Landmark decision enables Joe to open the distillery doors to visitors

Founder of the Boatyard Distillery on Lough Erne is the first small producer of spirits to gain a licence for tours and own product sales in its purpose-built distillery visitor centre

By Sam Butler
Saturday, 11th June 2022, 8:00 am
Gareth Irvine and his team at Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee also gained a licence to open for visitors
Gareth Irvine and his team at Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee also gained a licence to open for visitors

Acclaimed Irish distiller Joe McGirr, founder of the Boatyard Distillery on Lough Erne, was excited to be the first small producer of spirits to gain a licence for tours and own product sales in its purpose-built distillery visitor centre, near Enniskillen, under new laws introduced in April.

The new licence is a major boost for the craft distilling and brewing industry here in that it opens to the door to tourists and also enables operators to sell alcohol from their premises for the first time.

The landmark court decision, coming ahead of the tourism season which is expected see a significant uplift in visitors especially from North America, involves the implementation of the first substantial changes to licencing laws in Northern Ireland in 25 years. The Boatyard distillery, located on the picturesque banks of Lough Erne, is accessible by boat or by road and is running two tours a day, five days a week.

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Joe McGirr ready to welcome visitors to his Boatyard Double Gin Distillery in Fermanagh

The new licence will allow distillery visitors to enjoy its world class spirits especially its award-winning double distilled gin, vodka and a soon to be launched Irish single malt whiskey during a tour of the distillery as well as buy a bottle to take home from the new retail there.

Joe, who founded the Boatyard Distillery in 2016, says: “Fermanagh has so much to offer for tourists when they come to visit - from beautiful lakes to some of the best pubs and restaurants in Ireland. Our vision is to play an important part in that. We love to welcome people into our Fermanagh home and to encourage them to enjoy our handcrafted spirits.”

The adult only distillery tours last 90 minutes at Boatyard and include delicious cocktails and some neat samples as visitors dive deep into the distillery process and take a look behind the scenes.

The experience is rounded off with the opportunity to sign and label a personal bottle to take home.

The picturesque setting of Boatyard Distillery on Lough Erne is an ideal destination for tourists and other visitors

Boatyard Distillery, formed by industry veteran Joe, focuses on crafting premium spirits that combine quality with provenance and heritage. The

distillery now exports to 12 different markets worldwide and is the only Irish gin stocked in many of the ‘World’s 50 Best Bars’ including the current number one bar The Connaught.

Distilling is now among Northern Ireland’s most dynamic and innovation-focused industries with global sales to more than 30 markets. Bushmills whiskey is also probably Northern Ireland’s best known brand.

Most of Northern Ireland distilleries and several breweries have invested substantially in facilities to entertain visitors from here and abroad. The visits, furthermore, help to develop awareness of the brands among visitors. Many are applying for licenses for tours and off-sales.

Most of the tours usually take an hour and follow a similar format and include an “immersive guided tour” of the distilling process with an opportunity to experience first-hand the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of the processes and be briefed by an expert member of staff. Opportunities are also provided to sample the spirits and to purchase a bottle to take home. Some distilleries also offer guidance on making cocktails.

Among the most recent to secure a licence is Gareth Irvine’s small batch Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee.

The distillery, located near the harbour and within sight of the famous lighthouse, has won awards for gin, rum and poitin. It is also maturing a single malt Irish whiskey.

Whiskey and gin experience tours are now an important part of Northern Ireland’s tourism offering. Old Bushmills in Co Antrim, one of Ireland’s best known distilleries internationally recently re-opened after being closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bushmills attracted upwards of 100,000 visitors from many parts of the world before the pandemic and also operates a hugely successful off-sales on the historic premises. Bushmills Distillery is also the base of The Sexton, currently the biggest selling Irish Single Malt in the US.

Once the only whiskey distillery and visitor centre in Northern Ireland, Bushmills has since been joined by more than six ‘destinations for visitors. producing a range of spirits. Among the most impressive are Rademon Estate in Crossgar, the home of Shortcross Gin and single malt whiskey and soon to introduce a poitin; Echlinville in Kircubbin, now home of the rejuvenated Dunville Irish Whiskey, once the biggest seller in the US before Prohibition, and Jawbox Gin; Hinch in Ballynahinch, the producer of Hinch whiskey and Ninth Wave Irish Gin; Killowen, which is located in a picturesque setting in the Mournes near Rostrevor, produces small batch whiskey, gin, rum and poitin; Symphonia gin and rum is distilled in Moy; Ion Distillery at Carrickmore distils gin and vodka; and Belfast Artisan Gin Distillery at Newtownabbey.

In addition to Bushmills, the popular Co Antrim village is now home to a second distillery – Giant’s Basalt Rock Gin – which was established last year.