From small trees do great juices flow

Maurice Gilbert moved from construction to healthy juices
From small trees do great juices flow

Maurice Gilbert, CEO, Ballyhoura Apple Farm, Kilfinane, Co Limerick, sampled his apple cider vinegar at the vinegar vaults. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm was born out of the recession of 2008 after Maurice Gilbert who worked in construction found himself out of a job when the boom went to bust overnight.

He is now producing healthy juices and apple cider vinegar - which is being sold in 350 shops throughout Ireland.

All of the produce comes from his own orchard - 5,000 apple trees - which he uprooted from its original home in Churchtown, Co Cork and replanted at Kilfinane, Co Limerick.

And, it is from there that he manages and runs his very successful business.

The vinegar is made from 100% undiluted Irish apple juice which undergoes a double fermentation process.

Two of Maurice’s early signature juices include Red Mulled Apple Juice aimed at the Christmas market and Gilbert Murphy Hot Friskey.

Maurice Gilbert of Ballyhoura Apple Farm and Donagh Raftery, sales manager, having discussions in the boardroom. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Maurice Gilbert of Ballyhoura Apple Farm and Donagh Raftery, sales manager, having discussions in the boardroom. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm also produces Fingein’s Veterinary Apple Cider Vinegar - a natural cure and tonic from bygone days created beneath the circular embankments of the great motte of Druim Fingein which adjoins Ballyhoura Artisan Food Park, where the business is based.

The vinegar alleviates many forms of pollution and toxicity, one of the most significant being mould mycotoxin, a huge immune-system crippler and often a factor in such things as high somatic cell counts, mastitis, foot rot, pinkeye, tetanus and anaplasmosis.

“In the early days I got into Mahon Point (farmers market) selling apple juice - I was outsourcing the bottling side of things at the time and that was a great start for me,” said Maurice.

“I decided then to look at creating mulled apple juices - I got a blend of species from a fella near me.

“I tried and tested that, tweaked things around a bit and I set off selling the apple and blackcurrant juice with a blend of species by the cup.

“People started saying to me that I should bottle it because it was so good and so that summer I went off with myself and bottled it.”

Before long, the juice was winning awards and included among the accolades was a silver Blas na hEireann award.

“I knew I was onto something then,” added Maurice.

Before long he created an apple and beetroot juice and it sold well especially in the springtime because as he said himself, “beetroot is a good detox and people regarded it as a healthy option”.

“Of course it should always be blended with something that is high in vitamin C like apples or oranges.

“I found I had a bit of a flair for the creative and innovative side of things and so I carried on for a couple of more years like that.”

As time went on Maurice discovered that it was becoming difficult to make a living producing apple juice - VAT is 23%.

He also found it hard to scale because a bad year meant that he would not be able to meet market demand.

He continued focusing on healthy juices and brought an apple and chive, an apple and parsnip, and an apple with green tea, black pepper and spices to market.

Then he decided to produce vinegars and it was that decision which put the business on a whole new path.

“I was doing a little bit of vinegar all the time — it was scalable because I didn’t have to use premium apples and I was able to make the cider and get on with it. It was also a product that was a little bit different,” Maurice said.

He then looked at buying an acidator - the machine that turns cider into vinegar but he found they were very expensive (€300,000) and so he built his own machine.

With the help of his friend, they built an acidator from a bulk tank, an ice cream fridge, and a hot water cylinder.

Maurice Gilbert, CEO, and Helen O'Farrell, distribution manager, Ballyhoura Apple Farm with some of the company's juice syrups and apple cider vinegar ranges. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Maurice Gilbert, CEO, and Helen O'Farrell, distribution manager, Ballyhoura Apple Farm with some of the company's juice syrups and apple cider vinegar ranges. Picture: Denis Minihane.

He now has three bulk tanks going.

The business participated in the Food Academy with Musgraves and began supplying juice and vinegar to SuperValu.

Maurice then got access to shelf space in Aldi and Lidl which served as a huge boost to the vinegar side of the business.

“It’s happy days now; we continue to supply all three and things are looking good all the time,” he added.

Specialty shops, artisan markets, and a number of hotels are also providing market access for Maurice.

“My staff has remained very loyal to me over the years and even during the Covid-19 pandemic we continued as a food business and our sales actually increased during that time.”

Maurice doesn’t do a huge trade online because his juices and vinegar come in glass bottles and transport and delivery costs are high as a result.

“We have been extremely fortunate in the way things have gone for us; I feel there is someone watching over me at times,” he concluded.

More in this section

Farming
Newsletter

Keep up-to-date with all the latest developments in Farming with our weekly newsletter

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up