The Friend At Hand

Posted by Irish Whiskey USA on

The Friend at Hand is a celebration of Belfast and Irish Whiskey. Part store. Part Museum. Owner Willie Jack has built an institution to honor the history of Belfast and its role in Irish Whiskey traditions.
Located on Hill Street in the Cathedral Quarter, the shop's exterior is fairly unassuming with its red brick facade and black trim signage, door, and window. Stepping inside, the "shop" is relatively small, maybe 10' by 10' with left side staircase, register, and dozens of Irish Whiskey bottles filling shelf space. The store is very unique. Only Irish Whiskey is sold here. All sales are in-store only. No website. No online mail order. This is consistent with Willie's aim to promote Belfast. Despite countless requests to purchase his exclusive bottlings via shipment, Willie won't budge. The goal is to get people to come to Belfast, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and experience the city. I highly recommend you visit if only to enjoy the unbelievable history, spectacle, and atmosphere of the Friend at Hand.
Towards the back of the shop is an entrance to a back area room that holds hundreds of wonderfully displayed bottles representing the history of Irish Whiskey. Wall to wall behind glass display cases you can see complete collections of Irish Whiskey from Bushmills, Midleton Very Rare, and distilleries closed decades ago. Bottles of extinct brands, rare expressions, and sought after collectibles everywhere you look in well lit displays. In addition to bottles, are other pieces of history representing Ireland and especially Belfast's whiskey tradition.
As if this museum is not enough, a separate tasting room behind a red velvet rope ups the ante. Again the walls are covered with both classic signage and glass display cases housing even more rare and expensive Irish Whiskeys. In the center of the room is a long oval table with leather chairs, individual wooden tasting trays, and an encased glass display holding the entire collection of Redbreast releases. The Irish Whiskeys on display in these back exhibition rooms are not for sale.
There are plenty of bottles for sale in the front shop room including store exclusives. In particular are a series of Bushmill's Single Malts bottled under the Friend at Hand label, all with distinct names and finishes. The first dozen of these limited releases were all aged 13 years, bottled at 46% abv, and signed by Willie Jack.
In 2023, the 13th and final expression in the series went on sale. Unlike its predecessors, "Journey's End" is a 14yr Bushmill's Single Malt at cask strength 54% abv. The bottle on sale during my visit in May was finished in Italian Amarone casks. However, during my time exploring the shop/museum, I was told of a second single malt expression finished in Italian Barolo casks not yet for sale. At the same 14yr and 54% abv, this was the perfect souvenir to purchase and commemorate the Friend at Hand experience.
I highly recommend you get to Belfast and visit The Friend at Hand. You won't be disappointed. As I learned you can lose track of time as you soak in everything. That's OK. If you find yourself still there in the morning you can always utilize the store "slippers".

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