LO­CAL HE­ROES Sib­lings turned to the ocean to cre­ate a gin that’s quite the catch

John and Eileen Power have global am­bi­tions for their Beara Dis­tillery, writes Gabrielle Mon­aghan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

ON a mild Oc­to­ber week, the Power fam­ily is pick­ing the pur­ple-and-pink fuch­sia flow­ers that colour the hedgerows on the wilds of the Beara penin­sula. For­ag­ing com­pleted, they bring the slen­der arch­ing stalks to their dis­tillery out­side the fish­ing vil­lage of Castle­town­bere and pro­duce a dis­til­late that will be stored in bar­rels through­out the win­ter. The fuch­sia adds a flo­ral aroma to Beara Ocean Gin, which is the brain­child of sib­lings John Power and Eileen Bren­nan (nee Power). The hand-crafted gin is the only one of its kind in the north­ern hemi­sphere to be dis­tilled us­ing salt­wa­ter.

The Beara Dis­tillery only be­gan trad­ing in Sep­tem­ber 2017, yet the fledg­ling dis­tillery has al­ready se­cured a mar­ket­ing boost af­ter chat­show pre­sen­ter and author Gra­ham Nor­ton, who has a hol­i­day home near the vil­lage of Ahak­ista, posted pho­tos of Beara Ocean Gin to his 337,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram. The prod­uct is sold in Su­per­valu out­lets, Irish air­ports, off-li­cence chains such as O’briens Wines and the Celtic Whiskey Shop, as well as bars and restau­rants.

The new ad­di­tion to Ire­land’s small-batch gin rev­o­lu­tion is all the more no­table, given that John and Eileen are novices to the drinks in­dus­try.

“We had no ex­pe­ri­ence apart from drink­ing it,” says John, who is the ma­jor­ity share­holder in the Beara Dis­tillery and whose wife Va­lerie and adult chil­dren work part-time at the com­pany.

While en­ter­ing the sec­tor has been a steep learn­ing curve, both John and Eileen have en­tre­pre­neur­ial back­grounds. Eileen, who man­ages the Beara Dis­tillery, had run a lo­gis­tics busi­ness with her hus­band Ger Bren­nan, and John has been in­volved in aqua­cul­ture for more than 20 years, hav­ing owned fish­ing trawlers and fish farms.

His ven­ture, Sil­ver King Seafoods, was ac­quired by the Ma­rine Har­vest Group, a Nor­we­gian seafood com­pany and the world’s largest sup­plier of farmed At­lantic salmon.

Af­ter the sale, John stayed on as south­west oper­a­tions man­ager for Ma­rine Har­vest Ire­land.

In­deed, it was the re­gion’s ma­rine her­itage that in­spired Eileen and 55-year-old John to set up the dis­tillery. John says: “My fam­ily back­ground is in the fish­ing in­dus­try and most peo­ple in my age group in this area has a con­nec­tion to the fish­ing in­dus­try in some shape or form.

“Din­gle and Castle­town­bere are quite close be­cause of the fish­ing in­dus­try. I have a sis­ter who lives near Din­gle and we know the peo­ple in­volved in the oper­a­tions side of Din­gle Gin through the fish­ing in­dus­try. Eileen and I were hav­ing a chat and de­cided that gin might be a good propo­si­tion for us, too.”

The sib­lings then spent 18 months re­search­ing botan­i­cals for their own gin and vis­it­ing other gin dis­til­leries around the world. “It wasn’t enough to pro­duce a gin — it had to be a gin that showed the prove­nance of our area and our ma­rine her­itage,” John says.

“Dur­ing our re­search, we found that no­body in Europe was us­ing salt­wa­ter in gin to give it the kind of salty flavour that is pop­u­lar now in rum and choco­late. There are com­pa­nies now us­ing sea­weed as a botan­i­cal, but we are us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of both sea­weed [su­gar kelp from Ven­try har­bour in Kerry] and salt­wa­ter.”

When the pair at­tended a craft-dis­till­ing expo in Lon­don to re­search stills, master dis­tiller and con­sul­tant Frank Deiter rec­om­mended they get help from Ju­lia Nour­ney, an in­ter­na­tional spir­its ex­pert, to de­velop a recipe.

