Exciting Times for Irish Whiskey at The Echlinville Distillery

As our Easyjet flight approaches Belfast International Airport the first thing I notice is how green the fields in Northern Ireland still are.  Back in England everything is scorched various shades of yellow after a summer with extended periods of heat and a distinct lack of rain.  It’s early September in 2022 and, despite a warmer summer than usual, the barley harvest has yet to begin for a lot of farmers.

I’d been in touch with the folks at the Echlinville Distillery since they very kindly sent me a bottle of Dunville’s Three Crowns Sherry Cask Finish for our St. Patrick’s Day tasting back in March.  I’d mentioned to them that I’d be in the country come September but, being the disorganized soul that I am, I’d neglected to let them know exactly when I was coming until two weeks before I arrived.

This hadn’t perturbed the Echlinville team and they’d generously offered to take us on a tour of the grounds and the distillery.  Echlinville isn’t a town or village you can drive to, it’s more of a historical area surrounding the Estate established by the Echlin family in the eighteenth century.  The location of the distillery has personal significance because my grandparents lived for many years in the fishing village of Kircubbin a five-minute drive from the distillery.

So off we set down the Ards Peninsula with plush green fields to our left (a nice change from the crispy yellow ones back in England) and a brooding Strangford Lough to our right.  The first thing we notice, as we drive up to the gates of the distillery, are the waving fields of barley floating in the wind.  Echlinville are Northern Ireland’s first field to glass farm distillery.  All the grain used in production at the distillery is grown and malted on the Ards Peninsula.  For me, this is something to be appreciated in a world where most of the barley used for whisky production travels hundreds miles before it gets to see the inside of a fermentation tank. 

At the top of the hill sits the Echlinville Manor House, a plush white mansion purchased by Shane Braniff in 2007 with the intention to build Northern Ireland’s first new distillery in 125 years around it.  As we make our way up the drive you can see a bustle of activity.  It’s the week before the grand opening of the brand new visitor experience and there’s plenty of work to be done with coffee shops and tasting rooms being erected inside shipping containers.

The centerpiece for the whole operation is a vast modern still house visible to the outside world through giant clear glass walls that run floor to ceiling.  Inside sits the hybrid still set up showcasing a wash still and spirit still attached to a double column still that gets used depending on what’s being produced that day.  In the back is another, smaller hybrid still used to make gin, complete with pot, column and infusion box.  The mezzanine level of the main still room is filled with tables and chairs so, if you wanted to, you could attend a formal dinner sat right in front these beautiful brass marvels. 

Echlinville produce a veritable array of spirits with several gin and vodka labels as well as a rather tasty poitin that’s well worth your time should you get the chance to sample.  The distillery’s main focus however is whiskey with the highly regarded Dunville’s range taking precedence while the hugely anticipated Echlinville Whiskey Inaugural Batch waits patiently before release later on in 2023. 

In fact, in a major achievement for the distillery, the Dunville’s 21 year old Palo Cortado Cask 1197 took home the prestigious title of “Best Whiskey” at the Irish Whiskey Awards held in November 2022. 

Dunville’s is an historic Belfast whiskey company that’s been revived by Echlinville.  The distillery release both blended and single malt whiskies under the label, usually after having spent time maturing in various different sherry casks.  We tasted through the range with particular favourites being the chocolate, coffee and raisined 12-Year-Old Single Malt PX Cask and the Three Crowns Married Sherry Finish; a blended whiskey packed with delicious butterscotch and caramel notes. 

So what’s new for Echlinville in 2023?  Well, aside from the long awaited release of it’s first distillery labelled release, the distillery continues to grow as a tourist destination offering not only tours of the distillery itself, but a series of walking trails through the woodlands and barley fields of the estate.  If you’re not able to make it across to the Ards Peninsula anytime soon, you can still taste a bit of Echlinville at the Oxford Wine Company with a 10% discount off all Irish whiskey in the build up to St. Patrick’s Day 2023. 

Our Selection from the Echlinville Distillery

Feckin Irish Whiskey – A smooth, crisp, easy drinking blended whiskey

Feckin Irish Gin – A citrus and juniper forward gin that’s perfect in a G&T

Dunville’s Three Crowns Blended Irish Whiskey – A wonderful sipping whiskey finished in both Oloroso and Sherry Casks

Dunville’s PX 12 Year Old – An unctious malt packed with chocolate, coffee, spice and caramel notes