Dis­tillery plans to give Co Down tourists more than whiskey in the jar with its am­bi­tious plans for di­ver­si­fy­ing

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Food & Drinks - BY RACHEL MARTIN

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.”

Top: Shane Braniff in his dis­tillery in Kir­cub­bin and (above) with John Hood of In­vest NI, who has backed the firm in the past

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