The Echlinville Distillery

Anyone who has traveled extensively throughout this wonderful country or who may have visited from abroad will be in no doubt that we have some of the most enchanting scenery and landscapes to compete with all others.  When someone decides to build a distillery with the largest lake in the country on one side and the sea on the other then you know that it's going to be just a little special. It also makes for a very interesting journey. Throw in some wonderful 'adverturous' roads, a ferry or two, a windswept lough and the fact that you are not very far from a bustling major city and you have a recipe for a very exciting and enjoyable distillery visit.

The distillery in question is the lovely Echlinville Distillery situated just off the A20 on the Ards peninsula or what is basically the scenic coastal route into Belfast. I paid a visit to the distillery on a rather blustery mid February day but this only added to the sense of adventure and provided for interesting vistas that somehow, only Irish weather seems to produce!

One of a new wave of Irish distilleries, Echlinville has just recently thrown open its doors to its multi-million pound still house and visitor center. The facility was the first new licensed whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland in more than 125 years when it received its license to distill in 2013.

The distillery is situated within the grounds of the historic Echlinville Estate which is surrounded by lovely views of rolling green countryside including the estate land from which the distillery sows and harvests its annual barley crop.

Shane Braniff the distillery's owner, is spot on when he describes the still house as the jewel-in-the-crown and this modern bright and spacious building contains both pot and column stills. The still house has been designed to showcase the beauty of the purpose-built copper pot stills and the craftsmanship of the equipment, whilst maximising the view of the surrounding countryside and the land on which the grains are grow.

If you wish to know more about the stills that are in situ then you will have to pay Echlinville a visit!  The building also includes a maturation hall, bottling and storage facilities, and function room.

The distillery produces a range of spirits including single malt and single pot still whiskeys, a super-premium poitéen under the brand name 'Bán Poitéen' that has been getting rave reviews. Two quality gins, Echlinville Single Estate Gin and Jawbox gin are also produced at the distillery.  The Echlinville Single estate Gin is the only one of it's kind produced in Ireland.

As mentioned, Echlinville produces both single malt and single pot still whiskey. It's premier whiskey brand is Dunville's VR, one that has a very long, distinguished and rich history dating back to the early 19th century and was famous around the world for its quality.  Echlinville, who own the brand, re-launched the whiskey in a bottle almost identical to its forebears and it has proven to be an excellent whiskey already winning the Best Irish Whiskey 12 years and under at the 2016 Irish Whiskey Awards.

The Dunville's brand has a fascinating history.  Dunville & Co. was a tea and spirits merchant company, based in Belfast, County Antrim. The company initially gained success as an Irish whiskey blender, but later produced and marketed its own whiskey, having constructed its own distillery. The company was founded by John Dumvill who joined William Napier of Napier & Co.  The spelling of Dumvill was changed to Dunville and in 1825 the company name became Dunville & Co. In 1837, Dunville began producing its most popular whisky Dunville's VR. Unusual for Irish whiskey, the name does not include the 'e' .

Having gained success as a whiskey blender, Dunville & Co. constructed their own distillery, the Royal Irish Distilleries, on the edge of Belfast in 1869 a short drive from Echlinville's present location. When built, the distillery occupied an impressive four-storey red-brick building, and was one of the most modern in Ireland. With production from five pot stills, and later a Coffey still, at its peak the distillery had a capacity of over 2.5 million gallons per annum, making it amongst the largest in the country.  Much of the distillery's output was used in the company's whiskey blends, Dunville's VR and Dunville's Three Crowns.

Echlinville have also recently re-launched the Dunville's Belfast Three Crowns, a blend, which in keeping with everything that the distillery has done to date, is also a quality product. Hotly anticipated and pretty unique to the Irish whiskey scene is a new Dunville's Three Crowns Peated.  Peated Irish whiskeys are as rare as hens teeth and I can confirm that this peated version is a fine drop and will be accumulating a loyal following before too long.

Already, the distillery in the north's second biggest spirits producer with the capacity to turn out around 15,000 bottles of the highest quality whiskey, gin, vodka and poitín every week. Shane said the new building "houses some of the finest distilling technology on the island of Ireland.

“Traceability and provenance is at the heart of our production process, with every drop of spirit produced here originating from crops grown and floor malted on our own estate. We are proud to be able to offer visitors a unique insight into our ‘field to glass’ approach during our newly launched distillery tours."

He said the Echlinville team was carefully crafting new single malt and Irish pot still whiskies, which will come of age this year. Echlinville have got things pretty right from the get-go and this is evident in everything to do with the distillery and their products.

Shane and his staff are looking forward to a very busy 2017 with some new products due to be launched later in the year. I am looking forward to seeing what other quality products flow from this lovely distillery.   The distillery is now open for guided tours so if you are planning on visiting one of the many new Irish distilleries dotted around our picturesque Irish countryside then I would advise you to pencil in Echlinville.  You will get to see and learn all about a distillery that is playing a leading part in the Irish whiskey renaissance as well as an opportunity to savor the wonderful maritime climate of the Ards peninsula and from there it is only a stones throw to the bright lights of Belfast and a chance to visit some of the city's amazing whiskey bars.

For me unfortunately it was time to leave Shane, his staff and the wonderful distillery that is Echlinville. My thoughts are for the bright long summer months ahead when a return visit is eagerly awaited.