New innovators: Kalak Vodka

‘I created a vodka with taste, character, purity and smoothness,’ says Patrick Shelley

Patrick Shelley of  Origin Spirits. Its first product, Kalak Vodka, is being launched this month.

Patrick Shelley of Origin Spirits. Its first product, Kalak Vodka, is being launched this month.

 

Patrick Shelley is no stranger to prestige brands, having worked for luxury goods group, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) for 15 years across six markets including South East Asia and Russia.

Shelley’s working life revolved around selling top-end tipples such as Hennessy Cognac, Moët and Chandon champagne and Glenmorangie Whisky. In 2013, he decided to use his experience to establish his own premium drinks company, Origin Spirits. Its first product, Kalak Vodka, is being launched this month.

“Kalak is an upper premium Irish vodka that uses 100 per cent Irish ingredients and derives its name from the phonetic spelling of ‘An Cailleach’ the Irish Celtic goddess and queen of winter,” says Shelley whose other linguistic talents include fluency in French, German and Russian.

“Having worked for years in the international drinks industry, I was struck by the fact that vodka was often more about packaging than substance. I was not a vodka drinker as I found it odourless and tasteless and I set out to create a vodka that I could enjoy – one with taste, character, purity and smoothness. I was also keen to build on Ireland’s strong drinks heritage and to create a vodka using an inherently Irish distilling process,” says Shelley who studied politics at college and started his working life trading agricultural commodities in the UK and Russia.

Shelley spent 24 months working with three internationally renowned master distillers to refine the taste of Kalak. During this time he also participated in the Teagasc/Bord Bia-run Foodworks programme for budding food and drinks entrepreneurs. Shelley comes from Tipperary and initial feasibility study support for the venture came from the Tipperary local enterprise office.

The investment in Origin Spirits to date is around €200,000. The company employs three people and this is expected to double over the coming months. Origin’s products are made on its behalf by West Cork Distillers. Kalak was soft launched during the summer and full national distribution begins this month with European and US launches to follow in early 2016.

Shelley says Kalak differs markedly from other vodkas because it is made from Irish malted barley rather than the usual wheat, rye or other grains. “There is only a handful of vodkas in the world using malted barley, possibly because it is an expensive ingredient,” he says.

Backstory for brand

“Consumers are engaging more with brands than ever before and increasingly want products that are authentic, have clear positioning and a good story. In my experience you need three key things – product excellence and differentiation, a striking visual image and a compelling brand story. They don’t guarantee success but you have to start with them.”

Having worked for LVMH Shelley knows all about stiff competition. However, he is looking at his competitors in a different way with his own business. “In general, I find the word ‘competition’ divisive rather than inclusive,” he says.

“There is incredible innovation and energy in the Irish spirits market and the last few years have seen the emergence of world-class premium Irish brands, particularly in the whiskey and gin sectors. We’re all different but share the same goal of building long-term brand value in the international marketplace and promoting Ireland as one of the world’s best premium spirit producers. Therefore I don’t see other brands as competition, it comes more from other countries and continents.”

– OLIVE KEOGH

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