A little bit of Genius

Canadian native John Robinson has taken on the position of director of marketing & sales for DrinksGenius. He brings a wide body of experience to the wholesale drinks company and feels like Ireland is really starting to punch above its weight in the mixology scene. From working with some of the largest companies in the drinks industry to helping launch a craft distillery, he has garnered a vast knowledge, which he hopes to utilise to develop and grow DrinksGenius

John Robinson, director of marketing & sales for DrinksGenius

Can you tell us a bit about your background in the drinks industry and how you came to take on this role?
My journey in the drinks industry started back in 2007—think of me as a part-time homebrewer, an amateur mixologist, and a devoted whiskey enthusiast. This field fascinates me not just for the beverages, but for the memorable moments they create, and I’ve loved every minute of being part of it. My professional path began with the industry giants which was absolutely class for learning the business inside and out. But after nearly a decade I had the entrepreneurial itch, and had an opportunity to join a small team in the very early days of a craft distillery, where I spent almost five years rolling up our sleeves and getting hands-on experience within nearly every facet of the business.
When I moved here in 2022, I tapped into my network and met some incredible folks, both from within and outside the spirits world. Interestingly, it was a chat from almost a year before I joined DrinksGenius that later opened doors for me. I brought to the table a blend of extensive experience and a fresh perspective that the board found appealing. Since then, it’s been very exciting with some great early victories and meaningful connections made—and trust me, we’re just warming up!

DrinksGenius has been around since 2011? What do you hope to do to bring this business to the next level? Where do you see the business going in the next five years?

Since its inception, DrinksGenius has been dedicated to shaking up the Irish spirits scene by introducing unique and exciting products, often one bottle at a time. Our core strategy of keeping our fingers on the pulse of emerging trends and the innovative brands behind them hasn’t changed. What’s evolving, however, is how we support these brands both in the on-trade and off-trade markets. We’re crafting a flexible service model that allows us to adapt quickly and efficiently, which is critical in this fast-paced industry.
Our approach? Test, learn, and pivot. We’re committed to gathering feedback as quickly as possible, which helps us quickly move away from what doesn’t work and double down on what does. Looking ahead, I see us not just responding to the market, but driving the trends that will define the next five years in the spirits industry. It’s about being nimble, yes, but also bold in our decisions. We’re gearing up for an exciting journey that I believe will redefine how exceptional spirits find their way to enthusiasts across Ireland.

How do you find the Irish drinks market in comparison to the Canadian market?

The Irish drinks market, while much smaller, is incredibly tight-knit and welcoming. The route to market shares many similarities with Canada, though we do sprinkle in some different terminologies here! What’s truly exciting, though, is the transformation I’m witnessing. Despite the dominance of a few major players and a traditional focus on pubs and pints, there’s a vibrant shift happening. Ireland is now producing some award-winning spirits and developing world-class brands. Plus, trendsetting cocktail bars and restaurants are becoming more influential in shaping how people enjoy beverages here. It’s a dynamic time to be part of this market, as it embraces both tradition and innovation.

What are you most excited by in your new role?

Where to begin! One of my key goals is to streamline our route to market to make it easier and more efficient for everyone involved. We’re assembling an incredible team here—truly great people—and we’re having a blast as we do it. Curating a portfolio of world-class local and international brands is no small feat; it’s far more challenging than it might seem. But with so many innovative offerings popping up and the industry itself undergoing significant changes, there’s no better time to approach this with a fresh set of eyes. It’s energizing to be at the forefront of these developments, guiding our strategy as we redefine what success looks like in this space.

What up and coming brands are you working with and how can you best support them?

Robinson says that Irish whiskeys, such as Glendalough resonate both locally and internationally

We’re incredibly proud of our diverse portfolio and how its growing and changing so quickly, and features fantastic brands from around the globe and close to home. For instance, international brands like Stoli Vodka offer us a global perspective that we can apply in Ireland when appropriate. Irish whiskies, such as Glendalough, form the backbone of our evolving selection and resonate both locally and internationally. Additionally, regional treasures like Duppy Share Rum from the UK allow us to introduce entirely new offerings to our market. These are just a few examples. Supporting each brand involves understanding their unique goals, target consumers, and preferred market strategies. This makes every day different and exciting at DrinksGenius. We have a talented team with a broad range of tastes and insights, which empowers us to craft tailored plans that effectively support these brands as they grow and thrive in the market.

Ireland’s mixology culture is growing and evolving. Do you feel like there is still a long way to go for Irish bartenders to reach the standard of their international counterparts?

I have a super strong belief in the local talent! Ireland is really starting to punch above its weight in the mixology scene. I would say that our bartenders have not only reached but are setting international standards. Now, our challenge is to get the word out more broadly! From Dublin to Cork and even in smaller towns, you’ll find at least one standout spot for an expertly crafted cocktail or an impressive whiskey collection. Irish bartenders and the publicans who support them truly have their finger on the pulse of what’s next. The tastes of Irish consumers are expanding rapidly, and there’s immense potential for even more growth. We’re on a fantastic trajectory, and its exciting to be at the beginning of that journey.

What’s the biggest challenges in the Irish drinks industry for a company like DrinksGenius?

The Irish drinks industry is highly consolidated, dominated by a few large producers and massive distributors. This landscape, however, presents a ripe opportunity for disruption and innovation, which is exactly where DrinksGenius thrives. We see ourselves as brand accelerators, poised to challenge legacy models through exceptional brands and strategic partnerships. As passionate cocktail enthusiasts, our team is eager to bring fresh ideas to the table.
Currently, we’re also navigating economic hurdles such as cost of living increases and inflationary pressures, which are indeed influencing consumer spending habits. These challenges are reflected in the industry’s sales numbers. Despite these headwinds, we remain optimistic and are adapting our strategies to ensure we continue to capture and engage discerning consumers, helping them to make their spending choices count.

What is your favourite cocktail?

Let’s tweak that question a bit and talk about versatility in cocktail-making. If I were to choose five ingredients to keep in my home bar, with just three small adjustments, I could whip up three of my favorite cocktails. It starts with the classic Negroni, made with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Now, if you swap out the gin for whiskey, you’ve suddenly got yourself a Boulevardier, a rich and deep variation. Take it a step further by exchanging sweet vermouth for dry, and you land on the Old Pal, an underrated gem that’s both crisp and complex. This trio of drinks showcases how simple substitutions can transform the flavour profile, giving you a unique experience with each cocktail.

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