Irish whiskey entrepreneur Ronan Collins: An adventurous spirit

The Co Down drinks consultant who mixes triathlons with running his own Irish whiskey business

Ronan Collins from Redacted Independent Bottlers
Burren-native Ronan Collins is a drinks consultant, educator and one half of Redacted Independent Bottlers. Picture by Mal McCann

From driving to Mongolia, to teaching surfing in South Africa, to acting on stage in New York, Ronan Collins has packed quite a bit into his 33 years on this earth.

These days the well-travelled Co Down man is a familiar personality in the burgeoning Irish whiskey scene, as both an advocate and educator for the water of life.

Last year he put even more skin in the whiskey game by setting up his own business, Redacted Independent Bottlers, with Wexford man Michael Cowman.

The pair have already released two limited edition whiskeys from the Killowen and Cooley distilleries, and are preparing to release their third bottle this summer.

Now living in Jordanstown, Ronan has been a freelance drinks consultant and educator for the past three years.

He says his love for drinks and spirits was probably fostered in New York, where he worked in bars while trying to make it as a jobbing actor.

“I did two nights a week in an Irish karaoke bar in Hell’s Kitchen,” he recalled. “I’ve been back since, and it’s closed… For good reason!

“But while in New York, I got to hang around Attaboy, Death & Co, Dead Rabbit, all these world famous cocktail bars.”

While Tom Cruise inspired a generation of bar tenders in the 1980s, Ronan recalled that it was Ryan Gosling’s drink making skills in the movie ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ that triggered his interest.

Visa restrictions eventually saw him relocate to London where he got a job in Trailer Happiness on Portobello Road.

His skills saw him poached by Dandelyan, the cocktail bar on the ground floor of the Mondrian Hotel, which, at the time, was quickly earning an international reputation.

“We were given the freedom to just try new stuff,” he recalls.

“I was putting Irish whiskey on the menu as much as possible. There was one in particular called the ‘The Sweetheart Sazerac’, which had Redbreast and Jameson in it.

“It was on the menu that won world’s best menu.”

Ronan Collins from Redacted Independent Bottlers
Ronan Collins with the first two releases from Redacted Independent Bottlers. Picture by Mal McCann

It led to an approach from Jameson-owner Pernod Ricard, who were looking for an ambassador for their Midleton Distillery products.

The next four years were spent promoting Jameson, Redbreast and Midleton’s Spot whiskeys.

“I went all over the UK and I did stuff in Vegas, New York and in France. Loads of quite cool stuff.”

Through Pernod, he became a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) accreditor educator, which came to the fore when the Covid-19 lockdowns came along.

“It was mad how busy we still were in Covid.

“To date I’ve educated 2,000 students.”

It was around three years ago, while chatting with his mum, Ronan made the decision to begin raising money to attempt a climb on Mount Everest.

“I decided I would need to quit what I’m doing now and risk it all for the chance.”

He took the risk and went freelance as a drinks consultant in a bid to raise the funds, relocating to Belfast in the process.

Growing up in the Mournes in awe of world famous Co Down climbers like Banjo Bannon and Noel Hanna, the Burren man says there was always a sense being able to scale great heights.

In the meantime, he nourishes an adventurous spirit born in Mourne foothills of Burren with regular marathons and triathlons.

Ronan Collins from Redacted Independent Bottlers
Ronan Collins chats with The Irish News' Ryan McAleer. Picture by Mal McCann

But with all his adventures to date, he said self-employment is genuinely the hardest thing he’s ever done.

“I’m three years and one month as a self-employed freelance, on my own, and I’m actually kind of petrified.

“Going out on your own is super tough. Being in London or Dublin could make it easier, but I want to be in Belfast, I love it here.”

Everest will have to wait a while longer. Last year he put the money from his funding pot into starting a whiskey company.

It was a car journey with his best friend Michael Cowman that led to the pair founding Redacted Independent Bottlers.

Ronan says he was discussing a job he didn’t get with a potential client.

“They said my ideas were stupid and wild. But I was saying, no one else is doing this. This is how you cut through the market in my opinion.

“Mick was like, should we do it? And I thought, could we?

Ronan Collins from Redacted Independent Bottlers
Ronan Collins with the first two releases from Redacted Independent Bottlers. Picture by Mal McCann

“Between the two of us we pretty much know every distillery in Ireland. We have great connections on the on and off trade, and all we do is recommend other people’s whiskey.

“It’s called redacted, because in a world of NDAs and you can’t say this, and you can’t put that on your label… If we don’t have naming rights, we’re not doing it, no matter how good the liquid is.

“Because we want the consumer to know the journey of this liquid.”

He admits there was some naivety around things like alcohol duty going into the enterprise.

The pair are indebted to people like Shane McCarthy and Liam Brogan of Newry’s Two Stacks, for helping them along the way.

While he believes the Irish whiskey market is in a state of flux that will take five to six years to settle down, he says it’s a fun time to be involved in the scene.

“In ten years, we might have 40 bottles of redacted, 40 unique single cask whiskeys that can never be made again, and 40 unique pieces of artwork.

“That’s the dream.”