It was a bright and sunny weekday morning when we pulled up to the site of the brand new Hinch Distillery and Visitor Centre. Nestled in the rolling County Down countryside, the new Hinch Distillery & Visitor Centre sits half way between the city of Belfast and the mountains of Mourne – and will be open to visitors in early 2021.
We were handed high vis-jackets (the facility is still technically under construction) as we met up with Managing Director, Derek Hardy, who had offered to take us on a sneak peak tour of the almost finished facility.
With all the outer building work completed, the new facility is currently undergoing it’s internal fit out and tradesmen were busy on site giving it its finishing touches – painting, installing the copper stills and fixing the huge multi-cask custom light fitting to the vaulted ceiling of the entrance hall.
A nice touch on the facade of the building is the field stone, repurposed and silky smooth on the exterior walls.
The entrance hall, where the huge cask art installation light fixture will be housed, is where we began our tour, and where visitors to the centre will also being theres.
Derek explained that a cafe and gift shop will also most likely be housed here too. With its super high ceilings and panelled walls, the new build seems to have an ‘aged’ quality about it – definitely a clever fore-thought in the design.
A door to the right of the entrance will lead visitors into their first sensory experience. When finished, this room will house jars of barley, wheat and corn. Visitors will get to feel and smell each ingredient that goes into the whiskey, giving them a fully immersive experience.
“Time waits for no man, said nobody at Hinch Distillery. Because it is the passage of time and patience that is needed to work its magic, that creates the unique taste, that is our whiskey.”
Now, if you know anything about whiskey, you know that all three of those grains contain starch in their shells, starch which needs to be converted to sugar, which is needed for the fermentation process (where yeast forms sugar into alcohol). I love a good fermentation. When barley is malted, sugar can be extracted, but if it is not malted, or wheat of corn are used instead, the grain is cooked under pressure in order to cut the starch into sugar. I, have to be honest, I’ve never heard of corn being used for whiskey… is think it’s an American thing (in which case it isn’t actually whiskey), but it was interesting to know.
All the best whiskey’s are produced from malted barley. Fun fact: whiskey production in Ireland is so great what the whole country will never be able to sustain it from crops grown here alone, therefore a lot of grain used in Irish whiskey is imported.
From here you take the stairs up to the second floor where you can walk through the huge mash tuns where the magic happens. Here the sugar is extracted from the mash – and visitors will be able to peak in at the process in action via glass plates installed in the tuns. You will also be able to smell the mash as the sugars are extracted. It was nice and cool during out visit as the tuns were inactive, but once they are filled with hot mash it will be a humid room. Thankfully, the space is quite open, giving visitors breathing room, so to speak!
After the mash room, visitors will be led out onto the open balcony, which overlooks the three huge copper stills – 10,000Lt, 5,500Lt and 2,500Lt. Now this is where the ‘real magic’ happens. I’ll not spoil the fun by giving away too many specifics – you will need to book yourself on a tour of Hinch for the full rundown of how their whiskey is produced – but did you know that all whiskey is clear? The colour comes from the barrels during the ageing process, and the barrel that’s used can have an affect on the final flavour of the whiskey. Oh and you’ll learn a little something about angels too.
After the stills, visitors will be taken to the tasting room, where they can try some of the Distillery’s whiskey or gin (depending on which tour they are on. If you have opted for the whiskey tour you will samples a few of their finest, while if you are on a gin tour, you will ice able to indulge in a cocktail making masterclass.
After the tour, I’m sure you’ll be peckish… so it’s a good thing the Distillery will also house a restaurant alongside the cafe – although due to restrictions around Covid-19, these won’t be opening until later in 2021.
Aside from the new facility, Irish owned and operated, this independent distillery has built up quite a reputation over the past few years, scooping up a wide range of awards for their whiskey and gin, including achieving World Gin Award Gold status for its Ninth Wave brand gin.
The new £12 million distillery and visitor centre is located on the Killaney Estate, just outside the town Ballynahinch… of which the distillery takes its name. In Irish, Ballynahinch translates as ‘town of the island’.
The centre is due to open this year – and we were lucky enough to be invited down to see the construction work in progress.
Also worth noting is that Hinch owns some of the finest and rarest stocks of cask whiskey on the island of Ireland including a fantastic quality range of aged Blends, Pure Pot Still and a Peated single Malts called the Time Collection. The company also produces a unique craft Irish Gin called the Ninth Wave.
The Hinch Distillery is the brainchild of well-known Northern Ireland entrepreneur Dr Terry Cross OBE who was behind the hugely successful Delta Print and Packaging Limited company which he sold to Finnish packaging giant Huhtamaki in 2016.