When selecting a suitable brand name for Irish spirit products intended for the export market, St. Patrick’s Distillery in Cork seems to have chosen particularly well.
The original plan was to call the company Prátaí, to reflect the fact that it was selling spirits produced from potatoes but company founder and managing director Tom Keightley changed his mind when he discovered that Americans, the key demographic, were likely to grievously mispronounce the Irish word for potato.
“This was a really good lesson in branding and the importance of picking the right name,” says Mr Keightley who chose the alternative name when he located the new venture at St. Patrick’s Woollen Mills in Douglas.
Just one year after setting up, St. Patrick’s is building up sales in Ireland, has started exporting to Germany and is planning a launch at a trade show in the US next month.
By March 17 next year, the company aims to be well established in export markets and to be well positioned to make the most of its very well recognised name.
Back in 2014, Mr Keightley became interested in the gluten-free market as a result of setting up a company selling food intolerance tests to pharmacies. Given that the food market was already well served, he decided to research the production of grain free alcohol.
Before visiting a distillery making potato vodka in Idaho in the US, he recruited Cyril Walsh as the general manager of the new company.
Starting out in early 2015 using private funding, he purchased a still.
Discovering that commissioning this required major funding, he sourced spirits produced from potatoes from another Irish company and began blending and bottling.
First products launched in early 2015 were a 100% potato vodka and a potato gin with juniper berries.
Mr Keightley says the growth in the craft beer industry has been followed by growth in interest in craft spirits and that the reception for the St. Patrick’s products has been very good.
“We started with gin and vodka but were asked if we could do whiskey,” he says adding that the company also had requests from customers for flavoured gin.”
Sourcing whiskey from a West Cork distillery, the company created St. Patrick’s Distillery Oak Aged Irish whiskey by blending a three-year old grain with a 21-year old malt. By the time it exhibited at Bloom in the summer, the company was also offering gin with sloe and honey, gin with elderflower and extra dry gin.
The plan for year one was to develop sales in Ireland.
“We are now listed in 100 bars and restaurants around the country — we are strong in Munster and Cork and are also selling in some Dublin pubs,” says Mr Keightley adding that the company now employs a staff of six.
Getting in to both Cork and Dublin airport duty frees is helping St Patrick’s develop sales to tourists.
Exports to Germany happened sooner than planned, when a German distributor got in touch after picking up a bottle of St Patrick’s before catching a flight.
The first shipment to Germany went out last November.
“We launched miniature bottles in January and have now been asked to do gift packs for duty frees,” says Mr Keightley who expects these to sell very well as souvenirs and is also aiming to sell them to airlines.
The key target from the beginning has been the US and St. Patrick’s will be exhibiting at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America trade show in Las Vegas next month.
Having found an importer in the US, the company is looking for distributors there.
“We are targeting 80% exports by the end of this year — we are looking at the US and the UK markets and are also in discussions with potential distributors in Russia, Australia, India and China,” says Mr Keightley.
Taking St. Patrick’s spirits to the next level and getting the still running will require significant investment.
Mr Keightley expects to start fundraising later in the year.
Further plans for 2016 are likely to involve the launch of some new whiskeys.