The Spirited Cork couple reinvent absinthe for a modern audience
A historically romantic liquid muse for artists, philosophers and bohemians, the “green fairy” never really caught on on the Emerald Isle. Now a Cork City couple hope to change that by producing Ireland’s first absinthe.
Robert and Bhagya Barrett have been creating delicious potions over the past two years at Rebel City Distillery, including their award-winning Maharani Gin.
Robert worked around the world for a decade at various distilleries and after meeting his wife, Bhagya, they decided to take the plunge and set up their own distillery in Cork. Bhaga, who is from India, has a background in project management and their business match is as perfect as the spirits they brew in the marina.
Based in the lovingly refurbished former Ford factory on the banks of the Lee, the Barretts say they are inspired by the history of their location and hope to see its past meet their present under its roof.
“We love the building. We love how huge the ceilings are. It has a lot of history. We are based in Ford’s electrical transformer building and it hasn’t been used since 1984,” says Bhagya, saying they spent much of 2020 repurposing the building – a process slowed by the pandemic. .
“We’re really looking forward to opening the doors, inviting people in, showing them around and showing them around. This is the first distillery to open in Cork City in 50 years and we are the only distillery in Cork City at the moment,” she says. “The building is quite unique. It has an industrial vibe, it has a lot of personality, so people love it. Rebel City Distillery is starting its first public tours soon and Robert says they could see that people wanted to explore the distillery during the pandemic.
“Even last year people walked away after checking us out online,” Robert says. “Obviously we weren’t open properly so we got a lot of great feedback from people when we told them we were going to open to visitors. Everyone we talk to is thrilled with it and when they see the space, they are happy to come and visit. Robert adds that they also hope to contact former Ford employees who have worked on the premises of the building.
“We haven’t fully planned it, but at some point we would like to try to reach out to ex-Ford factory workers and have a day or an evening for them.”
A “Spirits School” is also in the works, Robert says, where “people can make their own gin, absinthe or flavored vodka on the spot.” Citing the nearby Marina Market as an example, Bhagya says there is a clear appetite for more food and drink experiences in the docklands.
“The city is developing in this direction now, in a few years we will see a lot of residential buildings coming up and a lot of buzz. With the Marina Market, we can see that this is already happening.
Coinciding with the launch of their tours is the introduction of a new spirit to their collection – the first absinthe to be commercially distilled in Ireland. Robert describes the drink as a “conversation starter”.
“It’s a fascinating spirit with an interesting story. He was decried by many people and at the same time he had a great association with artists and thinkers in France and French-speaking Switzerland in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Describing it as a “cloudy” anise-flavored liquid, he adds that it is “an interesting drink to visualize and has a nice theatre. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s a conversation starter and many bars and mixologists will also enjoy working with it.
Bhagya says the history of absinthe in artistic circles pairs well with their own love of art, which they also hope to support through the distillery.
“We see great potential to host multiple events. We love supporting the art and poetry community. We plan to do all kinds of events that can attract them as well.
Adorning the walls of the distillery are two murals, which Robert and Bhagya commissioned from upstairs artist Tom Campbell.
“His artist’s studio is literally above our desk. We would like to do collaborations with this artist studio, which has Tom and about five other artists,” adds Robert.
Tours of the Rebel City Distillery at Marina Commercial Park, Center Park Road begin July 1 and can be booked at www.rebelcitydistillery.com.