Race to open Northern Ireland's first independently-owned whiskey distillery

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The race is on to open the first independently-owed whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland.

In May 2012, Lottery millionaire Peter Lavery announced plans to turn part of the former Crumlin Road Prison in north Belfast into a distillery.

He made a commitment to a £5m investment to transform the A-wing of the listed building into a boutique distillery.

But now a Londonderry firm, Niche Drinks, which currently makes Irish cream liqueur at its plant on the Rossdowney Road, have lodged plans to move to a new site in Campsie and open a distillery there too.

Niche Drinks managing director Ciaran Mulgrew said that manufacturing the whiskey in Derry would be re-instating an old tradition.

"Before prohibition began in America, Derry made more whiskey that anywhere else in the world," he said.

Start Quote

There is a huge demand for Irish whiskey globally and making it here safeguards our product”

End Quote Ciaran Mulgrew Niche Drinks managing director
'Safeguard'

So although the new whiskey will not have a heritage, Mr Mulgrew said he hopes the tradition previously established in the city will help brand his products.

"There is a huge demand for Irish whiskey globally and making it here safeguards our product which we wouldn't be able to do if we produced in China or anywhere else in the world," he said.

The planning applications from Niche Drinks include turning their current site into a shopping centre, as well as a new factory and distillery in the Campsie site.

Mr Mulgrew said their applications have been greeted favourably so far.

"Obviously it's in the hands of the planning minister, but we're hoping to get news on the planning permission and start building in 2013," he said.

Of course whiskey needs to be set aside for some time once its made, so even if planning permission does come through quickly, they are not expecting to see sales until 2017, and by that stage Mr Lavery's Belfast distillery might just have beaten them to it.

To hear the full interview with Ciaran Mulgrew listen to the Business News Podcast.

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