Distillation revival plans with bid for new Watt’s Whiskey Emporium

Plans to revive Derry’s rich tradition of whiskey distillation and breathe life into some of our city’s most significant heritage buildings are progressing with a bid to develop ‘Watt’s Whiskey Emporium’.

By Kevin Mullan
Friday, 11th February 2022, 12:34 pm

David A. Watt & Co. Ltd., has applied for permission to develop a new whiskey tasting facility with bars, restaurants and shops from numbers 7 to 17 in Foyle Street.

The goal is to ‘reawaken the great Derry tradition of fine whiskey-making’ which has been dormant ever since the Watt’s lockout of 1921.

Just over a hundred years ago Andrew Watt of Andrew A. Watt & Co. - one of the biggest distillers in the world - famously locked out striking workers, ending a golden era for the industry in Derry.

Garvan O'Doherty

The development is part of a suite of investment propositions being brought forward by business man Garvan O’Doherty of the Garvan O’Doherty Group (GODG).

“It will revolutionise the hospitality offering for this area,” Mr. O’Doherty told the ‘Journal’, saying it’s time the city reclaimed its industrial heritage. “Watt’s was the biggest selling whiskey in America pre-prohibition. Bull Park was called Bull Park because it was a reservoir for the distillery in Abbey Street and the run-off for the distillery is called ‘the bull’,” he noted.

Mr. O’Doherty said the emporium is the second stage of a three-step whiskey project. The first phase was to secure trademarks for a range of whiskey, white spirit, soft drink and mineral brands.

“We have over 40 trademarks registered covering a variety of products and we intend to achieve significant market penetration within the alcohol industry locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.

One of the brands is Guildhall Gin with a range of new local whiskey brands due to be announced over the coming months. The third-step will be the development of a new Watt Distillery in the city. Mr. O’Doherty has secured the services of Derek Hardy, former managing director of the acclaimed distillery and visitor attraction, Hinch Distillery in Co. Down, who is on board for the proposed new Derry distillery.

Mr. O’Doherty hopes a decision on the application can be taken sooner rather than later so the planned investment can proceed.

“If we keep getting delays it complicates or delays investment plans.

“We want this whiskey project done but we cannot get on site until we have planning. There needs to be a revolution in the public sector and an appetite from the private sector and a partnership between both.

“We have billionaire international investors who want to invest in Derry. It therefore requires all of us to step up to the mark to do our part to get this city’s economic statistics turned around, give a better opportunity to younger people and ensure the brain drain is stopped. It’s exciting because the potential in this area for job creation is enormous.”

Mr. Hardy said the plans for the distillery will be unable to proceed until phase two of the whiskey revival project moves forward, namely the Foyle Street emporium.

“Any delay in the planning for Foyle Street pushes back the planning for the whiskey distillery,” he said.

A design statement has been submitted on behalf of David A. Watt & Co. Ltd. by ASI Architects in support of the change of use and listed building application.

It states the investment will secure the future of a building designed by John Guy Ferguson, the architect whose works include the original Guildhall, the chancel of St. Columb’s Cathedral, the Tillie and Henderson Factory - sadly no more -, the Welch and Margetson Factory and the Apprentice Boys Hall.

The statement declares: “It is essential in revitalising and recovering the architectural heritage of the city centre that the work of John Guy Ferguson is recovered and reinstated in this location. There is a unique opportunity for a ‘landmark’ historical refurbishment of a large piece of the city centre, by the private sector, in the form of this project combined with the currently approved works to Nos. 1-4 Shipquay Place. It is equally important that financially viable uses can be found for the buildings which will protect them for future generations.”