James Huey is a real trail blazer in the food, drink and hospitality industries here. The Derry entrepreneur is a brewer of superb craft beers, an award winning restaurateur, an educator, supporter of innovative small businesses and now a creator of the Maiden City’s first-ever craft gin.
James, the owner of Walled City Brewery in Ebrington, the first brewery in Derry for over a century, has just introduced Earhart Gin to commemorate the amazing exploits of American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the renowned flyer who landed in a field at Ballyarnett, near Derry, after becoming the first female pilot to fly non-stop solo across the Atlantic. That was back in 1932. And she’s still remembered fondly in Derry to this day, particularly by the thousands of Americans who visit the city annually.
James explains: “Flying solo from Newfoundland in Canada to land in a field at Ballyarnett, just outside Derry, was a stunning achievement by any measure and a world ‘first’.
“We are now celebrating this in the launch of the city’s first craft gin. While Derry was once home of Watt’s in Abbey Street, Ireland’s biggest whiskey distillery and producer of the famed Tyrconnel Irish Whiskey, gin was never distilled here….until now!
“Amelia Earhart’s outstanding achievement also draws thousands of Americans here to celebrate her courage and gritty determination. The aviator was just 34 when she touched down here,” he continues. “We thought that American visitors, other tourists as well as locals, who respect her remarkable achievements, would love to raise a glass of our unique Earhart Gin to toast her inspirational story and her historic connection with Derry. I’d also love to see a museum here to honour her,” he adds.
To showcase the aviator’s historic connection with Derry, he has extended his existing and hugely successful brewery and visitor centre to facilitate a new pot still for gin. “Gin distilling was, in many ways, a logical development for us because the processes are similar,” he explains. “We’ve also been holding gin supper classes over many months at the brewery. They’ve proved extremely popular,” he says.
The brewery, which is located at Ebrington Square and is now a cornerstone in the regeneration of this important site overlooking the Foyle, was formed in 2015 by James and wife Louise and has since developed a portfolio of original craft beers. It also operates a multi-award winning restaurant and a successful Homebrew Academy, the first in Ireland. James has a longstanding background in the Irish brewery industry and is a Master Brewer.
Earhart Gin also features botanicals harvested from the field where Amelia Earhart touched down after her exacting flight from Newfoundland. They include elderflower, hawthorn and purple saxiphrage – the official flower of Derry – which are blended into the gin during the distillation process.
“Our aim has been to create a distinctive and authentic Derry gin with as wide an appeal as possible. In addition, we have created a number of unique cocktails which also mark Amelia Earhart’s achievement,” he says. “These Include Little Red Bus, Amelia’s nickname for her tiny aircraft. “It’s a version of the traditional Bloody Mary cocktail. We’ve also taste tested with our focus group and received a very positive feedback,” he adds.
“There’s also Newfoundland Love, a signature cocktail featuring local apples for a really refreshing drink,” he adds. “The cocktails are aimed at female drinkers in particular and are also designed to enhance and celebrate the whole Amelia Earhart inspirational story, her connections with Derry and the mystery surrounding her sad disappearance on an attempt, in 1937, to become the first to fly around the globe.
She had hoped to land in Paris, but bad weather and technical problems altered her course and instead, after a freezing flight lasting almost 15 hours, she landed in the Gallagher family’s field at Ballyarnett. Interestingly, Lilian Bland, regarded as being among the world’s first aviators, built her own aircraft and flight tested the machine on hill at Carnmoney, near Belfast, in 1910.
As well as his contribution to brewing and hospitality and now distilling, James has been an active supporter of other entrepreneurial enterprises in the city and has also encouraged other smart ideas in food, hospitality and the city’s rich heritage. He produced craft beers such as Boom and Stitch. Boom marks the breaking of the boom in the 17th century and Stitch the city’s historic shirt industry.
He created a beer following the outstanding success of Derry Girls, the hit TV series. He’s also supported enthusiastically many local initiatives especially within the food industry including the latest LegenDerry branding initiative to promote collaboration across all sectors of food and drink.
Another important initiative was to come up with a way to turn spent grain, a waste, from the brewing process into a granola product and a small company run by sister Jill McKillop of Grainola Goddess which offers a range of novel toasted granolas which are now proving immensely popular for breakfast and snacking. Spent grain is packed with essential nutrients, fibre and proteins.