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Small Irish Business Spotlight: Amy Kiernan, Founder of DrinkNolo.ie

There has been a spike in interest for non-alcoholic drinks in recent years, especially with Dry January taking centre stage recently. Long gone are the days of ordering a fizzy drink or some juice for your non-alcoholic drink of choice, with an abundance of alcohol-free spirits and beverages popping up. The challenge that comes with this is knowing what to buy, and Amy Kiernan noticed that there was no one place where a customer could purchase some unique, N/A beverages. That’s how DrinkNolo.ie was born. Now, you can even email her expert team with what your preferences are and they can create tailored recommendations just for you, plus her blog, The Oasis, has a number of posts full of tips and mocktail recipes for all.

We had a chat with Amy Kiernan, founder of DrinkNolo.ie, about why she started the business, the triumphs and difficulties, and everything in between.

Can you tell me about your own background?

My background is actually in advertising and marketing. Most recently I worked at X (formerly known as Twitter) where I spent nearly 11 years working across a variety of sales and operational roles. My experience gives me the opportunity to understand how to create communities and how to create a sense of belonging and connection through shared interests. This has really helped me create a community rooted in the belief that not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you’re missing out or not having any fun which inspired me to create drinknolo.ie! 

What inspired you to set up DrinkNolo.ie? Did you notice a gap in the market?

When I stopped drinking, I stopped drinking alcohol. But I didn’t stop wanting to wind down in the evening with a grown up drink that pairs well with my dinner. I still wanted to enjoy a lovely cocktail with friends or taste new and interesting flavours – I just wasn’t interested in drinking alcohol anymore. This prompted me to explore the world of non-alcoholic drinks, and while I found a limited selection of brands at the usual grocery stores, I found it difficult to find any celebratory, high quality, premium drinks in Ireland that made me feel like I was treating myself to something special. 

I discovered some excellent drinks in Europe and the UK – for example, French Bloom – an excellent non-alcoholic sparkling wine alternative that’s great for feeling festive without the alcohol. But at the time it wasn’t available to buy in Ireland. So I was inspired to create a small business where I would import a select range of high quality, luxury non-alcoholic brands for those who, like me, want something special to drink. 

How did you set up the business and how has it been growing over time?

I launched drinknolo.ie last summer with a blog which I call ‘The Oasis’ – a collection of articles about not drinking in Ireland – before launching the full range of products which went on sale in October. Christmas was an incredibly busy time which wasn’t unexpected but I still underestimated the amount of non-alcoholic drinks people would buy for the festive season which was a happy surprise! 

It’s still very early days but what’s wonderfully encouraging is the sheer amount of people who say how happy they are to have found a website where not drinking alcohol is celebrated and where there are tons of choices to stock up on delicious drinks. 

How do you choose which products to showcase on the website?

I try to avoid stocking any products that are already on sale in the larger grocery stores because they tend to only stock the non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks, and I have found that they aren’t always the highest quality or nicest tasting. I want to stock products that create a sense of indulgence, celebration and excitement. I love finding new brands that are truly proud of being non-alcoholic, where they are pushing the boundaries of sensory innovation by exploring new flavours and textures to create new taste experiences. 

How important has social media been for you in spreading the word?

Social media has been critical. I am so proud of the community we have created together (come join us @idrinknolo!), it’s such a kind and inclusive space where I have the privilege of hearing people’s stories and how they are navigating life without alcohol. I get a lot of messages from women who say how glad they are to have found my business and how they love the variety offered. People don’t drink alcohol for so many reasons and society to date has either ignored non-drinkers or even worse, acted as if there’s something wrong when you don’t drink. There’s a saying – alcohol is the one drug where people question you when you don’t take it! So having a community of like minded people all connected through our shared interest is such a great bonus of doing this work!

What feedback have you received since beginning DrinkNolo.ie, and how has it been implemented to work for your customers?

