Grandad’s potato farm journal ‘spirited’ grandchild’s dream

While there may be concerns in some quarters about potato consumption declining, one Donegal woman taking part in the Bloom festival this weekend has found what she believes is the “perfect use” for the humble spud – a key ingredient in The Muff Liquor Company’s craft gin.

Inishowen-born, Laura Bonner, was inspired by her grandfather, Philip McClenaghan, who was a potato farmer in Greencastle, in the creation of The Muff Liquor Company.

“Granda loved to make poitin with potatoes; he left a number of journals, detailing his recipes,” Laura said.

After packing in a professional career in London property, she returned home last year to create a new company, and craft gin, with her Manchester business partner, Tom Russell.

The duo had worked in property together and discovered a mutual appreciation for premium distilled spirits.

Laura had spent a number of years studying and working in law, property and public relations in Dublin and London. They decided to optimise their entrepreneurial leanings, and international business experience, by establishing The Muff Liquor Company to produce a potato-based spirit.

“Tom loved the idea and identified with the opportunity in the craft liquor market. We took the plunge and I moved back home.

It’s not been easy; but, it’s been so fulfilling to create something from scratch – with family heritage at its heart.

The company name has attracted lots of attention on social media. Laura said the hype is helping the product to stand out.

She says the name represents the “fun and cheeky” identity that they want to establish.

However, she said that beyond that exterior, there are core ideals of hard work, respect for tradition and making something born of the land and crafted by hand.

The Muff Liquor Company’s gin is currently being produced in west Cork and the potatoes are also sourced in Cork.

Laura and Tom are very keen to expand the business and to eventually set up their own distillery in the village of Muff – located on the Donegal border.

Family values

Laura said the business is built on family values.

“These were the ideas Granda McClenaghan passed down through my family and it’s something I want to make sure is at the centre of everything we do.

That is the reason an illustration of him adorns the back of the bottle. I couldn’t be prouder to have him as a representation of the ideas and values of this company.

Visually, the brand is very much inspired by the past.

“My grandfather kept journals of recipes for his poitin, food, and plans for things he would build around the farm.

“This old journal style is the basis of our brand and a lot of our visuals. It will be the main theme running throughout our physical and digital marketing,” she said.

Potato base

Tom contended that what makes the gin special is its potato base.

The base alcohol is made from potatoes – along with mandarin, lemon, rosemary, elderflower and champagne essence.

We wanted to use some ingredients that are native to Donegal too – such as wildly grown elderflower, Tom added.

He describes the resultant combination as a fresh and vibrant gin, that carries “sweet notes” and is quite “smooth” to drink.

“The smoothness is the direct result of the potato base. It is something that differentiates us from sharper tasting distilled gins on the market at present,” said Tom.

Also because we are using a potato base, rather than a grain base, the benefit of this is that our gin is wheat-free and gluten-free  – which is something that was important to us from the beginning of this process.

Laura highlighted that last year in the UK almost 50m bottles of gin were sold. Gin sales dramatically increased with, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, sales of over £1.2 billion (€1.3 million),” Laura said.

Meanwhile, in Ireland the duo pointed out that gin is the fastest growing spirit, in the spirits category, among Irish consumers.

“The accelerated growth of the craft drinks sector is very much aligned with my own generation’s preferences – imbued with originality, a unique identity, a more personalised experience and more fun.

“There’s also been a resurgence of ‘cocktail culture’ – which has been greatly inspired by hit US TV programmes such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Suits’,” he said.

The gin sells at a recommended retail price of €48.

Premium plans

The two entrepreneurs also plan to produce other premium distilled spirits. “We also intend entering new markets internationally and launching our premium vodka in the coming months,” said Laura.

As well as capturing the European market, the company has its eye on the US, Australia and Asia.

“The eventual plan for the company overall is to be based totally out of Inishowen; and have our head office and distillery located there.

We want to have a visitor centre that will not only showcase our brand; but, showcase local history too.

The duo want to give back to the community too by hiring local people to work at their base operations.

“Local farmers will be the source for some of our ingredients for any drink we produce. I feel this is a real connection back to my grandfather and, of course, the local community of Muff and Inishowen which will be at the heart of what we do,” said Laura.