Q&A With Robert Barrett, Founder & Head Distiller at Rebel City Distillery
In the interview below, Robert discusses his experience as a distiller and opening a distillery and his views on how the spirits industry is evolving.
With more than ten years of experience in the craft of creating and distilling high spirits, Robert Barrett is a former biochemist turned specialist in fine spirits. Originally, He qualified in Biochemistry and initially worked in cancer research. He then decided to pursue MSc in Brewing & Distilling from Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, which boasts a long list of luminaries from the craft beverage sector among its alumni. Robert has honed his skills with renowned distilleries and beverage companies in Ireland and Canada.
What has your distilling career been like? Tell us a little about your background.
Originally I qualified in Biochemistry and initially worked in cancer research. I then decided to pursue a career in distilling and completed an MSc in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh. Following my qualification, I worked for Cooley distillery in both the Kilbeggan and Dundalk distilleries, working in NPD, Quality, and blending.
Following that, I set up and managed a whiskey gin and vodka distillery in Vancouver, Canada (Central City). I then returned to Ireland and worked to set up the Shed distillery before working for the consultancy FDT and finally setting up the Rebel City distillery with my wife Bhagya and father Brendan.
Our first product is Maharani Gin, a citrus and spice style gin made in Cork with spice from Kerala, India, where Bhagya is from and where we directly source. We have now released our absinthe and opened a visitor center.
Image: Rebel City Distillery
How do you think the Spirits industry has evolved?
There has been a great development in the craft sector since I qualified a decade ago. This has to lead to innovation in individual spirits, such as gin and whiskey, as well as entirely new NPD categories
Tell us a little about your day-to-day role.
As a small company, we have to do multiple roles in one. Personally, my role encompasses production, logistics sales, and admin
What's your elevator pitch to a bartender when pitching your brand?
For Maharani, it’s a citrus and spice gin made in Cork and spiced in Kerala.
How do you help bartenders with the depletions of your brand?
Education and getting bartenders on board with our story and taste profile; once they hear our story, they are enthused and start to recommend it to the final customer.
What do you cover in your product training with bartenders?
The flavour profile, signature serve, back story, and production.
How do you think a distiller can help drive marketing and sales personally?
Engaging with bars, restaurants, and shops so they can appreciate how the product is made and what makes it different.
Image: Maharani Gin
Define a good distiller.
Open to new ideas while respecting what has gone before, having a good palate, and possessing patience.
Which is your go-to drink, and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?
It depends on the setting. On a hot summer's day, I’ll go for a dry lager or fruity IPA, with meals a nice red wine, malbec predominantly, or Georgian reds like Saperavi. A nightcap would be Irish whiskey or gin.
What do you do when you are not distilling?
Reading, especially since covid, I read a lot more, alternating between fiction and non-fiction.
What is your idea of a good life?
Having a close network of family and friends and travel.