Distillery plans to give Co Down tourists more than whiskey in the jar with its ambitious plans for diversifying
BOOMING overseas sales and growth in the tourist market are pushing one of Northern Ireland’s newest whiskey distilleries into a new era.
Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, Co Down, already offers tasting tours, but its owner, businessman Shane Braniff, hopes to transform the business into one of the Ards Peninsula’s best attractions.
He hopes to open a restaurant, museum, shop and visitor centre at the distillery — and says one couple have already exchanged vows in the working distillery.
“Every year around 100,000 people visit Mount Stewart but most of them will spend half a day at the estate and turn right at the end of the road and head back to Belfast after,” he said. “We want to keep them on the peninsula that bit longer and give them something to do with the other half.
“We’ll never be the biggest visitor attraction on the peninsula but I actually think we might become one of the most important. People who love their whiskey are very serious about it and are willing to travel overseas for a good one.
“The address of this distillery goes on every single bottle and there are hundreds of thousands of those sent around the world every year representing the east coast of Northern Ireland — there’s a lot of people who will want to come here and see how it’s made.”
There’s a lot going on at the distillery with the launch of white spirits — its own super-premium brand gin and a potato vodka — and a rum-finish whiskey also in the pipeline. The distillery makes the spirit for Jawbox Gin, a premium brand owned by Belfast publican Gerry White. Echlinville Gin features two types of seaweed — dulse and kelp — along with gorse and is marketed to sit in the super-premium band.
“We launched the white spirits because we didn’t want to have to keep waiting to market ourselves,” added Shane.
“Because we’re a young distillery we’ve had to wait for our spirits to age, so while we’ve been waiting our competitors have been busy marketing themselves. We wanted to get something out there with the Echlinville name on it — anything with the name Echlinville will be produced solely on the estate so it takes time to get a batch ready to sell — we grow our own barley, malt our own barley and we distil our own barley — it’s all done here in Kircubbin.
“We won’t put our whiskey out until it’s perfect. It’s been ageing for three and a half years already but it could be another three to five before we decide we’re happy to put it out there.”
The first line of action is to transform the first floor viewing platform overlooking the stilling area in the distillery into an off-sales area and spend around £600,000 redeveloping the court yard and visitor’s centre.
Experiences are becoming more important to the business. For £7,500 a group of friends or couple can rent the manor house and distil their own barrel of whiskey.
And in August, the distillery hosted a dining and tasting night with chef Neill Graham. The event was a success and another similar event is planned for March. But a drinks licence is
We’ll never become the biggest attraction on the peninsula but we could be one of the most important
now a must, Shane said: “We miss out. It’s almost a disappointment for people — they will have an absolutely wonderful experience going around the distillery and then they get to the end and want to be able to buy a bottle to take home and we just can’t sell it to them at the moment. The licence is for a full drinks licence but I’ve no interest in running a bar.”
For similar reasons he added that he plans to open the restaurant up to a franchise holder. The distillery was only the second to open in Northern Ireland and was granted the first licence to distil spirits in Northern Ireland in over 130 years.
Shane added the firm had just sent two containers of Dunville’s Whiskey to the USA and is confident the brand will soon make a name for itself there. He added that success at the World Whiskey Awards had helped push the brand’s success abroad. The name dates back to the 1800s when it was produced by the Royal Irish Distillery, but has been brought back into use by Echlinville.
Shane added: “We see ourselves as a production facility first and foremost but there’s a lot to see and people are interested in the products and how they are made.”