First Bonded Whiskey warehouse on Clare Farm

The lost art of whiskey bonding has been restored to Ireland once again after being neglected for almost a century.  Clare-born Louise McGuane returned to the family farm after an international career in the drinks industry to set up a new bonded whiskey warehouse on the farm, on a site nestled between the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic. This unique micro climate will be used to create a very special flavour of whiskey – the first bottles of which will be available in five years’ time.

Louise has come full circle. She remembers growing up when the local creamery was still operational. ‘We bought the bulk milk tank down to the creamery using the tractor very day. I even remember the pails before that,’ she says. ‘Naturally, those are in the past but the community has retained its rural bearing.’

Now she is reviving another ancient tradition of bonding that had all but died out in Ireland. ‘Back in the last century many local grocers or pubs would also be bonded agents and blend or mature their own brands of whiskey. They bought the plain spirit off a main distiller and then matured it in casks for a number of years before blending their own whiskey.

‘Most local communities had their own whiskeys – all with their own unique flavour,’ she says.

Each whiskey derives the majority of its flavour, some 80%, from the cask or container in which it matures and in the local climate where it resides.

Back in 1930s Ireland, the main distillers began creating brands – such as Jamieson and Powers – and were reluctant to release whiskey to local blenders and so the local versions died out.

Louise has also bought in limited number of litres of aged whiskeys and employs a Master Blender. She will use these matured whiskeys to have her first ‘pilot’ whiskeys ready in September. ‘This is to create a path to market,’ she explains.

It will take at least five years to produce her own whiskey and she needs an active sales channel once the product is ready.

‘Of course, we don’t really know what it will taste like,’ she says. ‘But we do know it will be unique. Our coastal micro climate will influence the flavour, plus we have built a traditional warehouse leaving mud as the foundation. This will both moderate the temperature and humidity as well as ensure no other whiskey will taste the same.’

Louise’s inspiration comes from local Kilrush grocery and bonded whiskey maker JJ Corry. ‘We discovered that he matured his own whiskey locally and sold it in the community. He died in 1930 and I have visited his grave. I also discovered his shop was dismantled and removed to Bunratty Castle where it is now a tourist feature.

‘There was a lot of paperwork remaining in his shop, details about his whiskeys and their names, and so I decided to reclaim his brands. I trademarked them and now we are in production,’ she says. ‘It is wonderful to not only rejuvenate an old tradition but also to rejuvenate his original brands.’

Louise is very happy to be home and on a mission. In the twenty odd years she was away she worked at the top of her profession in sales and marketing for some of the biggest luxury names in drinks. She worked in the US, the UK and Paris France. Her contacts and experience are invaluable. While away, she and her husband saved up to renovate her grandmother’s house on the farm. Initially it was intended to be a holiday home but she realised in recent years that her career would keep her an international nomad and she wanted to come home.

‘There is something very satisfying to return home to a project like this,’ says Louise. ‘I looked at a number of possible projects but this one felt right. The barn, which currently holds 24,000 litres of maturing whiskey, looks as though it has always been there. That continuity is important to me.’

Louise initially crowdfunded to finance the proof of concept raising €45,000 through KickStarter. ‘That came mostly from the US and was without the sniff of a whiskey product. I knew we were onto a winner at that stage.’

She is currently working with a number of private investors and may turn to the EIIS tax relief scheme. Right now her project is eating money as the whiskey quietly matures on the farm. Down the line, Louise has plans to integrate tourism into her project, handling small tour groups before moving them off to the local pub for food and refreshment. In time too she is looking at parenting with a local brewing company.

‘I love being home on the farm,’ says Louise. ‘My parents are still going strong, farming beef and diary, and I love being part of the lifestyle and community.  While our first blends will be available in less than six months we will spend the next five years watching our whiskey, opening the casks and checking on the maturation process, helping it where needed and finally creating our final taste. It is a long, gentle process but I am excited already about the final product.’

Louise will have to patient. Her whiskey will mature all in its own good time, and not a moment sooner, surrounded by her parent’s inquisitive dairy herd and the every present flocks of seagulls.

