A ceremony to mark the construction of a new distillery on Slane Castle Estate in Co Meath is taking place today, which should lead to the arrival of a new Irish whiskey brand in just over a year's time. The Slane Castle Distillery is being led by Henry Mountcharles and his son, Alex Conyngham. The development follows a €44m investment by Brown-Forman - the firm behind a number of internationally recognised spirit brands, including Jack Daniels. 

According to Alex Conyngham, the creation of the distillery is part of a move to expand the Mountcharles' family's business beyond its current operations. "When you're looking at a place like Slane Castle, which is a family home but also a business, you have to think about diversification," he said. Having worked for another Irish whiskey brand, and given the resources available to them on the site, the family eventually settled on pursuing whiskey distillation in or around 2008. "The River Boyne flows beneath the castle and we are also a farming family; we produce around 2,000 tonnes of barley on the farm here at Slane, so that gave us two of the most important ingredients you need for making whiskey," he said.

The family quickly got the Slane Castle Whiskey brand onto shelves in the US, Britain and Ireland and demonstrated a demand for such a product. Earlier this year Brown-Forman became involved, buying all shares in the company and pledging to invest $50m in the creation of a distillery on the castle's estate. Irish whiskey makes up only a small portion of international sales but has been growing rapidly in recent years, making it an area of interest for spirit makers worldwide. This has led to a number of investments from US firms - as well as the creation of numerous smaller distilleries around the country.

According to Ibec's Irish Whiskey Association, there are 26 new or proposed distilleries across the country at the moment - that is in addition to the big operations behind established brands like Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew. But Mr Conyngham believes that there is plenty of room for all of these operations - and perhaps more - as the sector has ambitious targets for global growth in the years ahead."There are over 100 working distilleries across the water in Scotland, so I think there is plenty of room for new entrants to come into the space," he said. "And I think when you've got companies like Brown-Forman making a substantial investment like this in the Irish whiskey category on top of what is already happening with the larger players that is going to help grow the category overall. "Scotch accounts for exports of over £5 billion annually, we're at about €300m with Irish whiskey, so there's great potential for growth," he said.

MORNING BRIEFS - British property group Hammerson and Germany's Allianz Real Estate have been selected as preferred bidder for the National Asset Management Agency's Project Jewel portfolio. NAMA said the portfolio is to sell for almost €1.85 billion - which would represent its largest single transaction to date. Project Jewel includes loans relating to the shopping centre in Dublin's Dundrum, as well as loans relating to 50% of both the Ilac Shopping Centre in Dublin city centre and Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords. Hammerson is already involved in the Irish retail market through its investment in the Kildare Village outlet, as well as a partnership connected to the Abbey Retail Park in Belfast. Allianz has been involved in the Irish market for many years, with its real estate arm recently investing €140m in property vehicle IPUT.

*** Weak data from China has rekindled worries about the country's fragile economy - leading to a sharp drop in markets overnight. Figures from China yesterday showed that industrial companies' profits fell at their fastest rate in four years, prompting Asian and American markets to fall in overnight trade. The Nikkei in Tokyo was almost 4.2% lower by the close of business, bringing it to an eight month low, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was 3.4% lower. In New York the Dow Jones closed almost 2%, while the Nasdaq fell by more than 3%.