Successful Newry entrepreneur Michael McKeown is starting to reap the export benefits from a major marketing campaign in Europe for Matt D’Arcy Irish Whiskey, the historic brand he revived in the city in 2019.
The small company, which has already won international recognition for the quality and outstanding taste of its single malt and blended whiskeys, has recently achieved a substantial business breakthrough in Germany.
A Food NI member, the ambitious company, which successfully revived the historic Matt D’Arcy Irish Whiskey brand – originally launched in 1817 – has just shipped a significant consignment of two blended products to a specialist whiskey distributor nearHamburg.
The order – D’Arcy’s biggest export success to date – follows another important agreement last month with a premium whiskey distributor in France, its first European sales. In addition, the company is also lining up distributors in the US and Canada.
Michael, a passionate Newry resident who has written extensively about the history of the area and especially its whiskey heritage, brought the business, which had closed in 1918, back to life a century later.
Commenting on the first exports, Michael says: “These distribution deals are a tremendous boost for our whiskeys so early in the development of the revived business and our initial portfolio of products.
“They are major milestones for us on our exciting business journey. We are immensely encouraged by the positive feedback from the new distributors about our whiskeys and look forward to supporting them in selling the products and to growing the business with them and other distributors we’ve identified,” he adds.
The deals are the first in Europe for the iconic D’Arcy’s Irish Whiskey in over a century and are the outcome of a marketing drive launched by the distillery at the end of last year. A distribution deal has also been agreed recently in Britain.
The new deals are for two of D’Arcy’s blended Irish whiskeys –the 4-year-old and the award-winning 10-year-old.
In addition to winning acclaim for its 10-year-old at major international awards, the company’s super-premium 17-year-old single malt was named Best Irish Whiskey at the influential San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2020. A new 18-year old super premium malt is in the pipeline.
The 17-year-old single malt rum cask finish was also acclaimed at the Las Vegas International Whiskey Competition and the 10-year-old blended port cask finished whiskey picked up gold and silver medals at these awards too.
The export agreements came from direct approaches to potential distributors in Europe pinpointed by its extensive market research last year. “We then contacted them and sent samples for them to experience,” Michael explains. “We followed up quickly to discuss and several agreements followed from premium whiskey specialists in Europe,” he adds.
The reintroduction of the historic Newry whiskeys had also resulted in business with hundreds of bars and off-licences outlets throughout the island of Ireland.
The company aims to re-establish a working distillery on the original Matt D’Arcy site on Monaghan Street in the heart of Newry. The £8 million project will also include a visitor’s centre, Victorian bar and restaurant. Construction tenders are expected to be issued soon. The project will provide an attractive cross-border tourism destination at the heart of Newry.
Matt D’Arcy’s is the latest local whiskey to join Northern Ireland’s remarkable success story in distilling whiskey, gin, poitin and rum. There’s been huge international interest especially in Irish Whiskey over the past two decades particularly in the US and Canada; now the fastest growing brown spirit there. Locally distilled whiskey is now on sale in more than 30 global markets.
While Old Bushmills in Co Antrim, which is in expansion mode, remains the outstanding industry leader, other brands such as Dunville, Kircubbin; The Sexton, Bushmills; The Quiet Man, Derry; Hinch, Ballynahinch; Two Stacks, Belfast; Mourne Dew, Warrenpoint; and Killowen, Rostrevor are developing an international profile and, more importantly, global sales. In addition, Shortcross in Crossgar, a multi-award winning leader in gin, is soon to launch a new premium malt whiskey. And there are plans to develop another craft distillery in Bushmills. Dram in a Can, the world’s first canned whiskey, was created here by Two Stacks.
D’Arcy’s export breakthrough also comes as arrangements have been finalised to celebrate the remarkable achievements of the spirit in third Belfast Whiskey Week from Friday 23rd July toSaturday 31st July. Ireland’s largest whiskey festival has been organised by Belfast businessman Paul Kane “to reclaim the city’s whiskey heritage, celebrate its distilling history as well as look forward to the exciting innovations and growth within the region”.
Following Covid guidelines and restrictions, this year’s festival will provide limited in person access to a range of tasting events including a gala dinner featuring nine local whiskies at the Europa Hotel.