First printed in Farm Ireland July 2, 2017

 

 

 

Snail Success in Ireland

Eva Milka came to Ireland by accident in the middle of a tourism degree in her native Poland when her then boyfriend suggested she join him in a job interview for the newly opened Lyrath hotel in Kilkenny.  She got the job while he did not, and so she cast aside her degree to work in Ireland much to her parent’s disappointment.

‘It just felt it was the right thing to do,’ says Eva. ‘ We moved over and settled into Ireland but the one delicacy we could not find was escargot snails – so we set up a mini breeding farm using plastic containers in our one bedroom apartment in Kilkenny.’

The love of snails only grew and now Eva is looking for other pioneering spirits to join her in the growing snail business.

‘Four years ago my partner and I decided to look at farming snails professionally,’ says Eva. ‘We took one year to conduct research and development, the second to set up our infrastructure and for the last two years we have streamlined snail production, found distributors and are now looking at value added products through a processing plant in Greece.’

‘There are no facilities to do it here in Ireland,’ she explains. ‘In fact, we had to learn everything from scratch in Ireland as nobody had done it successfully before.’

Eva and her partner Eoin are now on a mission to help other would-be farmers setup their own snail farms. ‘We have done the hard work and can now provide a step by step guide for other people wishing to enter this industry,’ she says.

Diversification in farming is the way forward. A recent Teagas report from 2016 offers stark reading when it comes to viable farming incomes. There are 130,000 registered farmers of which 50,000 do not even make €8,000 a year.

‘An acre will raise a cow,’ says Eva. ‘But that same acre can raise 10 tonnes of snails at a market value of approximately €40,000. It is not a difficult sell.’

‘We have learnt the hard way what it takes to produce a quality Irish snail product,’ says Eva. ‘Even down to selecting the best snail species; Helix Aspersa Muller. We have tried other variants including the closely related Helix Aspersa Maxima but it was not as successful.’

Eva stresses that they had to learn how best to suit the snail to the Irish climate. ‘In Poland and France they have four defined seasons with plenty of warm nights – essential for the nocturnal animals. Here in Ireland we tend to oscillate between Spring and Autumn so it was harder to plan the maturation cycle at first.’

There are four main stages to snail production. The first is the mating and production of eggs. Start-up snail farmers can skip this bit in the first year if they prefer, making their baptism into snail farming easier and go directly to the purchase of the baby snails.

The snails mate in a warm chamber before being encouraged to lay their eggs through the introduction of soil. Each snail may lay up to 150 eggs. These are gathered manually using a plastic spoon and placed in the incubation chamber. This is a small area where the stacked boxes of snails are kept at 20 C where they hatch after 15 days.

At stage three the tiny snails are placed in a poly tunnel to fatten. They will stay here for eight weeks.

Stage four is where the snails are moved into the field. Just one acre can accommodate 1.2 million snails and produce 10 tonnes of snail meat. The acre is laid out with tilted wooden supports, like pallets propped up, which both protect the snails from adverse weather and allow dry food to be place on top for when they come up to feed at night.

Netting covers the entire area and galvanised sheets primed with an electric fence on the border prevent the snails from escaping and birds and rats from entering.

Harvesting is done by hand and is, Eva admits, labour intensive. The snails are then purged, netted and exported. Breeding adults will be selected from the acre and placed in a hibernation room where they will sleep over winter until they woken in December to mate, beginning the cycle once more.

Eva has learnt the hard way in the past four years how to successfully farm snails and then to finding distribution to the untapped and huge demand on the continent. She wants to teach other farmers on small holdings to do the same and runs regular workshops to teach people everything she had learnt. These are run three times a month, cost €250 and last from 10am until 4pm. People attending the workshops are also encouraged to come and help as interns at critical times of the production.

She explains that the initial investment costs for 10tons production is approximately €24,000, of which baby snails account for €7,500. Year two these costs are eliminated as the farmer will now have their own breeding snails (approximately 25% of stock). Annual costs include feed, electricity, labour and maintenance and can be in the region of €17,000.

Baby snails cost 11 cent per thousand while mature breeding adults cost between 10 and15 cent per animal. Between 25 and 30 thousand breeders are required to populate an acre.

