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Belfast Distillery invests £22.3m in whiskey project

The owner of Irish whiskey brand McConnell’s has invested £22.3 million (US$27m) to open a distillery and visitor centre in Belfast.

Belfast Distillery Co
The McConnell’s Irish whiskey brand was revived in 2020

Belfast Distillery Company (BDC) received planning approval in March 2021 to build a whiskey distillery on the site of the former Crumlin Road Gaol jail in Northern Ireland’s capital.

The major investment will see the regeneration of the A Wing of the Crumlin Road Gaol into the J&J McConnell’s Distillery and visitor experience. The project is expected to create 49 new jobs.

Economy minister Gordon Lyons said: “This multi-million-pound investment will see the transformation of this historic Belfast building and create 49 new jobs, contributing over £1.7 million of additional annual salaries into the local economy.

“The global Irish whiskey industry has trebled in size over the last decade, and Belfast Distillery Company is already a great addition to the sector.

“The J&J McConnell’s Distillery and visitor experience will boost our economy as both an export business and a tourism offering. I look forward to following its continued growth to becoming a globally recognised brand in the international spirits sector.”

The distillery will extend over three floors offering 1,000 square metres of distilling floor-space and 1,700 square metres for the visitor centre.

The site plans to host more than 100,000 visitors each year. Visitor experiences will include whiskey tours, cocktail masterclasses, a tasting bar and shop.

After more than 90 years, the McConnell’s Irish whiskey brand was resurrected in 2020.

McConnell’s Irish Whisky was originally established in Belfast, Ireland, in 1776 by two brothers, John and James McConnell. It is written without the ‘e’ due to how it was originally spelled.

John Kelly, CEO of Belfast Distillery Company, said: “We launched McConnell’s Irish Whisky in 2020 and we have already achieved significant success in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and China. In our home market, we are having great success with our product to date, experiencing significant support from our trade partners in hospitality and retail sectors.

“The J&J McConnell’s Distillery and visitor experience will become the home of our brand and will help us to take our business to the next level in the global whiskey market.

“The support we have received from across government has been vital to making this ambition a reality for us.

“We are truly delighted to be developing our distillery in north Belfast and look forward to working with and supporting our local community with employment opportunities. We look forward to helping our great city grow and develop in the years ahead.”

The Department for Communities and Invest Northern Ireland have provided a combined £1.9m (US$2.3m) of support towards the project.

This project is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.

The long-delayed project was first announced in 2012 by businessman Peter Lavery and was due to be completed in 2016.

A group of American investors took over the project, acquiring the assets of BDC, which included the McConnell’s Irish Whisky brand name.

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