Interview: Outcast Brands – extending the reach of Irish drinks brands

Amid the growth in popularity of Irish spirits – led by Irish whiskey – new names from this small but influential island are emerging to make a mark on the drinks category, including in travel retail.

Among them is Outcast Brands, an Irish drinks manufacturer and brand builder, founded just over three years ago by experienced Dublin-based industry executive and entrepreneur Jason Kidd.

The goal, he tells The Moodie Davitt Report, is to make people think differently by taking a fresh view of growth categories such as gin and rum (a whiskey will follow) through an Irish lens.

Irish craft gin Blood Monkey is the driver for the company’s distribution to date, in travel retail and domestic. Its name and signature drill bit design are a nod to the act of ‘bleeding the money’ when 17th century sailors drilled into the officers’ barrel to steal the liquor inside.

The brand, with its genever style and a highly distinctive bottle, has three expressions – Original, Spice Storm and Tropical Storm. The latter two seasonal flavours will likely become part of the core range in time.

In the competitive craft gin market, Blood Monkey claims to “cut the bull, when everyone else is full of it”

Awarded gold medals at the Global Gin Masters 2022 in the ultra-premium and contemporary categories, the gins should stand out from the many botanical gins which have hit the market, Kidd notes. “The craft gin category has become tired and saturated with too many brands peddling the same old thing. With Blood Monkey we are proud to produce a gin that tastes how it was meant to, in a style that hasn’t been distilled in Ireland or the UK for almost 350 years.”

The other key Outcast innovation lies in rum, with the Two Shores brand. This is made from sustainably sourced eight-year-old rum distilled in Panama and finished for a minimum of six months on Ireland’s West Coast in aged Irish whiskey casks – the twin locations evoking the name Two Shores. Expressions include Irish Single Malt, Amarone Cask, Oloroso Sherry Cask and Cask Strength Peated Cask.

Two Shores: Telling a new story in rum

“The brands we have created are contemporary, look modern on shelf, appeal to a global audience and the Irishness gives us that point of reference for liquid quality,” says Kidd.

The company produces its spirits through the newly inaugurated €10 million Ahascragh Distillery in County Galway. This was built in a restored 19th century mill, and is owned by Gareth and Michelle McAllister. It is described as Ireland’s first zero-emissions whiskey and gin distillery, with production powered by renewable energy.

“We have been partners for several years now and have increased our production of rum with them by around ten-fold in the past 16 months,” says Kidd. “They help us manage our casks, assist with importing liquid through to bottle finishing.”

With Two Shores, winning four gold awards at the World Rum Awards in June (Best in Ireland, Best Brand, Best Design and Best Label) lends the brand a level of authority as Outcast Brands begins to talk about Irish rum as a category of its own.

Two Shores is made from eight-year-old rum distilled in Panama and finished for a minimum of six months on Ireland’s West Coast in aged Irish whiskey casks

“Rum is still a fledgling category and we want to help define what Irish rum means,” says Kidd. “It’s evolving. It’s there to be defined. Our value-add is that we age everything in aged Irish whiskey barrels, which takes and uses some of the prestige that Irish whiskey has earned over the past few years.”

In travel retail, Two Shores – like Blood Monkey – is represented by partner FreeWorldBrands, led by well-known sector executive Sean McNaughten. Outcast brands are listed with ARI at Dublin Airport, plus Irish Ferries, and the company is in conversations about widening the market to the UK and beyond.

Kidd says: “We are only in travel retail for a matter of months but having FreeWorldBrands onboard helps us with the conversations that we need to get into more marquee locations and to activate the brands.

“We want to maintain a premium price and positioning for our rums, so we need to be savvy around where in travel retail we are placed.

“For the rum it will be locations where the Irish whiskey story resonates. We’ll see more retailers including in travel retail segmenting space for rums, we believe.

“We are launching a new brand in a fledgling channel across multiple channels, so that brings a multi-layered challenge. The key is to get the brand out into the right places. We’ll attend the major duty free shows and aim to get ourselves out there.”

Price points begin at around €60 for the rums, with limited editions remaining shy of €100, offering value for money in a category that continues to premiumise.

Kidd says: “The key is raising consumer awareness of how rums do not just have to come from the Caribbean, or be associated with established brand names.

“There is a world beyond the traditionally branded Caribbean rum, and people are coming to recognise that.

