In February of 2017 on my way to a lads weekend in Scotland, Mike Thompson and myself were very lucky to get a VIP visit of Echlinville Distillery on the Newtownards Peninsula outside Belfast. Echlinville itself isn’t a name synonymous with distilling whiskey, until now that is. It is the first establishment to receive a licence to distill whiskey in Northern Ireland in 125 years. They have revived the old Dunville brand of whiskey creating a wonderful PX cask finish, which has won several awards and have recently released their “Three Crowns” and “Three Crowns Peated” Whiskeys. The distillery have also followed the trend of other distilleries and entered the Gin market releasing the “Jawbox” brand along with Echlinville Gin.
Echlinville house itself is a large manor estate which was bought by Shane Braniff in 2010 and, in 2013, the first spirit ran from their mini still. Shane already had a legacy in Whiskey having created the “Feckin Irish Whiskey” brand in the mid-90s using a Malt from the Cooley distillery in Louth. Building of their impressive distillery was completed in late 2015 with official opening last year. The distillery is unusual in that it is very much family run. The Barley is grown on family land and even more unusually, it is malted themselves before delivery to the distillery. The distillery tour is also very unusual one due to the fact all the staff are either family or locals who can actually see the distillery from their houses. Walking through the distillery you can hear pride shining through as our tour guide gives up a step by step explanation of the production from the two 3 tonne washbacks up to the 6 tonne still. As we pass through the distillery we get a big hello from Graeme Millar the Master Distiller for Echlinville and a familiar face from Whiskey Live every year. The tour takes guests from delivery of the Malted barley through the mashing process up to the final distillation in a very intimate way. Echlinville allows their visitors to walk through the heart of the distillery and for those who might not have a good understanding of whiskey production, you will after this tour. At the end of the tour the stills and condenser make up a magnificent center piece in the middle of the tasting area but unfortunately, due to industry reasons, I could not take a photo of them. They truly are an impressive sight.
The processes utilised by Echlinville are very much a “back to basics” approach with a lot of their processes based on the traditional whiskey manufacturing down to where they age their cases, on open dirt/sand floors in the warehouse. Tradition is very evident and due to this, I can guarantee Echlinville is a distillery that will go from strength to strength. Highly recommended tour.