The Irish entrepreneur behind the latest gin offering to hit a somewhat saturated market swore he’d never make a gin, for exactly that reason.
“My friends joke with me about bringing Ornabrak to market as I have notoriously said that I would never do a gin,” founder of Origin Spirits Ireland Patrick Shelley told Independent.ie.
“But what opened my eyes was the traction I was getting with our Kalak vodka, which is four times pot distilled from Irish malted barley, a process more commonly used for producing Irish whiskey.
“So I thought about bringing some of that to a gin product. And we made the single malt gin Ornabrak which distils its own base spirit here in Ireland, and we infused it with botanicals.
“The difference is that the single malt spirit is so complex and rich in flavour and we wanted to bring that through so we only introduced five botanicals [quite a small amount for a gin]. It’s all about getting them perfectly balanced that no one botanical is shouting above the rest.”
Ornabrak is unique in that it is one of only three single malt gins in the world, but it was the Tipperary man’s passion to create a tasty vodka drink that really kicked off the business in 2013.
Shelley comes from a luxury good industry background and was in Russia for around two and a half years working with Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (MHLV) when he said he was first “exposed to vodka”.
“One thing I was fascinated by was why people drank a drink that was so odourless and tasteless. Everything I love about spirits has all to do with the flavours: rum, brandy, whisky, wine…So the idea started in Russia to try to create a vodka that had better taste than anyone out there in the market,” he said.
“I thought it would be a fun project to create a vodka that I would actually like. I then started looking in Ireland looking for a production partner and to really nail the ingredients. Then I aimed for the three points for a successful product: high standards of quality, a very good visual identity, and a great story behind it.”
From a consumer point of view, creating something that was authentic, with clear provenance, and fantastic ingredients was of primary importance to Shelley.
“The one thing I wanted to do was create something indigenously Irish and to produce it in a traditional way as possible. And so I took inspiration from the whisky world with the malted barley and copper pot stills.”
Derived from the phonetic spelling of “An Cailleach”, the Irish Celtic Goddess and queen of winter, Kalak Vodka was launched in 2015 after over two years of participation in Food Works, the entrepreneurial programme run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.
Ornabrak gin was similarly named, coming from the phonetic spelling of ‘Eorna Braiche’, which means malted barley.
After a 12 month period and 36 distillation trials, an initial offering of 30 botanicals was whittled down to just five for the beverage: Juniper Berry, Douglas Fir Needles, Garden Angelica Root, Lemon Verbena Leaf and Lemon Peel.
Ornabrak spirit is made from Irish malted barley sourced in Ireland’s south east, before being malted in Cork, and subsequently milled, mashed, fermented and put through copper pot distillation in Skibbereen, West Cork.
“For us, provenance is key as international consumers are becoming increasingly discerning, particularly with respect to the authenticity and transparency of the brands they consume with more demand for ‘farm to bottle’ products,” said Shelley.
As for anything else on the horizon, Patrick said: “Within three years, we’ve created three products, so we’re focusing on building that and whatever happens after that, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s been difficult enough to maintain the running of the business!”
In terms of visual importance, a bottle which packs a punch was crucial and one of Ireland’s leading botanical artists, Lynn Stringer, was the woman behind the design, inspired by vintage apothecary and perfume bottles.