Distilling whiskey in the shadow of Nephin

Mark Quick co-founded Nephin Whiskey in 2013. Based in Co. Mayo, the company is very much part of the local community. 

Entrepreneur Mark Quick co-founded Nephin Whiskey Company with Dr Paul Davis in 2013. The company, which is currently developing a distillery and visitor centre in Co. Mayo, was officially launched by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny last year. 

Prior to that the Ballina native, formerly known as Mark Scanlon (he took his wife’s name when he married), had co-founded procurement software company Sourcedogg. Set up in 2009, it employed 65 people in Dublin and Galway by the time he sold it in 2013.


What’s your business elevator pitch?

Nephin Distillery is located at the foot of Nephin Mountain in the small village of Lahardane, Co. Mayo, an area that has been a centre of spirit distillation for centuries. We are making whiskey from Nephin mountain water, growing barley locally, reviving the tradition of using turf to malt barley and passing the dying art of cooperage onto the next generation.  The result will be an ultra-premium, authentic whiskey that will be a toast to simpler times. 

What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?

Our success in attracting people to the Nephin vision. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (who launched the distillery in 2014) remarked that he immediately noticed how much the local community was behind the project. Our team is assembled from the best in their chosen disciplines, including the last remaining Master Cooper in Ireland. We’ve had hundreds of people all over the world paying to reserve bottles of our whiskey four years in advance of its release, which shows how deeply our vision resonates with people.

What has been the lowest moment?

The weeks before the outcome of our planning application. We had invested a lot of our money up to that point and were aware that being refused planning was a possibility. It turned into one of the highlights of this year when we got the official letter saying it had been approved.

How have you coped with setbacks?

Setbacks are a fact of every project. We’re lucky to have a strong ‘meitheal’ culture within the team and with our suppliers, investors, early customers, partners in the Mayo County Council and Mayo Local Enterprise Office and the community in Lahardane. We all come together to solve any challenges as they arise.   

What’s your attitude to risk?

Risk is something that can be analysed, measured, understood and continuously managed. Taking risks is necessary for ambitious projects that deliver transformational improvements to communities and super normal returns to shareholders.   

Who has inspired or motivated you and why?

Monsignor Horan. His vision and determination in funding and building Knock Airport in the face of overwhelming odds has always been the spirit of Mayo Entrepreneurship. He galvanises the local community to work together and achieve something spectacular and lasting. Nephin’s financial backers are all successful entrepreneurs themselves, so I am surrounded by people who inspire me. 

What do you do, if anything, to switch off from the business?

I’m not sure it’s possible to switch off. Entrepreneurs are always thinking about their businesses, even when doing something else. I go fishing in Mayo as often as possible, practice yoga, and play sport – running, soccer, squash, racquetball or anything else that’s going on.  

What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?

Right now it seems like we’ve had a good year at Nephin. Like anyone, I would like things to have moved faster but I’m happy with what we’ve done and, more importantly, the way we have done things over the past year. For example, most start-up distilleries buy bulk whiskey and bottle it, so they have a product on-shelf before they distill and mature their own. We made the decision that this didn’t fit with our core principle of authenticity. So despite the obvious cash-flow benefits that might bring in the short term, I’m delighted we haven’t gone down that road.  

What lessons have you learned in business that others could apply?

I’ve learned the value of getting customers and supporters early in the development of a business. If you let people know what stage you’re at, what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re going to go about doing it – and they relate to your story – people will buy into the journey.  If they become early customers, you’ll get invaluable feedback on your product. 

Others may not buy products but will become promoters of the business. We regularly get people from the US investing in casks of Nephin Whiskey because they’ve heard from someone locally that it’s a great business. We wouldn’t have been able to reach them and convince them of that with tens of thousands of euro spent on marketing.  

Finally, if there was one piece of business advice you’d like to give to another business owner, what would that be?

Whatever you do, make sure you can expand it and export it.