Origin Spirits is the brainchild of Patrick Shelley. This smiling unassuming individual is a veteran of the fine spirits industry; who has worked internationally for LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) for 20-odd years. In 2013, Shelley left LVMH to pursue his own calling—his own spirits company. Called Origin Spirit, his inaugural launch was Kalak Single Malt Vodka, which was one of the world’s first single malt vodka. Then came Kalak Peat Cask Single Malt Vodka and Ornabrak Single Malt Gin.
Situated in West Cork, the south coast of Ireland is assailed by the Atlantic storms and warmed by the Irish sun—these two factors greatly aided the growth of barley. Add to that the years of water being purified by the land's porous rock and you get a perfect storm of distillery magic.
Shelley returns to this year's Whisky Journey and we managed to snag some time with the Origin Spirits founder about what we can expect from them.
ESQUIRE SINGAPORE: What can we look forward to your return to this year’s Whisky Journey?
PATRICK SHELLEY: First of all, I'm thrilled to return to Whisky Journey 2023. Last year was amazing and probably one of the best whisky fairs I've attended in years. Apart from our existing portfolio of products which will be on show, we have created another very special Whisky Journey exclusive for 2023. This time we are releasing a Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey—Atlantic Kombu Single Cask, finished in a Killahora rare apple Ice wine cask. This incredible Irish apple ice wine works wonderfully with our whiskey and I can't wait for people to try it.
ESQ: There’s a healthy influence of Irish influences in Origin Spirits’ line. What is an Irish folktale that stuck with you?
There is one particular folktale that has resonated with me since I was a child. It was the story of "Cailleach", the Celtic goddess and queen of winter. Cailleach was the symbol of mother nature to the Irish Celts and represented the darker and more powerful side of nature. She roamed Ireland with her army of deer, sculpting the landscape with a wave of her staff while protecting all animals and crops.
I always found something mystical and beautiful about the cold and dark winter evenings in Ireland with the howling winds and piercing rain. This was Cailleach personified. Cailleach inspired the first product I launched in 2015, Kalak (aka Cailleach) Single Malt Irish Vodka.
You’ve experimented with flavours; what are some taste profiles that you’re trying to get right with your products? What is the process for you like?
In the creation of Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey, I was actually more inspired by gastronomy than whisk(e)y. I'm fascinated by how different ingredients and flavours work together. The story started years earlier in Tokyo. I was sitting in a whisky bar in Shinjuku and drinking an Irish single malt. Instead of the regular bar snacks I was used to in Europe, here I was served dried Kombu chips. I was immediately intrigued by the flavour interaction between the single malt whisky and seaweed. The umami element of the latter appeared to really complement the whiskey while paving layers of additional complexity. It also balanced the natural sweetness and roundness of triple-distilled Irish single malt.
It was a long road to bring this taste experience from a bar in Shinjuku to a finished whiskey. In 2020, we eventually launched Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey—Atlantic Kombu Seaweed Cask. This was the first whisk(e)y in the world to be influenced by seaweed.
Ireland, as an island in the Atlantic, is as much defined by the sea as by the land and seaweed has been an integral part of our history and life since the very beginning. I felt that bringing together two of our most native ingredients (Irish malted barley and seaweed) would create something truly unique while telling the story of our culture and traditions.
Essentially we started with our 3-5-year-old single malt Irish whiskey. We then sourced organic, hand-harvested kombu seaweed from the West coast of Ireland, and used this as a fuel source to char American virgin oak casks. We subsequently filled these casks with our single malt whiskey and left it to finish for three months. The roasted kombu adds beautiful dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted black sesame, salted caramel and maritime umami notes to our whiskey.
We launched our second whiskey a year later, this time using Atlantic Wakame seaweed. In contrast to the Kombu, the wakame seaweed adds more vegetal, spicy oak, butterscotch, and earthy green tea undertones.
For our vodkas and gin, we developed a mixology programme, however, for Currach Single Malt Irish Whiskey we focused on food pairing so gastronomy remains the principal inspiration.
What is that one whisky you’d always return to?
During my time at LVMH Moët Hennessy, I discovered Ardbeg Ten and this is a whisky I always return to. This helped me discover what terroir means in whisky and it is something I have been focused on ever since.
My 'desert island' whiskey would however be Midelton Very Rare 2013. This is spectacular and one of the best whiskies I have ever had the privilege of drinking. It makes me proud that this is Irish!
With the world becoming smaller and more accessible, do you take into account differing cultures with your whiskies at Origin Spirits?
Actually, with the world becoming smaller and more accessible, it is important to have consistency in our global product offerings. Consumers are travelling more and they like to find the same product wherever they land. We do, however, work with our importers around the world to create specific single cask finishes that appeal to local audiences. In Europe, we have released red wine and sherry cask finishes and sake and umeshu cask finishes in Asia. We are also seeing more demand for cross-cultural flavours. So we have started bringing more Asian-inspired cask finishes to Europe and vice versa.
When you’re in Singapore, which bar do you go to, if any?
I always stop at one of the Quaich Bars to discover new whiskies. The staff are so knowledgeable and I always have a great time.
Atlas is also one of my favourite bars in the world and a perfect place to taste new gins. For great food and drinks, FOC is an obvious choice. To be honest, one is spoiled for choice in Singapore. It's home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the world.
What is a spirit, other than those from Origin Spirits, that you wished you’d come up with?
All our products are Irish and made from local Irish ingredients, using traditional production techniques.
There is no particular spirit or alcohol that I wish I had come up with. But there are a number which have really inspired me, and all are external to Ireland. For me, provenance and terroir are what makes a product unique. As Irish malted barley defines our products and culture, I love how other ingredients, terroirs and traditions define theirs. Two in particular are sake and mezcal. Ireland can't replicate these. We don't have the favourable climatic or soil conditions to grow rice or agave.
We have previously finished our Currach Wakame in Sake casks and are planning a Currach Kombu in Mezcal cask release. This is a great way of celebrating a "tale of two terroirs". To show our consumers how different ingredients and flavours from around the world can come together in harmony.
What is something that you wish people would credit you for?
My objective has always been to create unique and world-class products that would both appeal to and inspire our consumers. We have three brands and five core products (two single malt vodkas, one single malt gin and two single malt Irish whiskies). Each has its own soul and personality. And yet they all possess the same DNA of Irish malted barley, copper pot distilling and single malt. I like to think we are constantly pushing the frontiers of fusing tradition and innovation while keeping our products authentic. Therefore it's very encouraging to hear from our customers and consumers that Origin Spirits is seen as a trailblazer in the global spirits world.
What’s next for Origin Spirits, especially since the pandemic is a dot in the rear-view mirror?
For the coming year, we will focus on consolidating our global distribution. As well as concentrate on "deepening" our penetration of existing markets, in addition to "widening" to select new markets. Ultimately, it is all about touching more spirit lovers with our products in more parts of the world. From a product perspective, we will launch our first series of 'Limited Release' bottlings in October, focusing on a "tale of two terroirs". This range will sit between our current commercial-release products and our single-cask offerings.
Patrick Shelley and other whisky-centric individuals and products will be at Whisky Journey. Tickets are on sale now.