Dromore couple to open ‘gin school’

Stuart and Barbara Hughes, owners of Hughes Craft Distillery and the award-winning range of RubyBlue liqueurs, with Derick Wilson (right), Business Development Manager at Ulster Bank.
Stuart and Barbara Hughes, owners of Hughes Craft Distillery and the award-winning range of RubyBlue liqueurs, with Derick Wilson (right), Business Development Manager at Ulster Bank.

A Dromore couple are behind an ambitious new business venture that will see a gastropub, gin school and visitor centre open in Moira.

Stuart and Barbara Hughes, owners of Lisburn-based Hughes Craft Distillery, are undertaking the major investment with support from Ulster Bank.

The company - distillers of the multi-award-winning RubyBlue range of fruit liqueurs and Ireland’s first potato-distilled vodka - plans to open the first part of its new establishment, The Stillhouse, which was formerly The Four Trees, in the coming months.

The new venture will create an initial 15 new jobs when the gastropub part of the venture opens, bringing the business up to 21 staff members. Recruitment for a number of roles, including bartenders and chefs, is ongoing and a further six roles are expected to be created by Easter 2018.

Stuart and Barbara also plan to relocate their bottling and distilling operations to the new site at The Stillhouse in early 2018, along with the addition of a new interactive visitor centre and gin school, which will be open to the public and available for private hire.

Offering the chance to see the brewing and distilling process behind-the-scenes, the visitor centre’s dedicated gin school will allow connoisseurs of the drink to produce their own bespoke spirits.

The small-batch spirits company currently exports its award-winning drinks range to a number of key markets, including Europe, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

In 2015 the firm secured an export supply deal to introduce the RubyBlue range, and in particular their RubyBlue Potato Vodka, to the Russian market.

Barbara Hughes said: “Having outgrown our current premises, we wanted to find a setting to really showcase our craft. Moira was an obvious choice, for both its picturesque setting and ideal location for distribution links.

“The food and drink scene in Northern Ireland is buzzing and we’re proud to showcase our skills, crafts, produce and exports on a global stage. With the creation of our experiential visitor centre, gin school and gastropub we’re creating a true food tourism hotspot to showcase the best local produce complemented with our small batch spirits. We’re very grateful to Ulster Bank for their support which has enabled us to make the investment.”

Derick Wilson, Business Development Manager, Ulster Bank said: “Barbara and Stuart created a successful drinks brand and export business, so they are no strangers to innovation, and this is an exciting next chapter, which will further diversify their business.

“Ulster Bank is delighted to support not only the development of the new gastropub and visitor centre, but to support Stuart and Barbara as they relocate their bottling and distilling facilities to the new site, providing them with capacity for future growth.”

Currently, Hughes Craft Distillery supply their range of spirits to a number of award-winning restaurants in Northern Ireland, including the acclaimed Wine & Brine, James Street South, and Michelin star-winning restaurants OX and Deanes.

The company also supplies several local supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and SuperValu.