A local company is planning to transform derelict buildings at Ebrington Square into a whiskey distillery and tourist attraction.
‘The Quiet Man’/ ‘An Fear Ciuin’ whiskey distillery will open in 2018, pending planning approval, and will front onto Ebrington Square.
Niche Drinks’ distillery will be the first operating in the city for almost a century and will link back to its heritage as the one-time world capital of whiskey production during Victorian times.
The project is the brainchild of Niche Drinks founders Ciaran Mulgrew, Robin Young and Michael Corry, who already own and run the successful St Brendan’s Cream Liqueur business in the Waterside.
Mr Mulgrew made a video presentation of the plans before Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business and Culture Committee at the Guildhall on Tuesday.
Mr Mulgrew detailed how the company had achieved success after applying to the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) to take over the buildings at Ebrington Square.
He added that they had lodged a full planning application towards the end of August and said they were hoping to get good news on this as soon as possible to enable them to sign the contract with SIB and start the 20 month build.
“This will be the first newly built distillery in Derry for 180 years,” Mr Mulgrew said. “It will be bringing back to Derry one of its traditional crafts.”
The council was told that the first whiskey distillery in the city was opened in 1815 in the Pennyburn area by Alexander Stewart, while by the mid-1800s there were two more, Meehans in the Waterside and Watt’s in the Bogside.
“Derry was the whiskey capital of the world by the end of the 19th Century, producing more than any other city in the world,” the council was told.
The new distillery will feature displays charting the area’s proud whiskey distilling history, and others explaining the difference between Scotch, Canadian, American, Japanese and Irish whiskey. There will also be a whiskey garden to the rear.
Part of the front of the building will be constructed in copper to mirror the that of the distillery.
Mr Mulgrew said The Quiet Man whiskey was named after his own father John, who had worked in the bar trade for 50 years in Belfast.
“In the 50 years as a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of things and true to his trade he told no tales and that is why we call him ‘The Quiet Man’.
Chair of the committee, SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack commented on the impressive building plan, which she said was sympathetic to the surroundings.
Her party colleague Councillor Tina Gardiner said: “It’s fantastic news hearing that Niche Drinks are building on what they are already bring to the city.
“We are waiting quite a while on Ebrington being developed and turned into the vibrant, bustling tourist area we want it to be.” Colr. Gardiner said the plans would obviously compliment the city’s tourist offering, and would help get “footfall across the Peace Bridge into Ebrington”.
“If you could build on Guinness - the number one tourist venue- that would be fantastic,” she added.
Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion joked that the businessmen, if they were looking for tasters, may have to go no further that the Council chamber for volunteers.
Colr. McCallion said she was delighted Niche Drinks were successful with their Expression of Interest.
“Not only is this going to be a job creation opportunity but also a tourist venue, which ticks a lot of boxes” she said, adding that it would be a surprise to many that Derry had such a major historical role in whiskey production.
Independent Councillor Maurice Devenney said that it had taken a long time for Ebrington to take off “but we are slowly, slowly getting there.”
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey pointed out that Bushmills is a well-established and premier tourist destination.
Mr Mulgrew said Bushmills had attracted 140,000 visitors last year, and that they were planning for 32,000 visitors for The Quiet Man in it’s first year- a figure experts say is conservative.