Sliabh Liag Distillery's Silkie Irish Whiskey and An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin have both achieved Double Gold Medals in the China Wine and Spirits Awards.
These latest awards come hot on the heels of a Gold Medal from the Irish Whiskey Masters, as well as a very successful Taste of Donegal Food Festival.
This is a great achievement for the team at Sliabh Liag Distillery who have the Asian market very much in their sights.
James Doherty from Sliabh Liag Distillery told the Donegal Post: “Part of winning awards in specific areas like Asia is that it opens the door to distribute in bars and shops there.
“People see the quality of your spirits. They see that you are being judged against other high quality spirits. It is a good bench mark for us but it is a good bench mark for our customers too.”
There are a number of reasons why Mr Doherty is actively developing the Asian market.
“One reason is that we lived there so we have a strong affinity,” he said. “The other is that if you look at cultures that use seaweed, countries in Asia really get that. Our products are very suited to these markets.
“Awards like this give us a good profile.”
Of course, accolades such as the Asian awards to not come about without a strong product and a lot of hard work.
“You work really hard to put this together, so it is rewarding when that is acknowledged,” said Mr Doherty.
He has been tweaking the Silkie blended whiskey to make it taste as good as possible.
“The idea of blended whiskey is that you put these things together to make something that tastes better than any of the individual ones,” he said. “Most Irish whiskies are blends but many people don’t realise that. A lot of the Scottish market is taken up with similar types of blends.”
Going back to the 1980s, Ireland had only three whiskey distilleries in production. More and more new craft distilleries are now coming on stream.
It was Mr Doherty’s dream to return to Kilcar and be a part of this renaissance. And when An Bord Pleanála gave the green light for construction of the Sliabh Liag early last year, it looked like it was all systems go. A beautiful building was designed by Cornerstone Architecture to work with landscape and to incorporate the distillery and a visitor centre.
But plans have ground to a halt due to a legal battle between other parties, the outcome of which is crucial to the future of the distillery.
“All we can do is wait for the ruling in court,” said Mr Doherty. “It is out of our hands.”
In the meantime, the team find themselves facing the fact that they could have to look at building the distillery elsewhere.
“Our commitment is still to build the whiskey distillery here and create about 40 jobs,” said Mr Doherty. But we are having to look at Plan B. The biggest concern would be finding another site. We are looking in other parts of the county and even outside of Donegal.
“To me, that would be very sad if we are forced to look further afield. My dream was to come back to Kilcar and build this distillery.”
The distillery would be a huge boost to the area should it go ahead as planned. As well as providing significant employment to those living locally, Mr Doherty hopes to entice back to the area some of the diaspora who were force to find work in Dublin or even outside the country.
At the moment, Silkie and Dúlamán are being sold in eight countries, with a distributor recently agreed for Thailand. A consignment has been sent off to Australia, while a container load also went to South Africa. And that is on top of the products being in more than 300 bars in Ireland.
This is particularly impressive given that the business is just a couple of years old. And all of this is being achieved from a small operation in Carrick with a staff of just six.
Four of these are Irish speakers, and some have moved back to the area to take up their roles.
“One lady was working for a big drinks company in Dublin and she came back to join us,” said Mr Doherty. “That is the vision that we have, that is what we want and should be able to do.
“I am feeling very positive about what we are achieving. It is just frustrating that we can’t get started on the main distillery.”
Meanwhile, the team are looking forward to exploring the markets that China Wine and Spirits Awards have opened.
More information on the products can be found on www.sliabhliagdistillery.com
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Now editorial team. Between 9am and 5pm Monday to Sunday please call 074 9112712. Between 5pm and midnight please call or text 086 792 2103. Or you can email [email protected] at any time.