Thursday 13 December 2018

'It's really buzzing' - How Ireland's ‘gin-aissance’ is showing no signs of slowing

Bronagh Conlon, Managing Director Listoke Gin School pictured at the Companys Tinure, Co. Louth Distillery PIC Colin O'Riordain
Bronagh Conlon, Managing Director Listoke Gin School pictured at the Companys Tinure, Co. Louth Distillery PIC Colin O'Riordain

Deirdre Reynolds

IT’S historically been described as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, but for gin-trepreneur Bronagh Conlon, among others, the opposite is continuing to prove true

As G&T lovers around the globe toast World Gin Day today, the mum-of-three from County Louth is busy putting the finishing garnishes to the newly expanded Listoke Distillery and Gin School in Monasterboice.

With classes sold out ten months in advance, she revealed how Ireland's latter day ‘gin-aissance’ is showing no signs of slowing to a trickle.

“When my kids were younger, I used to make jam, which they loved,” jokes Bronagh, who previously ran the Real Irish Food Company. “Now they’re grown up, and I make gin, so they’re even more delighted.”

“We’ve been really lucky with the gin craze - there has been a huge increase in demand.

“We started the gin school in October 2016, and by this time last year, we realised that we actually just couldn’t keep up with the capacity for both the gin production and the school.

“Up until now, we had been booked out until October,” she adds, “but now we can open up more places. We’ve also started exports of Listoke 1777 to the US, Canada, Russia and Australia.

“There’s certainly a gin in every country, if there’s not a gin in nearly every town. It’s really buzzing."

Although still lagging behind whiskey, with a 44 per cent surge in sales of gin in Ireland last year, according to Nielson, and 38 Irish gins now on shelves both at home and abroad, it’s fair to say that it’s no Mickey Mouse industry either.

Just ask Drimnagh native Jim O’Connor who even quit his job as VP Global Creative of Walt Disney to launch the latest to the market, Dublin City Gin, with his wife, Sheila Cooney.

“You do come up against [people asking], ‘Just how many gins are going to come out?’” admits the dad-of-four, who returned home to the capital from LA five years ago. “The problem with getting into bars is that a lot of them are controlled by groups - it’s almost the same effort to sell one bottle as it is to sell a palette.

“Basically, whenever I came home [from the States], my friends kept asking me , 'Bring us back a Dublin gin'. We looked for one, but there never was one, so we decided,'OK, we'll make our own’.

"The image [of gin] completely has changed. I would say it’s probably gone from an old man’s-type drink, and it’s been newly [re]invented.

“I don’t remember ever drinking gin primarily because in my day it would have been just Cork [Dry Gin], and it never attracted me really. Now that we’ve kind of stepped into this world, it’s taken over our world.

“We came out [with a] new look shortly before Christmas, and we've been knocking on doors ever since. It is an easy drink - sometimes a bit too easy - but we’re delighted with the quality of it.”

Made using rhubarb grown by the Grand Canal, the small-batch spirit is just one of those hoping to be crowned the country's favourite mascara thinner at the upcoming Irish Gin & Tonic Festival, happening at more than 100 venues nationwide from 23rd-30th June.

From tonics to tumblers, however, distillers aren't the only ones in high spirits as gin remains 'in'.

"We launched in May 2016 because we saw the huge potential for growth in the Irish gin market," says Brendan Colbert of Poacher's Well in Wexford, which produces a range of premium Irish mixers including a new Wild Tonic Water infused with elderflower. "so I suppose we were there a little bit before Irish gins exploded.

"We've seen a lot of interest from international markets. We were in America [already] this year and we're going to Russia in July.

"We work quite closely with Bord Bia now, and the respect for premium Irish products is quite incredible. It's great for the country. "From our own perspective, it's very exciting - our business is growing  really, really fast."

In the ultimate trickle-down effect, meanwhile ‘gin goggles’ could soon even replace ‘beer goggles’, teased Listoke founder Bronagh Conlon. 

“When we were doing our research, actually totally our target market was 24-25 year-old women up to 50-60 [year-old women], ABC1, and we’ve never been more wrong in our lives,” she tells. “We’ve been quite surprised. “We’d probably be 50:50 male to female, whereas we would have said, ‘Oh, this is a female market’. It’s as many men as women, certainly school-wise.”

“Now we’re even thinking of hosting a gin dating event!”

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