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Justin Green - Bertha’s Revenge

Justin Green Bertha's Revenge
Written by Gin Foundry

When Bertha’s Revenge trotted onto the scene in 2015 it caused quite a stir. Made from a milk base, the gin was named (and branded) in tribute to a legendary cow - Big Bertha. The gin itself is sweet at the fore, with a strong juniper presence throughout and a spicy finish. We liked it a lot more than we expected to, even with high expectations to begin with - hence its presence behind door number seven on the 2016 Ginvent Calendar. We caught up with co-founder Justin Green to find out how he and his business partner, Antony Jackson, came to make a milky gin.

It seems like you’ve had a huge year - What’s the 2016 experience been like for you guys on a personal level?

We celebrated our first anniversary in April 2016 and the first 18 months have been hugely satisfying on a personal level. We are passionate about what we do and we take enormous pride in what we have achieved to date. The highlights of the year have been attending Junipalooza in London, winning a IWSC Bronze 2016 in our first year and winning the Drink of the Year Award 2016, which was given to us by Ireland’s leading food writers John and Sally McKenna. We are just back from a sales trip to NYC and Chicago which was fascinating. We are looking forward to 2017 and we will be focussing on breaking into new export markets. We will also be launching our Sloe Bertha later this month too.

It’s now been a year since your launch – how have you grown in terms of both production and demand?

We officially launched in Dublin just before Christmas 2015 and we hired a PR company to handle all media for us. The result of this was that we raised the profile of Bertha’s Revenge Gin within Ireland substantially and we saw demand increase in the on and off trade. We started from zero and demand grew quite quickly; we had to purchase a second still so we were able to double our production. We are producing around 350 bottles per week currently which is keeping up with demand. We are getting good traction throughout Ireland and we are exporting to the UK, Luxembourg and soon to Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. We have just returned from a sales trip to the US so we hope to export to the US mid to late 2017.

That’s fantastic to hear. How has the response to a “milk” gin been? Are people, excited, confused or turned off?

Initially, our research showed the milk reference would put people off but we decided to crack on anyway and celebrate the fact that we distil our gin from an Irish whey base alcohol. As the category becomes increasingly crowded and busy, it has turned out to be a really good decision as it has given Bertha’s Revenge Gin a real point of difference compared with other premium gins available. People are intrigued mostly and it always starts a dialogue about the gin. The bartenders we speak have been very supportive and they love telling their customers the story.

How long did Bertha’s Revenge take to create and perfect?

We started our research in November 2014 and formed the company in April 2015. It took us nine months to perfect the recipe. We distilled 19 batches in two small alembic copper stills, tweaking the balance of the botanicals with each run. By batch 19 we were pretty happy with the taste but we are always continually trying to improve and tweak with every batch we produce. The characteristics of the botanicals change at different times of the years so we have to allow for that. It was always about getting the taste and balance right. The provenance of the botanicals was important too and we wanted to use a base spirit that was produced in Ireland.

The whey is derived from cow’s milk produced by local dairy farmers in Co. Cork. It’s fermented and twice-distilled by a large dairy processing plant called Carbery in West Cork and we distill the whey alcohol along with our mix of botanicals a third time in our two 125 litre copper stills. We had initially set out to make a more floral and citrus style of gin, but we realised the richness and creamy texture (excuse the pun) of the whey alcohol carried spices incredibly well so we ended up with a much more fragrant style of gin. The whey alcohol gives the gin a lovely luscious, generous mouthfeel and it is extremely smooth. The warming spices come through on the mid-palate and the sweet citrus notes come through on the finish. The first batch of Bertha’s Revenge was available for sale in August 2015.

Did you always want to put a cow on the front of the label? It’s quite a statement and certainly grabs the eye!

Absolutely. We didn’t want to hide the fact that we are making a whey based milk gin and putting a cow on the label does make a bold statement. It prompts an immediate question - why is there a cow on the label? The cow is no ordinary cow; we named our gin after Big Bertha - the world’s oldest cow. She died in 1993 aged 48 and she also had an eye-bulging 39 calves during her lifetime. Also, Ballyvolane translates from gaelic as “the place of springing heifers” and my father operated a dairy farm here for forty years, so we have a rich bovine heritage here!

Is the Irish market very different to the UK and if so, have you had to tweak your offering accordingly?

It’s a much smaller market given the size of the population in Ireland. The premium and super premium craft gin category is growing quickly here too and many bars and restaurants are tapping into this demand and driving it by stocking up to 30 or 40 gins now. When we formed the company, there were only four other Irish craft gins, now there are over 20, all within the space of one year. The media interest in gin is high too and we have taken advantage of this.

You were considering creating a residency / learning weekend at the distillery, has this moved on and becoming a reality?

We would love to open a residential gin school here but we just haven’t had the time to implement this plan yet, as the demands of the distillery have taken up all our time. We also operate Ballyvolane House which is a busy country house hotel. We do intend to run weekend courses in the winter of 2017/2018.

And finally, what’s does 2017 have in store for Bertha’s Revenge?

We will be working on breaking into new export markets and buying a bigger still, as well as employing more people to help bottle and label. We will also be launching our Damson gin in early 2017 and other seasonal fruit infusions throughout 2017. We are launching Sloe Bertha in the next couple of weeks. Onwards and upwards…