“We met in 2015, and by December 2016, Rob popped the question. We were married in Kollam by August 2017,” says Bhagya, including with a giggle, “It was speed dating by Irish standards.”
The couple just lately launched Rebel City Distillery in Cork’s historic docklands, in a former Ford manufacturing unit constructing. Although the boutique distillery is just some weeks outdated, it’s already drawing worldwide consideration for its first launch, Maharani Gin. “We still have to put up our sign board,” says Bhagya. Robert provides that they at the moment have only one worker. With Bhagya nonetheless working as a senior programme supervisor at Dell, Robert, who’s a biochemist turned wonderful spirits skilled, is dealing with manufacturing, with assist from his father, Brendan.
Maharani’s intriguing bottle has been doing the rounds on WhatsApp and social media for its intelligent efforts to encapsulate each their cultures on the label. Using Pantone’s 2020 color of the 12 months, Classic Blue, the Malayalam lettering consists of the phrase viplava (insurgent) spirit, which Bhagya says is a nod to the rebellious historical past of each Ireland and Kerala.
Over a phonecall from Cork, Bhagya — like a freshly poured G&T — is brilliant and effervescent, whereas Robert is quiet and endearingly wry.
Explaining how she grew up in Kollam, then labored with HCL Technologies and Tata Consultancy Services in Chennai earlier than shifting to Madrid for a challenge, after which Dublin, the place she bought a job with Dell, Bhagya explains that the couple has robust hyperlinks with Kerala. She switches excitedly between Malayalam and English as she speaks, punctuating her sentences with bursts of laughter. “We had a marriage on the backwaters in Kollam. It was adipoli.”
Robert placidly explains his background, when she pauses. “I’m from Cork originally. I started with Biochemistry, then moved to Edinburgh to do a Master’s in Brewing and Distilling at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.”
He then labored in Ireland, with Kilbeggan (now Beam) and The Shed Distillery. And in Canada, with Vancouver-based Central City Brewers and Distillers the place he arrange and established their distillery focussing on whiskey, gin and vodka.
“I wanted to start a distillery, and I was talking to Bhagya about gin. She suggested using nut meg, cassia and pomelo from Kerala,” says Robert. “Can I say it?” Bhagya interjects enthusiastically, “There was this chechi subsequent door in Kollam who had probably the most wonderful jathikka (nutmeg) and bamblimas (pomelo) after we have been rising up. I additionally love Kerala’s cassia, it provides a particular sweetness.”
Team of two Bhagya and Rob with a bottle of Maharani Gin; (high) the distillery in Cork, Ireland particular association
The proper match
Scouting round Kerala for farms, the couple found Vanamoolika, in Wayanad. Specialising in conservation and natural cultivation of vegetation, the organisation focusses on empowering girls farmers. “We couldn’t think of a better partnership: strong women from my homeland,” says Bhagya. “We wish to return with bottles of Maharani and open the gin with these adipoli chechimaar.”
Maharani gin blends 9 botanicals, out of which the nutmeg, mace, cassia and pomelo are from Wayanad. The couple plans to supply cardamom as nicely from Kerala quickly.
Describing the flavour, Robert says “It’s citrus and spice. You can taste the element of juniper, as well as the citrus of pomelo. There is a creamy mouth feel…” Bhagya provides, “And a nice spicy, bright finish. Also that sweetness of cassia. It’s the taste of home.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has delayed their celebratory journey to India. While the pandemic hampered the launch, Maharani is now being offered on-line and served in bars in Ireland. “The response has been great so far,” says Robert. “This is the first distillery opening in Cork in 50 years, so we have got encouraging press here. With the pandemic, people are looking for good news.”
The couple is eager on retailing in India as nicely, finally. In the meantime, Robert is engaged on their subsequent launch: “An India-inspired rum, made with jaggery”.