Ulster Whiskey Blog
Build it and they will come
“Build it and they will come.” The lines whispered to Kevin Costner in the film Field Of Dreams, when he is standing in a field of wheat thinking about building a Baseball stadium. He follows his dream and the rather spooky voice. He does just that and everything turns out rather nicely.
I think we have all had ideas like that from time to time, obviously not a Baseball field and probably not in a wheat field, but a grand dream that we could build something that will make our mark on the world. A vision some would say. Most of us, let’s be honest, end up sitting on the sofa having a dram or three and watching whatever is on Sky Atlantic. Once in a while though someone goes along with the whispers and actually sees it through. They tend to be the eccentrics, the visionaries, the do’ers, the capable, most times a healthy mixture of all those and more. In reality they are the ones who change the world.
I saw an Ulster version of a Baseball ground a few days ago when I went to the first new Whiskey distillery to be opened in 125 years in Northern Ireland. The Echlinville Estate is located near Kircubbin on the Ards Peninsula. The estate mansion dates from the 1850’s but is built on the site of a former mansion that went all the way back to the 1600’s and sitting right beside it is a brand spanking new distillery. Gleaming with Copper and glass, although some of the copper isn’t as gleaming as you usually find in a distillery (More on that a little later.)
On arrival we were met by Suzanne who chatted away and asked us did we want a cup of tea or coffee, rather like we knew each other of old. I wouldn’t be certain what Suzanne’s actual job title is and the whole place has a feel that job titles aren’t anything anyone is all that bothered about, it isn’t that kind of place. It feels more like a place where everyone just does whatever they think needs done, and it is all the better for it. It has a family feel to it more than anything. So the Lady of the house, Lynn popped in and gave a brief outline of the whole place: The house, the gardens (and the fact they are listed, making building anything extremely difficult) the vision her husband had etc. Lynn laughed in a way that gave an impression that she can’t really believe all this has actually happened but she seems to be really enjoying the experience. She then handed us over to Graham. Now as I mentioned before job titles don’t seem all that important around the place but Graham wears a number of hats. He is the distiller, blender and on the day was a tour guide. What a privilege it was to have someone of his calibre taking us round.
So into the heart of the operation we went and had the usual tour of the mash tuns and explanations of yeast and heat. Graham went a fair bit further than the usual guide does, however, because that is his actual day job and may have been lost on some of the party. The outstanding thing that sprang up was that the estate not only grow all their own barley, but that they also malt their own on a traditional malting floor. Not in massive drums controlled by computer but by a man with a shovel. Hardly anyone does this anymore because it is slow and expensive. Most distilleries import their barely from malt houses that can be anywhere. Lots of the barely in Scotch is grown in England, or further afield (Pun intended).
So up we went into the still. Two pot stills and two column stills, Graham explained that they are making Gin, Whiskey, Poteen and Vodka…really where ever they throw the net wide. “Ten barrels of whiskey a week at the moment and WE don’t clean the outside of the pot still.” There was a few puzzled looks from some of the assembly as to why this would be the case. The head distiller explained it was to do with the flavour profile of the end product rather than to make it shiny for the tourists (I won’t go into detail as to why that should be, go see Graham). My heart sang at this. when an outfit is that focussed on flavour you know it is more of an enthusiast running the show than any corporate suit, when he said “we” I got the feeling he was serious. If he thought it would help the whole operation the distiller/blender would crack out the marigolds without hesitation.
So into the store and it was amazing as to what was in it. There were a few barrels, not that many and there didn’t seem to be any hugely organised storing system: Barrels of their side, upright, in racks, over sand, small casks, stamped casks, sherry butts… There was also 3 tanks. Not water tanks or tanks of whatever, Russian T-22’s and the like. Yip, the owner collects them, it is that kind of place. There was Barrel No 1 on the shelf and it was distilled 3 years ago and is now officially Whiskey. It’s still too young and will need some time yet, apparently.
Now for the tasting of the blends they currently have on sale. Suzanne did barmaid and there was Dunvilles VR , Three crowns, Echlinville Gin and Jawbox. I was driving, alas, so could only have a tiny nip but can assure you Dunvilles is outstanding. Triple crown not just as good, but still quality. Jawbox is really taking off at the minute and I hope it doesn’t impact on the production of their Whiskey because if the blending of Dunvilles is anything to go by we are in for a real treat when Echlinville Whiskey truly hits the market. A real treat.
Lunch was homemade sandwiches and soup. Proper homemade stuff, thick, filled, ordinary, tasty. It worked so well as if it had been made by some full time chef it would have knocked the whole thing off. I imagine Lynn and Suzanne made them up while we went round the buildings and had a yarn about something funny while they did it. More tea and more Gin or Whiskey went round. For those who weren’t driving it was beginning to have the makings of a good day. So I decided to have a chat with Lynn and then to head off, she apologised for her husband not being here and gave us a few ideas that they have, but then explained that they have found a well in the site and are thinking they might be for using that in the future, subject to testing. So this could be in a few years all homemade.
Echlinville is inspired and inspirational. Here you will have a Whiskey that is produced at home, using wheat that is grown on the farm, using water from the site, that will be non-chill filtered, matured on site, family run and operated by a team that obviously have care and passion. I haven’t mentioned the man with the vision, yet, for a reason. Dreamers seldom do things alone, they get the right people in the right place and at the distillery I think Mr. Shane Braniff has cracked it and more power to him. An Ulster Whiskey is always going to be better than a homerun on a Baseball field.