Indian spices, a spoonful of dairy products and a modern twist: Irish distillers embark on experimentation

A spicy gin, a poitín-based cream liqueur, and a non-traditional finished whiskey are three of the brilliant ideas emerging from the current FoodWorks accelerator for food and drink start-ups.

It has been 10 years since the FoodWorks accelerator for high potential start-ups was launched. Since then, more than 100 companies have participated in the 10-month program, which is designed to make them customer-centric, investor-ready and tailored to have maximum impact in national and international markets. FoodWorks is a joint initiative between Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc, and those with bright ideas for new products still have time to apply for the next promotion, which ends in early December.

Beverage entrepreneurs feature prominently among the FoodWorks cohort, with innovative products from the Galway, Limerick and Cork distilleries, where a refurbished section of the former Ford factory is home to the Rebel City Distillery, which launched its first product, a high-end spicy gin, in June.

Rebel City is a family affair. It was created in 2020 by Robert Barrett and his wife Bhagya, with Robert’s father, Brendan (ex-CEO of Bam Construction Ireland) as chairman and eminence grise.

Rebel City gin ingredients

“I’ve always wanted to establish a distillery, and we found a big building in the docks and we will make all of our products there,” says Robert Barrett, a biochemist with a master’s degree in brewing and distillation.

“We decided to start with a gin, and Bhagya, who is from Kerala, which even in India is known as the land of spices, suggested that we use nutmeg, mace and cassia as a base. In 2019, we visited the female collective Vanamoolika in India. They suggested the inclusion of pomelo, to which we then added six other plants to create a recipe that gave us a citrus and spice style gin that sets us apart in the market from a flavor perspective.

Barrett, the company’s chief distiller, cut his teeth in the industry over an 11-year period, first with Cooley Distillery in County Louth, then in Canada before returning home to help put set up a number of small distilleries in Ireland. Bhagya, who leads business development, is an IT specialist with an MBA and training in the international technology sector.

Rebel City employs five people and start-up costs have been contained to around € 500,000 between personal investment and support from the local business office in Cork City and Bord Bia. The company sells to Ireland, Singapore, Germany and the United States.

Its Maharani gin has already won four awards, including a gold medal at the 2020 Gin Masters competition. Maharani means ‘queen’, and the company’s branding is designed to reflect the Cork-Kerala connection. “We have included words and scripts in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and the word on the neck tag reads” moksha “- liberation – as we regard our gin as liberation of spirit and spice” , explains Barrett.

Becoming Legitimate in Galway

“I am the sixth generation of Poitín producers in my family, but I am the first to produce it legally,” quips former university professor Pádraic Ó Griallais, co-founder, with businessman Ross Tobin. , from the Galway-based Micil Distillery.

“The distillery is called Micil in honor of my great-great-great-grandfather, Micil Mac Chearra, a famous local distiller, and our poitíns are unique because they are made from old family recipes,” explains Ó Griallais. “We have the longest tradition of uninterrupted family distillation in Ireland, since 1848, with an illicit still on a Connemara hill and my family has been making exceptional spirits ever since. “

Ross Tobin, left, and Pádraic Ó Griallais, co-founders of the Galway-based Micil Distillery

Ross Tobin, left, and Pádraic Ó Griallais, co-founders of the Galway-based Micil Distillery

Micil produces gin and two poitíns using local flora like Connemara bog, heather and hawthorn, but Ó Griallais has to thank his grandmother for the inspiration behind the company’s latest product, a liqueur from Poitín-based cream which, according to him, is a world first. “My grandmother was a woman before her time, taking the poitín made by my grandfather and combining it with dairy products to make a different kind of drink,” he says. “There was a precedent for this because there was a drink called scailtín in ancient times that mixed milk and honey and spices with alcohol.”

Ó Griallais says Micil, which employs five people with two more jobs in progress, started with private funding of around € 200,000. The distillery is headquartered in Salthill and its main markets so far have been Ireland, UK and Germany, with expansion plans in the US, China and across Europe.

“We asked FoodWorks to help us market and launch my grandma’s cream liqueur recipe. The financial support (up to € 35,000 per participant) combined with the mentoring and other expertise we received gave us the momentum and confidence to move forward, ”says Griallais.

New blends

Alice Carroll and Tony Foote are the entrepreneurs behind Limerick’s Foxes Bow Whiskey. Carroll has spent much of the past decade working with Pernod Ricard on its global whiskey portfolio, while Foote is a chartered accountant previously employed by X, Google’s Moonshot factory (innovation lab).

Their business is set to launch in October and its first product is a blended Irish whiskey aged in bourbon casks and finished in Oloroso (sherry) and rye casks, which Carroll describes as “a very new blend of finishes in a whiskey. Irish”. .

Tony Foote and Alice Carroll of Foxes Bow whiskey from Limerick.  Photography: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Tony Foote and Alice Carroll of Foxes Bow whiskey from Limerick. Photography: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

The idea for Foxes Bow came when Foote was living in San Francisco and visiting a whiskey bar there. “Tony noticed that most Irish whiskey brands were quite traditional in nature, with few options that represented modern and contemporary Ireland,” Carroll explains. “Inspired by the incredible wave of creativity coming from the city of Limerick over the past two years, Tony thought it should surely extend to whiskey and implemented an idea to address it. Our product is designed for the new generation of whiskey drinkers, aged 28 and over, looking for a more contemporary and accessible option without sacrificing quality.

Unlike Rebel and Micil, Foxes Bow takes a different approach to production, preferring to focus on launching the product before commissioning its distillery. “We take a unique stance with our whiskey and deliver something disruptive in our segment,” says Carroll. “Foxes Bow is designed to be a quality contemporary whiskey at an affordable price (€ 39), so it is different from the proven approach investors would be familiar with. But we really believe in our product and decided to start the project ourselves at the beginning so that we could maintain our vision. The reality of this approach is that we can’t do everything right away. So we start by launching our Foxes Bow whiskey and work towards the end goal of opening our own distillery and visitor center. So far the investment in the business has been around € 250,000, including support from Limerick LEO and FoodWorks. ”

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About Donnie R. Losey

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