Written by Melanie May
Oisin Davis is the founder of Great Irish Beverages, the company behind the Irish Gin and Tonic Festival and Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey Week and he is the co-founder of Poacher’s Premium Irish Mixers.
Oisin is passionate about celebrating and promoting Irish made drinks, and he makes a terrific cocktail too. Building on this, he has teamed up with the Celtic Irish Whiskey Shop to help home mixologists create cool cocktails via Zoom tutorials.
We caught up with Oisin to find out how he got started and what makes a great drink.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. How did you get involved in the drinks industry?
I’m a proud Irish American! My father was from Jersey City, where I spent my first ten years, my mother is from Dublin, where I currently live.
I’ve only ever worked in entertainment, food and alcohol. Quite often those sectors would often merge with each other, but in the last seven years, I’ve focused on the alcohol industry.
My work background was in the promoting of clubs and live music. In 1999, I came back to Dublin after a year in San Francisco and set up The Sugar Club as General Manager where I remained for 12 years.
So what made you decide to set up Great Irish Beverages? What was the inspiration?
The first decade of the 21st century saw a huge change in people’s attitudes towards Irish food and produce. By 2010, it became important for the Irish to try and buy our own food when possible. But I saw a huge disconnect with buying Irish drinks. I couldn’t see a valid reason why restaurant and bar owners didn’t have the same commitment for Irish drinks as they had for Irish food. It started to bother me and I found myself giving out to my mates who had bars asking them why they weren’t using Irish spirits and beers more.
In 2011, I won a cocktail competition and the prize was to attend Bar Smarts in New York, which is the leading spirits and cocktail course in the world. One of the instructors, Steve Olson said to us, “Whatever the one thing is in your bar that you really love, give that your focus and make it better and better every day.” It gave me great inspiration to see how I could make a career by working with Irish drinks.
So how would you describe what Great Irish Beverages is and does? Give us that elevator pitch.
Great Irish Beverages is a drinks consultancy that specialises in Irish brands. Over the last seven years, we’ve worked with dozens of brands on liquid innovations, cocktail and drinks strategies, bartender and media advocacy as well as social media and publicity.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the promotion of Irish beverages?
The first couple of years were really tough trying to inspire the hospitality community and the general public about the importance of buying Irish drinks. But thankfully, I had some great clients who shared my passions like the brilliant crew in Jameson International. They really liked the cocktails I was putting together for them, I had a far easier time trying to convince people in foreign lands like Russia to mix them up than in Ireland! After a lot of media work on Irish radio and hosting demos anywhere I could in Ireland, people started understanding why it made sense to have as much love for Irish drinks as Irish food on their menus and my work became easier.
And nowadays? How has Great Irish Beverages evolved since you first started?
From 2012, I was immediately asked to travel abroad for Jameson and other brands. I’d be either hosting demos at large trade shows or brand events. International travel became a steady element in my work, taking large parts of my time. I felt blessed to have been given this opportunity and I loved every second of it. But last year it peaked for me and I felt guilty about not seeing my family and my personal environmental impact from all the flights.
So, I decided to try and concentrate more on work that didn’t require as much travel, such as publicity and marketing for brands within Ireland. This now makes up more of my work schedule. I’d rather have video calls with clients than with my kids!
You’ve traveled the world sampling tasty beverages along the way, but is there any drink that you really didn’t like?
No disrespect to my bartender mates from Kazakhstan, but I still haven’t found my groove with fermented horse milk…
And for balance, what is your favourite tipple?
The Frozen Irish Coffee from Erin Rose Bar in New Orleans. I have yet to find the words to somehow capture its brilliance!
A frozen Irish coffee sounds delicious! So, what are the secrets to a great cocktail?
Balance of flavour, great ingredients and even greater company!
Where do you get your creative inspiration for your cocktails?
