Quick: Tell us three facts about Drumshanbo, Ireland. And… go. … Okay, that wasn’t quite fair. After all, you haven’t been properly introduced to Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin yet. And yeah, you might want to re-read that last line a few times.
And that’s no misnomer. This small operation out of the province of Connacht is producing some pretty big stuff, pulling from influences that span the world. (Just check the profile on their botanicals.)
So we thought it’d be a worthy endeavor to get to know this small Irish town and the Gin being produced there. For that, we sat down with the "Curious mind" and founder of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, PJ Rigney and talk about his Gin, the future of The Shed Distillery and why a puffy piece of Naan bread makes the perfect Drumshanbo Gin pairing.
So, word on the street is that you’re a bit of an industry veteran. How did you end up working with Spirits?PJ: Well, first of all, I am Irish and have been in the industry since the mid-1980s—pretty much since I left college. I always knew I wasn’t going to be an accountant or something like that! And I kind of fell into the drinks industry in Ireland, working on the domestic side with Gilbey's and Graham's of Ireland doing marketing.
Then I went to Irish Mist, which was a Liqueur company. I worked with them on the international side before joining Baileys in 1990. I spent ten years with them, working in the Americas, Australia, Far East, and the United States. I also created the Sheridan's brand, a vanilla Liqueur, during that time.
I left Baileys in 1999 to set up Boru Vodka and Clontarf Whiskey with a former director of Baileys. And then I got involved in a whole series of strange projects, until 2014, when I set up The Shed Distillery, pretty much on my own with my wife.
We are very focused as well on our values. Our team is very important to us. Our consumers are very important to us. Our location is very important to us.
And I set this up in a very remote part of Ireland, on what we call "The Road Less Traveled," with the objective of making what I call, "Premier Grand Cru" Irish Whiskey. Really top end Irish Whiskey, single pot distilled. And also Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin—which is a very special Gin made with Oriental botanicals and gunpowder tea—and a Vodka that I call "Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka." It’s distilled from sausage tree fruit—which is a purifier—and Irish nettles.
Everything we sell we produce at the distillery. So we have three copper pots focused on Irish Whiskey. We have a two-and-a-half-thousand liter medieval copper pot focused on Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin. And then we have another copper pot and three columns focused on Vodka.
We prepare all of our botanicals, all of our grain and pretty much everything on site with our own mills. On the Whiskey side, we cask everything ourselves. We also distill everything for our Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin. All the bottles are filled and labeled on site. And that’s with only 30 people.
We are very focused as well on our values. Our team are very important to us. Our consumers are very important to us. Our location is very important to us. We try to be very resourceful in everything we do. We are Origin Green, which is a verified origin state in terms of the environment and sustainability. We have this Origin Green status, which is verified by the Irish Government.
And we are kosher, believe it or not. I think it was probably the only rabbi ever to visit this part of Ireland—he came from the UK. So we are verified kosher, which we are very proud of.
Why did you choose the town of Drumshanbo in Ireland? You've had the pleasure of working and traveling to many big metropolitan cities, such as New York City. Why this place? What does it inspire in you, your team and the products that you are creating?PJ: People often think, “What in God's name are you doing there?” I was looking for a number of locations that were interesting and exciting. Then, I came to this town, which I had known about because my parents met there. It is really a very beautiful place.
Everybody helps everybody—whether it is the carpenter, the electrician or the plumber. That is the reason I chose Drumshanbo.
I met the local town elders at this community facility that was once a jam factory and I just connected with the townspeople. I connected with them immediately. And I told them what I wanted to do.
They said to me, "Well, will you come?" And I said, "Well, yes, but are you going to back me? Are you going to support me?" And they said, "What do you mean? Of course we will!" And I said to them, "Okay. I'll tell you what I'll do. I will sleep on this and I will call you tomorrow." So I called them the next day and said, "You know what? We'll do it." I did it on the basis of the people that I met and the community that I felt would fit with our values, work with us and support us to do something really special. And we just did it.
We have a thing over in Ireland called, "meitheal." It is an old Irish word for basically "community." In the old days, if a farmer was bringing in the harvest, the meitheal would come together to help him get the harvest in and then move on to the other farms. Everybody pulled together.