“For Two Shores we partnered with an independent distillery in Panama in Herrera province. We sourced the rum direct from them at eight years old. And then we aged it in Ireland for up to another 12 months. We are very conscious of liquid credibility. This is a pure play eight year old, and we know that there are certain rules around rum that are less stringent than they are within, say, Irish whiskey.

“We don’t put in any colourants any additives and there is no chill filtration. It is as high quality as it can be and then the Irish whiskey finish just adds that flavour profile. Two Shores, while a premium brand, is a relatively easy story to understand. It is from the shores of Panama to the shores of Ireland.

“We are playing within that historical nautical theme that other rums are, but doing so in a slightly more premium way. And our label is a one-off piece of artwork that we commissioned.”

While travel retail is an important channel, it relies on the resonance that the domestic market brings, in this case via high-end hotels and bars in its home market, Ireland.

“We are seeing a lot of excitement around our Irish rums and in particular the whiskey finishes we are producing,” says Head of Sales Adam McCoy O’Grady. “We also have interest from international and in particular North American customers who have a connection to Irish whiskey.”

He adds: “In the on-trade we are training and doing events, to help bartenders talk about the brands and ensuring we are associated with the best locations. It all builds awareness in the local market and also in duty free.

“The strategy is to build a network of advocates. We don’t have big budgets but we can partner, build relationships, and work well with a small number rather than everyone.”

That means being on the menu in influential places in Dublin, including Peploe’s, the Radisson St. Helen’s Hotel, The Ivy plus retailers J.J. Fox and Celtic Whiskey Shop, as well as via The Loop at Dublin Airport.

The Loop at Dublin Airport offers a strong showcase for Irish brands

Kidd says that the biggest innovation opportunity lies in rum as the category grows, driven by consumer awareness and recognition.

“We’ll maintain our core style and innovate around single cask editions. Later on to become a truly global brand we will need to examine the white rum opportunity, which is the biggest part of the market. Two Shores can play in that space, but that will be a longer term game.”

In gin, while flavoured expressions are currently popular, Kidd is wary of introducing new styles that might confuse the consumer when Outcast Brands is still building the Blood Monkey brand.

“If you overstretch your brand, and you over-innovate within that brand, then you can become less recognisable within certain categories. We have been challenged about why we wouldn’t take Blood Monkey into rum. We just felt that there was a bigger opportunity to develop a completely new brand with its own story in Two Shores.”

The third arm of the business will follow as early as next year with the launch of an Irish whiskey, with work continuing on the brand and liquid finishes. More details will follow with launch planned by the time of the Prowein wines & spirits fair in Düsseldorf in March 2024. “For now what I can say is that where we brought a left of centre view to gin and rum, we’ll do the same with our whiskey,” says Kidd.

For a young company that has been around for little more than three years, Outcast Brands has moved fast. Its core goal is to build brands across the categories of rum, gin and whiskey – with credible brands established in each within three to five years.

That’s no easy task for an independent company, as Kidd acknowledges. “The key questions are how we scale quickly, sustainably and profitably? We want to grow geographically but appropriately in each market where we are present. So our Polish distributor for example is going to focus in year one on high-end hotels, restaurants and cafés. That works for us. I don’t think grocery is the right thing to do at first anyway when you are exporting as a new brand.”

Longer term, an alliance with a bigger group may make sense as Outcast Brands seeks distribution.

“That’s not out of our thoughts but it’s too early to think about that,” says Kidd. “We have been recognised by the bigger players but we have a loyal and tight shareholder base over the past three years. We will likely go out for investment again next year. We are conservatively managed through our five-person board of directors and are not taking unnecessary risk.”

And the company has managed to expand well in its short lifespan. As of August its brands are available in 15 countries, compared to six at the start of the year, with a series of new distribution agreements in place.

In travel retail distribution is now aided by a new agreement with B&S. More widely, expansion in that channel worldwide is high on the agenda.

“There is strong interest in premium Irish spirits and the points of difference our story offers,” says Kidd. “We know that travel retail consumers are explorers. Our viewpoint is that while our brands are Irish, they are Irish brands with a global outlook. You see that in the way we have named and branded them, and that they can appeal to international travelers. We see that story resonating with a travel audience and with travel retailers.” 

ℹ️ The original article by Dermott Davitt can be found here.

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