Posted on Wednesday 23 January 2019 by John Mulgrew
What does your company do and what role do you play?
Our company is Ion Distillery and I am one of two co-founders along with Peter McBride from McBride Retail Group. My main responsibility is as head distiller, and I am responsible for producing our range of small batch craft spirits at our distillery in Co Tyrone.
How did the business start and how has it grown?
We have just launched our range of three products into the market but we have been working behind the scenes on Ion for the past two years. We have already negotiated listings with a supermarket chain and distribution with a English-based drinks distributor.
What is your background?
My background is in marketing and PR having worked for organisations such Liverpool Football Club, Pilkington Glass, Kingspan, Kawneer Architectural Systems and Wickes. After returning home to Northern Ireland I founded Pokertree Brewing Company in 2014.
What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths?
The main difference is our production methodology. Ion is irish for the word ‘pure’, so our ethos is to strip everything back to produce products in as pure a way as possible; in keeping with how they were originally manufactured. Rather than having one jack-of-all trade still, all our equipment has been custom built by hand and was specific for the products we intended to produce – so we have a dedicated still for each. Our rum, for example is made in the only Caribbean-style doubler still in the UK or Ireland. This lends a real authenticity to the product.
Who are your main customers?
As a new brand we are only beginning the process of rolling out our products across Northern Ireland, but already have shelf presence with many quality independent retailers as well as presence in SuperValu and Centra stores across Northern Ireland.
We have also negotiated a distribution partnership with Berkshire-based BWH Drinks to service the London market.
Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow?
There has been exponential growth internationally within the craft spirit sector, and at Ion we have ambitions to follow other successful local brands in showcasing the very high standard of drinks produce coming out of Northern Ireland. Over the next few years we aim to increase production, expand our portfolio and develop a presence in several export markets.
What challenges have you faced?
Any small business starting out faces the same challenges – access to finance and a need for support and guidance as the business finds its feet. That is why I am very fortunate to have a partner in this venture of the calibre of Peter McBride – founder of McBride Retail Group. Investing financially in the business, but almost more importantly, using his extensive business acumen to help steer Ion in the right direction.
Who most inspires you?
I have huge respect for James Watt and Martin Dickie – co-founders of the Aberdeen-based craft beer ‘empire’ Brewdog. Divisive in terms of past guerrilla-marketing tactics – it is undeniable that the pair have used their savvy and understanding of their market and social media to grow BrewDog into one of the world’s largest craft drinks businesses.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I see myself as continuing on the journey of building Ion into a national and then international Irish spirits brand – becoming synonymous with quality in the process.