Stills blazing after all these years – Whiskey production now under way in Belfast for the first time since prohibition in 1930s
WHISKEY BUSINESS: Titanic Distillers directors Peter Lavery (left) and Stephen Symington (right) joined Head Distiller Damien Rafferty to celebrate as production started at Belfast’s first working whiskey distillery since the days of prohibition in the 1930s.
FOR the first time in almost 90 years, the production of whiskey is under way again in Belfast, on the site of the historic Thompson Dock and Pumphouse, the birthplace of the Titanic.
Drinks company Titanic Distillers has invested almost £8 million to convert the Pumphouse, a listed building in the heart of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, into the city’s first working whiskey distillery since the days of prohibition in the 1930s.
Having been granted its Distillers License to produce spirits last week, the shiny new copper stills are now up and pouring at the distillery, under the watchful eye of Head Distiller Damien Rafferty.
“We opened our doors to tourists in April this year to allow visitors to explore the distillery and the site where Titanic last rested on dry ground,” said Damien, “but to finally begin production on site is an incredible feeling and a huge milestone, not just for us but for the city of Belfast.
“A lot of time, hard work and investment has gone into this amazing project to date, but this week marks the culmination of all that – with the distillery and visitor attraction now both fully operational.
“In many ways though, the job is only beginning as we start producing a whiskey that the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland can be proud of, and one that will represent us well all over the world ,” he added.
The new distillery will produce single malt premium whiskey made from ingredients that have been carefully selected to produce the best possible flavour.
A unique house blend of malted barley and yeast is used to produce the ‘wash’ which is then distilled in the three Forsyth’s stills, situated on a mezzanine floor overlooking the Pumphouse’s original Gwynne pumping engines which are deep in the building’s pump-well.
Titanic Distillers Director Peter Lavery reflected on what he claims is ‘a momentous occasion’.
““It’s been quite a journey over the past five years but we are thrilled to get our license and to start producing our own spirits on site,” said Peter.
”Whiskey has played an important part in the history of our city but there hasn’t been a working distillery here since the 1930s, so, as a Belfast boy, it really means a lot to me to revive this great distilling tradition – and help bring Belfast back to the forefront of Irish Whiskey production.
“Once, we led the way globally – not just in shipbuilding but across many areas of industry, manufacturing and innovation,” he continued. “With our Titanic Distillers Premium Irish Whiskey, now produced on this most historic of sites, we hope to do so again.”
The Thompson Dry Dock first opened in 1911 to service and accommodate the massive White Star transatlantic liners Olympic and Titanic.
All of the original pump equipment and associated internal historic features in the adjacent Pumphouse have been retained and are available to view as part of the associated visitor tours, while the exterior includes a new food and beverage area.
Stephen Symington, Director of Titanic Distillers, added: “This has been a real labour of love for all concerned over a period of more than five years – from the initial seeds, through the planning process and then the loving restoration of one of our city’s most historic and iconic buildings.
“Our ambition, from the outset, has always been to embrace the history of our distillery’s location to create a unique product and visitor experience, immersed in the spirit of Belfast’s industrial and maritime past and inspired by the people who worked in Belfast’s shipyard more than a century ago.
“However, outside of the site’s massive tourism appeal and historic significance, it is important to recognise that, from this moment forward, we are now a working distillery in which we will be producing our own products to build on our success to date and make the most of the growing global demand for Irish Whiskey.”
Titanic Distillers at Thompson Dock is within walking distance of Titanic Belfast, the world’s biggest Titanic exhibition centre and Northern Ireland’s number one tourist attraction, clocking up more than 800,000 visitors per annum in the days before Covid-19.
Also resident in the Titanic Quarter is the SS Nomadic tender ship which ferried passengers to the great liner, and HMS Caroline, a decommissioned C-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy that saw combat service in the First World War and served as an administrative centre in the Second World War.
For more information, visit www.titanicdistillers.com.