Wednesday 7 December 2016

Bondings: Raising a glass to success... and opening a gin distillery

Justin and Jenny Green first met in Hong Kong, and have now opened a gin distillery together in Ballyvolane House, Cork

Published 01/02/2016 | 02:30

Booze buddies: Justin and Jenny Green are in business with their friend Antony Jackson producing Bertha's Revenge Gin: Photo: Gerry Mooney
Booze buddies: Justin and Jenny Green are in business with their friend Antony Jackson producing Bertha's Revenge Gin: Photo: Gerry Mooney

In September 1997, Jenny Green first met her husband Justin in the lift lobby of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong. She was new and presumed he was the hotel doctor as he had a suit on and his office was in the old doctor's surgery in the hotel.

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"I played along with it presuming she would like the sound of me being a doctor, but I had to come clean after a few weeks," Justin, who was actually the restaurant manager, admits. "What attracted me to Jenny was how beautiful she was, but then I got to know her and it was her warmth and genuine character that I liked. She's unpretentious and fun but a really good and kind person, and is always making sure that everyone is okay."

Hong Kong was a long way from home for Justin, 46, who grew up in Ballyvolane House in Fermoy in Cork, and has two younger brothers. His dad was a farmer, but in the mid-1980s, his parents began taking in guests. His mum Merrie passed away 11 years ago, which was when he and Jenny took over the family business they now run today. His dad Jeremy is still very involved.

At the age of seven, Justin went to boarding school at Brook House in Bray, and then at 13, went on to St. Columba's College in Dublin, where their son Toby now boards. Seven was very young, he agrees, recalling how he chased his parents' car down down the drive on the first day, but it made him independent at an early age and he was happy there. His brothers Sebastian and Adam were there at the same time so it made it a little easier, and they formed incredibly strong bonds with all of their friends there. After school, Justin went to Shannon College of Hotel Management, and worked in hotels around the Far East.

Jenny, 41, was born Jenny Marshall in London, and is the second-eldest of four children. Her dad Bill was a barrister, and the family moved to Hong Kong when Jenny was six and she grew up there. She went to a school that used the British schooling system and went to university in the UK, completing a hotel and business management degree in Birmingham. After a year's work placement in Hong Kong, she began working at the Mandarin Oriental in the front office and then as assistant manager.

"I was immediately physically attracted to Justin, and just knew pretty quickly that we would be together," she says. "His dark Irish looks got me and he was funny and witty. Justin has a lot of integrity, and knows what is right and he's a real rock. He looks out for people and is very good with his friends."

As Justin was in a relationship with someone else, he and Jenny had a friendship initially, and then got together a few weeks later when he was free. After three years they got married, holding a registry office ceremony in Hong Kong and a large bash in Scotland, but Justin had moved to Dubai during that time so they had a long-distance relationship, which was difficult.

Justin then got a job in Bali in a luxury hotel after a year in Dubai, and Jenny moved there with him. "I had to make the decision to almost put my career to one side to be with Justin, because the Indonesians are very strict on the number of foreign people they give work to," she explains. "I hadn't been working long enough to apply for the big roles, so it was a tough decision because the Mandarin was so amazing. We lived in Indonesia for a year and a half, and eventually I got a job in a retail manufacturing company. Bali was unreal, as we had a car and driver at our disposal and lived in a luxury suite, so it was amazing."

Jenny and Justin left Bali because Jenny was pregnant, and they came to Dublin. Their eldest son, Toby, 15, was born in Dublin and they now also have Jamie, 11, and Fleur, 8. They moved to Ballyvolane House 11 years ago when Justin's mum Merrie sadly passed away aged 57 from cancer. Jamie was born the day of her funeral and Fleur shares the same birthday as her.

They grew the business by establishing a salmon-fishing school, and they host weddings and glamping throughout the summer - they provide a rustic and funky venue for both. Their newest venture is a gin distillery, the Ballyvolane House Spirits Company, which began when Justin realised that gin was having a moment. He spoke with his friend, Antony Jackson, who is in the wine business. They became the first Irish distillery to produce small batch Irish milk gin from whey alcohol.

As Ballyvolane House practises a field-to-fork philosophy when it comes to food, they adhere to this with their first product, Bertha's Revenge Irish Milk Gin, championing a grass-to-glass approach with everything they bottle. They chose the name because they were using whey alcohol, and named it after the oldest cow in the world, Bertha, with the permission of her guardian in Killarney.

A hand-crafted gin which uses whey alcohol from Irish dairy farmers, the natural spring water from Ballyvolane House and an interesting mix of 18 locally foraged and grown botanicals, Bertha's Revenge Irish Milk Gin is designed to celebrate the life of a very special cow, who passed away just three months short of her 49th birthday. The plan is to export around the world, starting first in Ireland. It's a big project, along with running the B & B and minding the children, so they both have to be fully involved for it to work.

"Jenny is a rock and she's amazing for me," says Justin. "We make a great team and I couldn't do without her. The biggest challenge we have is devoting time to everything and it's hard to switch off from work because we live there. Jenny and I are good at removing ourselves when needed, as we love going to the cinema, and also made the decision to close in July for ten days, which is crazy for a hotel. It was an investment in our mental health and our family life though, and it was the best decision for us."

For further information on the gin and stockists, see www.ballyvolanespirits.ie

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