Late Larne man Jim Dobbin's favourite catchphrase is adopted by Black Arch Gin entrepreneurs
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The entrepreneurial trio, all ‘graduates’ of Larne Grammar School – Kerrie McKay, an accountant and financial consultant; Graham Boyd, a hospitality and entertainment professional, and Karen Fergie, a supply chain management expert – grew up in the coastal town and are passionate about the area’s natural advantages.
They spotted a gap in the market for a locally distilled gin and decided to develop an original product for Larne and further afield that reflected their hometown and the local area, naming it Black Arch Gin after the striking landmark.
They continue to pursue their careers and produce the handcrafted gin on a part-time basis.
Developed during the global Covid pandemic and launched in October 2022, Black Arch Gin, according to Kerrie (33), who has held financial posts in Britain, was “inspired by happy childhood memories of growing up in an Irish coastal town, the power of friendship during challenging times and forward-looking ambitions of eventually escaping the nine to five”.
“We had been enjoying various local gins and were conscious of the craft spirits being developed in other parts of Northern Ireland. There was nothing available from our area and we agreed that we should develop one for the town and wider region,” explains Kerrie.
“This led us on a mission to find out all we could about distilling gin and then to rent space in a local enterprise park that would enable us to come up with a spirit we all liked,” she continues. Two copper pot stills were subsequently purchased for the process.
The trio harvested the essential botanicals, including wild raspberries, blackberries and nettles, for the gin from around the Black Arch. “By combining local botanicals like blackberries and nettle that grow on the land above, with a subtle hint of seaweed, the gin, like the arch itself, perfectly bridges the land and the sea,” adds Kerrie.
Launched at the end of 2022, the gin, they believe, “encapsulates the rugged but bountiful landscape around the arch”. Alana McDowell, a local design studio, helped them to devise an eye catching brand that focuses heavily on the inspiration for the gin - the Black Arch and the Antrim coast. The talented designer had previously worked for the successful Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee, a producer of gins, whiskey and rum for international markets.
The Antrim Coast was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1988 and in 2018 was voted Lonely Planet’s Top Destination for Visitors - and it’s not hard to see why.
“All aspects of the design and brand have been carefully cultivated or selected by us, with a conscious focus on sourcing as much as possible from local suppliers,” she adds.”
Kerrie continues: “Our tagline, ‘Where would you get it?’ is a saying familiar to most local folk. It was coined by a lifelong Coast Road resident, the late Jimmy Dobbin, a popular musician, to describe his home’s location and vicinity. His initials are hidden on every bottle. We now hope people will adopt the phrase when taking their first sip of our Black Arch Gin!”
She says another ‘unique aspect of Black Arch Gin is that the trio do absolutely everything themselves, from handpicking the botanicals and undertaking the entire distillation to bottling by hand and labelling each individual bottle”. Their objective is to create a premium gin.
“We have high standards about the quality of the product and only use the best materials and ingredients, including traceable and ethical water supplied locally by Clearer Water, a social enterprise, in nearby Magheramoune,” adds Kerrie.
Lacking a significant budget for advertising and promotion at this early stage in the business, they have depended heavily on social media channels, creatively promoting the product and its stockists, as well as engaging with our customers and followers. They’ve joined promotion body FoodNI to develop contacts and plan to sample the gin at this year’s Food Pavilion at the big RUAS show at Balmoral Park.
“We’ve been supported by local bars, hotels and off-licenses and had great feedback on the product so far, with customers citing the smoothness of the gin, it’s coastal notes, as well as the bottle design and story.”
While they have been focusing on developing business in the local area, expanding sales across Northern Ireland is another key objective for the ambitious trio.