I wrote last week about the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Convention, WSWA in Orlando. We won an award there, but we were not the only Irish producer to do so. There were quite a few of us there in force under the Bord Bia umbrella. Here is a shout-out to all the lovely Indie Spirit Producers I met that you need to know about.
Mor Irish Gin: The guys at MOR are doing really well, they are millennials with design backgrounds, cool haircuts and beards. All of which which is a pretty distinct advantage in today’s marketplace. Really lovely guys, they kicked ass and won a DOUBLE GOLD medal for their gin and had lots of people seeking them out. The gin is great has a lovely pack and backstory They are based out of Tullamore. One to watch.
Old Carrick Mill Distillery: It was my first time meeting Steven, who has a spectacular Monaghan accent. He is up and running and distilling in his Old Mill, so my hat goes off to him in a very big way, it is not easy to get to that point. He is a proper full on small batch producer with a 500 Liter still. His old mill sounds like a magical place. It is ancient, like Flight of the Earls ancient, the water wheel is still in there and he told me that recently he knocked a hole in the wall and discovered a malting floor he did not even know was there…..I mean COME ON!! That is amazing. He has big tourism plans but like all of us he has to plug the funding gap, he will, that Mill deserves to shine again. His gin is great and it also won a medal at WSWA, juniper forward and really well balanced with local botanicals.
Black Twist: Conor from Black Twist as something special on his hands. If you are into coffee and/or travel quite a bit you’ll know all about Cold Brew coffee. It is basically the biggest beverage trend along with Kombucha in the U.S.A. Starbucks even serve it now, so that means its a big deal. Conor has created a cold brew coffee with a kick. Its a blend of delicious gourmet coffee with Irish whiskey. Let me make clear, it is not a liqueur in that its not at all sweet. The quality of the single origin coffee he uses is excellent, and its a really delicious drink. I’m a big fan of this concept, it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I’ll be serving this over ice to people who come to the house.
Irish Whiskey: There were five Irish Whiskies on the Bord Bia stand. I heard that West Cork and The Quiet Man were there, but I did not get to meet them. So here is who was on the stand.
Clonakilty Distillery: Micheal from Clonakilty is a clever guy, he is building a great team around him and they are already building their distillery. When they are finished they will have an amazing visitor centre, distillery and a retail/restaurant/bar operation. Basically the full Monty. Their bottle is really nice, and had I seen it myself I would have picked it. Their branding is looking really great and the whiskey is tasting excellent too, I can vouch for that as the lads were very generous with it at the end of every day.
Gortinore Distillery: In my opinion out of all of us Gortinore have the best ‘craft’ forward pack and concept. Planning is granted on their distillery in Kilmacthomas in another historic old mill. Their first release Natterjack is out soon, its named after a toad and proudly displays said toad on the label, its cool. Aidan went to the US to learn about distilling from some of the industries best and I have softspot for this brand, its innovative and different.
Irish American: An old Diageo buddy of mine is working on this brand, they won a DOUBLE GOLD at the show which is great, so the whiskey has great accolades. They have been up and running for a few years now and are making great inroads in the U.S. market. I did int see much of these guys hence the short note.
Dubliner Irish Whiskey; These guys are not actually indies they are owned by Quintessential Brands, but they were on the stand with us. They started off as Indie producers but were snapped up about a year ago and became the first Indie to exit the market. I figured I’d give them a shoutout, as they were lovely guys and we shared quite a bit of their whiskey together. Interestingly they have moved into flavoured whiskey which is a big category in the U.S.
St. Patricks Cyril Briscoe is one of the Irish Whiskey Industries hardest workers as far as I can ascertain. He is the master of Shannon Airport I think, as either he or one of his guys is there sampling every time I fly out of there. They were at WSWA with their full range and they are making good inroads internationally. They had a moonshine with them which I thought was cool. Also a key point of differentiation for them on their vodka and gin is that they are made out of Potato.
Irish Cream is a big deal in the U.S.A. Some of my fave people that I met at WSWA were Brian and Carla from An Sean Teach They made their way through the Super Valu Food Academy program, which has helped a lot of people get off their ground. They are kicking ass and taking names over in the South African market by the sounds of it, and are all round lovely people. They have a few additional products coming through I think and their Irish Cream is great.
Kalak Vodka: This is one you need to go and purchase, it is a Single Malt vodka and has the most unique taste profile. Patrick is an industry veteran having spent years with Moet Hennessy, and it shows. This is a luxury vodka, it tastes like a luxury vodka and it looks like a luxury vodka. He also tasted me on his next upcoming release, which is secret, but I can tell you its going to blow peoples minds and perceptions of what a vodka should be.
All of these guys are heroes as far as I am concerned. Out of all of us only ONE mentioned above has had any backing from Enterprise Ireland. NOBODY has secured backing from Bord Failte. Anyone who is hoping to sell their own alcohol to consumers from their distillery is having to purchase a €90,000 publican/off license. Everyone is trying to figure out how to secure a bond with no help from anyone. We pay the same duty on our spirits that Pernod, Diageo and Beam global do, there is no relief for small producers. The craft drinks bill is crawling along with serious lobbying opposition from vested interest groups hampering its progress. I will bet you $50 it won’t get passed.
Yet there we all were, in spite of all those barriers to entry, in Orlando, telling our stories and making it happen. Indie Spirit Producers deserve support and they deserve your dollars or euros, go and buy these products if you see them, they were all made with Heart by hardworking people who most likely don’t even have a salary.
Let me finally just reiterate what a great job Bord Bia are doing for Indie Irish Spirit producers. They provide free, a-political, support and advice for businesses like mine. Their Thinking House resource is invaluable and their forward looking commercially minded approach in supporting small beverage producers is exactly what we need. They totally get it, they realise what is really important to us at this stage of our development are distribution & commercial opportunities. The whiskey or spirits business lives and dies on distribution. Large multinationals don’t have to worry about that. For us indie guys its the ONLY thing that matters. Bord Bia get that and they create opportunities for us with that in mind.
There was real power in all of us being on one Bord Bia stand, if anyone was looking for Irish Anything they just headed to us. I loved meeting everyone and we’ll be seeing each other a lot at trade shows and the like. There is a good sense of camaraderie and everyone seems to feel that Collaborative Competition is the way forward. We are quite simply put stronger together when it comes to stuff like this. The big Corporates can battle it out against each other, for the extra 50,000 cases we’ll be over here plugging away and making inroads together.
The future is bright and the future is Indie.