In the last couple of years, a bounty of new Irish gins have launched, from small batch distillers to industry veterans joining in the ginventure. Whether using locally foraged ingredients for that extra botanical boost, or employing ancient divination methods to locate ground water, the distilleries are taking gin seriously. Below we provide a guide to some of the best new Irish gins, in addition to new Irish tonic waters as well, for the ultimate Irish gin and tonic. Sláinte!
Claiming the title to Northern Ireland’s first premium craft distillery, Shortcross Gin is made at Rademon Estate Distillery Co. Down by married couple, Fiona Boyd-Armstrong and David Armstrong. Speaking on the phone this week, Boyd-Armstrong told Paste it was actually the anniversary week of the pair both ditching their day-jobs three years ago, as surveyor and engineer respectively, to focus on Shortcross gin full-time.
While still working, the Fiona and David focussed all their free time on learning as much as possible about gin distillation – taking workshops on weekends, and visiting distilleries around the world during their time off.
With Fiona at the helm working as Operations Manager and David taking on the role of Head Distiller, Shortcross launched in 2014, already winning awards by 2015 – like a silver award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Shortcross is a small batch craft gin, made with their own spring water, and distilled with local botanicals – using local botanical ingredients like clover, apples, elderflower and elderberries, as well as the usual gin botanicals like juniper and coriander. Boyd-Armstrong told Paste they wished to recreate the scents of walking through the forest and gardens in a bottle of Shortcross Gin.
One of the first tasks they undertook before production of Shortcross could start was to locate a water source on their own historical estate, which they found by using a technique known as “well-witching”, or “water dowsing.” They hired a specialist who ‘divined the powers of water’, by using a fork-shaped oak branch cut from a live tree, and walking the land. Holding the branch parallel to the ground each hand holding an end of the “Y”, an energy pulls the twig downwards towards the ground over a spot where a well can be tapped. The Well Witcher pin-pointed the spot on the Rademon Estate Distillery, where Shortcross is produced, and after drilling down 100 meters in the ground, the water source for Shortcross gin was secured.
Fiona explained to Paste that their still was custom-made in Germany, combining a traditional copper pot still with two modern enrichment columns. Once the gin has been distilled on site in their 450 litre still, it is individually bottled, waxed and labeled.
Fiona recommends Shortcross to be served with Thomas Henry tonic and orange peel. In 2017 they plan to open the Rademon Estate Distillery to the public, so watch out for that if you’re visiting Northern Ireland!
Glendalough Distillery, which proclaims itself to be Ireland’s first craft distillery, produces poitín (the traditional Irish distilled beverage) and whiskey in addition to gin, at their distillery in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow on the east coast – known as the “Garden of Ireland”.
Working with a local forager, Geraldine Kavanagh, who grew up in the area and knows the hills well, the botanicals for Glendalough’s seasonal gins are foraged locally throughout the year.
In addition to common gin botanicals like juniper berry, coriander seeds and angelica root, the seasonally foraged Irish botanicals in the Glendalough spring, summer, autumn and winter gins include Alexander seeds, Hawthorn berries, sloe berries, ground ivy, sage, Rowan berries, Rosehips, Blackberries, Elderberries, Yarrow, Angelica flowers, Apples, Meadowseet, Douglas Fir, Water mint, dandelion flowers, and sorrel, and the fraughan berry (Irish for ‘bilberry’, an edible blue-black wild berry which is the first to ripen).
Gary McLoughlin, Sales and Marketing Director of Glendalough Distillery, told Paste that the feedback from mixologists was positive while also wishing for something more consistent. Due to those ever-changing seasonal ingredients, the finish of the seasonal gins was not always the same. So Glendalough are now set to produce a new Wild Botanical gin with the same consistent taste, available throughout the year.
Sustainability when foraging local ingredients is of the utmost importance at Glendalough. McLoughlin explained that forager Geraldine cuts the clover with scissors, for example, and always leaves behind more than is cut.
During their down time, Glendalough’s forager Geraldine, and “Stillman”, Rowdy Rooney are given free range to “do some mad stuff”, McLoughlin told Paste, and this is how they came up with Beech leaf gin: storing the gin with Beech leaves for four to six months for a nutty, sweet finish; and Dillisk seaweed gin, which brings out a range of surprising flavors, such as truffle.
Recommended Glendalough G&T: served with Poacher’s Well Irish tonic water, a wedge of Grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary
Blackwater is a micro-distillery based in Waterford in the southeast of Ireland, on the banks of the Blackwater River. Set up by “Chief bottle-washer” Peter Mulryan, a spirits writer who was fed up not being able to find an Irish gin he liked, and his business partner Kieran Curtin.
