Crumlin Road Gaol to become home to whiskey distillery

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Image source, Department for the Economy
Image caption,
Belfast Distillery Company's John Kelly (left) was joined by three Stormont ministers and Invest NI at the investment launch

Part of a former Belfast prison is to be converted into a whiskey distillery with an accompanying visitors' centre as a result of a £22.3m investment.

The Belfast Distillery Company is hoping to create 49 jobs with its new business venture inside the Crumlin Road Gaol in the north of the city.

The Crum, as it was nicknamed, opened in 1846 and operated as a prison for 150 years.

The last inmates left in 1996 and the building is now a tourist attraction.

The firm creating the new venue is receiving £1.9m in support from Stormont's Department for Communities and Invest Northern Ireland.

The company produces McConnell's Irish Whisky, a brand which has only been on the market for two years, but which traces its Belfast roots back to 1776.

The brand was revived by a group of American investors.

Rapid growth

Belfast Distillery Company intends to transform the A-Wing section of the listed Victorian building into a working distillery.

Their plans include a bar and shop and they hope the venue will host up to 100,000 visitors each year.

"We launched McConnell's Irish Whisky in 2020 and we have already achieved significant success in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and China," said John Kelly, CEO of Belfast Distillery Company.

"In our home market, we are having great success with our product to date, experiencing significant support from our trade partners in hospitality and retail sectors.

"The J&J McConnell's distillery and visitor experience will become the home of our brand and will help us to take our business to the next level in the global whiskey market."

Irish whiskey has seen rapid growth in the last decade with new distilleries opening across the island.

First batch

Plans for a distillery at the former jail were first mooted a decade ago.

And it is likely the first batch of whiskey made at the Crum will not be ready to drink until 2026.

Three Stormont ministers visited the site on Thursday to launch the investment.

In a joint statement, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: "This multi-million pound investment will see the transformation of this historic Belfast building and create 49 new jobs, contributing over £1.7m of additional annual salaries into the local economy."

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: "My department, through its Urban Development Grant programme, is providing much-needed investment in north Belfast with grant funding of £656,000 for the Belfast Distillery.

"The project will deliver economic, social and environmental improvements as well as creating jobs and boosting tourism in the area."

Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd said: "I welcome the ambition of this project, the expectation that the distillery will help create jobs in north Belfast and bring more tourists into the area, and that it will play a key role in the regeneration of a significant historic building in Belfast."

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