Business Profiles

Soft Sofas and Copper Stills: Life at Blackwater Distillery is Good

Situated in Cappoquin, along the Blackwater River in West Waterford, The Blackwater Distillery was one of the first craft gin producers in Ireland. Set up in 2014 by journalist Peter Mulryan along with Kieran Curtin, the distillery opened just on the cusp of the Irish gin revival.

Blackwater produces two styles of gin – the more classic Blackwater No.5 gin (albeit with several varieties) and Boyles, a combination of elderflowers and local ingredients, which is now supplied exclusively as part of a huge two and half year contract to Aldi. With this in mind, as well as the massive boom in the gin market nationwide, we spoke to CEO Peter Mulryan about how the business has grown and why.

“It’s hard to define our market demographic,” explained Peter, when discussing the recent gin renaissance. “It’s bizarre – it runs across all categories from 18 to 80 but it is slightly skewed more towards female consumption. Indeed, it appears that gin is popular with any age group and that the story of the relationship with the history of the area in the Victorian period and the importing of botanicals and tea along the Blackwater River have worked well to strengthen the brand.”

So how did they land the contract with Aldi and what are the implications of this? The distillery started making Boylans gin just over two and half years ago. Aldi UK initially took the brand and when it was sold out, “People paid attention,” said Peter.  The product, which focuses on local organic ingredients, won the distillery plenty of awards and resulted in the business earning a €3m Aldi contract, which has brought their gin to Irish, British and Australian markets.

Business from the contract with Aldi now accounts for more than 50% of Blackwater’s annual sales. How much the distillery produces depends on orders, but as gin is quicker to produce than other spirits, such as whisky, Blackwater can usually respond and fill orders within 48 hours.

Pic: Conor McCabe.

Blackwater has also recently expanded its facilities with a new €1.5 million distillery extension, which took a one year build, that now allows the business even more capacity for production. “It is now nine times bigger and huge in scale,” explained Peter. “There’s a whole new wing and new still house – completely brand new… well ‘old new'”. This refers to the fact that the new building is an extension and encompasses an old Victorian building.

The additions to the facilities also include a new brewing bar, office, plant and cooler. Aesthetically the distillery is also extremely pleasing as Peter chirps that “It’s a fantastic space with the enormous copper stills where we can work efficiently and safely… and soft soft sofas”.

When considering the new aesthetic factors, as well as the expansion involved in the distillery, and the current massive trend of turning distilleries and breweries into tour destinations, it seems only logical to conclude that the same is being considered for Blackwater in the near future.

Peter confirmed that this was indeed the plan and that tours of the grounds and buildings will happen, adding another facet to the strength of the brand as well as another stream of income. When asked, Peter said that the business is currently working on the licencing end of things, but that they expect to have this dealt with by the end of the year.

The extension not only accommodates this potential, but also another phase of Peter’s plan – to begin distilling brown spirits on site also. Not only did the expansion have physical implications but also resulted in the creation of new jobs, initially seven, with plans to add to this in the future. Currently the business has John Wilcox, a craft distiller, who is in the process of training two new distillers to aid with further production.

The partnership with Aldi has most certainly been crucial to the expansion of Blackwater Distillery, with sales quadrupling since 2016. The expansion, Peter estimated, will improve productivity by 400% – which indicates along with their plans that Blackwater Distillery has a lot of potential to grow even further.

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