Cut­ting edge of drinks in­no­va­tion

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Bill Lin­nane looks at unique bev­er­ages cre­ated by Ir­ish com­paa­nies IN­NO­VA­TIVE IR­ISH BEV­ER­AGE PRO­DUC­ERS

Ir­ish food and drink is en­joyed in 180 coun­tries around the world. Ir­ish food and drink ex­ports are worth over €11 bil­lion. Ire­land is the fifth largest net ex­porter of beef in the world

Our 40 shades of green are more than just a tourism slo­gan — they are also a sign of just how strong agri­cul­ture is in this coun­try.

Whiskey sales may be rock­et­ing, but our craft beer scene i s also get­ting stronger, with a plethora of new brands com­ing on stream ev­ery month — to the point that many of the brew­ing gi­ants are try­ing to cash in and cre­at­ing ‘craft’ styled brands. When the ti­tans of in­dus­try are get­ting rat­tled, you know a rev­o­lu­tion is tak­ing place.

It has been 21 years since the late Oliver Hughes and his cousin Liam LaHart opened the Porter­house in Tem­ple Bar, and while the con­cept seemed alien at the time in a coun­try where you drank one of three lagers or one of three stouts, the mod­ern boom shows just what a thirst there was for change.

A Bord Bia re­port last year high­lighted this, point­ing out that there is an es­ti­mated 90 mi­cro­brew­eries op­er­at­ing in the Repub­lic of Ire­land, of which 62 are pro­duc­tion mi­cro­brew­eries and at least 28 are con­tract­ing com­pa­nies. There was a 29% in­crease in the num­ber of pro­duc­tion mi­cro­brew­eries from 48 in 2015 to 62 in 2016. Mi­cro­brew­eries have more than quadru­pled since 2012.

Ire­land’s first or­ganic beer

As the scene grows, so does in­no­va­tion in the cat­e­gory. Mun­ster Brewery in Youghal is one ex­am­ple. Last year brew­ing twins Padraig and Adrian Hyde, re­leased 12 Tow­ers, Ire­land’s first cer­ti­fied or­ganic beer.

They also signed up to a green earth ini­tia­tive: “We’ve de­lighted to say we’ve just signed up to the Cli­mate Neu­tral Now pro­gramme, where we promise to re­duce emis­sions and off­set any un­avoid­able ones by buy­ing car­bon cred­its. It’s an ex­tra ex­pense we don’t re­ally need but one we’re happy to pay. We’ve gone and com­mit­ted the en­tire brewery to the Cli­mate Neu­tral Now pro­gramme so we’re busy as bees mon­i­tor­ing en­ergy us­age and fuel.”

Apart from mak­ing their beers more earth and body friendly, they also make the an­cient health drink kom­bucha un­der their HOLO (holis­tic and or­ganic) brand. While they also of­fer tours, they are frus­trated by the li­cens­ing laws, which pro­hibit small brew­ers and dis- tillers from sell­ing di­rect to cus­tomers. They can sell huge amount whole­sale, but not a few bot­tles to a tourist — an is­sue for any po­ten­tial drinks tourism.

In­no­va­tion is in­te­gral in the drinks sec­tor. And one of the big suc­cess sto­ries in in­no­va­tion is Bai­leys, the first of the now ubiq­ui­tous Ir­ish creams.

The suc­cess has prompted other en­trants to the cat­e­gory, with Cremór, Ker­ry­gold, Carolans, Molly’s, Bro­gans, Saint Bren­dan’s and Coole Swan all do­ing a boom­ing trade.

Ker­ry­gold Ir­ish cream is pro­duced by the Or­nua group, which re­cently re­leased boom­ing stats. As Ire­land’s largest ex­porter of pri­mary Ir­ish dairy prod­ucts, they de­liv­ered a strong trad­ing per­for­mance in 2016, with turnover up by 9% to €1.75bn — a fig­ure all the more re­mark­able when you con­sider that this was achieved in a year of volatile milk prices and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty in some of their key mar­kets. The global gi­ant’s am­bi­tion is to move Ker­ry­gold from be­ing a world-class but­ter brand to an in­stantly recog­nis­able €1 bil­lion global dairy brand in the com­ing years. 2016 saw the suc­cess­ful launch of Ker­ry­gold Yogurts in Ger­many, Ker­ry­gold Spread­able in the UK and the con­tin­ued roll-out of Ker­ry­gold Ir­ish Cream Liqueur across Europe and the US.

Dairy and bev­er­ages

Ire­land’s strength in food and drink ex­ports is also ev­i­dent in Car­bery Group, a global leader in food in­gre­di­ents, flavours and cheese, based in Balli­neen, Cork. Founded in 1965 as a joint ven­ture of four cream­eries and Ex­press Dairies UK, Car­bery Group is owned by four Ir­ish dairy co-op­er­a­tives, em­ploy over 600 peo­ple, and man­u­fac­ture from eight fa­cil­i­ties world­wide — Ire­land, UK, USA, Brazil and Thai­land. The group has moved far be­yond the tra­di­tional be­drock of cheese to health and nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments and flavour cre­ation.

One knock- on from the dis­till­ing is the boom in gins, used as a rev­enue gen­er­a­tor by dis­til­leries as their whiskey stocks ma­ture, while the use of lo­cal botan­i­cal in­fu­sions in the gins give them a re­gional flavour that sets each apart.

One of Car­bery Group’s suc­cess sto­ries in drinks in­no­va­tion brings to­gether the nor­mally quite dis­parate worlds of dairy farm­ing and dis­till­ing. Orig­i­nat­ing from Bal­lyvolane House in Cork, Bertha’s Re­venge gin is named af­ter a cow, a trib­ute be­fit­ting an al­co­holic bev­er­age dis­tilled from sweet whey, the piq­uid pro­duced dur­ing cheese mak­ing.

Bertha’s Re­venge is dis­tilled with whey al­co­hol sourced from Car­bery Group and de­rived from cow’s milk pro­duced by Cork dairy farm­ers.

Us­ing spe­cially de­vel­oped yeasts to fer­ment the milk sug­ars in the whey, Car­bery brew and then dou­ble dis­til the whey in large col­umn stills. Justin Green of Bal­lyvolane House and busi­ness part­ner Antony Jack­son then dis­til the 96% proof whey al­co­hol a third time in their cus­tom-made 125 litre cop­per stills with botan­i­cals such as co­rian­der, bit­ter orange, car­damom, cumin plus other in­gre­di­ents. This gin has won lo­cal and global ac claim since its 2015 launch. Bertha’s Re­venge is ex­ported to the UK, main­land Europe and even South Korea — and, later this year, to the US, where it just won a Gold Medal at the San Fran­cisco World Spir­its Com­pe­ti­tion 2017.

Bertha’s Gin has shown in­no­va­tion, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and even the oc­ca­sional odd idea can get the best out of Ire­land’s tra­di­tion of farm­ing ex­cel­lence — proof that those 40 shades of green can al­ways keep us in the black.

Padraig and Adrian Hyde of Mun­ster Brewery in Youghal, Co Cork. Among the twin brothers’ in­no­va­tive prod­ucts is 12 Tow­ers, Ire­land’s first cer­ti­fied or­ganic beer. A re­cent Bord Bia re­port high­lights the ex­plo­sion of new mi­cro­brew­eries pro­duc­ing qual­ity craft beers.

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