In Au­gust 2017, af­ter the Pow­ers se­cured their dis­tillery li­cence, Ju­lia trav­elled to Castle­town­bere and spent three weeks blend­ing recipes un­til Beara came up with a gin that would re­flect both the rugged beauty of the West Cork land­scape and the Power fam­ily’s affin­ity with the ocean.

“There are sev­eral gins avail­able in the mar­ket that are just a brand and are pro­duced by a big dis­tillery that does all the dis­til­la­tion, bot­tling, la­belling and distri­bu­tion,” says John. “But our gin is not pro­duc­tion gin. We have a base gin, and the fuch­sia is sep­a­rate, the su­gar kelp is sep­a­rate, and so are the zests — we peel fresh lemons and limes rather than us­ing dried peels. Then we blend it all to­gether be­fore cool­ing it down to 6C, cold-fil­ter­ing it, and in­fus­ing the salt­wa­ter.”

The Pow­ers had ini­tially planned to build a pur­pose-built dis­tillery in their home­stead of Cur­ry­glass, about 7km away from Castle­town­bere. But the speed of the busi­ness’s pro­gres­sion meant John and Eileen had to set up in­stead at Castle­town­bere com­mer­cial park.

“We were go­ing to build on our own land but, to be hon­est, it would have taken too long,” John says. “Two-and-a-half years ago, we had a chat about an idea for a dis­tillery. But once we had or­dered the equip­ment and ap­plied for li­cences, the whole thing came to­gether within just a year and there wasn’t time to build a dis­tillery on a green­field site.”

Beara Ocean Gin was first stocked by Mur­phy’s Su­per­valu in Castle­town­bere, af­ter Eileen par­tic- ipated in the chain’s Food Academy pro­gramme, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Lo­cal En­ter­prise Of­fice net­work and Bord Bia that nur­tures small busi­nesses to be­come a Su­per­valu sup­plier.

The dis­tillery then pro­gressed to sup­ply­ing sev­eral Su­per­valu stores across Cork and Kerry and has since linked up with dis­trib­u­tors such as Co­mans Bev­er­ages and J&C Kenny to sup­ply bars and restau­rants.

In Fe­bru­ary, the dis­tillery launched Beara Pink Ocean Gin, one of the few ar­ti­san pink gins made in Ire­land, adding rose­wa­ter and cran­ber­ries to give the gin its pink colour and flo­ral un­der­tones. The pink gin was orig­i­nally in­tended to be a limited-edi­tion re­lease, but it proved so pop­u­lar that John and Eileen de­cided to turn it into a per­ma­nent prod­uct.

“The com­bi­na­tion of Beara Ocean Gin and Beara Pink Ocean Gin es­pe­cially works in minia­ture form,” John says. “The mini 5cl bot­tle has be­come pop­u­lar as wed­ding favours, and it’s avail­able at air­ports in both sin­gu­lar form — so peo­ple can buy it be­tween flights as it’s un­der 100ml — and in a twin-pack, with the pink and orig­i­nal gins in a lit­tle box.”

The shelves of Irish su­per­mar­kets, off-li­cences and bars may be groan­ing un­der the weight of lo­cal ar­ti­san gins. But the Beara Dis­tillery is al­ready hedg­ing its bets by ex­port­ing abroad and by de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts.

“We cur­rently sell to Swe­den, Poland, Ger­many, Nor­way, Bel­gium, Lux­em­bourg, Hol­land, Italy and France, although not in a big way,” John says. “We do sell a lit­tle bit in the UK, which is quite a funny mar­ket; apart from Brexit, the UK is also a flooded mar­ket. It’s been in the gin busi­ness for much longer than Ire­land has and there­fore has more pre­mium gins.”

The dis­tillery is set to emu­late its Din­gle ri­val by in­tro­duc­ing branded vodka next year. Its main fo­cus, though, will be on ex­pand­ing distri­bu­tion at home and abroad and on adding new mar­kets.

In the mean­time, fish­ing vet­eran John is re­fin­ing his sales pat­ter for the drinks in­dus­try.

“It’s a busi­ness where you’re al­ways go­ing to meet new po­ten­tial cus­tomers if you do it right,” he says. “I can go away to a ho­tel for the week­end and come back with a new cus­tomer.” the­bear­adis­tillery.ie

Eileen Bren­nan, Va­lerie Power and John Power of the Beara Dis­tillery in Co Cork, which got a mar­ket­ing boost when Gra­ham Nor­ton posted pho­tos of their Beara Ocean Gin on In­sta­gram

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