‘Dublin and Ireland is amazing. I’ve lived in a few other countries and they fucking love us there! Then when you come back to Ireland and try to do what they do in other countries, like try new ideas… well sometimes I see people do the eye roll when I start talking about different ways of thinking and then they say oh here he goes again! But fuck it, we are here and doing it like Factory Records did,’ says Mick Reddy.
‘New Order was one of the biggest selling bands for them,’ adds Pieter Reid as he leans in to listen more to what Reddy has to say.
‘Yeah! They said fuck London, we’re going to do it here in Manchester,’ says Reddy as he smacks the couch with his open palm and lets out a thunderous laugh. Reid smiles and adds, ‘but at the same time we found that there is a stranglehold on people trying to do innovative things here.’ But more about that later.
Native Blenders is the name of the business that twenty-seven year old Reid and thirty-three year old Reddy are behind. They met five years ago whilst working in the same bar, ‘we were always bouncing ideas of each other. We always had great ideas but the wrong people were at the table to bring them to life. Now it’s our time to do it,’ says Reddy. They have a dynamic chemistry, even during the interview they were riffing ideas off each other between contiguous laughter. What’s clear to see is they both have the utmost respect for each other and the talents that they are bringing to Native Blenders.
The concept behind Native Blenders is very simple. Provide batch made cocktails so that there is a consistent taste. ‘In any big commercial kitchen, food is prepared in batches so why can’t cocktails be like that? That’s were the logic for this idea came from,’ says Reid. Their many years working in the bar and food trade has taught them that when bartenders are under pressure they can mis-pour meaning that the drink the customer gets can vary from drink one to drink two. Recently they helped run the bars at Body & Soul’s event in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, ‘we sold 1000 cocktails using the shrub. (Shrub is two different but related slightly acidic drinks. You can read more about shurb here). This was the precursor to bottle them. We just had four people working the bar but the wait time was reduced and the drinks were consistent.’
They see Native Blenders as a perfect solution for restaurants and bars that would not have a resident mixologist. As Reid explains, ‘when you go to a pub or craft bar, to be fair, they have no interest in making you a cocktail. They don’t have the time and if they make you one it’s usually woeful. I’d like to be able to get a pint of Guinness and an Old Fashioned in one sitting!’
When asked if there is any meaning behind the name Reddy says, ‘Pieter’s Mum is Dutch and his grandparents moved to Ireland a long time ago from the Netherlands. They blended in to become Irish. Then she was officially native when Pieter’s Dad married her!’ He thinks the name reflects the many people from all over the world that now call Ireland home. ‘Now imagine our cocktails perform the same role. International spirits moving around the globe using local ingredients, we blend them up and serve.’ The depth and meaning of it’s name makes WPP, the multinational advertising and PR company look shallow. WPP means wire and plastic products by the way.
Now for a little background on this idea. Bottled cocktails is not a new concept, it’s already happened in New York and London. The White Lyan in Hoxton London being the most famous. From morning till opening time the bar is essentially a factory. The staff prepare and make the cocktails all day and then bottle them for the evening trade. It’s also one of the most environmentally friendly bars due to it’s low waste.
Having batch made cocktails allows Reid to take time to experiment with different flavours and recipes. He grows animated when he talks about acids, ‘citric acid by itself is amazing, it tastes like sherbet!’ He is a magician when it comes to cocktails but he would become embarrassed if you said that, as he’s modest and softly spoken. Interestingly he says that, ‘Manhattans, Martinis etc only get better the longer they are left to sit. They actually mature and soften. It’s like eating a stew the next day, it tastes better because the flavours bind together.’
Reid collects rare historical cocktail recipe books so it seems fitting that the bottles that the cocktails come in are like old Victorian medicine bottles, an ode to his appreciation for what has come before. His degree in Fine Art & Design from NCAD has given him a patience that only an artist can have, something that is needed with the constant testing and refining of recipes. Session cocktails as in cocktails made of lower alcohol strength is one of the ideas that they are working on.
The real story behind this business is their philosophy. ‘Originally we had spoken about exporting the product but on reflection we’d like to focus on deglobalization and just export the concept,’ says Reddy, ‘this is the start of a very big movement. The cocktails are the conversation point, as in getting people talking about the ingredient sources once they taste it. Those conversations will lead to influences and mindset changes. The fact that big companies are trying to repackage themselves as artisan gives us more confidence that we we don’t have to sell anything, we just have to continue as we are!’ Reddy studied Urban Planning but ditched the idea of a career in it as he found it too corrupt. He’s a man of strong opinions and ideas, someone that values honesty highly.
‘We want to focus on Irish craft distilleries like the fantastic Shortcross Gin. It’s really integral to us that we are showcasing Irish craft distilleries,’ adds Reid. Such as pairing raspberries from Wicklow with gin from Kerry and citing them on the bottle’s label, or as Reddy sees it, ‘creating a shared community.’
Which leads us back to the opening of this article, you get a real sense from Reddy and Reid that they are echoing the frustrations of many hospitality startups. ‘We showed the Enterprise Board our proposal and they said that’s really good, good luck with that… and that was it,’ laughs Reid, ‘so when I pressed them for advice they suggested micro-finance, which is basically a loan! If you don’t have a connection in there or if you’re not hi-tech, IT or pharma they don’t want to know even though we are making something that is completely local. They don’t seem to want to back new approaches.’
‘It’s a great little country to do business in if you’re Google but with regards to contributing tax they are not as strong as this can be. Bord Bia and other state bodies are not actually doing anything they are just directing you to micro finance Ireland. There’s a lot of lip service, there always was,’ says Reddy with regards to indigenous food and drink businesses.
Their experience with Bord Bia has proved frustrating, ‘in my opinion they aren’t really representing whats really happening in Ireland and Dublin today. I’ve been to some of the conferences and its old Ireland that they talk about, it doesn’t exist anymore. Now they are trying to jump on the movement towards craft.’
Making A Decent Living
Money is something that does not drive this pair, as in they just want to make enough to make a modest living, ‘we did our business plan the other day and we thought it was amazing but other businesses would of laughed at it because we just want to make a decent living, that’s all.’
You can’t help but admire them for staying positive and steadfast to their beliefs even if they are at odds with the established way of doing things. Their business ties in a whole community of producers and gives them a very clever platform to reach new customers. Integrity and honesty are two words that they pepper the interview with and Native Blenders is just that. They are a very likeable duo that have a growing band of supporters. In a lot of ways it’s like they are the focal point for many people to intersect and share ideas. It’s a function that they are delighted to facilitate.
If you would like to sample Native Blenders, they have a popup every Saturday in The Headline Bar on 57 Clanbrassil Street Lower, Dublin 8. But be quick, it finishes October 24th.
You can get in touch with them @Native_Blenders