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West Cork farmers providing a crucial raw ingredient for cream liqueur

March 19th, 2019 9:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

c4 & c5 Above – Butlerstown farmer John Joe McCarthy (left) and Barryroe Co-Op’s Scott Lovell inspect some of the lush grass that the cows are fed on to provide the cream for the liqueur; below – the end product, Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur, which is growing in popularity, especially in the United States.

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FIVE Barryroe Co-Op suppliers are helping Carbery diversify their cream business and in the process have become part of the incredible success story that is Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur. 

Two years ago, Donegal man Johnny Harte, a veteran marketing consultant in the drinks business with vast experience, approached Carbery to help him achieve his vision of creating a super premium product offering in the Irish cream liqueur sector.

So driven was he in his quest that he completed a thesis on the subject. In his research work he found that the craft concept where small batches are manufactured resonated well, allied to transparency around the sourcing of the key ingredients, cream in particular and whiskey. 

But what was particularly interesting in his research, was that the key ingredients should be sourced in county Cork, as it would attract a disproportionate number of American consumers to the brand as many in the US with Irish ancestry, trace their only contact with Ireland to Cobh where their predecessors embarked for a new life.

The next challenge was how to communicate the craft and authenticity of the product on the retail shelf, and he felt that another cream liqueur in a dark glass bottle would not suffice. 

Many ideas were considered but the chosen design, which is made in Eastern Europe, was a bottle with a shackle stopper with a monochrome bottle label.

He then made contact with McCormick Distilling, a medium-sized US whiskey distillery and bottler based at Weston, Missouri, which distributes over four million cases of whiskey and other spirits in the US market, has a track record of bringing new products to market.

They were struck by the novelty of Johnny’s proposal and asked him to return to Ireland to look at potential companies to source the key ingredients.

In selecting farms to source milk from, it was important, they all felt, to ensure scenic locations close to the sea, where the temperate influence of the Gulf Stream on dairy farms could be re-inforced to consumers. 

That was his path to Carbery, by which time he had spent over €2m on marketing, explained  JJ Walsh, sales and marketing manager with the Carbery Group.

Johnny, JJ said, had originally wanted to source the milk from a single farm. However, that was advised against for practical reasons.

Given the criteria, five Barryroe suppliers were sourced, all located in a single cluster, and they are Laurence Sexton the spokesman for the LJG dairy partnership – a three-way tie-in between Laurence, John Hallissey and Guy Scott. The other families involved are Barry and Denis O’Mahony, Kilbrittain; Michael and Chris Coleman, Barryroe; John Joe McCarthy, Barryroe, and Norman Tuthill, Baurleigh.

How it works is that one single milk lorry collects their milk for ‘Five Farms.’ It’s taken to a dedicated silo at Carbery where it’s separated and then taken on to a blending factory in SilverPail Fermoy where the product is finished, using whiskey from both Midleton and West Cork. 

Laurence said he and the others jumped at the chance to be involved in new product development with Carbery, even if they didn’t get a penny extra, only extra power washing!Representatives from McCormick Distilling made a few visits to the local farms last year and he said they were hugely impressed by what they saw. ‘They couldn’t believe it, as most of their set-ups sees cows feeding inside on the likes of maize,’ he said. 

‘It’s also great to see grass-fed milk regarded as premium. That’s our advantage  - being capable of having cows out on grass for up to 300 days a year. We had cows out until December 20th and they were out again at the end of January,’ he said. 

The product is currently bottled in Waterford, but the plan is to move some bottling back to West Cork in the coming months. What sets Five Farms apart is its higher cream and whiskey content compared to the average cream liqueur, which JJ says dials up its Irish authenticity. 

‘We’ll be looking at this product again by 2020/21 as it usually takes around three years for something to find its feet, but it looks like a value-added product for Carbery and shows what we can do.’

Distribution has now been rolled out to over 20 US states. It is planned to reach sales of one million bottles by 2020 throughout the US and other countries. 

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