Swarm of bees inspires mother and daughter to create new gin

Marie and Sally Anne Cooney are taking on the spirits world with Silks Gin – named after the silks worn by jockeys at Bellewstown racecourse.

Sally Anne Cooney and her mother Marie
Sally Anne Cooney and her mother Marie

An Irish mother and daughter are banking on their new venture being the bee’s knees after a swarm captured from a farm gate inspired their gin enterprise.

Marie and Sally Anne Cooney are taking on the spirits world with Silks Gin – named after the silks worn by jockeys at the famous Bellewstown racecourse in Co Meath.

As one of the few mother-and-daughter apiary teams in Ireland, they have the bees to thank for producing honey and pollinating the family’s apple trees – two of the key ingredients used to produce the tipple.

Marie said: “Sally-Anne and I took a beekeeping course in 2011 with the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations. But it wasn’t until 2016 that we decided to start beekeeping properly in order to pollinate our apple trees.”

Marie Cooney, left, with daughter Sally Anne at the family’s orchards and apiary, which provide the botanicals used in their new gin (Brian Connolly/Boann/PA)

The idea for the new gin was born when the Cooneys captured thousands of bees which landed on a neighbour’s farm gate.

Marie had contacted local beekeepers saying she needed to source a swarm to pollinate the 6,500 apple trees in the family’s fields.

“A neighbour rang to say there was one hanging on his gate,” she said.

“We caught them and transported them home in the back of my car to establish Sunshine Apiary outside Kilmessan, at the foot of the Hill of Tara.

“The original swarm is long gone but the hives remain, providing the honey, while the other botanicals for Silks come from apple blossom hand-picked directly from the apple trees and elderflower from the hedgerows at the back of the beehives.”

The mother and daughter are now hoping the spirit will replicate the international success they enjoyed in March, when the family-run Boann Distillery won Best New Make in the World Whiskies Awards.

Silks Gin contains 14 botanicals which are macerated – soaked in liquid – for 24 hours before slow distilling in a 500-litre copper pot still.

“We knew that we needed a good name to stand out in a very competitive market,” Sally Anne said.

“Silks is inspired by the colourful silks worn by jockeys at the historic Bellewstown racecourse, beside our distillery.”

The Cooneys also plan to convert a horsebox into a gin bar – the Ginbox – which they intend to use when crowds are allowed to return to sporting events, including Bellewstown race meetings, this summer.

Boann employs 70 people between its 20 million euro state-of-the-art distillery outside Drogheda in Co Meath and its cream liqueur facility in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

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