Sales of 10 tonnes of snails can achieve approximately 40,000 giving a net gross profit of €20,000.

The big distributors of snails on the continent are not interested in individual farms – they want to buy in bulk and this is where Eva is driving her business model – to create a Central Producer Hub of indigenous Irish snail farmers. She plans to keep Garryhill where the first farm is located as a research and development centre and move production to a joint venture in Kildare. She is also exploring the added value side of things creating products for wholesale and eventually direct to the public.

Snail meat is very versatile, high in protein, low in fat and yet has high reserves of calcium and iron. It also has a very low carbon footprint making it a very attractive food source for the future.

‘Ten years ago no body ate avocados in Ireland,’ says Eva. ‘And now they are ubiquitous.  Over the past four years we have learnt everything there is to know about how to farm snails in Ireland. It is a very suitable climate (just look at your back garden, it is full of snails), there is access to land, clean water, and good soils. In addition, we are a farming country with an excellent international reputation for food. So, if the rest of the world can do it, we can do it as well. And we can do it better.’

For more information please visit http://www.gaelicescargot.com/

 

Sometimes a Farmer needs a nurse

First ran in Farm Ireland on June 5, 2017

Four years ago, the HSE in conjunction with the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) ran a pilot to provide a free heart health check for farmers in their shared place of work, the Mart. The pilot was initially met with some resistance and suspicion according to Marese Damery, health check manager with the IHF.

‘Farmers were reluctant to agree to appointments,’ she said. ‘Some were in fear of what it might cost, although we explained it was free, and others were in fear of what they might discover medically.’

The IHF is a charity and is 93% funded through public donations. The remainder comes in the way of government funds of which the HSE is partially responsible. Most years the charity screens in excess of 15,000 people across the country in communities, institutions and corporates. There is a panel of 26 nurses sourced from across the country and one mobile unit recently purchased to travel to more remote areas.

‘The idea of checking farmers in marts was genius,’ says Marese. ‘It made sense to reach out to more isolated members of society, especially as recent census figures shows the growing number of male, elderly farmers living alone. We wanted to see if we could make a positive impact on their health.’

The first step was to persuade marts around the country to open their doors to the visiting nursing staff. Auctioneers such as Joe Kinsella at Baltinglass Mart in Co Wicklow, was an early convert. ‘Working in a mart you can see the importance of the social aspect to our customers,’ says Joe. ‘Sometimes the bit of food and banter in the canteen, or simply the comradery before and after the live auction, is as important as the actual sale. In fact, many regulars come even when they are not buying or selling – they come for the company and the social aspect,’ he says.

The attendance of the nurses is well flagged before their day in the mart and some appointments made in advance but the majority of farmers are encouraged to attend opportunistically.

‘Some men can be shy,’ says Marese. ‘They can give excuses that they need to change out of their work clothes but if possible we just get them to wash their hands so we can to do the pin-prick cholesterol test.’

Each farmer is a given a full half hour with the nurse. In addition to checking for vital statistics for risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), the men are also questioned about their lifestyle, alcohol consumption and perceived levels of stress.

‘Our surveys held in the first two years of the project show that farmers are not as healthy as one might imagine,’ says Marese. ‘The introduction of quads and modern equipment means they were not as active as they thought. In addition, farmers tend to have late meals and large portions. All in all it combines to make the majority of men surveyed fit into the obese category.’

In one self-assessed measure on stress the majority of farmers, more than 60%, professed to being stressed some of the time while more than 16% felt stressed most of the time.

Joe is very keen to see the IHF visit his mart and while at the beginning they only had two clinics a year now they host four clinics annually to be able to offer a greater reach within the farming community.

‘It is well known that men, especially older men, are reluctant to visit the doctor,’ says Joe. ‘Add to that the rural l isolation and the peaks and troughs of the cattle and sheep market prices and sometimes farmers allow these trends to affect their health and wellbeing. And for many the mart might be their main social interaction during week.’

During the course of the health checks over the past four years almost 4,000 farmers have been checked in 43 different marts in 22 countries. This has proven vital as 77% of men surveyed were found to have 3 or more CVD risk factors based on objective measured health outcomes from the heart health checks. However, when the non-measured, self-reported health risks were added in, a startling 80.7% of farmers had four or more CVD risk factors.

