Belfast black making waves in US market

St Patrick’s Day revellers in New York will be toasting Ireland’s patron saint with a new ‘Belfast Black Dry Stout’ developed by Whitewater Brewing Company in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.

Based at Kilkeel in Co.Down and assisted by Invest Northern Ireland, Whitewater, a small artisan brewer of handcrafted ale, lager and now stout, has signed a distribution deal in New York that will see its products on sale in bars and off licences in early 2010.

The contract is the brewery’s first venture into the huge US marketplace. Invest NI has assisted the company’s growth in areas such as marketing.

The new Belfast Black Dry Stout was launched in Northern Ireland last month and has already attracted widespread interest within the local hospitality industry. The brewery has a successful track record in selling its established ales and lagers including its award winning Belfast Ale and Clotworthy Dobbin beer to bars, hotels, restaurants and leading retail chains such as Sainsbury and Tesco.

The quality of Whitewater Brewery’s products has been recognised by judges in the influential UK Great Taste Awards, the annual food and drink ‘Oscars’ organised by the Somerset-based Guild of Fine Foods, which promotes gourmet food and drink in Britain. The brewery’s products have also been listed among the world’s top 50 beers.

Managing director Bernard Sloan is excited by the prospect of new business in North America. “There’s a developing market in the US eastern states for ethnic beers brewed using only natural ingredients and by traditional techniques. It’s a market that I had been considering for some time but hadn’t really done anything to develop.

“This changed rapidly when I was approached by the distributor in New York about our products. He indicated that there would be a significant market opportunity particularly for our new bottled stout. Belfast Black is already on sale in bars and restaurants in key centres such as Belfast and Dublin.

“The launch of the new stout is contributing to the growth that we’ve been experiencing over the past few years. Our business this year is up by 35 per cent and by an annual average of 30 per cent over the past three years. The brewery has also benefited substantially from the guidance and practical assistance from the Invest NI Southern Regional Office team in Newry,” he added.

The growing demand for the product has led the company, now part of the Invest NI Food Division portfolio, to invest extensively in new conditioning and storage facilities.

Welcoming the interest in exports of Whitewater Brewing Company, Maynard Mawhinney,  Invest NI’s Food Director, said: “This small company has developed an impressive track record in the successful development of innovative products that are built solidly on hand crafted traditions and techniques of artisan brewing.

“The success it has experienced particularly in the Republic, should help the company as it seeks to expand sales outside Northern Ireland, particularly in markets with a strong demand for quality ethnic products.”