Mark Pearson has vivid memories of being taken on a tour of the Liddell Weaving Company in Donaghloney, Co Down by his father, Norman, as a youngster.
“I remember, above all, the deafening noise from the clatter of dozens of looms as they turned out the double damask, the highest quality of Irish linen, for which the mill was then renowned,” he recalls.
“Dating backing to 1866, the historic mill, now closed, had been a global centre of premium Irish Linen and a technology leader in the Jacquard weaving of tablecloths and napkins for high profile customers ranging from the Titanic to Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Ritz London and Raffles in Singapore,” he continues.
The visit sparked an interest in the history of linen weaving and came to influence his decision to develop a unique gin under the Jacquard brand he’s now distilling in the picturesque village. He’s set up a small distillery on the Strawhill Manor Estate owned by business partner Gregg Berry and just yards from the old mill and its iconic chimney, sadly the only part of the Liddell premises to be listed for preservation.
The manor also has longstanding links with the Liddell and Wilson families.
A project manager by profession, Mark, a native of Lurgan now living in Waringstown, another former linen hub, has a keen interest in local history. He is
acknowledged as a pioneer of craft brewing here from his time as founder and owner of Clanconnel Brewery in Waringstown in 2008, a micro-brewery that developed brews such as McGraths in honour of Master McGrath, the great greyhound from Lurgan.
The two partners first began discussions on a gin project when they met at a social function three years ago. Gregg suggested buildings on his estate offered scope to create the distillery.
“Choosing the Jacquard brand was really a no-brainer,” Mark says. “It made sound sense to choose it as identity and to celebrate the village’s tremendous role in an
industry which contributed so much to Northern Ireland’s economic growth and was led by so many great entrepreneurs such as William Nicholson Liddell. He created
one of the world’s biggest jacquard weavers. It’s an inspirational back story for our new gin. We’ll also be marking this when in the visitor centre we are planning,” he explains.
Another link to the linen industry in the new gin is the inclusion of golden flax seed among 12 botanicals which also feature lavender, rose, black cardamom, orris,
ginger, and, of course, the essential juniper. Citrus flavours come from the use of lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit. The gin is 44 percent alcohol by volume.
“The botanicals are all distilled separately before being added to the wheat based spirit. This ensures a balanced and consistent flavour profile,” Mark continues.
“We’ve also drilled our own bore hole for clean water from the Lagan nearby. The water once fuelled the Grattan’s and Ross’s mineral businesses in Belfast.
“Our aim was to develop a classic, fresh and refreshing gin with a balance of botanicals.”
At the heart of the new distillery, which has been shaped from an office in a complex of stables that housed the horses of a previous owner, is a glittering copper pot still which has been made by a specialist manufacturer in Bavaria to the requirements of Mark and Gregg. The partners also created a distinctively shaped 700ml bottle for bar staff.
“We wanted a shape of bottle that bar staff could handle easily for pouring,” he explains. “We’ve been working on the gin for three years and have put a lot of thought into the spirit, its presentation and marketing. We devoted much of our time to creating a recipe that we liked and believed the market would also appreciate. We launched the gin in July and it has already been listed by high-end restaurants such as OX and James Street South in Belfast, Nobel in Holywood and Moira’s Wine and Brine. It’s also on sale through the Master of Malt website.”
As well as Jacquard Gin, the company is developing a series of mixers under the Crozier brand that’s named in memory of Francis Crozier, from Banbridge, who took
part in six expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in the 19th century. Already developed are a tonic and a ginger ale. Other spirits in the pipeline include a
Caribbean rum and Irish Single Malt Whiskey.
“Our priority, of course, is to develop sales of Jacquard Gin here, in Britain, the Republic and further afield. Feedback from everyone who has tasted the gin has
been immensely encouraging. And we’ve had positive comments from chefs and the trade,” he adds.