Emma Deighan visited Hinch Distillery and was very impressed with what’s on offer
Hinch whiskey and gin distillery, which lies off the main thoroughfare between Carryduff and Ballynahinch has waited patiently to open its doors to the public.
Covid-19 set the business, which is the brainchild of Antrim Road-born businessman Dr Terry Cross OBE, back almost a year, despite a buzzing launch at the Harp bar back in winter 2019.
It was there where it unveiled its aged Hinch whiskeys and Ninth Wave gin to a very, not socially distanced crowd of revellers.
And even then, when the launch of craft distilleries, breweries, and other drinks’ firms here was rife, there was still an air of excitement about this one because Hinch Distillery isn’t just a place of whiskey and gin distilling; it’s geared up to be a new hub for events (both public and personal), a new eatery on the hospitality map, but mostly it’s set to become a new tourism attraction.
Everything from the interior, which is designed by the creatives behind Manhattan’s Dead Rabbit, to the suave restaurant are impressive.
The courtyard where the restaurant sits is particularly charming with its backdrop of stonework.
There’s something distinctly refined about the place.
Visitors are greeted by a timelessly decorated reception and gift store area. Tweed-wearing cigar smokers wouldn’t look out of place sitting on the high back upholstery here.
I’m not the biggest drinker, in fact I’m verging on teetotal, but I always appreciate a good craft and skill so a visit to a distillery is not totally averse to my lifestyle and that’s the first thing I will say to anyone who is considering swapping a typical day trip for the unusual.
I’ve also been on my fair share of drinks tours to compare the new with the experienced and this one is up there, but then Terry Cross is no novice to the drinks scene.
The former Delta Packaging owner runs his own vineyard in Bordeaux from which he produces his Chateau de la Ligne wine line.
Our tour guide, Alan Greer, met us at reception and began the tour in a sophisticated apothecary style room where samples of malted barley and corn coupled with Alan’s narrative lay bare the foundations of a good whiskey.
We then moved on to the imposing distilling room where we hear terms including malting, mashing, brewing and more in what is a roadmap detailing wheat to alcohol.
The grand copper stills, of which there are three named after mountains in Co Down (Slieve Donard, Slieve Croob and Wee Binnian) take Hinch Whiskey through the triple-tiered process that places it in the premium category despite its new name.
We also come across the three angels who look upon the packaging area of the distillery awaiting their ‘share’ — a quota afforded to them thanks to evaporation of the ageing process. These angels, I’m told, are a tradition in the Irish whiskey making process.
For those who aren’t familiar with the whiskey journey, the distilled liquids are called ‘new-make spirits’ until they are aged at least three years. After this point, they can be rightfully christened as a whiskey.
Hinch uses a range of casks in which to age its whiskey; from first filled bourbon casks to wine and craft beer varieties. Each will infuse their own unique flavour into the whiskey.
Some of these barrels are left for up to 18 years, some are 10, others five and the youngest is three years old.
We learn about the ‘mouthfeels’ and flavours each cask has on the finished product and we discover many NI parents and godparents have already earmarked 18-year-old bottles for their children and/or godchildren when they come of age.
In the tasting room where a fleet of whiskeys are presented to each guest on the tour, sampling is the highlight.
I discovered the peculiar, memory-inducing Peated Single Malt variety (approximately £37) was worth an investment, while the majority in my party opted for a 10-year-old sherry cask variety which will set you back around £50.
The tour concludes back at the gift store where the influence of the tour makes its mark and while leaving is permitted, to make the tour a real experience, a trip to the Hinch Brasserie is recommended.
The menu is a mix of typical fusion dishes all with indigenous ingredients that play on that Co Down/NI heritage.
Main courses start from £12.95 for a charcuterie platter and max at £16.95 for Whiskey Cask Smoked Cured Beef Short Rib with whipped potato but lite bites are also available.
While this was a gifted tour, I would like to return with a group of friends to really enjoy the experience and savour the courtyard area with a few signature whiskey cocktails or Peated straights and that’s on the agenda. Hinch is here to stay and the influx of awards it has beckoned in its short life would agree.
A tour lasts around 60 minutes and costs £18 including two whiskeys or £27 for a fleet of four whiskeys.
For more details and to book visit: www.hinchdistillery.com.