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