Entrepreneurs in high spirits over brand’s potential

Giving a gift of poitín — or adding a dash of it to the plum pudding — has become much more possible this Christmas following the launch of new drinks company, Coomara.

In October the company went into 70 branches of Tesco with three new products: original poitín, wild berry-flavoured poitin and orchard fruits-flavoured poitín. Having launched the first poitín to be sold in supermarkets in Ireland, Coomara is targeting global exports in 2014.

Brand developer Gary Gartland and food consultant Bronagh Conlon set up the company because they believed that the possibilities of poitín, an ancient and once illegal drink, weren’t being fully realised. “It’s been around for hundreds of years since it was developed by the monks — it has history and mythology,” says Mr Gartland

The idea came to the two entrepreneurs back in February during a conversation about the increase in global demand for Irish whiskey. “Jameson whiskey shots are now considered the coolest drink in the US and there is a shortage of Irish whiskey in the world. We decided that there was space in the market for a new poitín.”

The fact that poitín had been given geographical indication status in 2008 made the proposition more attractive, as did the fact that it’s a drink with a very colourful history.

Coomara’s founders needed to develop both a product and a brand and were well-equipped to do both, since Ms Conlon runs a food development company and Mr Gartland runs a brand development firm.

In creating the new product, they decided to make poitín with 40% alcohol content, similar to vodka and whiskey but lower than is usually found in poitín.

They did some research and found that poitín was being used in cocktail mixes in bars around the world. “Poitín used to be drunk with water or even put on as a rub. We want to create a new perception and are marketing it as a cocktail ingredient, as a long drink with a mixer and we have added fruit and berry flavouring to make it appeal to the female market,” Mr Gartland said.

Securing the services of West Cork Distillers in Union Hall to produce the product, they set about developing a brand. According to Mr Gartland: “It all happened very quickly, we set up the company in April in Drogheda and made a presentation to Tesco in June and they agreed to list it in 70 stores. In September, we took it to the National Ploughing Championships where it was sampled by 12,000 people and went down very well.”

He adds: “Turning the concept of a new poitín into a product on Tesco shelves happened very quickly. Companies usually start selling new drinks to the on and off trade, but we decided it would be faster and more efficient to go to the retail market first.”

He adds it helped that this was a new product with which everyone was already familiar. The fact that poitíin, unlike whiskey, doesn’t require maturation meant that it was possible to get it produced quickly.

In developing the product and the image, Coomara is targeting the white spirits market and has designed its drinks specifically to appeal to vodka drinkers.

Since launching in Tesco in October, Coomara has sold to a cocktail bar in London, to a chain of Irish bars in Seville and sold to local pubs and off licences in Louth. “We are in advanced negotiations with a distributor in Ireland and we are in talks with distributors in Paris and Russia.”

In getting the company off the ground Coomara’s founders have used their own funding and also received support from Louth Enterprise Board.

Planning to move into export markets next year, they are being supported by Bord Bia and are also planning to fundraise in the New Year to bring the company to the next level.

Coomara hopes to build up brand recognition in Ireland this Christmas and to look at markets in the US, Russia, Asia, Europe and Australia next year.

Long term, the aim is to make Coomara as famous as Guinness, Jameson and Baileys.


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