Husband-and-wife team David and Fiona Boyd-Armstrong opened Northern Ireland’s first craft distillery at Rademon Estate just outside Downpatrick in 2012. This year they launched Shortcross Gin, their first small batch craft spirit
Name: Fiona Boyd-Armstrong
Occupation: Operations manager, Shortcross Gin
Relationship to David: Wife
I met David in Auntie Annie's bar in Belfast about eight years ago - he spent the night relentlessly pursuing me across the dance floor! He managed to get my number, though, and we've been together ever since.
At the time I was a surveyor but the idea of creating a craft distillery was already there. I had read a magazine article about distilling in Ireland and how there weren't many stills left. Even the few that remained were on the brink of closure so it seemed like a dying art and I thought about reviving it.
I had mentioned to my dad about opening a distillery at my family home, the Rademon Estate, and he said no. It was that refusal that made the entrepreneurial spirit kick in for me and I decided that some day I would make it happen.
David and I always knew that we wanted to work together and I told him about my idea for a distillery. David, being David, applied his usual methodical approach; he started asking questions like what did we need and how were we going to do it.
After we got married in 2011 we spent a couple of years researching distilleries and brewing. Every time we had leave from work we would pack a small bag and jump on a plane to anywhere in the world to visit stills. Our weekends were spent doing courses in brewing and distilling.
We formed the distillery in 2012. There were small issues at the beginning as we got used to working together but we never let them get us down. We launched Shortcross Gin six months ago and we're still producing just a few bottles each time.
Now, if any big issues arise then we examine them and ask each other how we will solve the problem. David and I just want to keep our heads down and keep working.
We do make time to spend together as a couple without focusing on work. We also both have our own friends and get to spend time apart, too. We've found a formula that works for us and we're going to stick with it.
Name: David Boyd-Armstrong
Occupation: Distiller, Shortcross Gin
Relationship to Fiona: Husband
When I proposed to Fiona, she had been away over Christmas and came home on Boxing Day. I was waiting for her with a photo book I had created of all the trips we had taken together and a ring. I did get down on one knee and thankfully she said yes.
I was working as a technologies manager when we met. I did think I might someday end up working for myself, but I never would have imagined it would be on something like a distillery. We had talked about it for so long by the time we got married that we decided to embark on a two-year research phase.
We did a lot of investigation into the type of gin that we wanted to produce so we chose ones already on the market that we both liked the taste of and also particularly the ones that we didn’t like the taste.
We really wanted to create a gin that reminded us of home. We take our inspiration from the gardens and forest surrounding us here at Rademon Estate and we wanted to create a gin that would be reminiscent of that.
We created a product that was full of aroma and flavour — Shortcross Gin tastes like summer meadows and wild berries. We try to forage a lot of local botanicals, and we take elderberries and elderflowers from the forest here at Rademon. We use local apples too, again some from the orchard here on the estate. We’re also the only gin that uses wild clover, the little white flowers you see in the garden. We also use water from our own well. It’s pure and unfiltered.
We do everything by hand, from the blending to the distilling all the way down to bottling, labelling and sealing the bottle with wax. It is a labour of love but we like to take our time and make sure that everything is done properly. Distilling takes 24 hours and it’s not easy at all — one of us has to be on site at all times.
Now that it’s up and running we both bring our own skills to the business. Fiona is very meticulous and organised while I’m a little more careful in bringing things together. We both work across all areas — as a team of two it’s important that we both know all aspects of the business.
We live and work at the estate now so work and home life can be very much intertwined with our jobs, but we always keep Wednesday night as our date night. We both like to cook so we’ll make some dinner and try not to talk about work. The business is still new and it can be very much 24/7 so it’s nice to carve out a niche for ourselves.
Something to raise a glass to