Top NI brewery and whiskey distillery toasts success through innovation

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​Master brewer Bernard Sloan of Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan has won acclaim and market success through a focus on coming up with original taste experiences.

The most recent, a collaboration with Hinch Distillery in Carrydulff on a barrel-aged stout, won the coveted three stars in the UK Great Taste Awards.

The latest winning collaboration followed an earlier link up which led to Hinch’s award-winning Craft and Cask, an innovative range of three distinctive Irish whiskeys.

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The range included an ‘Imperial Stout Finish’ based on Whitewater’s strong Kreme dela Kremlin Imperial Russian Stout, a winner of the Northern Ireland Regional Fork in Great Taste in 2020 and among its strongest of beers.

The winning stout was made using a selection of premium malts, hops and maple syrup, then aged in whiskey casks from Hinch, an important initiative by local entrepreneur Terry Cross.

Rising to the top among hundreds of other entries from Northern Ireland, the latest stout was celebrated as the best tasting product from here at the Great Taste Golden Fork Dinner in London, where over 350 guests from the world of

fine food gathered to discover the stars of food and drink.

“The latest Great Taste recognition was tremendously important in helping to raise the profile of my beers especially in Great Britain, a hugely important market for us. We were the first brewery in Northern Ireland to win a regional fork in the highly influential process,” adds Bernard.

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Bernard Sloan of Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan has produced a portfolio of award-winning beers and collaborated with Hinch Distillery on innovative whiskeys and stoutsBernard Sloan of Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan has produced a portfolio of award-winning beers and collaborated with Hinch Distillery on innovative whiskeys and stouts
Bernard Sloan of Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan has produced a portfolio of award-winning beers and collaborated with Hinch Distillery on innovative whiskeys and stouts

Craft and Casks whiskeys were finished in beer barrels from Whitewater to ‘disrupt the taste profile’ of the Irish whiskey scene. And they did.

The hugely innovative collaboration widened the distillery’s growing portfolio and brought its collection of whiskeys to nine. The Craft & Casks range follows on from the distillery’s release of an 18-year-old single malt finished in Château de la Ligne Grand Reserve wine casks ahead of Christmas 2020. Further innovative collaborations are in the pipeline.

“I really enjoy working with Hinch Distillery on new drinks. There’s a great team there. We’ve developed a close relationship, and they are always willing to explore new ideas,” Bernard says.

“I have long been keen to work with other artisan producers here and have links with Tempted Cider in Armagh and Corndale Farm Free Range Charcuterie in Limavady. The charcuterie is being used in pizzas for sale in the brewery. I love Corndale’s delicious nduja and Tempted’s range of local ciders."

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The pizzas are being developed by Bernard for visitors to the brewery and for the local community.

“We’ve got a producer’s licence which enables us to sell our beers on-site to people visiting the brewery,” he explains. “It means tourists and other visitors can see how we brew our drinks and then enjoy a pizza with a beer in our purpose-built visitor centre."

He has experience of the pizza business from the time when he owned the White Horse Inn in Saintfield with its Flaming Crust premium pizzeria.

Creating innovative flavours is Bernard’s passion. And it’s one which has produced considerable business success in the fiercely competitive and price sensitive beer marketplace. He’s been brewing his own beers for more than 21 years with wife Kerry and now operates from one of our most modern breweries.

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Starting the new brewery in Castlewellan meant a switch of location from Kilkeel, the original site of what was then a craft brewery to nearby Castlewellan. Both share a picturesque setting nestled in the foothills of the iconic Mournes he loves.

Some of his popular beers carry brands reflecting the region. Maggie’s Leap, among his most successful, is named after a mythical figure there, Ewe Rebel after the sheep that roam the mountains, and Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock, a well-known landmark. Maggies Leap also collected an Irish Quality Award and an International Beer Challenge recognition. His Belfast Lager and Belfast Åle have gained a raft of major quality awards.

A dairy engineer by profession, Bernard designed the impressive brewery, project managed its construction and kitted it out with the latest brewing equipment. It’s also a sustainable business that makes extensive use of renewable technologies that protect the local environment and help to maintain downward pressure on costs.

Bernard set up Whitewater Brewing In 1996, the first craft brewery here. Whitewater is now a independent brewery that’s become N’s largest. He has created an portfolio of award-winning ales, lagers and stouts, several of which have won international acclaim including International Brewing Challenge medals and UK Great Taste Awards for products. These include its Belfast Brew and Germanic style Hoppelhammer.

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Most of the products, bottle-conditioned beers and ales, cans and kegs are to be found in hotels, bars and off-licences throughout NI and the RoI. Additionally, Whitewater has won business in Europe, China and the Caribbean.