She might be the Irish woman behind one of Britain’s best-selling craft gins, but Tina Warner Keogh has never forgotten what she learned growing up on the family farm in north county Dublin.

“Dad always said you’re only as good as your last bag of spuds,” smiles Tina, whose family produce the well-known Keogh’s potato and crisps brand.

“Your last bottle of gin, your last sales pitch, your last discussion… just work bloody hard and don’t ever rest on your laurels.”

And since leaving her high-flying career in private equity in London to join her husband, Tom Warner, in building their business on his family farm in the UK, it’s this attitude that has seen Warner Edwards grow from selling its first bottle in late 2012 to 450,000 in 2017 – becoming Marks & Spencer’s fastest-selling craft gin and winning a listing with one of the biggest supermarket chains in Germany.

Farming to finance

The only daughter in the Keogh family, who farm in Oldtown, Tina explains how she was involved with the potato business from a young age, helping her father Peter with the accounts. However, in 2001, she left Ireland to study for her BSc in accounting and management in Cardiff, followed by a master’s in finance at Smurfit business school and a further two years in London to quality as a chartered management accountant.

This led to a successful career working in private equity, investing global pension funds.

“I knew I had to establish my own path and be as independent as I could be and be my own person … and Tom would tell you that I’m still aggressively independent,” she laughs.

“To her detriment,” quips Tom, sitting opposite.

Indeed, when she went to visit her best friend, Kate, who was studying at Harper Adams University, the last thing she was expecting was “to meet my future husband”.

Raised on a cattle farm in Northamptonshire still run today by his father, Ben (who is, by the way, an avid reader of the Irish Farmers Journal), Tom studied agri-food in college and went to work as a coffee buyer in East Africa before joining the biggest privately owned produce company in the UK, buying in items like oranges and melons for supermarkets.

However, given their farming upbringing, it was not long before the couple felt the need to flex their inner entrepreneur, with Tina coming home to help her brothers launch Keogh’s crisps, while Tom began plans to create a craft gin using the natural spring water and botanicals from his family farm in partnership with his college friend, Sion Edwards.

Though it seems that blood, sweat – and a lot of tears – went into the start-up too.

“I moved into a bedsit in Southampton, which meant that I was just banking my salary for the start-up capital for the business,” says Tom of one example of how he funded the set-up of the distillery in a former shed on the farm.

“You’d finish bottling at two o’clock in the morning, you’d load the van, get in the van at six am to go to a show and sell gin; and that’s how it started.”

Perfect partnership

After the couple married in 2013, Tina moved back to the UK and returned to working in private equity to support them while Warner Edwards found its feet financially.

“To have a salary so we could actually exist, because there was no money,” she says, matter-of-factly.

Even then, however, Tina was involved in the business from the beginning in the evenings and at weekends, in particular with “telling that story” of Warner Edwards as a family farm business.

“Just like we did with the crisps,” she compares. “You want to bring people in to who you are and have them follow your story and I think that’s what we did.”

And success did come their way, with major wins including listings with Booths, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer in 2015, with sales of 49,000 bottles that year.

Keeping pace with such rapid growth, however, was a huge challenge, not only because of their tight team, but also because as a small business, they were still having to buy things like bottles in bulk upfront without the benefit of credit, while waiting weeks or months on the other end to have their own invoices paid.

“And all of a sudden you have a six-month, seven-month working capital window and you’re meant to exist through that period,” explains Tina.

Indeed, she admits that they could have easily lost the business, but in 2014 she invested her own money to become a director and in 2016, came in as a 50:50 partner when Sion decided to sell his share in the business to follow a new venture.

Which meant leaving the “security blanket” that was her private equity salary.

“I was really excited but really apprehensive as well,” she says. “You’re coming from being aggressively independent into: ‘OK, this is actually our livelihood and we need to put all the eggs in one basket now and just make it work.’”

Think pink

With Tom the master of distillation, Tina focused on finance, marketing and HR, recruiting talent to help grow their team from a staff of nine to over 40.

Winning £150,000 no-strings-attached investment in a HSBC “elevator pitch” competition also helped with cashflow and generated publicity they could leverage towards a number of other coups; from getting a long-awaited listing with high-end supermarket, Waitrose, in 2016 to working with Raymond Blanc at his “Jardin Blanc” at the Chelsea Flower Show and winning a silver medal for their artisan garden this summer.

However, it was the quality of their product that has been the not-so-secret key to Warner Edwards’ success, in particular their “Victoria’s rhubarb gin”, which originally was only meant to be a limited edition.

Indeed, this gin actually has an Irish link, as while the original rhubarb crop used today came from Queen Victoria’s kitchen garden, it was also transferred to the Vice Regal Lodge (Aras an Uachtaráin) during her reign. This “royal” rhubarb eventually made its way back to Lincolnshire and, today, Warner Edwards sources it directly and includes 34% fresh-pressed rhubarb in every bottle.

“And we’ve never looked back,” says Tina of their original “pink gin” which has become the best-selling craft spirit in so many of the stores they supply. Indeed, it has also opened the door to exporting to Germany, after a buyer for the Edeka group – which has 1,000 stores – fell in love with it on holidays. And Tina and Tom are now introducing this unique product to Irish palettes and hope that it will sit on the shelves alongside home-grown brands like Dingle and Drumshanbo gin.

“We’ve got no ambitions to sort of come over and be the number one-selling gin in Ireland, we don’t think that’s realistic,” says Tom. “We just want people to enjoy our gin for what it is: we believe it is truly different and differentiated within the category.”

Of course, while Brexit is an issue for many Irish food businesses, it is equally so in the UK. Tina says there are many concerns, from tariffs to every day decisions like where they source their glass.

“We want to build internationally,” she says, “but it’s preventing decisions, it’s preventing us really pushing forward and the same thing is happening to businesses all across the UK.”

If there’s one thing this farmer’s daughter knows about, however, it’s resilience: a quality she feels that many women in agriculture have in abundance, citing her own mother, Denise, as her greatest inspiration, having given up her career in computing to raise her four children, and later returning to college to train as a chef and run her own cookery school on the farm.

“She really has been our rock and support all our lives,” says Tina.

And in recent months, she has become more vocal about supporting and inspiring females, whether it’s hosting “Women In Farming” groups on farm tours or speaking at local women’s networking events.

“I think it’s so important that there should be role models out there for women and for them to understand that they’re not on their own,” she says.

“And I think because we have a tendency to think less of ourselves, it’s even doubly important that we support each other.”

And, of course, not to lose touch with your roots either; starting with the spuds.

Warner Edwards Victoria Rhubarb Gin is available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop at For further information, visit

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