To create anything with food or drink, you have to be a flavour fanatic. This is generally something you’re born with, whether it’s a blessing or a curse! With cocktails, it’s imperative to understand and appreciate the classics before you start giving them your own twist so I always spend time reading up on them. My travels have definitely inspired me in exploring food and drink. After a couple of years of conducting Jameson demos for bartenders in foreign lands, it didn’t feel appropriate for me to not use the native foods of those countries to mix with the cocktails I’d make for them. Since 2014, I never make a cocktail in another country without using some of their homegrown ingredients or products. This has definitely kept my palate and inspirations fresh.
With the pubs and bars shut during the restrictions, how has the last few months changed the way drink is consumed/considered in Ireland?
Obviously without the bars, people’s options are more limited but with the advent of Zoom in the lockdown, I have clients who are now able to talk directly to a whole lot more people for tastings than they ever could before. The Redbreast team for instance have been hosting a huge amount of tastings and that’s been brilliant to see as it’s a spirit and brand that is always helped by some education.
Which leads us nicely on to your latest venture with Celtic Whiskey Shop. Tell us a bit more about it.
The effects of the lockdown have meant that people are now looking deeper into how they can cook more themselves and even mix more drinks themselves. I think this is brilliant as I strongly feel that everyone should be able to mix up their own cocktails! Cocktail Tour was developed alongside Celtic Whiskey Shop with that in mind.
We don’t just want to send people out some nice drinks, we want to show them how they can make them again and again if they want. It’s like the old mantra of “teach a man to fish…!” So, every week on Zoom, I show everyone exactly how to make two different cocktails from scratch so they know how to reproduce them any time they want. We have special guests on every week who are either bartenders, brand ambassadors to teach more about the spirits or just people we want to have on for the craic! This week for instance the artist Jerry Fish is on with us. We want to keep it fun while learning very important life skills!
What is your favourite whiskey based cocktail?
A Black Barrel Boulevardier – equal parts Jameson Black Barrel, sweet Vermouth and Campari served with an orange slice.
You do a lot of working promoting single pot still Irish whiskies. Why? What is it about this drink that you love so much?
Irish single pot still whiskey is our original and most unique style of whiskey in Ireland. Not so long ago, there were only a few countries who were producing quality whiskey to scale for export. But now there are whiskey distilleries cropping up everywhere and most of them are producing single malt. With Irish single pot still now geographically protected like the way French champagne is, we have a unique spirit to share with the world, one that I might add was the most popular style of whiskey in the world at one point. The Irish need to nurture pot still whiskey to make it a culinary marker of our national identity, like the way the Scottish have done with their single malts. This would have a tremendously positive impact on the livelihood of our farmers, our distillers and indeed, for our tourist industry.
Do you have a favourite whiskey and food pairing?
Crozier blue cheese on a Sheridan’s brown bread cracker sprinkled with finely diced celery and savoured alongside a Redbreast 12 year old. For me, that is the finest expression of Irish culinary excellence I have ever encountered.
What is your favourite part of what you do and why?
Meeting like minded flavour fanatics from around Ireland and the world has been a remarkable privilege. I have made so many friends and when I go to see them now, they treat me so well. And I love doing the same for them or their friends whenever they come to Dublin.
What does the future hold for you and your work?
I have no idea to be honest but I certainly don’t see online meetings and demos going away any time soon!
Oisin is doing a takeover of I Love Cooking’s IGTV on Friday 10th July at 8pm. He will be showing us how to make these delicious cocktails.
Frozen Jameson Ginger Ale & Lime – Serves 1
- 1 shot (35 ml) Jameson
- 3 shots (105ml) Ginger Ale
- 1 teaspoon of golden sugar or brown sugar
- The juice of half a lime
Place all ingredients into a nutri bullet and blitz for a few seconds. Take the glass you’re serving with and fill it with ice. Then pour it into the nutri bullet with the other ingredients, blitz for about 3 seconds. Pour it into your glass and serve with a straw. Strawberry & Basil Cooler
Strawberry & Basil Cooler – Serves 1
- 15 ml Method & Madness Irish Gin
- 1 tablespoon of Dalkey Food Company Strawberry & Basil Sorbet
- 100 ml of Stonewell Dry Irish Cider
Use a champagne glass and pour in the gin then place in the sorbet. Break it up slightly then top it up with the cider and stir gently. Serve.