Instead of foraging, the pair spent time digging through the local archives, delving into the trading past of the local Blackwater Valley area, searching for clues to long lost forgotten botanicals they could use for their Blackwater No. 5 Irish gin. Once upon a time in the mid 19th century, local company Whites of Waterford was the largest importer of spices in Ireland, they say.
Some of the more unusual botanicals found in Blackwater gin are Lemongrass and Myrtle Pepper alongside the juniper, bitter orange, cardamom and coriander, with 12 botanicals altogether going into the mix.
2016 was the first full year of trading for Blackwater distillery, so 2017 sees plans for new stills coming in from Italy, exports to the United States, Canada and Germany, as well as investing in a new bottling line. The attractive, but unusual “book bottle” is hard to pack on a pallet, unfortunately.
The Blackwater product range includes Wexford Strawberry Gin, Juniper cask gin, and Hedgerow Gin using sloes, damsons, crab apples and blackberries which are picked by hand and soaked for months.
Blackwater also embarked on a—some might say unlikely, others innovative—relationship with global discount supermarket Aldi, in Ireland. Blackwater distillery produced a craft gin for the discount supermarket at a slightly lower price point, under the label “Boyle’s”, using Irish blackberries, apples and elderflower sourced from different counties around Ireland.
During his travels around the world as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ in the food and drinks industry for over 30 years, Patrick Rigney had a recipe brewing in the back of his mind for what he hoped to be an amazing Irish gin, using Gunpowder tea, the Chinese green tea that is dried slowly and rolled into tiny pellets.
This journey over a period of time culminated in Rigney opening “The Shed” distillery in the wild and rugged area of Drumshanbo in Leitrim, in the north west of Ireland, the first distillery in the western province of Ireland for over a hundred years. The equipment at The Shed includes a medieval copper pot still, the design of which dates back to the 1700’s, custom made for The Shed, in Germany.
Opened on the winter solstice on 21st December 2014, Rigney told Paste, the full distillation process is done on site and by hand.
“With some gins, they disappear as you drink,” Rigney said, “We use fresh citrus, we don’t use dried fruits, so some of those natural oils are retained in the gin. By the time you get to the end, you should still be enjoying the taste of your gin as if it was the first sip,” he explained.
“The magic is in the botanicals,” Rigney says. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish gin is distilled with eight of the botanicals – like juniper, orris, angelica, carroway, star anise – in the pot, and the remaining delicate botanicals like oriental lemon, oriental lime and the gunpowder tea, in vapour baskets above the still.
Gunpowder gin also includes Irish meadowsweet, a native European herb found in meadows, and foraged locally by The Shed distiller Brian Taft during the summer months, to provide an Irish dimension to the gin, and to complement the exotic taste.
After distillation, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin is rested for 14 days before being bottled.
Patrick recommends a generous wedge of grapefruit, with a good tonic and plenty of ice. Or for a spicier option, add a whole chili (without splitting it!) and a slice of mango to your gin and tonic.
“The Irish gin scene is very exciting, it’s taken everyone a little by surprise, it’s literally happening as we speak,” Rigney says. “People are really getting under the bonnet and looking at these gins, asking: where do they come from, how are they made, is that the one for me? It’s almost like high-end whiskey. A lot of folks don’t necessarily want to drink the mass-produced brands. You see the same with whiskey and tequila in the US.”
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin is due to be launched in the US in 2017.
Stephen Glennon was living between Berlin and Dublin when he initially started distilling gin with childhood friend Ciaran Reilly a few years ago. The pair began distilling gin in 2012, initially working on flavors and experimenting with a miniature half a litre still at first, playing around with very small batches to share with friends and family. The positive feedback prompted them to go official, so Dublin City Gin was born, by way of the German capital, launching officially in January 2016.
Based on a whey alcohol instead of grain, Dublin City Gin makes use of whey from the dairy industry, previously regarded as a waste product from cheese-making, it is now used successfully in the beverage industry, usually in liqueurs like Bailey’s. (FYI: gin made from whey alcohol is still clear!)
“It’s so much better than the grain spirits,” Glennon told Paste. “It helps to carry fruity aromas, as soon as you pop open the lid of Dublin City Gin, you really get the nose very fully. The mouth-feel is very different as well, a full and creamy mouth-feel. Grain spirits can be abrasive.”
Although Dublin City Gin doesn’t admittedly claim much foraging bragging rights, Irish rhubarb is one of their botanicals, foraged from Stephen’s own sister’s back garden – and stockpiled in a large freezer to have on hand for winter batches. “The rhubarb is our flavor of Dublin, and the rest of our botanicals are a reflection of Dublin as an international hub,” Glennon told Paste “We wanted to reflect that in the gin. You just don’t get juniper, coriander seeds or angelica root in Ireland,” he said.
