Terry Cross' latest adventure Hinch Distillery, 20-minutes outside Belfast, is set to open to the public in 2021
I know what you're thinking: after a two-hour meeting of the Stormont talks Rights, Language and Identity Working Group, anyone would need a drink and that's why I went searching for a distillery.
Not true. In fact, I thought our final meeting of the working group, featuring all five main Stormont parties, was carried out in a spirit of calm collegiality.
My visit to the Hinch Distillery — fast-emerging on a rural site on the main road from Belfast to Newcastle — was solely to find out more about famed Belfast businessman Terry Cross' latest adventure.
A North Belfast lad who started a print works above a corner shop back in the 1970s — neither the location nor the time period were propitious — Terry went on to found the Deltaprint medical and food packaging colossus. When Terry sold the company, then located in West Belfast and employing almost 300 people, to Finnish printing and packaging giant Huhtamaki three years ago, it was worth, reported the press, the best part of $100m.
For most people, that would have been the signal to retreat to a sun-soaked Caribbean islet but not Terry.
Instead, he has thrown himself into another entrepreneurial adventure in the whiskey business.
Not a man to do things by half, Terry has mammoth whiskey stills purchased and waiting to be installed in a distillery just outside Temple, County Down — a 20-minute drive from Belfast city center. Expect the stills to be installed and in production by the end of this year and the $17m visitor center to be welcoming tourists at the start of 2021.
Globally, Irish whiskey is on fire and there are now 22 independent whiskey producers on the island. There are none in Derry or Belfast — yet — but in the Liberties of Dublin, there are three within 500m of each other. New York-based Irish American business leader Donard Gaynor is behind a distillery in Yeats' Country where the Athrú brand is produced while construction work on a distillery to manufacture McConnells in the former Belfast Prison should restart next month.
The water used in the distilling process at the Hinch distillery will be the cleanest in Ireland — from the Silent Valley Reservoir. The location brings other advantages too. It's on the main road from Belfast to the Mountains of Mourne which is one of the most trafficked tourist roads in Ireland. And of course, it's from its hinterland that Hinch gets its moniker. Ballynahinch just up the road is Baile na hInse in Irish (the Town of the Island).
The Master Distiller at Hinch has already created a series of blends (from precious whiskey stocks Terry has bought) which are now on sale across Ireland with trade deals set to be signed over the next few months in 22 markets including the US, Nordic Countries, and China.
But the real prize is to start production in the Hinch distillery and to bring to the market a Co Down whiskey for the first time since the Comber Distillery closed its doors in 1956.
I'm not a whiskey drinker but I will make an exception for that first batch when it goes on sale.
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