In fact, more than 79.2% of farmers surveyed were advised to visit their GP as a result of the screening.

‘Our health check can be vital,’ says Marese. ‘Farmers are at high risk of being impacted by CVD conditions, but the good news is that by taking action they can reduce their risk by introducing new lifestyle measures. CVD is 80% preventable.’

Another important component of the Health Check is the tying up with local services pertinent to each region. ‘We try and make sure our nurses are as local as possible,’ says Marese. ‘Then we make sure that we can provide details on local services, link in with the local GP, find out where the nearest Men’s Shed is located and provide information on other supports such the HSE funded Rural Farmers Stress helpline.

‘There is a lot of help out there but sometimes a farmer needs some guidance,’ says Marese. ‘Sometimes a farmer needs a nurse.’

To find where your nearest Health Check is taking place, please click here 

What the Nurses Say:

Matt Malone having his medical checkup in Nenagh Mart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Kidd is a nurse with the IHF and has been working with the Healthy Heart Check since 2005. With a background in farming and also now married to a farmer, her rural experience is important in her work. She stresses at the outset though that she does not remember individual cases, that everything is confidential.

‘Men’s experiences of doctors are very different from women’s,’ she explains. ‘Across the board – regardless of occupation. Women tend to visit their GP as an adult for family planning advice, then if they get pregnant they visit the GP throughout the pregnancy and afterwards as they bring their baby in for the different injections and developmental checks. Thereafter, it is most often the mother who brings a sick child to the doctor, so they develop a relationship with them. Men don’t and as a consequence have a great fear of doctors, rather like the stereotypical fear of dentists regardless of gender.

‘In addition, farmers being self-employed are very busy, says Linda. ‘With my farming background I can understand what type of farming they are doing and be also be suggest making an appointment to see a doctor when things ease up.’

Linda also explains that farmers arriving into the mart can be very stressful. ‘Perhaps the animals have been collected at 6am, there is a lot of paperwork required and it has to be in order for the animals to proceed to sale. When the farmer agrees to see us, we also try to find out how they are.  One of the questions is about stress. A majority of farmers are very stressed and if we feel it is appropriate then we suggest they visit their GP.

‘Mostly the advice we give is medical,’ though she says.

On occasion Linda has met women in the clinic. Sometimes they might be farmers in their own right, sometimes farmer’s wives with a more indoor lifestyle. ‘We have found they are also less healthy than women of the same age in a different profession. Farming is a tough physical career. It can be cold and wet outside. When people come indoors they want food and they want it fast,’ says Linda. ‘This can lead to a culture of comfort food.’

Another delusion might be that a farmer thinks because they are outside all day they are healthy. ‘However, perhaps they are checking the herd which calls for a lot of observation and leaning over gates to check on animals,’ says Linda. ‘No farmer is going to rush into the middle of a field and potentially scare the animals. So I often suggest to a farmer to head out at the start of the day and walk the fastest they can to their furthest field. And from there to walk slowly back and check their animals as they go. At the IHF we suggest a brisk walk of about 30 minutes five times a week. This is one way of increasing exercise.’

There is one other area where farmers and farm hands suffer and that is diet. ‘In a previous generation, farmers and farm labourers would work on a farm and be fed by the woman of the house. This doesn’t happen anymore so the farmer and labourer head off to the nearest chipper for lunch,’ says Linda. ‘Again this is not healthy or beneficial for the farmers.’

As part of the IHF Linda encourages farmers to get out walk.  ‘If they bringing their children to GAA training or similar I suggest they walk the pitch rather than chat on the side line. At the end of the day being out in the open and in the fresh air is great but farmers need to get more exercise,’ she says.

Finally Linda makes one more cogent observation. ‘Before foot and mouth there were a lot of callers to farms – people delivering seed, products, provisions. That stopped during the scare and has largely not resumed. As a result there are very few callers to farms. If you are a single or widowed farmer living on your own there is no one calling anymore. And that can have huge negative impacts.’

