Dave Mulligan, owner of Bán Poitín, popped into our bottle shop on Kingsland Road to have a chat about his brand, where it’s headed, the trials and tribulations of being an independent business owner in the drinks industry, and giving poitín a permanent home..
So Dave, what’s your current day to day with running Bán Poitín?
I’m definitely a bit of a one-man band on the ground. I handle everything from sales, social media, dealing with distributors, bars, and press amongst other things. I have amazing production partners at the Echlinville Distillery in Northern Ireland, so all distilling and assembly is looked after over there. The forward-facing side of the business is all done by me, however, so there’s a lot of stuff to deal with. We actively sell in France, the UK and Ireland so I have a few markets to cover. And then there’s the day to day – you wouldn’t believe how much time you spend answering emails when you could be out doing other stuff!
Describe your brand in your own words..
Well Bán Poitín is definitely my baby and it’s as much a passion project as it is a business. We want to bring this thing back and we want Bán to be at the forefront of it. We’ve spent so much time and money on our liquids because we want to be the best in the category, we want to be the people who can define what poitín is. There’s a top tier we want to sit at, and we want to work with some of the best bars in the world. I don’t want to say we’re the best, but we’re definitely shooting for the stars.
“So you want to not get too caught up in the business end of it, take time to celebrate those little wins, and remember why you got into it in the first place.”
How has the ride been from your perspective as an independent business owner?
I think in any business, whether they’re 3 years in, 5 years in like me, or even 15 years in, there’s always trials and tribulations, there’s always problems, there’s always wins that you maybe don’t celebrate as much as you should. It takes somebody else pointing it out to me to realise ‘ah, maybe I should stop to celebrate stuff like that’. The likes of opening up in a new country, for example we’ve recently started trading in Beirut in the Lebanon, and I thought that was cool, but took a while to realise just how awesome that is. We’ve shipped to Dubai and New Zealand – further afield than I’d ever expected. When it happens I’m just like: ‘great, how much did they buy?’ rather than: ‘that’s amazing, we’ve just sold to the other side of the planet!’. Had I told myself 5 years ago that we were going to be doing that I know how excited I would’ve been. So you want to not get too caught up in the business end of it, take time to celebrate those little wins, and remember why you got into it in the first place.
Something that’s always an issue for a small business is money. It’s such a boring thing to get tied up on but it pays the bills and keeps us going. So money’s always got to be a consideration, whether we’re raising funds, or satisfying investors or our friends who’ve helped us out along the way – I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who’ve put their faith in me, and helped me out of some tight spots. But yeah, keeping your hear above water and keeping that fire lit are definitely the hardest things. Because there are bills to pay, there’s rent to pay, and all your money’s going back into the brand so you’re not making a HUGE income. But when you can see an end goal you’re just like: ‘fuck it, that’s life. I’ve just got to deal with this’. It’s tempting sometimes to half put the blinkers on and pretend it’s not happening – but then you get an inevitable kick of reality. So definitely the biggest trial is money, as I’m sure it is for everyone in this town.
What’s next for Bán?
We’ve got some new lines coming out. We’ve just got a peated version, which we’re super happy about. We’ve done some more experimental series – we did the barrelled and buried last year where we put single casks underground. But we’re so happy with the peat that we think we’re going to give it it’s own label and make it a permanent line. We also have a super cool liquid which is a true to traditional poitín as can be. It’s pure barley and it’s all from the farm at the distillery in Ireland. It’s grown by us, malted by us, fermented and distilled by us. It’s essentially a pot-still new make, my favourite style of whiskey. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we’re going to be a trilogy. In July we’re turning three years old too, so if all goes to plan we’ll get them out by then – things never do but one can hope!
In terms of new markets everyone’s been dangling the big carrot that is America, but like I said it’s just me and the distillery – we’re not ready for the States just yet. We’ll do that when the time is right – the streets aren’t paved with hold over there any more and it’s a tough country to sell booze in. We’ll just continue doing what we do, with new liquids, new markets, and keep being the best and winning awards.
“It sometimes takes somebody else pointing it out to me to realise ‘ah, maybe I should stop to celebrate stuff like that’.”
Steve mentioned some plans you had on the horizon following your pop-up in Dublin.. would you care to expand upon that or is it all a bit of a secret at this stage?
When’s this going out? [laughs] No, but that was basically a platform for poitín to promote itself called ‘1661’. We basically wanted a home for it in Dublin, a place where Irish bartenders could see it being used to the best of its ability. We also wanted somewhere that tourists in Ireland could come to, a flagship place that lives and breathes poitín – IS poitīn, you know? So it was very successful in that it bought all the brands together – there’s a dozen of us now! But it especially bought together 3-4 of the core brands and we’re all in conversation now about making that a permanent site. So while it may ‘pop-up’ again, we’re definitely on the lookout for an enduring, bricks-and-mortar, solid foundation for poitín in Ireland. So keep your eyes on 1661, yeah?