Q&A with Kate Dempsey of Kinsale Mead

Name: Kate Dempsey

Occupation & Company: Founder Kinsale Mead Co.

Tell me about your current role?

We are a small family-run business so I have quite a few hats (I love hats!)

– Making Mead: Mead is like a wine but made from honey with a similar fermentation and maturation process. There are a lot of mopping floors too.

– Running Tours of the meadery and tutored tastings. Love meeting people on tours and sharing all about mead.

– Sales of mead to new and existing clients, educating them about the mead process, food pairing, serve and occasion, and even mead cocktails.

– Marketing: social media, PR and a chatty email newsletter

– and lots of paperwork. The drinks business seems to float on paper!

How did you first get into the drinks industry? 

I’d always been aware of mead but like many people assumed it was sweet and cloying. Then I tasted some authentic mead. Wow! But there was no mead in Ireland. Eventually, I had taken a friend up over and took her up to the Hill of Tara. We realised we were standing on the foundations of the Great Mead Hall of Tara. That was the tipping point when we decided we would begin the journey to starting our own business and opening Ireland’s first new meadery in 200 years.

What is your favourite part about working in the industry?

Probably when we get people to taste mead for the first time, especially if they are reluctant. I love watching their faces as they have their preconceptions washed away!

We’re meeting up for a wee drink after work – what are you having?

After work, I’d love a mead cocktail, if I may. In the summer it has to be a Mead Sangria out on the terrace while someone else is cooking on the barbecue! But if choosing mead is cheating, I’m a big fan of good clean artisan Irish gins. Beara Ocean Gin is a particular favourite with a Poachers citrus tonic.

You can only have one drink for the rest of your life, what’s in your glass?

Ignoring mead? Has to be Champagne. Presuming someone else is paying, vintage Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon will do nicely.

It’s Saturday night, what restaurant are you going to?

Saturday night dining in Kinsale this time of year is mainly for visitors. So I’ll be eating at home. I’ll have some fresh fish from our local fishmongers, Turbot or John Dory maybe cooked simply in a garlic lemon sauce, fresh veg in season and good floury potatoes. Just to finish off, some dark chocolate.

Is there a bucket list drink you want to try, or a dream drinks destination you’d love to visit?

What I’d love to do is trace our ingredients back to their origin. So head up to the orange groves in Valencia and see the honeybees in action, explore the forests in Galicia and tour the Wild Geese wineries in the Margaux commune in Bordeaux where our fantastic Merlot barrels started their lives. I’d bring over a bottle of our barrel aged mead to show them what we made with them.

The most memorable experience of your career?

When we won a gold medal in the Mazer Cup in Colorado. This is an international competition judged by our fellow mead makers so there’s a huge knowledge and experience of mead making in the judging panel. Winning a medal from these is like winning the Olympics!

One thing you’d like to see more of in the drinks industry?

More support of local small producers, not just lip service. Name the supplier on your menus. Educate your staff. Trying pairing food with Irish mead (obv) but also local cider, craft beers, ales and stouts, kombucha, vermouth, and lighter liqueurs not just wine. Set aside a part of your shop for local artisan-produced drinks. People love to support local.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in the industry?

You really have to have a strong interest in drink, how it’s made, the history, the serve(s), occasions and the realities of the business. Consider the differences between working for a big company and working for a small company. You get exposure to a lot more business areas and have a better opportunity to make a difference to the bottom line in the small company. But big companies have larger pockets (usually) and depth of knowledge. And if the last two years have taught us anything, you have to be prepared to adapt and change as the environment, industry and our community changes. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people like to be useful. Lastly, wear comfortable shoes.

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