“We carry seven or eight different sakes.”
Times have changed for Redmonds of Ranelagh, the two-time winner of the National Off-Licence of the Year Award. Once, the family owners sold groceries and bottled their own Guinness in-store. Now, they sell hundreds of wines and beers, non-alcoholic gin, “seventeen or eighteen different bitters”, and, of course, Japanese sake.
The shop, just off the Ranelagh ‘Triangle’, has been open since 1943, with ownership passing down through the family. Jimmy Redmond, co-director with his brother Aidan, has been working at the off-licence for nearly fifty years. Both inherited the shop from their father and uncle. “We’ve been in it all our lives,” Jimmy says. “There’s always a family member present [at the shop].”
With a seventy-five-year history, Redmonds is a fixture of the local village and business community. The off-licence has an extensive network of Irish and international suppliers, new and old, which Jimmy says they have carefully built up over the years on a foundation of ‘mutual trust and respect’.
“The community means an awful lot to us, because a lot of the people in the community we’d have known throughout their lives, we’ve known their children, we’ve grown with their children. Relationships extend back a long way. We like to be involved,” he says.
Redmonds shares a street with a Lidl, a Tesco Express, a SuperValu and a Spar, but Jimmy says his business isn’t interested in a race to the bottom. “We can’t compete with them purely on a price structure, but where we do compete is advice, expertise, comfort, ease of shopping, and knowing our consumer, knowing what they want.”
Knowledge is indeed power in the off-licence trade. The modern drinks consumer is clued in, with a refined and sophisticated palate. “People understand products better,” says Jimmy. “They know what’s coming, they know the [drink] styles… They have greater confidence in their own ability [understanding of drinks products], and they expect that confidence from us, as well. The knowledge that we give them, they expect it to be correct.”
Drinks industry innovation isn’t just for brewers and distillers. Off-licences, too, have embraced change with enthusiasm, mixing up their product range and services in step with the transforming tastes and lifestyles of consumers.
“We try and change the range on an ongoing basis. There’s always a core range, but we try to innovate and put new product in. We’re constantly changing and revising.” Redmonds hosts drinks tasting evenings for customers who want to sample new products and expand their knowledge.
The shop also sells chocolates, candles and glassware for people who want to buy something other than drinks as gifts. Nearly all of these products are sourced from Irish suppliers.
A changing industry
Ireland’s drinks industry has undergone a renaissance. The number of microbreweries producing their own product has more than quadrupled since 2012. Distilleries have grown in number from just four in 2013 to eighteen in 2017, with plans for a further seventeen. This isn’t just good news for producers and consumers—it’s great for the off-licence trade.
“Look at gin: ten years ago, if you had three gins, you were cutting edge. Now, good luck! It’s just huge,” says Jimmy. “Through the explosion of the gin, whiskey and beer market, there’s a huge awareness of [Irish] product. There’s a huge loyalty effect, as well. People like to try it.”
For Redmonds of Ranelagh, drinks have their place in Irish society: “[Customers] come in to relax, get a bottle of wine or a few beers for that evening or that week. They want to sit down, and have a conversation with partners, wives, children, and enjoy that relaxed time in a much more comfortable setting.”