Tuesday 26 September 2017

Tech whiz turned artisan gin distiller taps into his Tullamore family spirit

Graphic design boss Eoin Bara set up Mór Irish Gin due to family grá for distilling

After Mór Irish Gin won accolades in America, Eoin Bara was offered a 46-state deal to sell the product. Photo: Steve Humphreys
After Mór Irish Gin won accolades in America, Eoin Bara was offered a 46-state deal to sell the product. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Gabrielle Monaghan

For Eoin Bara, the tech whiz kid who set up Mór Irish Gin in his native Tullamore, the fledgling artisan brand is a family affair. The 29-year-old's late grandfather was a master distiller with Tullamore Dew, and twice a week, the young entrepreneur's father helps bottle the handcrafted gin while his mother applies the labels.

"You could say alcohol has always been in my family," jokes Bara, who sports a luxuriant dark beard befitting of a craft distiller in his late twenties. "My granddad was a distiller, and I grew up knowing how you could make whiskey, and hearing all these stories about hogshead casks and different types of grain."

Bara's first product was only launched in November, but the gin is already sold in hipster Dublin hangouts like Idlewild, P. Macs and the Gin Palace, and is at the vanguard of the country's gin renaissance. Mór Irish Gin is also stocked by The Celtic Whiskey Shop, O'Brien's and Carry Out off-licences, as well as by high-end restaurants and bars in the UK, Canada and the U.S.

The brand may only be a small-batch gin with big ambitions, but, in plenty of upmarket bars and restaurants, it is already giving behemoths like Diageo, the world's second-largest distiller and owner of gin brands Gordon's and Tanqueray, a run for their money.

Even though he has not yet turned 30, Bara is already a serial entrepreneur. The graphic designer-turned-distiller built his first website at the age of 12 and it provided a clue about his future career - it was an online comic about two leprechauns who like to drink. Bara set up a graphic design business at 18, and then worked as a contractor in the industry.

After being made redundant during the recession, Bara set up a design agency called V7 in 2011, during the peak of Ireland's economic woes.

The agency, which focuses on designing and launching websites and smartphone apps that are easy for users to interact with, went on to clinch some big clients, including Aer Lingus, Vodafone, Intel and Goldman Sachs. As well its headquarters on Dublin's Baggot Street, V7 also has operations in Switzerland, the UK, and the Netherlands.

Despite his success as an IT entrepreneur, Bara was gradually tiring of working in an environment of fast-paced technological change and wanted to leave behind a tangible legacy.

"In 2015, I thought, 'well, every piece of work we do lasts two to three years and it gets redesigned or new technology comes out'.

"I really just wanted to make something that stands the test of time, and I wanted to do something with my hands.

"I started thinking back to when my granddad was dying, when I was talking to him and trying to distract him by asking him to tell me about his work. Distilling was always in the back of my mind.

"Then, one night I was out with a friend of mine and she said, 'you love what you do, don't you?' And I said, 'actually, I don't love what I do, but I get paid very well'. She said, 'what do you love?' I had a glass of gin in my hand and I'd already had a few of them at that stage, so I said 'I f****** love gin!'

"I could have had a tin of paint in my hand and thought it was a good idea. But I woke up the next day, and thought, 'actually, that's not a bad idea'.

"I'd thought of it originally as some little pet project, something I could do on the side to break up the monotony of life. Then I figured that we could turn it into a business and that people wanted something different."

Bara may have had his lightbulb moment, but he didn't dive in head first into the business. Instead, he spent six months travelling around the world to discover how gin was made in other countries and a further year honing his new craft.

"South Africa was my first port of call," he says. "They don't have a history of distilling like we have in Ireland and Scotland, so there is a gin school down there. They were doing lots of incredible things, using plants that were indigenous to the Southern Cape and creating flavours I'd never really had before. That really opened my mind. I also went to Germany and learned how to make gin and whiskey there, and went to Scotland and down to Australia.

"Once I'd figured out how other people were doing it, I could then figure out how I wanted to do it. I bought a still down in South Africa, and had it flown up to Ireland; it was cheaper to get the still, the bottling machine and all this other stuff back to Ireland than it was for me to fly back."

His finished product, Mór Irish Gin, uses root botanicals such as angelica, as well as juniper, rosemary and coriander blended with wild berries like blackberry, cranberry and raspberry. The flagship brand sells for about €48, while a summer-themed 'pineapple edition' sells for around €37.

The soft spring water used to make the gin comes the same source as Tullamore Dew - the Slieve Bloom mountains. Only Bara's process of extracting it is a tad more unorthodox. "Unlike Tullamore Dew, we didn't have the money to build a 14km pipeline," the Offaly man says. "We have to actually go to the mountains and pump the water directly into a 1,000-litre container on the back of a pickup truck."

Bara's Arderin Distillery, named after the highest peak in the Slieve Bloom mountains, may only have been trading for a year but its products are already available in six countries. In April, Bara was offered a 46-state deal in the US after Mór Irish Gin won the double gold and best-in-show accolades at the 74th annual convention of exposition of The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

In order to prepare for selling to such a large market, "we can't have my poor Dad bottling it", Bara plans to raise €1.5m to fund the ramp-up in production, bottling and other facilities, as well as financing marketing across the US.

But he will eschew establishment styles of fundraising, instead offering equity directly to the public.

This model has worked for other drinks companies, such as the Founding Fathers investment scheme used by the Dingle Distillery, whereby people could buy casks for themselves at a competitive rate. Meanwhile, Scottish brewery Brewdog had an army of nearly 50,000 "equity punks", or investors in the punk brand, to fund an increase in capacity at its brewery and expansion of its bar chain.

The latter method paid off for Brewdog equity punks in April, when San Francisco-based TSG Consumer Partners agreed to buy 22pc of the drinks company in a deal worth £213m (€243m). The early investors who bought at the first round of crowdfunding and sold some of their shares stood to make a return of 2,800pc.

Bara is also mulling the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme to raise capital. This entitles investors to claim 40pc tax relief - as well as the return on their investment.

In the meantime, Bara is commuting from Dublin to his distillery a couple of times a week and intends to commit fully to his new business by searching for a buyer for V7.

"The gin is slowly becoming a full-time job," he says.

moririshgin.com

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