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Once-famous Co Down whiskey is back on the shelves after 100 years

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Michael McKeown and Andrew Cowan of Matt D’Arcy & Company

Michael McKeown and Andrew Cowan of Matt D’Arcy & Company

Michael McKeown and Andrew Cowan of Matt D’Arcy & Company

A distillery in Co Down has launched two new products following the relaunch of a once globally famous whiskey brand.

Business partners Andrew Cowan and Michael McKeown have spent the last two years working hard to resurrect Newry's Matt D'Arcy whiskey brand.

So, even as many in the drinks trade are wondering what the future holds, Matt D'Arcy & Co Limited has after a gap of more than a century unveiled a 17-year-old single malt and a 10-year-old blend finished in port casks from Barbados aimed at the super-premium and premium whiskey markets respectively.

The launch is part of a £7.3m investment in the original Newry site of the Matt D'Arcy Whiskey Company, with plans for an on-site distillery, restaurant, Victorian bar and international visitor centre.

The pair are confident that the attention to detail they have put into achieving just the right taste and presentation for their new whiskeys will win over fans in a category that has boomed globally in recent years. "I have worked 24/7 and taken no holidays for well over two years in the planning of this," said Mr Cowan, who is chief executive of the firm founded and owned by Mr McKeown.

The first few weeks of business had seen brisk online sales and home deliveries to housebound tipplers and the first consignment sold out sooner than expected. Other listings, as well as a launch in the lucrative US market, are also on the cards once some type of normality returns to the business world.

"It's difficult to launch in the middle of a crisis, but then again it's always difficult to launch in such a competitive market," said Mr Cowan.

"My plan from the start has always been to leapfrog to the super-premium end of the market."

That plan was given an immediate boost last month when both of the whiskeys won multiple awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with the 17-year-old single malt taking Best Irish Whiskey in a blind taste test.

It was a moment of great personal satisfaction for Mr Cowan, whose great-grandfather was behind the famous Belfast brand Cowan's Whiskey.

He has worked for brands including Coca Cola, Kerry Foods, Ballygowan and The Gathering 2013.

But he said he could not resist a return to the drinks trade when Mr McKeown, a keen historian but not a whiskey drinker, approached him with a proposal to breathe new life into the Matt D'Arcy story. "I put an awful lot of my heart and soul into Matt D'Arcy's," Mr Cowan said.

Belfast Telegraph