Tyrone business partners Brian Ash and Jim Nash are understandably delighted that the first gin from their new distillery, Wild Atlantic, near Castlederg, has gained a major international award for quality and taste.
“It was amazing to be named as the Best Contemporary Gin in Northern Ireland in the prestigious World Gin Awards at our very first attempt,” says Brian.
“We were absolutely thrilled to come out on top in such an influential global competition.
“And it’s a marvellous boost for our small business and a tremendous encouragement for us as we build our distribution network here and in the Republic of Ireland,” he adds.
The global awards select and reward the very best in all internationally recognised styles of gin.They are presented by TheDrinksReport.com, the world’s leading online resource for drinks professionals.
Wild Atlantic Distillery was among six from Northern Ireland to win awards in the competition.
The others were: Belfast Artisan Distillery; Boatyard in Enniskillen; Echlinville, Kircubbin; Killowen, Rostrevor; and Symphonia, Moy.
Wild Atlantic founders, Brian, 48, and Jim, 52, have also just produced a unique lemon-infused Irish vodka at the distillery, which began production in 2020 at the small townland of Aghyaran.
The vodka features lemons sourced from Italy’s Amalfi coast and is also sugar-free.
In addition to its gin and vodka, Wild Atlantic is gearing up for the development of malt whiskeys in Tyrone.
The purpose-built distillery, constructed on land owned by Brian, also features a visitor centre, a traditional New York-style bar, a gin school, a programme of tours and cocktail master classes.
These have all, inevitably, been paused temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns from last April.
Brian, who has a successful background in marine engineering in global markets, is a native of Plymouth and was based in Lanzarotte for 15 years.
He came to Northern Ireland with his wife, Marie, who hails from Tyrone, and family of three.
Jim, his brother-in-law, who is originally from County Clare, has extensive experience in the hospitality industry here and abroad, including in New York and the Republic of Ireland.
They first met in Spain and subsequently decided to invest in the construction of the new distillery and the creation of a range of small batch spirits in Tyrone.
The two families were brought to Tyrone by a variety of influences, including “education for our children,” Brian says.
“Our wives are sisters from the county,” he continues. “We were also both interested in running a business together and identified an opportunity in Northern Ireland’s very exciting distilling industry.
“We’re passionate about maintaining the history of independent, traditional and craft distilleries and have been working hard on our whiskey, gin and vodka recipes.”
Brian, the master distiller, explains: “Our spirits are all distilled in a handmade copper pot still using a combination of traditional and modern skills to produce an exceptional artisan product.”
Unique casks are being selected for the maturation of a distinctive and premium Irish whiskey. He operates two stills with a combined capacity of 1,500 litres.
“We were also keen to revive the tradition of whiskey distilling in an area close to where Watt and Company, once Ireland’s biggest producer of the premium spirit, was located before it was shut due to an industrial dispute a century ago this year,” he says.
“The growth in demand for premium whiskey, especially in the US, Canada and Australia, presented a significant business opportunity to us.
“The investment, which has been assisted by Tourism NI, is also creating employment opportunities and providing an attractive tourism destination in a part of Tyrone that’s within reach of Ireland’s epic Wild Atlantic Way, a popular location for thousands of American visitors before the pandemic. We chose the Wild Atlantic branding to reflect this,” he adds.
The Wild Atlantic Way is an imaginative tourist trail on the west coast of Ireland. The 1,553 mile driving route passes through nine counties.
“It is Ireland’s first long-distance touring route and touches over 20 distilleries, which is incredible when it’s considered that until 10 years ago there were fewer than five distilleries, including Old Bushmills in County Antrim, on the island of Ireland. There are now about a dozen alone in Northern Ireland,” he adds.
Both the Wild Atlantic gin and vodka are selling well, he continues, adding that the distillery is currently developing outlets on the island of Ireland and further afield. He describes the new vodka as an “all-natural product”.
A unique feature of the award-winning gin, which won the Northern Ireland Country Category in the Best Contemporary Gin section of the world awards, is a unique blend of ocean botanicals such as organic sugar kelp and dulse harvested by hand from the waters of the Porcuplne Bank, off the coast of Clare.
The gin also features a rare coriander from a specialist grower in Kent.