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PJ Rigney, Chair Of Drinks Ireland On Growing The Sector

By Donna Ahern
PJ Rigney, Chair Of Drinks Ireland On Growing The Sector

Donna Ahern talks to PJ Rigney, chairperson, Drinks Ireland, and co-founder/owner of The Shed Distillery.

How would you describe your role?

As chairperson of Drinks Ireland, I am passionate about nurturing the home-grown, high quality Irish drinks producers and about continuing to grow the sector.

It is crucial that the domestic sector is not unfairly maligned or crippled by unnecessarily restrictive policies that don’t serve a functional or positive purpose, as we seek to maintain safe and responsible policies in relation to drinks brands.

As the co-founder/owner of The Shed Distillery, along with my wife Denise, I am at the distillery in Drumshanbo every other day, working with our head distiller Brian Taft, as we plan production for over 80 different markets across the world.

I work directly with the team at The Shed Visitor Experience, again striving to give every visitor an extraordinary experience.

When I’m not in the distillery, I travel to the States at least once every two months, visiting New York, Texas, Florida, and Boston, and I work closely with our incredible partners, Palm Bay International, to energise the market and meet customers.

In fact, I’m in San Francisco at the moment for the Wine Enthusiast Star Awards.

We were thrilled that Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin was named the Best International Spirit of the Year and The Shed Distillery was awarded Best Distillery of the Year.

We were up against some serious brands from the States and across the world, even Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s Teremana Tequila, so it was pretty mind-blowing when we won!

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

From my teenage years, I worked on the family turkey farm. I learned that results are down to hard work and can be attributed to constantly looking for new opportunities and raising your standards.

My father and mother are two of the hardest-working people I have ever known, and they instilled that work ethic in all of us. I have now passed that on to my children.

The pride and satisfaction you feel when the constant slog and dedication pays off is incomparable.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

The extraordinary Shed Distillery team, the team at Dalcassian Wines and Spirits (our distribution partner in Ireland, which is headed up by my long- term friend and business partner John Dillon), the Drumshanbo and wider Leitrim community that have become part of The Shed ‘family’ and whose can-do attitude convinced us to locate in Drumshanbo, and the inspiring people I meet in the wider industry.

Travelling to the US, Germany, France, the UK and further afield on a regular basis, I’ve made lifelong friends like Marc Taub, who owns Palm Bay International (our US distribution partner) and the Hardenberg family in Germany, who I have been an advisor to for many years on their international drinks business.

Also, I had never anticipated that EY would shortlist me for Entrepreneur of the Year, and that I would be part of the EY alumni, which has given me the opportunity to meet the most inspiring Irish business innovators and entrepreneurs.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I would love to have doubled sales and grown employee numbers by at least 50% (we currently employ over 80) and for Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and other ambitious Shed Distillery brands to have achieved significant global market share in the super-premium category.

I would love also to see The Shed become one of the most well-known Irish businesses, making a significant contribution to the Irish economy and to the local Leitrim community through employment.

What could the government do to help business in the current environment?

For Irish brands to succeed and grow, we must have a fair and proportionate tax system, and in particular a reduction in excise to the EU average.

Harmonising regulations across the EU and beyond as much as possible is also very important.

Anything that supports open and fair trade is important to us as an industry on an island of five million people because we have to export to survive.

When it comes to domestic regulation, we need balanced and evidence-based regulations around alcohol and a focus on moderation and balance in the discussion around our brands.

Which three businessmen or women do you most admire and why?

Joanna Gardiner, CEO of Gardiner Family Apothecary brands Ovelle and Elave.

Since 1934, the company been producing medical and non-medical skin care products and selling in Ireland and around the world, as well as to UNICEF and other NGO’s. I have the privilege of being the chair of this business.

Walt Disney, who tried to get a job as a newspaper cartoonist, but he was unable to find one and ended up working in an art studio where he created ads for newspapers and magazines.

Eventually, he grew to work on commercials, became interested in animation, and eventually opened his own animation company. Pat McDonagh, head of Supermacs and hospitality businesses in Ireland.

This is a hard-working and successful family business. Pat is also a former EY entrepreneur winner.

Who would come to your ideal dinner party (living or dead)?

Leonardo Da Vinci, the father of the Renaissance and a genius inventor with a master artist’s perspective. Freddie Mercury – the essence of authenticity and courage.

He fought for his vision to incorporate opera into pop music with Bohemian Rhapsody, despite being surrounded by naysayers in the industry.

That unwavering conviction and determination is what gives life to the extraordinary.

And it would be rude not to invite Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson after his shout-out on social media, and of course my wife Denise would have to be there beside me!

With which fictional character do you most identify?

I loved Around the World in 80 days as a child, so maybe Phileas Fogg. Although I have been likened to Willy Wonka on more than one occasion ... not sure if that’s a compliment!

© 2023 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Donna Ahern. For more drinks news, click here. Click sign up to subscribe to Checkout.


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