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Belfast Distillery to launch McConnell’s whiskey

The Belfast Distillery Company (BDC) is to launch McConnell’s Irish whiskey this week as construction of the group’s new £6.8m distillery in the Crumlin Road Gaol commences.

The Belfast Distillery Company is backing the future of Irish whiskey

Over two years since BDC was given permission to transform the Victorian jail into a 480,000-litre distillery, construction of the site is now underway and expected to complete by early 2016.

In the meantime, BDC will introduce McConnell’s blended Irish whiskey to international markets as a revenue generator, although the brand portfolio will also eventually feature several limited edition bottlings.

The blend will initially be available in mature whisky markets, including the US, France, the Nordics, Baltics, UK and Ireland.

Simon Ray, chairman and majority shareholder of BDC, said: “We want to build the brand where we know people like Irish whisky at the moment. We believe we can make a significant mark on the market with the liquid we’ve got. And on top of the liquid we’ve secured we have an option on more, in the event we oversell.”

The brainchild of lottery winner and Belfast entrepreneur Peter Lavery, BDC will produce triple-distilled malt Irish whiskey from three 3,000-litre pot stills built by Forsyths. Grain whiskey will be supplied through a long-term contract with another distillery, although the group has not ruled out plans to build its own grain distillery in the future.

Darryl MacNally, formerly of Bushmill’s, has joined as master distiller, while his former colleague Roy Goodlad joins as operations manager.

The gaol will also be redesigned to boast a “state-of-the-art” visitors’ centre and restaurant, which Ray claimed will help generate tourism in the area.

“With the number of tourists that come to Belfast and the real lack of things to do in Northern Ireland currently, the visitor centre and the fact it’s an iconic building, is really key,” he said.

While Ray is in the process of appointing a CEO for the group, other members of the board include international sales director Michael Morris, and company founder Lavery, who will assume an ambassadorial role.

Morris revealed that the group expects to be able to “exploit” the success Irish Distillers has had in the market with Jameson and its single pot still brands such as Redbreast and Power’s.

“We see Jameson being big as an enormous opportunity,” he said. “We see the wonderful job that Pernod are doing with Jameson as a huge door opener for the Irish whiskey category around the world.

“We are not pretending we are Diageo or Pernod, but we are determined to be much more than a small boutique distillery. The opportunity for a large aggressively Irish independent distillery is there. A lot of the new distilleries without being disparaging to them, are small enterprises, whereas we are trying to achieve large capacity and come to the market with quite a lot of product in a short space of time. This is a renaissance project, bringing whiskey distillation back to the city of Belfast which it was once famous for.”

BDC has recently signed a 125-year lease with the Belfast government for the Crumlin Road site, which is situated near the original location of McConnell’s original distillery that closed in the 1920s.

The group has also acquired some brown field land within 10 miles of the distillery on which to build warehousing facilities.

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