People have been wonderfully supportive and excited to see the range of non-alcoholic drinks available. I think they are initially surprised that there are so many options out there! I get a lot of recommendation requests – what would I recommend for different occasions like a dinner party or for winding down after work for example. Because of this I made a form on the website where you can submit what you’re interested in and I’ll send a custom recommendation back to you with links of what I think you’ll like. 

What has been the most popular product sold on DrinkNolo.ie?

Three different ones come to mind immediately: 

Sentia – this is a delicious functional drink that mimics the feeling you get after a glass of red wine, just without the alcohol content. It is very innovative and people love that they can have a couple of glasses each night and get that mellow relaxed feeling without any of the negative effects that come with drinking alcohol. 

Hollow Leg – this is an Irish company that makes a gorgeous range of non-alcoholic wines that are the lowest sugar (less than 0.2g which is remarkable!) of any I’ve seen in the industry which is very important to many people. Their Cabernet is excellent and is one of our consistent top sellers.

All The Bitter – this is a range of non-alcoholic bitters (a highly concentrated flavour extract made by infusing botanicals, flowers, berries, citrus peels, and other botanical ingredients) made by a husband and wife duo who are also two former sommeliers from the renowned French Laundry in Napa, California. Bitters act like seasoning for any type of cocktail or can also be added to a sparkling water to enhance and add depth of flavour. These are super popular, particularly the New Orleans variety. 

Are there any other small Irish producers you admire?

I would love to feature more Irish made non-alcoholic drinks – there aren’t a lot yet on the market but I think we’ll start to see more and more emerge as the non-drinking / sober curious movement continues to grow. I love to feature Irish small businesses – for example, we’ve just started to stock greeting cards from Three Birds Illustrations which is a gorgeous line of cards from the extremely talented Irish illustrator Deborah Maguire. If anyone is reading this and would like to connect our businesses please do! 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since going into business?

The first and most difficult challenge I’ve faced with this business is logistics – moving the product around, which is a combination of getting the products into Ireland (very expensive!) and shipping them to customers – also very expensive and requires specific protective packaging in order to decrease the likelihood of breakages. This has been very difficult and I’m still testing and learning the best approaches. 

The second is the tenacity and willingness to keep going even when the business is costing more than it makes. The margins in this business are extremely tight and that makes every decision critical because it could mean the difference between making a small profit and having to invest more money to keep going. I do this because it’s a passion of mine and because I value the learning and growth that comes from being an entrepreneur but there have been times where I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with this. 

What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date with this business?

I truly feel that the biggest achievement to date has been building a joyful, intentional life that is alcohol-free and doing something everyday that fills me with a sense of meaning and purpose. I know how fortunate I am and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do something that makes me feel fulfilled. I also am blown away by the incredible people I’ve met through this work, who are either working to educate and support people who want to stop drinking, or who are non-drinkers who are just delighted to have found a place to buy a lovely drink that makes them feel fancy. It’s been fantastic. 

Could you ever have imagined doing anything else with your life?

Yes, I’m a person who has lots of burners burning! Drinknolo.ie is a huge passion of mine but I’ve also been a professional coach for a while now. I started when I was still at Twitter/X coaching teams, individuals and leaders and I’m now working with a small number of clients who I support regularly. I have a blog (heycoachamy.com) and who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to combine my love of learning and supporting people to learn about themselves with my passion for giving people choice when they want a fabulous non-alcoholic drink! 

What does the future hold for DrinkNolo.ie?

My sister gave me some excellent advice recently which has stuck with me. She said that after the whirlwind of the launch late last year, it’s now time to let the business breathe and see where it takes you and I love that. It can be so tempting to strive and hustle and push so hard, because you really want your business to be successful but it’s also important to remember that you’re an entrepreneur for a reason, likely because for one thing you value flexibility. So while I’m committed and passionate about continuing to bring gorgeous non-alcoholic drinks to those who want fabulous choices, I’m also going to be grateful that I get to work my own hours, handle my own to-do list, and decide my own path at a pace that makes sense for me and my life right now. 

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