Gin inspired by Donegal woman’s grandfather targets Asia

Inishowen-born Laura Bonner is hoping that the potato gin and vodka inspired by her grandfather will soon be enjoyed in Asia. Her craft drinks business, The Muff Liquor Company, has its sights firmly set on taking its gin and vodka to Asia a year after its launch in the Irish and UK marketplace.

Laura, whose grandfather Philip McClenaghan was a potato farmer in Greencastle, set up the business with her Manchester-based business partner Tom Russell. “Granda loved to make poitin with potatoes; he left a number of journals, detailing his recipes,” said Laura, who previously worked in property in London.

As the Muff Liquor Company celebrates a year of success, it is focused on expanding into Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore and Japan.

Plans

Laura said it has been a fantastic year for the company which is currently based in west Cork where the drinks are produced by John O’Connell, using potatoes from the area, but with plans to establish a distillery and visitors’ centre in Muff, Co. Donegal.

“It has been a real journey for me. I have been working night and day, putting in an average 19-hour working day, seven days a week and doing 10 roles, running here and there – but it’s been worth it. I have learned so much, from the production and logistic side of things to the distribution, marketing and business planning,” she said.

“2019 is going to be another challenging and busy year but we are really looking forward to it. It will involve a lot of travelling and attending a lot of showcases and events but we have a fantastic team behind us who are really supportive of our product and our brand,” she added.

The company, Laura said, secured a business all-star accreditation from the All-Ireland Business Foundation, winning gold in the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America exposition in Las Vegas and taking gold in the Asia Gin Masters in Hong Kong. A recent mention on BBC Radio 1’s Scott Mills programme has been another boost, she said.

Support

“We are delighted to be part of the development of the Irish drinks scene and to have benefitted from the positive attitude and support that is out there for female entrepreneurs. We couldn’t have achieved the success without the support of the local community and local businesses who have really got behind us in showcasing our products.”

The Irish Open in Ballyliffin; the Foyle Maritime Festival in Derry; the UFC in the UK; and the rugby classics in Bermuda are just some of the high profile events the company have been part of, Laura said.

“It is fantastic to get an opportunity to get out and meet people at these events. The feedback we get back from customers is phenomenal and it is brilliant to meet people on a one-to-one basis.”

Brexit implications

The uncertainty around Brexit is worrying, Laura said. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about Brexit.

We plan to build right on the border and are frustrated at the lack of progress and direction on it but we have a short, medium and long-term plan to help us mitigate against any issues we may face with currency, tariffs or logistics.

“We will continue to progress with our business plans and hope that we can overcome any issues Brexit may present,” she said.

Tom said: “We are very much committed to further developing our plans for our own distillery and creating jobs in the local area.” At present, two people are employed in the enterprise. Laura’s grandfather would be proud.