on with it.”

In the mean­time, on the back of the on­go­ing growth in the Ir­ish whiskey cat­e­gory, Rademon has also in­creased both its brew­ing and dis­till­ing ca­pac­ity by over 500pc, as it con­tin­ues pro­duc­tion of its new Sin­gle Malt Ir­ish Whiskey, with a new 1,750-litre ca­pac­ity still ded­i­cated to whiskey pro­duc­tion. For now, the whiskey is stored in huge oak bar­rels at the fa­cil­ity un­til it is ready to bot­tle, with the first batch due in about three months, ac­cord­ing to David.

“Why did we de­cide to do a sin­gle malt whiskey? Sim­ple. Be­cause I like it so much,” he said. “But we are still ex­tremely en­thu­si­as­tic about gin. We def­i­nitely have not hit peak gin.”

For the cou­ple, the pre­mium gin they have cre­ated from a blend of botan­i­cal in­gre­di­ents, will al­ways have a spe­cial place.

Ju­niper berries, car­damom and cin­na­mon are im­ported but the key flavours that the pair be­lieve make their gin stand out are the ap­ple, clover and el­der­flower that are grown on the es­tate.

“I just think it is the most fan­tas­tic spirit,” said David. “The flavours in gin are amaz­ing and it is this won­der­ful, aro­matic and flavour­some spirit that al­lows you to cre­ate beau­ti­ful drinks. A whole new au­di­ence is re­al­is­ing this and that is what is al­low­ing us to grow.” Shortcross has a fas­ci­nat­ing back story. Fiona’s fam­ily moved to the 500-acre Rademon es­tate, which has a long his­tory stretch­ing back to the 1600s, when her fa­ther, Frank Boyd, bought it. Boyd, a high pro­file prop­erty de­vel­oper, is reg­u­larly cited as one of the North’s rich­est busi­ness peo­ple.

In 2010 his debts were trans­ferred to Nama and sub­se­quently sold to Cer­berus as part of the so-called Project Ea­gle deal. In 2015 Boyd reached a deal to buy back the quar­ter of a bil­lion pound prop­erty port­fo­lio from Cer­berus.

When the cou­ple met, Fiona, now man­ag­ing direc­tor at Rademon, was work­ing as a prop­erty sur­veyor and David was an engi­neer work­ing in the de­fence in­dus­try, build­ing mis­sile guid­ance sys­tems at the Short’s plant in nearby Belfast.

Fiona had long had an am­bi­tion to use the nat­u­ral bounty of the es­tate to es­tab­lish a busi­ness.

“For many years I had the idea to build some­thing on the es­tate that made use of the nat­u­ral bounty we have here,” she said.

“Our first idea was, well we love wine, we love food, why not have a vine­yard,” said David. “But, hey, it’s Co Down, not Bor­deaux, it’s just not go­ing to work. Then Fiona said ‘well, we love gin, let’s build a dis­tillery. So we lit­er­ally spent ev­ery week­end and ev­ery hol­i­day of the first two years of our mar­riage trav­el­ling ev­ery­where, from Seat­tle to Seoul, learn­ing about the drinks in­dus­try.”

With­out a dis­tri­bu­tion deal in the early days, news of North­ern Ire­land’s first gin ini­tially spread through word of mouth and so­cial me­dia. Since then, they have added new ware­houses and a vis­i­tor cen­tre, com­plete with gin bar.

“We have built a firm foun­da­tion upon which to grow,” said Fiona. “We had to first learn the pro­cesses of dis­till­ing and we do ab­so­lutely every­thing here our­selves — bot­tling, pack­ing, la­belling. We don’t just stick a la­bel on a bot­tle that is supplied to us by a third-party dis­tiller.”

The ad­di­tion of the new­est still — which the cou­ple claim is the most ad­vanced in use in Ire­land — adds ca­pac­ity of 1,071 litres. The dis­tillery is sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion of Shortcross Gin to meet grow­ing de­mand in the UK, France, Spain, Ger­many, Scan­di­navia, North Amer­ica, the Mid­dle East and Aus­tralia, and also to in­crease avail­able vol­umes of Rademon’s new whiskey.

“Growth has ex­ceeded what we an­tic­i­pated and sales are go­ing up ev­ery month,” said David.

“If you asked us back then if we were go­ing to have three cop­per pot stills, a vis­i­tor cen­tre, a cask room full of whiskey and 10 staff I would have thought you were crazy.

“It has been a lot of hard work and some tears along the way but plenty of smiles and laughs too.”

Fiona and David Boyd-arm­strong un­veil one of two new state-of-the-art new cop­per stills at Rademon Es­tate Dis­tillery in Cross­gar, Co Down, as they pre­pare to launch a whiskey brand

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