Young Farmer spends his Communion Money on a Belted Galloway

This article first ran in Farm Ireland on May 1, 2017

Ewan Hannay is ten years of age. A bright talkative child he meets your eyes confidently and answers questions in a direct manner. Last April his parents held a party for his First Communion and he collected rather a lot of money in presents. When asked just how much, he answers ‘loads’ while his mother Linda tells me it was almost €900.

Most children faced with such loot might consider buying the latest X Box or games console. Indeed Ewan tells me his friend Cormac used his money to buy a Samsung tablet. However, Ewan had different plans. His tells me his father is Scottish and that he is named after Ewan McGregor but Ewan had his eye on another Scottish celebrity – this time a Belted Galloway

Ewan lives next to his uncle’s farm in Moneyteigue, near Aughrim in county Wicklow. Ever since he could talk he has said he wants to be a farmer – as well as a construction worker, a driver of a lorry and a horse rider. Basically all the careers followed by his uncle Tom. As soon as Ewan could walk he has joined his Grandfather TJ and Tom every Saturday to help out on the farm. His jobs, when asked he says, are to feed the sheep, calves and lambs. He is also responsible for putting clean straw into the pens.

Ewan is the middle child of Richie and Linda Hannay. He has an older sister Evie, 12, and a younger Esme, 3. He is autistic but carries his condition in a bright outward inquisitive fashion. Since arriving he has quizzed me on other interview subjects and seems disappointed I have not really interviewed anyone famous.  He proceeds to question me about the animals resident in my home, what musical instruments I might have and if I could show him pictures of everything. Within a short while I am no longer sure who is the journalist in our conversation.

Originally Ewan had thought of buying hens with his communion money but Linda pooh-poohed the plan as ‘they will only encourage rats,’ says Ewan. He then looked at Jacob sheep as a possibility before turning to the Scottish breed. ‘Dad had me hounded to buy a Scottish animal,’ chuckles Ewan.

Finding a Belted Galloway is not straightforward as numbers are low and owners reluctant to sell the colourful animals. Pedigree belted Galloways are black rough haired animals with a distinctive white belt. A hill grazing animal their numbers are growing with almost a thousand across the island north and south. They are docile animals with high meat yields. They enjoy easy calving and many dairy farmers will use a Belted Galloway bull for their heifers which has produced mixed offspring. However, while the pedigree herds only have the white belt, mixed cattle may have white socks or tails and are not to be confused.

Originally Tom scoured Done Deal for a suitable animal, placing an alert to ensure whenever one came up for sale they would be the first to know. However, a chance encounter with a neighbour introduced them to Ronan Delaney, journalist with the Farmers Journal and secretary of the Belted Galloway Breeders association. A phone call ascertained that he had a number of heifers for sale and arrangement made for a road-trip to Dunshaughlin in County Meath in November of last year.

Ewan recounts the journey for me. He did not sleep a wink the night before. They travelled in the two seater Land Cruiser so his grandfather had to stay home. Along the way Tom tried to distract Ewan by suggesting a detour to Tayto Park or even to go on the beer but ten year old Ewan was not to be swayed. They reached Ronan’s farm and were invited to go and look at heifers in the field. A bull was there too but Ronan assured Ewan that he was safe too.

‘I had a choice of two heifers and I chose Abigail,’ he tells me. After the selection was made they went indoors to enjoy a cup of tea and do the paperwork.

Ronan was very happy to sell the heifer to Ewan. He explains: ‘I am building my own herd, I have twelve currently, but when I heard Ewan’s story I was delighted to sell him a heifer. Ewan is deadly. He asks a thousand questions a minute. He absolutely loves his heifer and when we got into the house for the cup of tea he had another thousand questions to ask my mother.’

Ronan gave Ewan luck money and he spent that on sweets on the way home. He could not wait to show Abigail to his grandfather.

Ewan then arranged for Abigail to go in calf with a handsome Scottish bull called Park Perseus. The calf is due at the end of the year. ‘She looks a little fat already,’ says Ewan. He let her out onto grass this weekend and now she won’t come to the gate when he calls. ‘I am not sure what to call the calf as yet,’ he says. ‘If it is a girl maybe Oreo because they look the Oreo biscuits. I love Oreos.’

 

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