That is what it is like in this village. Everybody helps everybody—whether it is the carpenter, the electrician or the plumber. That is the reason I chose Drumshanbo. And it is a beautiful place!
When people think of Ireland and booze, they think of Irish Whiskey first. But you’ve decided to create an Irish Gunpowder Gin. Why?PJ: I love Gin. But also, I have traveled a lot to Asia and really wanted to bring something exotic and exciting back to Drumshanbo. And I felt this was one way of doing it—bringing back botanicals from around the world and combining it with meadowsweet that we pick in Drumshanbo to create a remarkable, delicious and very exotic tasting citrus Gin that would compete with the best in the world.
One of the magical things we do is use fresh citrus in the vapour basket.
So, our bottle is cosmetic glass standard. Our cork is made of wood and copper. We pay huge attention to detail. And for the Gin, we distill each of the botanicals in the pot. All the citrus and the gunpowder tea is distilled in the vapour basket. It takes ten hours.
And then we rest it for 21 days. After that, we do a very light cold filtration, leaving the essential citrus oils in the Gin. So when you drink our Gin and get to the end of it, you are still tasting the Gin as it was in the beginning. One of the magical things we do is use fresh citrus in the vapour basket.
Let’s talk botanicals. The ones you’ve used in your Gin come from all over the world. Tell us a bit about that.PJ: First of all, I wanted to create an experience—not just for the Gin, but in the mind of the consumer when they were enjoying the Gin. I want them to know that the ingredients came from across the world and that I had been there.
This is many dimensions. But the overall experience is: exotic, spicy, fresh, citrusy and layered.
A lot of it is just creating something in the mind that is very exciting, very exotic and very exhilarating, and then working with my distiller and our amazing equipment.
If you had to describe the flavor profile of your Irish Gunpowder Gin, how would you describe it?PJ: Gosh. It is exotic. It is fresh. It is citrus with a touch of grapefruit. I am probably not putting it very well, but there is depth to it. As you’re tasting your cocktail or your Gin and tonic, you are getting something new in the experience. It’s multi-layered, depending on where you're at and how you serve it.
This is many dimensions. But the overall experience is: exotic, spicy, fresh, citrusy and layered. It’s just delicious! You can actually drink it on ice. You don't need a tonic. The perfect serve for me is a chilled bottle, ice, a big wedge of fresh, red grapefruit, Drumshanbo Gunpowder, and a good quality tonic.
There is nothing better, because the red grapefruit wedge pulls the grapefruit out of the Gin. It really pulls the citrus out. But on the website there are a number of different cocktails you can try.
1. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
It would be to make people better. People who are ill, to make them better.
2. How would you explain Drumshanbo in three words?
In three words: an amazing place.
3. What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
Oh, my favorite music is U2 and Drumshanbo Gunpowder up on ice.
4. What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
I would have a Drumshanbo, perfect, served with a wedge of red grapefruit and tonic. And what would I eat with that? I would have a dish called, "Chicken Nando." It is a Lebanese dish and I would have rice and naan bread. That would be the end!
5. Assuming Drumshanbo's Gunpowder Gin is obviously your favorite, what is your second favorite Gin?
Yeah, a good question. That would definitely be Monkey 47.
PJ: Spicy food would go well with it—but nothing overly spiced. Something in the Oriental style, or Indian, would be particularly delicious with it. Dishes that are fresh and light, maybe using rice, naan bread… that kind of thing.
If you were organizing a dinner and wanted to showcase your Irish Gunpowder Gin, what food would you serve with it?
What does the future hold for Drumshanbo? What’s next?PJ: We’re taking Drumshanbo Gunpowder to more markets across the world and introducing the brand to new consumers. That is very important for us. We will be introducing our Whiskey at the end of 2019 and that will be the first Whiskey from the province of Connacht. This will be the first Whiskey to be released from that area in 106 years.
So, we’ll be launching Drumshanbo single pot still Irish Whiskey at the end of this year and taking Drumshanbo and Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka to consumers. To be honest, those are the primary things.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.