Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Niche Drinks toasts backing for £15m whiskey distillery project in Derry

An artist’s impression of what the new distillery will look like when Niche Drinks opens for business in Campsie
An artist’s impression of what the new distillery will look like when Niche Drinks opens for business in Campsie

The whiskey will be flowing in Londonderry after planning permission was granted for the first major new distillery in the city in more than 200 years.

Niche Drinks — which produces St Brendan’s as well as a range of other own-brand Irish cream liquors for major UK supermarkets — said it was delighted the application had been successful.

The £15m new distillery will see Niche Drinks move from their base at Glendermott Road in the Waterside to the vacant Fruit Of the Loom site in Campsie.

The construction of a new distillery will resurrect one of Derry’s most important historical industries.

Derry was once the world’s largest whiskey producer, with numerous distilleries operating across the city.

The Irish whiskey plants were decimated when prohibition was introduced in the US — Irish whiskey’s biggest market.

Prior to this Irish whiskey had consistently outsold Scotch whisky and the largest producer in Ireland was the eight-acre Watt’s Distillery site on Abbey Street in Derry’s Bogside.

At present there are 198 Scottish distilleries and just three across the island of Ireland.

The Derry distillery will be the fourth in Ireland and the only one that is independently owned by local people.

Around 10 jobs will be created at the new plant to add to the 92 people already employed by Niche Drinks at peak times.

Niche Drinks is owned by three local men.

Managing director Ciaran Mulgrew said he and his business partners Michael Corry and Robin Young had already purchased

equipment from a Swedish distillery and elsewhere.

He added that work on site would depend on securing planning permission to transform the current plant at Glendermott Road into a supermarket complex and finding a buyer.

St Brendan’s and the Irish cream liqueur production and cocktails operations will be moved to the same site as the new distillery.

Derry’s links with US aviator Amelia Earhart — who flew into the city in 1932 — are an early favourite to claim the name of the new whiskey.

“It is great that we have got permission for the distillery end and we are waiting now on this second planning application now,” Mr Mulgrew said. “Our current town site has been in use as either a dairy or drinks manufacturing plant for over 50 years and while we continue to operate to the highest international standards, it gets harder to maintain the production facilities as each year goes by.

“We have been delighted by the response to our application from local politicians, local suppliers and from Derry City Council who have been tremendously supportive.”

”The last hurdle for us to clear is to secure planning permission for change of use of the existing town site at Rossdowney Road to a supermarket use, the proceeds from a sale of this site will be invested in the new factory and distillery.”

He added: “Our business has remained strong even in the current climate and we have to plan for the future.

“We want to increase our production capacity and to add new technologies into the business and that is why we are building a distillery in the new factory.”

Niche Drinks are the largest outlet for cream from local farmers.

Mr Mulgrew confirmed that the new distillery also plans to use locally-produced grain in its whiskey production process.

He said: “Over the last 30 years, Niche Drinks has paid around £300m in corporation tax, duty, PAYE and in sourcing local inputs.

“For a locally-owned business like ours, building a new drinks factory and distillery is a big commitment.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed for an early decision on our application for a change of use of our current site to supermarket use and we will then invest the proceeds from a sale of that site into the new facility.”

Praise was heaped on the company during this week’s meeting of Derry City Council’s Planning Committee.

DUP Councillor Maurice Devenney said: “It is good to see businesses reaching out and expanding in the current climate we are in.”

SDLP Councillor and local farmer Thomas Conway added: “On behalf of the agricultural sector they are a very important outlet and we wish them well.”

Background

The current Niche Drinks plant at Glendermott Road was a Leckpatrick cream dairy as far back as the 1950s. It later became St Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur and the world-famous brand is still produced onsite. St Brendan’s is currently sold to 32 countries around the world. The biggest market is the US and it is also popular in places as diverse as Japan and Scandanavia.

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