Kate Dempsey of Kinsale Mead Co.

What do you get when two techies set up a business together? An ancient alcoholic drink company may not be the answer you would expect but that’s exactly what the wife-and-husband team, Kate and Denis Dempsey did when they set up The Kinsale Mead Co. in 2016.  A physicist and an engineer respectively, they set up Kinsale Mead Co. in the historic seaside town in West Cork four years ago. Kate filled us in on the history of the company, their biggest successes to date and what the future holds for the first meadery in Ireland in 200 years.

Background

Kate and Denis Dempsey of Kinsale Mead Co. Photo credit: Kinsale Mead Co.

It was a stroll up the Hill of Tara in August 2016 that was the inspiration behind the setting up of the business. The couple realised that they were standing on the foundations of the Great Mead Hall of Tara. A hill which in ancient times, would have been home to a great banqueting hall with space for 1,000 people to celebrate and drink mead from large wooden sharing vessels. They decided then and there that they would be the ones to revive the Irish mead tradition and set up the first commercial meadery in Ireland in 200 years.

Initially, they did a lot of research and made many trial batches, “We made experimental batches, trying out different combinations of honeys, fruits and herbs and tested them out on friends and family”. They also did a huge amount of research and discovered a “small but vibrant mead community that was always on hand to help out when we had questions about ingredients or processes”.

The Products

Atlantic Dry Mead from the Kinsale Mead Co. Photo credit: Kinsale Mead Co.

Through a long process of trial-and-error, they came to the four products they have on offer today, their popular ‘Kinsale Dry Mead’, a ‘Hazy Summer’ version which contains summer berries, a ‘Wild Red Mead’ featuring blackcurrants and cherry flavours and finally a limited edition, ‘Irish Wildflower Mead’ which is made using Irish wildflower honey. Kate said that their involvement in the Supervalu Food Academy was invaluable at the start of their business journey and getting their product onto supermarket shelves, “The Supervalu Food Academy was really helpful when it came to figuring out things like labelling, food safety and alcohol regulations”. They did have a number of challenges along the way including figuring out how to successfully package and ship a liquid product in glass bottles but had great support and guidance from small independent food stores and Supervalu alike.

Biggest Successes to Date

For a company that has only been in business since 2016, they have amassed an impressive array of awards. These include Irish awards including Gold and Silver at Blas na hEireann as well as Gold at the Free From Food Awards. Most recently, they were named the “Best Drink in Ireland” by the Irish Food Writers’ Guild. Kate said, “The Food Writers Guild get together and vote, we were so surprised, they sent a photographer down with the accolade there and then but we didn’t even know we had been nominated!”. They have also had success in the UK, picking up a 2 star (Outstanding) Great Taste Award, an annual UK competition that receives thousands of entries from hopeful food and drink producers every year.

Kate said that of all the awards they have accumulated over the years, the ones that are most special to her are the ones awarded by her mead-making peers. They won gold in the Mazer Cup International Commercial Mead Competition in 2019 for their Hazy Summer Mead and in 2018 for their Atlantic Dry Mead. “It’s like the Olympics of Mead and it’s extra special getting that recognition from judges that really know the product”.

Getting Barcodes with GS1 Ireland

Kate said that when it comes to alcoholic products, branding and labelling is extremely important and that includes the barcodes on their products. From their involvement in the Supervalu Food Academy, they knew early on that they would need barcodes for their products as well as shipping labels for boxes of product to retailers. Kate said they found the process “very straightforward and smooth and the use of Barcode Manager made it even easier.”

Advice for Up-and-Coming Irish Food Producers

When asked for the advice she would give to other up and coming Irish food producers about getting into retail, Kate recommended getting advice from mentors in the know, “Talk to your Local Enterprise Office early, they offer lots of useful courses and don’t forget to call on producers in a similar line of business for advice”. She added that Bord Bia gave them valuable input “We approached Bord Bia at the very beginning and they were really helpful with providing customer research and insights”. She also emphasised the importance of having a good idea of what you’re doing before approaching mentors for help, “Make sure that you have a good business plan before approaching advisors so that you can get the full benefit of their time.

Plans for 2021

Tours of the Kinsale Mead Co. Meadery return in July 2021. Photo credit: Kinsale Mead Co.

Prior to COVID, Kate and Denis regularly welcomed both Irish and international visitors to the meadery. Throughout the recent lockdowns, the company had to pivot away from in-person tours and instead held “talk-and-tastings” over Zoom. Kate says that they were joined by “family, friends and work groups” where participants got to sample four different meads and learn about the sometimes funny history and lore around mead. That’s about to change again, however, with the welcome return of in-person tours of the meadery in July. Kate and Denis will be welcoming guests back to the meadery from the 6th of July 2021. 06 Jul – 31 Oct 21 (Tue-Sun 1, 3, 5 pm). Tours are €14 per person and can be booked on the Kinsale Mead Co. website or by calling +353 (0)21 477 3538 or emailing info@kinsalemeadco.ie. The meadery is COVID safety charter approved and tours are subject to the latest government guidelines.

For more information on the Kinsale Mead Co., click here. To visit their online shop, click here.

All photo credits: Kinsale Mead Co.

 

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