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Halewood considers opening Irish distillery

UK-based Halewood Artisanal Spirits has made a number of investments in whisky and would look to open a distillery in Ireland over the next few years, the group’s CEO has said.

Stewart Hainsworth, group CEO of Halewood Artisanal Spirits

The group is “very focussed on four categories of spirits: gin, vodka and then rum with our Dead Man’s Fingers brand and the whisky investments we’ve made in distilleries”, Halewood’s group CEO Stewart Hainsworth told The Spirits Business.

Halewood operates 11 distilleries across the world: nine in the UK, the JJ Whitley Vodka Distillery in Russia and the Ironbark Distillery in Australia.

Hainsworth hinted that the group would look to open an Irish whiskey distillery in the next couple of years. “We’re going to have two English distilleries, one Welsh distillery and one Scottish distillery. There’s an obvious one that is missing,” he said.

The producer previously owned a majority stake in Irish whiskey producer West Cork Distillers, which it sold several years ago. Hainsworth explained: “We tripled our money on the original investment and we exited and thought we would have the opportunity to go back in at a later point.”

The group produces Irish whiskey under its Peaky Blinder spirits range and The Pogues Irish whiskey.

In the UK, Halewood also operates the Aber Falls distillery in Wales, which is due to release its first whisky in March. The producer also makes its Crabbie’s Scotch whisky at a distillery in Leith.

The Bankhall distillery in Blackpool, which opened this year during the coronavirus pandemic, will produce a Bourbon-style whisky and a little bit of English single malt, Hainsworth said. “We don’t believe there’s anyone in the UK market doing that,” he said of the Bourbon-style whisky, which will be released in three years. The liquid will be a corn-based spirit aged in virgin oak and made using a sweet mash process. The distillery will release its first product in six months’ time.

Hainsworth also said the group will open a Peaky Blinder distillery in Birmingham on the same site as Sadler’s brewery. The site, which is expected to open by the end of 2020, will produce gin and whisky.

Spirits strategy 

Halewood Artisanal Spirits, formerly known as Halewood Wines & Spirits, changed its name last month to reflect its focus on spirits, which predominantly drives the business.

Hainsworth said the new name had been in development for more than a year and “encapsulates the exact strategy of what the business has been following for a number of years”.

“Last year, 70% of net margin profits came from spirits,” explained Hainsworth. “This year in the first few months of trading we’re already at 80%. It’s very heavily spirits dominated. I feel that is the future of our business.”

Halewood sold its Romanian wine business in July 2018 to Alexandrion Group. “We really struggled to make that work”, Hainsworth added, and it was “time to focus more and more on spirits”.

During the pandemic, Hainsworth said its core brands, Whitley Neill gin, JJ Whitley vodka and Dead Man’s Fingers spiced rum, grew 56% in the 12 months ending 31 August 2020.

Last month, Halewood said it plans to close its Huyton site and will make a number of additional voluntary redundancies due to Covid-19.

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