Monday 24 October 2016

Gunpowder, Black Forest gateau, potato and medieval copper pots

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

‘The brands we launch will be a little disruptive,’ say Pat and Denise Rigney of The Shed Distillery in Leitrim
‘The brands we launch will be a little disruptive,’ say Pat and Denise Rigney of The Shed Distillery in Leitrim

Drinking a liqueur from a bottle with a snake curled up in it is something many of us will shy away from - yet, it is one of the many drinks which Pat Rigney, founder of The Shed Distillery, has tasted on his travels.

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Mr Rigney has travelled all over the world to see how other countries make liqueurs, whiskeys and other spirits.

"One of the most interesting drinks I've come across was a snake liqueur from Vietnam," said Mr Rigney. "With the snake curled in the bottle, this drink was quite a challenge. The only way to drink it was with citrus and chilled over ice."

Mr Rigney, who set up The Shed Distillery in December 2014, hasn't gone as far as developing a snake liqueur just yet. However, he plans to launch unusual drinks - which will get people talking.

"We are not going to develop mainstream drinks," said Mr Rigney. "The brands we launch will hopefully be very interesting and exciting - and a little disruptive. People are tired of the same old same old. There's interest in drinks that are more exciting, more engaging, that tell a story - and that have provenance."

One such drink is a gunpowder gin, which Mr Rigney hopes to launch later this year. Another is a potato vodka, which is expected to be launched in 2016.

"The gunpowder gin is a refreshing herbaceous gin distilled using oriental botanicals and gunpowder tea - combined with the botanicals of Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim where the distillery is based," said Mr Rigney.

My Three Graces - a Black Forest gateau-flavoured liqueur is another drink which The Shed has developed.

"We're also doing some boutique Irish whiskeys," said Mr Rigney. "We are in the process of laying down casks of single pot still Irish whiskey handmade in our medieval copper pots."

The Shed is Connacht's first distillery in 101 years, according to Mr Rigney.

"The last was Nun's Island in Galway which closed 101 years ago," said Mr Rigney. "The Shed is the first multipurpose distillery in Ireland ever as it has the capability to distil Premier Gran Cru Irish whiskey. It can also distil the highest quality gin, vodka and liqueurs from the raw ingredients right through to the finished product."

Mr Rigney, who is from Dublin, chose Drumshanbo as a location for his distillery because it is "off the beaten track".

"Drumshanbo is very rural and very wild - and this allows us to experiment," said Mr Rigney. "It's a very experimental distillery with three medieval copper pots which we got made specifically. Not everyone wants to be on the main street and the fact that we're not on the main street will make what we do exciting."

Mr Rigney plans to launch a visitor centre in the distillery.

"We are in the process of launching the first phase of our visitor centre," he said. "We would like people to come to discover the distillery first-hand - as well as the curious mind of Pat Rigney. I've always had a curious mind - I'm always ducking and diving and looking into things."

Mr Rigney believes Drumshanbo will give his drinks a provenance which will encourage people to buy them.

"Provenance - that is, that a drink has come from a real place - is becoming more important," said Mr Rigney. "People want to be told all about a drink - and to know who is behind it. The provenance of our drinks comes from the wild and rugged location of Drumshanbo - along with the crafting of all our spirits by hand."

Mr Rigney also has a personal connection to the area as his parents met in Drumshanbo. "My mother was a bookkeeper in the Arigna Mines and my father was the auditor for a famous railway company at the time," said Mr Rigney.

As well as being an accountant, Mr Rigney's father was also an entrepreneur - and it is his father's entrepreneurial footsteps which Mr Rigney followed. "From a very young age, the family environment was one of running a business," said Mr Rigney. "I knew I didn't want to be an accountant."

Mr Rigney has a long background in the drinks industry. He started off his career in the late 1980s working in marketing roles with Gilbeys of Ireland and Grants of Ireland. He also worked for Baileys Irish Cream during the 1990s.

"I managed the business in the Americas and Australasia," said Mr Rigney. "Baileys now is a very established brand, but the 1990s were its pioneering days - so I learned how to build brands. During that time, I also launched Sheridan's liqueur. I built that brand from scratch."

This experience - along with his entrepreneurial family background - no doubt helped Mr Rigney to go on to co-found Boru Vodka with drinks entrepreneur David Phelan. Boru Vodka was set up through the Roaring Water Bay Spirits Company which later merged with the US drinks company, Great Spirits, to form Castle Brands. Castle Brands went on to complete an initial public offering in 2006.

The Shed Distillery is relatively small, employing about six people. Along with Mr Rigney, drinks industry veteran, John Dillon, the managing director of Dalcassian Wines & Spirits, is also a director of The Shed - as is Mr Rigney's wife, Denise.

"It's early days for us but we're already selling our drinks to third parties and our first brand should be in independent off-licences and bars by the end of the year," said Mr Rigney. "We're not even a year in business and we're already looking to expand our facility."

Mr Rigney expects most of his customers to be international. "Ultimately, the United States will be a very important market - as well as mainland Europe. We are also looking at China."

One of Mr Rigney's reasons for targeting the international market is the high excise tax in Ireland. "The excise tax here is crazy," he said. "You can buy a bottle of whiskey in New York for 40pc less than what you'll pay for the same bottle here. When tourists come to Ireland, they'll often look to buy a liqueur or whiskey - but they look at the price and think Ireland is very expensive."

Mr Rigney's inspiration for The Shed comes from an area known as Germany's Riviera.

"I've travelled all over the world looking at what other people do - including the Baltic States, Russia, Scandinavia, the US, North America, Germany and China," said Mr Rigney.

"The simple distillation of pears and apple wines in farms all about the German Bodensee area close to Lake Constance was part of the inspiration for The Shed Distillery.

"It's so simple and so connected with the farm, the people and the region - and so historical."

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