The first new distillery in almost 100 years opened in Belfast at the beginning of May. Titanic Distillers at Thompson Dock opened at the former site of where the famous ship was built. I had the pleasure of visiting in mid May to experience the tour and tasting. And what an experience. I highly recommend the Premium Docks Tour which takes you down to where the Titanic once rested before its voyage. The tour is both a history lesson as well as a whiskey experience.Initially venturing outside the distillery structure, the tour ventures around the famous Thompson Dock. After a brief history you are led around the Dock before heading down below. Here you are able to see the original fixtures that surrounded the workers who prepared the Titanic for its voyage.Back inside the distillery, you are led around the building which was the pumphouse for the dry dock. The original fixtures and control panel are all still intact as the Irish Whiskey production was built around the existing architecture. Three copper pot stills and the spirit safe were placed within the building while maintaining the building's history.After hearing about the building's history and the process of making Irish Whiskey, we were then led to the tasting area. Currently, the tasting offers a sourced whiskey and local Vodka.
Belfast’s first whiskey distillery in 90 years to open its doors
Historic building will also operate as visitor centre
At one time, the only liquid that Belfast’s Thompson Dock pump house handled was water, but things have changed. The pump house and neighbouring dry dock catered for White Star liners such as Olympic and Titanic more than 100 years ago, and it’s now the site of the city’s first working whiskey distillery in almost 90 years.
The brainchild of lottery winner Peter Lavery, Stephen Symington and Richard Irwin, Titanic Distillers at Thompson Dock opens to the public next Friday.
The media was given a preview of the operation yesterday, complete with a tour that explained the long process of creating whiskey.
Almost £8m has been invested to convert the pump house into a distillery and visitor centre, where guests will be able to sample some of Titanic Distillers’ products.
Visitors can also enjoy a guided tour of the exterior dry dock, which includes a 66-step descent to where the Titanic last rested on dry land.
The ground floor features a wall of wooden casks, the likes of which are used to age the whiskey for a minimum of three years before it officially becomes Irish whiskey.
All of the original equipment and historic features of the building have been retained, while three massive Forsyth’s stills dominate the mezzanine floor of the building, overlooking the authentic Gwynee pumping machines.
Titanic Distillers is aiming to produce up to five barrels a day, with the first whiskey to be laid down in barrels in the coming months.
However, as it’s a slow process, it will be a few years before we’ll see it on the market.
In 1996, bus driver Mr Lavery, now 60, made national headlines when he won £10.2m in the UK lottery.
He detailed the long journey the team has faced to transform the site.
“We were looking for a place to distil whiskey in Belfast and didn’t know this building was sitting here and not in full use,” he said.
“It took us about a year to get the lease in place and then we had to go down the road of getting planning permission for the actual distillery that we wanted to set up inside the building.
“This is a heritage building and also a monument site, so there was a lot of history and obstacles to go through to get it to where we’re at now.
“From getting the lease, to planning permission and construction, we’re talking about five-and-a-half years to get to this point. Also, Covid happened in the middle of all that, which didn’t help.”
On the results of the investment poured into the project, Peter said that the team is “super delighted”.
“It’s unbelievable to think you could turn an old building into what is essentially now a museum and working distillery,” he added.
“It’s amazing. Richard, Stephen and I, we’re over the moon. After all the hard work, we’ve finally got here.
“I think the Historical Environment Division, the public body that looks after all these old buildings, will also be very pleased with how this has been brought back into spectacular new use.”