The managing director of the local company behind a new Irish whiskey distillery and visitor centre in Derry has said construction work could start within months.
Ciaran Mulgrew, Managing Director of Niche Drinks Ltd, which founded the Quiet Man (An Fear Ciuin) Irish whiskey brand and which also runs an Irish cream liquor manufacturing and bottling plant in the Waterside, said it was hoped the new facility at Ebrington would be open by early 2020.
The stills for the Derry plant have already been manufactured by experts in distillation technology in Italy and are ready to go. In fact, Mr Mulgrew said most of the equipment needed for the new distillery is now ready.
Planning permission for the £12m initiative, off Ebrington Square, was granted back in February, 2017.
The Quiet Man is one of three massive infrastructural projects which will fringe the former Ebrington parade ground with plans for the Ebrington Hotel and Maritime Museum also in progress. All three projects will rejuvenate some of the most prominent historic buildings at the former army base.
“We have only become involved with the site over the last two years,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “You put in your planning application, you wait for it to go through, get planning approval and then you have got to raise the money.
“From start to finish it will take 15 months and we are hoping to start whenever we get everything in place, by the end of the year, although it is always hard to be certain.”
Speaking at Niche Drinks’ base at Rossdowney in the Waterside, Mr. Mulgrew added: “All the whiskey will be distilled down on the Ebrington site and then what we will do is bring the whiskey up here to put into casks and store it.
“It has be stored in oak casks for three years before it is legally whiskey, but we will probably store some of it for a lot longer than that. If you produce an eight-years or 12-years-old single malt then you have got to store it for eight or 12 years, there’s no shortcut to that.
“We are already storing quite a lot of whiskey, maturing it, blending it and bottling it here.
“We have been producing cream liquors for 30 years. We thought we’d move we’d move from Irish cream into Irish whiskey.
“If you are producing Irish Cream Liquor, that can only be produced on the island of Ireland, and if we are producing Irish Whiskey that can only be produced on the island of Ireland. They are things that are important for us. The product has to come from a certain region just as Champagne can only come from Champagne and Parma ham can only come from Parma.
“We decided we would build the distillery quite some time ago and initially we thought about putting it at Campsie, but then the longer I thought about it, I realised the distillery is going to be either one of two things: You are either going to have a factory which in effect produces whiskey and that’s it, or you can have a distillery that produces whiskey that is also a marketing tool. And if you get people in through the doors you have the chance to tell them the story of the history of distilling in Derry and then to put the reintroduction of distilling back in that context of the history of distilling. Then you get to tell the story of The Quiet Man and our own whiskey. It’s all about making an emotional link with those coming through the door.
“A small company like ours we would never have the resources a big plc would have, so you have to connect with people in different ways and we thought the Visitor Centre, the more we looked into it, was a good way to do that.
“We have the design for it well advanced. Then we will need tour guides, people with language skills, people willing to tell stories.”
In all Mr. Mulgrew said there will be about 35 people employed in the Ebrington facility.
Visitors to the Quiet Man will be able to follow the whiskey making production process from grain milling through to the distillation in copper Pot Stills. They will also be able to take the weight off their feet and sampling The Quiet Man in a walled whiskey garden.
Whiskey was once a booming industry in Derry, and the massive Watts distillery was the largest producer of whiskey in Ireland by 1880, while several others were also in operation up until the early 20th Century. The Quiet Man will revive that once booming industry, but Niche Drinks have already been busy ahead of the construction starting.
Following development, The Quiet Man whiskey was introduced to the market three years ago and was something of a trailblazer in the revival of Irish whiskey production.
The past few years has seen the profile and popularity of Uisce Bheatha (Water of Life) soars across the globe.
There was only a few long-established Irish whiskey distilleries in existence when The Quiet Man first appeared, but since then the Irish whiskey market has seen new distilleries and brands popping up across the island.
“There has been a real revival in interest in it and there’s quite a number of new ones in the process of being built and a couple of new ones have been commissioned as well.
“Irish Whiskey has had quite a resurgence and volume has increased in each of the last seven or eight years fairly strongly. From our point of view we first bottled the Quiet Man in 2015, and at this stage our distribution has grown very steadily,” Mr Mulgrew said.
And the Quiet Man brand has had quite a journey in such a relatively short space of time, with Mr Mulgrew and other representatives traversing the globe on a mission to showcase and promote the brand.
This has included advertising and promoting the Quiet Man everywhere from Belfast International Airport to Moscow, South Africa, Hong Kong and New York.
“Our main markets are North America, Canada, Central Europe and Scandanavia. We are trying as best we can to get it out there. It’s sold in the airports, including Belfast International, George Best, Dublin, Cork and London too.”
And feedback on The Quiet Man shows it has been going down very smoothly indeed with its growing fanbase and Irish and international connoisseurs alike.“It’s going very well,” Mr Mulgrew said. “We have won loads of gold medals, we won double gold in the San Francisco Spirits competition for both our blended whiskey and our eight-years-old single malt. We won silver in 2016 and 2017 in the International Wine & Spirit Business, Spirit Business Gold, Irish Whiskey of the Year in 2015 for the single malt. That shows that the liquid is good.”
Mr. Mulgrew said it is an exciting time in the revival of the food, drink, hospitality and tourism sectors locally, and an exciting time for Derry generally.
“There’s a lot of things going on in this city, the standard of food and things has risen enormously, the standard of accommodation is excellent as well, and Ebrington Square, when the hotel is finished, the Visitor Centre we will have, and the Maritime Museum, hopefully, that will give people a reason to stay a bit longer, or even a reason to come.”
And anyone in any doubt about the pulling power of distilleries need only look at Bushmills, Jamesons or the booming distillery tours across Scotland. “We would hope we could get our fair share of it,” Mr Mulgrew said.
For more information on The Quiet Man check out the website: www.thequietmanirishwhiskey.com
The History behind ‘The Quiet Man’
The inspiration for the Quiet Man distillery managed from Ciaran’s father John Mulgrew.
Ciaran said: “I grew up in the bar trade, working in the family bar in Belfast and I loved it, the craic was great.
“It was fantastic when you were a kid to be able to go into the bar to work.
“I grew up in the Oak Bar on Grosvenor Road in Belfast just opposite the Royal Victoria Hospital.”
His father was a bartender who worked for over 50 years in public houses around Belfast.
“He worked behind the bar for his whole life and he always used to say, ‘You’ll see everything, you’ll need to be part-psychiatrist, part-social worker, part-priest, but tell no tales’. And they called him ’The Quiet Man!’
“When the phone rang and somebody on the other end would ask if someone was there, he could be standing looking at him, but he would ask if that person was there. That was the way of it!
“I grew up loving the sounds and smells of the bar, the craic, the laughter and the smell of the beer and the whiskey. Especially the whiskey.
“Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father.
“In 50 years as a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories, but like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales.”