Retired Ulster rugby star Louis Ludik hots up by launching premium Homefire brandy

South African duo is setting up another exciting culture collision with the launch of a premium brandy and the first in Northern Ireland

Saturday, 15th January 2022, 6:00 am

Retired Ulster rugby star Louis Ludik is setting up another exciting culture collision with the launch of a premium brandy, the first in Northern Ireland, and quality wines all from his homeland South Africa.

The new beverages are being launched under the successful Hellbent brand, a successful small business owned by Louis and Schalk van der Merwe, another ex-Ulster player, specialising in the development, production and marketing of South African influenced meat products…and now a Homefire brandy and quality Hellbent wines from the acclaimed Stellenbosch wine region in the Western Cape, near Cape Town. The wines are a Cabernet Sauvignon red and a Chenin Blanc white.

They believe that “good things happen when cultures collide”. It’s a conviction which underpins their venture. Hellbent, which is building impressive sales in the UK and Republic of Ireland for boerewors coiled beef sausages, meatballs, burgers and pork dishes, has now teamed up with Incendo, a specialist distillery at Hartbeespoort, near Johannesburg, to create a brandy aimed at NI consumers and those in its other most important markets. The wines come from a leading producer.

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Louis Ludik of Hellbent showing the new brandy and coiled beef sausages

Louis explains: “The brandy and wines are our latest initiative to promote links between NI and South Africa. Homefire is a twice distilled 100% brandy, aged for five years in French oak barrels and then finished in used rum casks. Incendo is an established and successful distiller of brandy and other premium spirits.”

Louis, who founded Hellbent with Schalk in 2018, describes the diversification of the business into spirits and wines as “a logical development that reflects the role of brandy in particular in South African culture”.

“Brandy is the spirit of choice for many South Africans who also enjoy superb wines. We were keen to include a brandy and wines in our portfolio but had to look to our homeland because there isn’t currently a distillery producing brandy here. The new brandy is in line with our business focus on developing food and drink with South African influences in our ‘collision of culture’ ethos that underpins our business and our developing portfolio of premium products,” he adds.

Louis and Schalk both came to NI to play professional rugby for Ulster and subsequently decided to set up a small food business together specialising in the meats they loved especially for BBQs in South African. Both are still heavily involved in local rugby; Louis as a coach at Instonians in Belfast and Schalk as player/coach at Lurgan Rugby Club.

Schalk van der Merwe and Louis Ludik of Hellbent have now added Homefire South African brandy and premium wines to their successful portfolio of meats

The roots of the business stretch back to sausages made by Schalk for his family and some friends.

“They were the best ‘boerewors’ we’d ever tasted,” Louis explains. “It was then that we decided to start a business, as some of the party-goers asked for a 10kg weekly order. The two of us teamed up and quickly realised that we should share the delicious flavours of home while using the wonderful produce NI has to offer. Our coiled sausages, burgers and meatballs consist of a 100-year-old, South African recipe with Irish beef. It is a taste you won’t find anywhere else. There are no added gluten or rusk in the high protein meats.”

In 2018, they launched their first range of meats under the Hellbent brand and have since gained substantial sales in NI, the RoI and most recently GB. High profile customers include German discounter Aldi in Scotland and the RoI as well as EUROSPAR, Lidl and Sainbury’s supermarkets here.

The successful entrepreneurs have also gained UK Great Taste Awards for the outstanding quality and taste of the meat products. They use Northern Irish beef and pork in their meat products with South African spices and pork dishes featuring sauces from their homeland.

Unable to source a distillery to produce a brandy in NI, they approached Francois Joubert at Incendo. The Hellbent brandy and wines are the first in a series of drinks they are planning in the near future.

Louis continues: “We were attracted to the distillery because of its impressive reputation for handcrafted spirits in small batches to ensure consistent high quality and rich flavours. We’ve worked closely with Francois and his team at Incendo to create our Homefire brandy and are immensely excited by the potential of the spirit. Sampling sessions in both NI and the Republic have produced extremely positive feedback and encouraged us to push ahead with the brandy.”

Incendo began distilling more than a decade ago and now hand crafts a wide range of premium spirits including brandy, gin and rums using only the best and fully traceable ingredients.

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