Newly opened this year in Cork City, Rebel City Distillery will produce a range of premium spirits which draw inspiration from around the world. The recently launched Maharani gin is the distillery’s first release, which celebrates a fusion of Cork and Keralan cultures.
We spoke to Robert Barrett, Founder of Rebel City Distillery, about their very first spirit launch, plans for the future and the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The genesis for this gin was Kerala, where my wife Bhagya is from. We wanted to incorporate some of the taste and ingredients of Kerala, which even in India is known as a land of spice. To that end my wife found Vanamoolika, a womens’ organic collective based in the Western Ghats of Kerala. We met with them and were really impressed with the quality and so decided to take our signature botanicals from there; namely nutmeg, mace, pomelo and cassia. This then formed the backbone if you will of the gin and led us to a citrus/spice gin and I structured the remaining botanicals – cardamom, lemon, orange, coriander, orris and of course juniper, to support that,” said Barrett, on the inspiration behind the new Maharani gin.
Although Maharani gin is currently only available in Ireland, there are plans to expand into the European market shortly and further afield in the long term. As Barrett said: “In the first instance we are really interested in exploring opportunities in the rest of the EU, specifically Germany, Spain and Italy as well as the UK. In the longer term we would love to export to India considering both our links to and the great potential of the market there.”
On his favourite Maharani gin serve, Barrett said: “I find that grapefruit, a quality tonic and if you have it, mint is a great serve. It highlights the attributes of our gin and is very refreshing.”
Rebel City Distillery
Robert Barrett is a biochemist turned fine spirits expert who, following a number of years researching cancer cell migration, spent over a decade learning the art of crafting and distilling premium spirits around the world.
Having previously worked with renowned distilleries such as Kilbeggan and The Shed Distillery, Barrett shares an insight into the motivation behind opening his own operation: “Essentially it was the experience of working with great distillers and distilleries that motivated me to start my own. That and the freedom of going in my own direction vis a vis recipes, process and branding.”
The newly opened Rebel City Distillery is situated in a former Ford factory building in the heart of Cork’s historic Docklands; heralding a new wave of craftsmanship in Cork as the first distillery within its city limits for almost 50 years. Plans are also underway to open a new visitor centre to the public in September of this year, offering tours, tastings and a gin school experience.
Commenting on why he chose to open on this particular site, Barrett said: “The most obvious and easiest option would have been to set up in a standard industrial unit, but when we saw the building we could see the potential. Visually it’s a wonderful building with great industrial heritage, the internal volume of the building lends a sort of industrial grandeur and I think the public will really appreciate it when we open for tours, tastings and a gin school.”
Opening in the midst of a pandemic
Asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected opening plans for the new Rebel City Distillery, Barrett said: “Our original intention was to lead with pub and restaurant listings to better allow people to taste and become familiar with our gin, obviously with COVID-19 we then had to change direction to an off licence and supermarket launch with a virtual tasting event rather than inviting people into the distillery as was originally planned. That being said we were able to work away safely and that is the main thing!”
Following the recent launch of Maharani gin, the team is continuing to work on the next range of exciting new spirits. “We are experimenting with akvavit and absinthe recipes at the moment as well as other ideas for small-batch, and distillery-only releases. We hope to have a rum to follow next year, in both an unaged (white) rum and as an aged (brown) rum.”