Co. Cork milk gin goes from ‘grass to glass’

‘Bertha’s Revenge’ small batch Irish milk gin is a product that is making its mark in the marketplace, with the catchline ‘from grass to glass.’

The gin business is owned by school friends, Justin Green and Anthony Jackson. Justin and Jenny Green own the well-known Ballyvolane House, near Castlelyons, Co. Cork, along with a  farm.

“My parents had farmed 260ac since the 1950s, specialising in dairy, with some mixed tillage. They diversified into tourism, and opened the house to guests in the 1980s,” said Green.

“Most of the farm was sold then, and the remaining pasture of 80ac is used for summer grazing. We rear rare breed pigs and poultry, and grow lots of vegetables for use in the house.”

Ballyvolane House operates as a Hidden Ireland historic house bed and breakfast, hosting: high-end weddings; yoga retreats; house rentals; and ‘glamping’.

Justin and Jenny took over the reins in 2004, after his mother passed away. The idea of using whey alcohol in the making of gin was given to Green and Jackson by Charles Maxwell, the head distiller at Thames Distillery in London, during a meeting they had with him in late 2014.

“He said that it was being produced down the road from Ballyvolane House in Co. Cork, and that it was derived from milk produced by local dairy farmers, which he rated highly in terms of quality. This ticked our farm-to-fork ethos, as we wanted to make an Irish gin using an Irish neutral spirit.”

Fittingly, an old cattle shed in the farmyard was converted into a new working distillery, opening in 2015. “We spent nine months developing our recipe, as the flavour of the gin was the most important thing to get right. The biggest obstacle initially was cash flow and learning the craft of distilling.”

The milk used comes from Co. Cork farmers who supply Carbery Group in West Cork. “Carbery is a large dairy processor. It separates the curds and whey, and in turn, ferments and distills the whey. We buy in the whey alcohol, and use this as our base spirit, along with our own well water, and an interesting mix of locally foraged and imported botanicals,” Green said.

At present, 600 70cl bottles of Bertha’s Revenge gin are produced per week. The name immortalises Bertha, or ‘Big Bertha,’ as she was known, a legendary Droimeann cow from Sneem, Co. Kerry.

She died on New Year’s Eve, 1993, just three months short of her 49th birthday. During the course of her long life, she gave birth to 39 calves. This, along with her age, earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Initially the plan was to focus on the domestic gin market, but the duo is also exporting the product. “We are currently distributing to eight different countries around the world, and this is growing every week. In time, we expect that the home market will represent as little as 5% of total sales.”

Having recently won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017, been selected as the Irish Food Writers’ Guild ‘Drink of the Year 2017’ and secured a star in the Great Taste Awards, the future looks good for Bertha’s Revenge Irish Milk Gin.