Ciara McDonnell meets the man behind Beara Ocean Gin and finds out why tourism and gin are a match made in heaven
Capitalising on the worldwide gin boom of the moment, siblings John Power and Eileen Brennan founded the Beara Distillery, and Beara Ocean Gin, a spirit that captures the essence of the Beara Peninsula in each bottle.
The duo visited distilleries at home and abroad to learn about the craft of gin making, before siphoning their own passion for their homeplace into a gin that incorporates both West Cork fuchsia flowers and Atlantic salt water. John Power says that popularity for their small batch gin is growing month on month, with a recent boom thanks to an endorsement from Cork’s own Graham Norton.
“Graham Norton has a house in West Cork and he bought a bottle of our gin in SuperValu in Bantry,” Power explains. “He posted a picture of himself and his neighbour enjoying a glass of it on Instagram. It has certainly garnered a lot of air time and social media posts; within 24 hours there were around 12,000 likes, and that was great.”
Beara Ocean Gin joins a slew of artisan spirits currently flooding the Irish shelves, but Power says that the gin revolution shows no sign of waning.
“We had been looking at the market since the Irish gin market started to gain momentum,” he says.
“The big forerunners were the likes of Dingle and Blackwater, but at the end of the day they are only in existence since 2014. It has found its feet as an industry extremely quickly and the increasing sales of gin show that its popularity is not declining any time soon.”
When cultivating their flavour profile, it was essential that the siblings incorporated the ocean into the finished product, says the distillery owner. “We wanted to take the heritage of the Beara and West Cork area and siphon it into our gin,” he says. “Our family is deeply rooted in the marine industry and we wanted to incorporate it somehow into our gin. During our research, we found that seaweed and kelp is quite commonly used in food and drink products, but nobody else in the northern hemisphere was incorporating sea salt water in their gin.”
Power advocates enlisting the help of local enterprise boards when it comes to setting up a business, particularly in rural Ireland, citing them to be of incredible help in the initial stages of product development.
“At the beginning, we were talking to the local enterprise office in Clonakilty,” he says. “They’d be backbone of any small local enterprise in our area, and they are absolutely brilliant.”
As a member of the SuperValu Food Academy, the gin has found shelf space, where many would not, and that is priceless, according to Power. “The Food Academy is a fantastic thing for small artisan food producers and we were one of the first alcohol producers to do it with them.
It is a great way to get directly into the shops and onto the shelves.
”Starting your own artisan business is not easy, cautions the gin maker, and would-be owners and makers must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the work. “As a producer, you must be in the in the position to deliver directly to the shops and make sure that the product is on the shelf,” he explains.
“With any product, whether it is gin or strawberry jam, there needs to be a network there to sell it, so you have to be prepared to pound pavements.
“The most important ingredient in a successful artisan product, says Power, is passion. “You need to have people with their heart invested in the product in order to sell it.”
With a delicious gin and a beautiful distillery in which to make it, Power and Harrington are investigating the idea of opening the distillery to tourists in the near future. “The rural Beara Peninsula and areas like it are crying out for places that tourists can visit,” says Power.
“Currently, tourists come here to see the cable car but where do they go then? The whole tourism industry in Ireland is looking for go-to places, and we see our distillery as a potential place for tourists to visit. “
The future in gin is bright, according to this mariner turned spirit producer.
“The rising tide lifts all boats’ and that can’t be more true than for the distillery business,” he laughs.
“If you see what happened in Scotland with the whiskey trade, people will go to different areas to visit a local distillery and sample their product before carrying on their journey and visiting another place. If you could factor that into the whole tourism scene, then you really have something special.”