Dublin City Gin is distilled at Blackwater Distillery in Waterford. Currently on batch number three, each batch of Dublin City Gin usually runs at three hundred bottles, so there are currently less than a thousand bottles in circulation – nonetheless winning gold at the Global Gin Masters in 2016.
While also incredibly fun, one of the biggest learning curves for Glennon was during recipe development. “It was really hard work.” he told Paste. “To tell the difference between sample A and sample B, and the only difference is, a quarter of a gram of star anise is in this, but isn’t in that.”
Both Reilly and Glennon still work full-time jobs, as an engineer and a translator/writer respectively. That said, the plans for 2017 are big,
“Setting up a distillery is minimum €100-200 thousand euros, so this is a year for us to find an investor,” Glennon told Paste, “So we can get help, as we don’t have the resources to launch a distillery. We want to move from being a very mall business to having our own premises and distillery with a bar.”
Glennon recommends serving Dublin City Gin with a slice of root ginger and Fever Tree tonic.
After running the first Irish Gin and Tonic festival in 2015, Oisin Davis, Director of Poacher’s Well Irish tonic, who also works as a beverage industry consultant for the likes of Jameson, realised a large number of high quality gins were being introduced on the Irish market, but there was no premium Irish tonic water to go with them. “I wanted to create a tonic that has as many Irish ingredients as possible,” Davis told Paste about Poacher’s Well, which contains Irish spring water and uses locally foraged Irish rosemary as a leading botanical. Davis told us it was their goal to create a new tonic that was 100% natural, and with a lower sugar content – Poacher’s clocks in at 6.9 grams of sugar per 100 ml, which makes it a somewhat healthier option, while also allowing the nuances of those local botanicals in Irish gin to shine.
After testing, your author can confirm that Poacher’s Well tonic is plenty sweet at that level, dear reader.
“In the US I’ve seen so many gins destroyed by cheap tonic mixes from a soda gun,” Davis explained. “And at home in Ireland, people destroy really expensive gins with tonic water from the supermarket chains.”
Oisin teamed up with a friend, Vaughan Yates, who had access to an excellent water source on his land in County Wexford in south east Ireland, so the plan for Poacher’s Well was set up, sourcing Irish spring water and other Irish ingredients like locally foraged rosemary.
Poacher’s Well is named after a survey map of the area where the spring is located, which dates back to 1825 and is featured on the bottle’s artwork. One day while brainstorming a name with Yates, his mother walked by and proclaimed, “Sure the poacher’s have been helping themselves to that water since that map’s been around!”
“There’s great pride and good will towards purchasing Irish food products in Ireland, and
I’m trying to instil that same level of pride for people to also purchase Irish drinks,” Davis says.
Pointing out one particular ulterior motive around the flourishing Irish gin scene, Davis explained that some distilleries obviously have their eyes on the Irish whiskey prize. They want to create a really good Irish whiskey, but the problem is it takes about a year to get the recipe right, and then the product needs to rest for a minimum of three years in order to be called Irish Whiskey. So there’s no cash flow coming in during these years.
The choice then is between buying someone else’s whiskey, blending and bottling it yourself, or to start producing clear spirits – which in Ireland would be vodka, poitín, and now gin.
“All of these gins are adding botanicals from their own locality,” Davis said. “They’re distilling their own counties, bringing farmed and wild botanicals into their own product. I thought that was great, and wanted to do the same with Poacher’s.”
Davis recommends Poacher’s to be served as a tonic with Shortcross, Dingle or Blackwater Irish gins, as well as Kalak, a single malt, quadrouple distilled Irish vodka – or even aperol or campari. “I’m ambi-drinks-terous”, Davis says, “I drink everything.”
In 2017, Poacher’s Well plan to introduce a second tonic water in February, a classic version which also features Irish herbs, but with a more traditional flavour profile.
America Village Apothecary is a small Irish company focused on artisan products, set up by Claire Davey in 2015 and based in Connemara in Galway. In addition to the Tonic Syrup, America Village also produces a pine syrup and gorse syrup, as well as tinctures and bitters for use in craft cocktails – all made from foraged and carefully sourced organic ingredients.
Simply add the tonic syrup to sparkling/soda water to create a traditional tonic water for a gin and tonic or vodka cocktail.
America Village say theirs is the first small batch quinine tonic to be made and produced in Ireland. Ingredients include cinchona bark, citrus, herbs and botanicals, Fior Uisce spring water, cane sugar, and is available all year round.
St Patrick’s Distillery