Six distillers toasting success in global exports

Six Northern Ireland distilleries recently collected a host of awards at the prestigious International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) for products ranging from whiskey to rum and Irish cream liqueur.

There were two gold winners – Hinch Distillery in Ballynahinch, Co Down for its unique Craft and Casks Irish Whiskey and Niche Drinks in Derry for its Gingerbread Latte Cream Liqueur for Tesco.

Hinch’s gold winner was a unique collaboration with Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan, supplier of the award-winning Imperial Stout casks in which the whiskey was finished. And there was more good news for two other local whiskey distillers in the shape of acclaim in the US that helps to sharpen the profile of local producers in the globe’s most important Irish whiskey marketplace. Ranked among the 12 Best Irish Whiskeys to drink 2021 in the review by a leading expert in the US were The Sexton Single Malt, produced at Bushmills, in the Best Overall Spirits, and McConnell’s, from Belfast, as ‘Best for Hot Toddy’.

The Sexton, developed by master distiller Alex Thomas and produced in unique hexagonal shaped bottles, is already among the best-selling Irish whiskeys in the US and follows an impressive trail blazed by the iconic Old Bushmills.

Alex Thomas, master distiller at The Sexton Irish Single Malt Whiskey in Bushmills

Aaron Flaherty, master distiller at Hinch, says: “Our whiskey achieved 95 points out of 100. We knew it was award-winning already and this just confirms it. The whiskey is a distinctly different beer barrel aged spirit developed with Whitewater. This award is a massive boost as we continue to build sales in key global markets such as the US. Today, our spirits including Ninth Wave Gin, which won silver at IWSC, are on sale in over 30 countries.”

Bernard Sloan, Whitewater’s founder, adds: “The award is a marvellous recognition of the importance of collaboration between small batch producers here. I loved working with Aaron to develop the unique whiskey using the barrels from our Imperial Russian Stout which won the Northern Ireland Regional Fork in the UK Great Taste Awards. The new beer barrel finished whiskey is clearly an all-round winner.”

The gold winning Tesco Gingerbread Cream Liqueur includes The Quiet Man Irish whiskey finished by Niche Drinks in Derry. Niche is now a global leader in cream liqueurs.

Other IWC award-winning distillers of whiskey, gin, vodka and rum were: Boatyard, Enniskillen; Copeland, Donaghadee; Rademon Estate, Crossgar; Wild Atlantic, Castlederg; and Woodlab/Symphonia in Moy.

Aaron Flaherty, master distiller at Hinch Distillery in Ballynahinch which produced the award-winning Craft and Casks Irish Whiskey with Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan

The success of Hinch and The Sexton comes ahead of the third annual Belfast Whiskey Festival at the end of July, the biggest whiskey event on the island of Ireland. The festival will feature samples of a new single malt whiskey distilled by Rademon Estate in Crossgar, home of the acclaimed Shortcross Gin.

Meanwhile, Irish Whiskey Global, the Irish Whiskey Association’s (IWA) inaugural international trade report, highlights priorities to accelerate the growth in the island’s whiskey exports. These include a permanent end to all transatlantic trade disputes, building on recent positive developments, and a facilitation of spirits e-commerce in future agreements.

The report calls for a reform of both the rules-of-origin for whiskey and territoriality rules in all EU and UK trade agreements to protect the Irish whiskey industry’s cross-border supply chain on the island of Ireland.

In recognition of Irish whiskey’s prominence as an all-island industry, the report was jointly launched by Ireland’s trade minister and the UK’s exports minister.

William Lavelle, IWA’s head, continues: “Looking to the future, the Irish whiskey industry can confidently target more growth in more markets, across more sales channels and among more consumer segments. But now, more than ever, international trade policy will be critical to supporting growth and diversification.”

In 2020, 11.4 million cases (137 million bottles of Irish whiskey) were sold around the world, a slight decrease on 2019, but still exceeding expectations for what was a challenging year.

The report sets out how Irish whiskey exports have benefited from recent positive developments on the international trade front, such as the lifting of the 25 percent US tariff on Northern Irish single malt and the elimination or phasing-out of tariffs across the Southern African Development Community and in other markets including Colombia.

The export potential of Irish whiskey from local distilleries and those in the Republic is reflected in the statistics which show that 96 percent of all Irish whiskey sales are to markets outside of Ireland. In 2019, before the on-set of Covid-19, Irish whiskey exports were worth £750 million to the island’s two economies.

Additional whiskey distilleries are planned for Limavady, Bushmills and Cushendal. Crosskey’s Inn in Randalstown has revived a heritage whiskey under the McAllister’s brand.

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