PJ Rigney might not be a household name, but with over three decades in the drinks business, his work certainly is. Having recently built ‘The Shed’, the first distillery in Connacht in 101 years, it’s first creation Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin has become a global brand in just three short years.
With over 40 international markets, Gunpowder reached the major milestone of 100,000 case sales last year and turned over €7 million. Now having won several awards for Gunpowder, Rigney has since developed ‘PremierGrandCru’ Irish whiskey, which is still maturing, and SausageTree Pure Irish Vodka, which international markets are also loving.
Having been one of the masterminds behind the marketing of Baileys back in the early days – arguably Ireland’s most famous export after Guinness and U2. Rigney was also the brains behind Sheridans twin-bottle Irish Cream Liqueur, and Boru Vodka. If ever there was ever a man to sell us a luxury tipple, it’s Rigney. But amazingly, when it came time to gather up investors for Gunpowder, nobody wanted to talk to him.
‘Despite my track record, I couldn’t get any money from investors. All of the seed capital people wanted to invest in tech, they had no faith in what I was doing. They just had no interest in investing in me.’
‘But Bord Bia helped me get my branding right. They were also great for morale and support. And Enterprise Ireland were great too. They gave me €275,000 as part of their youth scheme, and that really got us moving.’
‘I also overcame these setbacks by recalibrating the size, putting up all my savings, combined with the funding from Enterprise Ireland, and finding a new bank who believed in the project, and me in particular.’
Having plotted Gunpowder’s unique oriental blend over a number of years, it took six to nine months of tweaking the recipe, and the amount of fresh citrus in the pressing with his master distiller Brian Taaffe, to get things perfect.
Now having tasted success with his own products, Rigney is now investing €2million in a visitors centre in Drumshanbo. Determined to remain humble, Rigney doesn’t take for granted that quick success, means lasting success.
‘Yes, I’m proud. But I’m also very aware that this is very early in Gunpowder’s journey. Sometimes I do think, wow, look at what we’ve achieved. But I’ve a responsibility to the community in Drumshanbo, and all the great team that produce Gunpowder.’
Having recently employed their 36th member of staff, The Shed Distilleries say they will be expanding its workforce to over 50 when it’s PremierGrandCru whiskey is released on sale next year. Which is great news for the small town which has a population of just 800 and has been blighted by unemployment.
In a romantic twist, Drumshanbo in County Leitrim is where Rigney’s parents first met and fell in love. According to Rigney, ‘My mum was a book-keeper, and my dad came to check her work.’ The rest as they say, is history.
Although Rigney is fully invested in the sleepy lakeside town that is surrounded by rolling hills, both emotionally and financially, he is less sure about what it was that made Gunpowder a bestseller.
‘I don’t understand it fully. A lot of the multinationals ask the same question. It’s a very distinctive bottle on the shelves. And I think the packaging and the story bring people to the brand – the quality of the product brings people back.’