A 60-job, £14m whiskey distillery in Co Down, I’ll drink to that!
I know what you’re thinking: after a two-hour meeting of the Stormont talks Rights, Language and Identity Working Group on Friday, anyone would need a drink and that’s why I went searching for a distillery.
Not true. In fact, I thought our final meeting of the working group, featuring all five main Stormont parties, was carried out in a spirit of calm collegiality.
My visit to the Hinch Distillery — fast-emerging on a rural site on the main road from Belfast to Newcastle — was solely to find out more about Terry Cross’ latest adventure.
A North Belfast lad who started a print works above a shop on the Antrim Road back in the seventies — neither the location nor the time period would have found favour with the business consultants — Terry went on to found the Deltaprint colossus. When Terry sold the company, then located in West Belfast and employing almost 300 people, to Finnish printing and packaging giant Huhtamaki three years ago, it was worth a pretty penny.
For most people, that would have been the signal to retreat to a Caribbean island but not Terry.
Instead, he has thrown himself into another entrepreneurial adventure in the whiskey business.
Not a man to do things by half, Terry has his mammoth whiskey stills purchased and waiting to be installed in a distillery just outside Temple, Co Down — a 20 minute drive from Belfast city centre. Expect the stills to be installed and in production by the end of this year and the £14m ($17.7m) visitor centre to be welcoming tourists at the start of 2021.
Globally, Irish whiskey is on fire and there are now 22 independent whiskey producers on the island. There are none in Derry or Belfast yet but in the Liberties of Dublin, there are three within 500m of each other.
The water used in the distilling process at the Hinch distillery will be the cleanest in Ireland — from the Silent Valley Reservoir. The location brings other advantages too. It’s on the main road from Belfast to the Mountains of Mourne which is one of the most trafficked tourist roads in Ireland. And of course, it’s from its hinterland that Hinch gets its moniker. Ballynahinch just up the road is Baile na hInse in Irish (the Town of the Island).
The Master Distiller at Hinch has already created a series of blends (from precious whiskey stocks Terry has bought) which are now on sale across Ireland with trade deals set to be signed over the next few months in 22 markets including the US, Nordic Countries and China.
But the real prize to is to start production in the Hinch distillery and to bring to the market a first-class Co Down whiskey. I’m not a whiskey drinker but I will make an exception for that first batch when it goes on sale. Sláinte.
All roads lead to New York next week for the tenth annual New York-New Belfast conference where champions of community, culture and commerce from both sides of the pond gather to make common cause. A sizeable delegation will attend this year from the Belfast Chamber of Commerce while rolling out the red carpet on the other side of the broad Atlantic will be our tireless ambassadors in the Big Apple led by Shaun Kelly of chief sponsor KPMG, Michael George of Versant, Geraldine Hughes of Harry Potter on Broadway fame (whose one-woman masterpiece Belfast Blues is coming to the Lyric in August), and Jim Clerkin, CEO of Möet Hennessy USA.
The objective is to build bridges of mutual benefit which create jobs and community uplift.
Among the highlights will be a visit to the World Trade Centre studio of East Belfast artist Marcus Robinson — 46 floors up in Tower 3.
Not one for resting on his laurels, Marcus has started a new project which should last six-and-a-half years – filming the demolition and rebuilding of the JP Morgan headquarters in New York. That’s effectively a short-term gig for Marcus who has been recording the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre – in paintings, film and photographs for the past 14 years.
You can sign up for the New York-New Belfast conference, with its wonderful theme ‘Be The Bridge’, online.
Hats off to the Open University in its 50th year for creating an online oral history archive with enormous relevance to students and researchers probing our troubled past. ‘Time To Think: Open University journeys in British and Irish prisons during the years of conflict 1972-2000′ features interviews with republican and loyalist prisoners as well as prison officers and OU tutors. A tremendous and timely investment by a much-loved institution.