A Gin Lovers Guide to Ireland
There has been a resurgence in gin production and appreciation across the world in the last few years. The Irish have not been found wanting in this area with a surge in micro distilleries producing world class small batch gins. A new breed of distillers are experimenting and innovating to offer more choice than ever before.
To help you become a gin connoisseur, we’ve created a complete guide to Irish gin and explored the spirits’ long history, the different varieties of Irish gin and the best gin cocktails to make.
History of Gin
Gin is thought of as quintessentially British. However, gin’s origins lie far from London’s swanky West End and in fact lie in The Netherlands. The gin we know and love today, started life out as Jenever – a traditional Dutch liquor, made from malt wine spirits and flavoured with herbs and juniper berries. Jenever was renowned for its medicinal qualities, and was erroneously credited with curing many common ailments.
Jenever’s reported healing abilities, coupled with its refined taste, lead it to becoming the drink of choice for both Holland’s elite and working class during the 17th century.
However, it was after the Eighty Year’s War that Jenever’s popularity began to reach British and Irish shores. Soldiers stationed in the Low Countries developed a taste for the local liquor and would routinely drink it before going into battle – reportedly, this is where the phrase “Dutch Courage” comes from.
After the war, demand for Jenever grew to such an extent that it was imported from Holland. Over time, the additional price placed on the spirit to cover the shipping cost became too expensive for the poorer classes. To combat this a homegrown and more economical spirit, named gin, was created. Though the quality of this spirit could be questionable, its alcoholic potency was certainly evident.
By the mid-18th century, Londoner’s had developed such a taste for gin, that more than 8,000 gin dens operated in the capital. Nicknamed “mother’s ruin”, this poor-quality gin resulted in a drunken population and increased mortality rates across the city.
With gin’s once sought-after reputation now in ruins and Britain’s gin epidemic out of control, parliament decided to step in. The Gin Acts of 1736 and 1751, placed high taxes on retailers and strictly governed the distillation of gin.
These new measures saw gin’s consumption among the poor decrease while, at the same time, regulating the industry and improving overall quality.
The latter half of the 19th century, saw gin’s elite position among society firmly cemented with the invitation of gin and tonic.
First created by British expats in India, the cocktail was drunk for its anti-malarial properties. Quinine, found in the bark of a native tree, was a known treatment for malaria. Mixed with tonic water, the quinine concoction was extremely bitter to taste. To combat this, a mixture of water, sugar, lime and gin were added to create a sweeter beverage. With this, the gin and tonic was born.
Gin again gained notoriety during the Prohibition era in America with the prevalence of ‘Bathtub’ gins. Bathtub gins were cold compound gins produced clandestinely by bootleggers.
The bootleggers used flavourings to mask the taste of the cheap alcohol and the name bathtub gin denoted one of these poorly made, harsh spirits. The exact etymology is unclear, perhaps referring to bathtubs used as tanks to infuse the alcohol with botanicals or that the bottles were diluted with tap water from the bathtub, as the bottles were too tall to fit under the sink tap.
However, the relative availability of gin for speakeasies together with the roaring 1920’s new-found love of cocktails lead to gins increasing popularity. This is also why it’s the common base spirit for many classic cocktails.
What is Gin
Gin is a broad term and unlike other spirits, such as whiskey, there are very few legal distinctions around the distillation method or ingredients. The European Union does have some distinctions on categories of gin, see below, however beyond ‘Distilled gin’ and ‘London gin’ many gins fall into a category simply label ‘Gin’.
Not very descriptive there, so what makes a gin a gin? Gin is a distilled or re-distilled spirit that must taste “predominantly” of juniper but after that distillers are free to add any other botanical they can imagine. And herein lies the beauty of modern gin with distillers using different recipes and innovative botanicals to create truly unique tastes. Whether it is home grown fruits or exotic spices, gin offers a multiplicity of different flavours.
How Gin is Made
The botanical flavours in distilled gin can be achieved in two ways. Distillers can use both methods depending on the type of botanical of flavour desired.
Botanicals can be added to the neutral spirit in the pot still and left to steep for a number of hours before distillation or Botanicals are placed in a basket above the liquid spirit in the still. Here as the spirit is distilled the vapours pass through the basket before condensing back into liquid and retaining the botanical flavourings.
Another method of producing gin is called Cold compounding. This is means infusing the base spirit with botanicals rather than adding the botanicals through distillation. Here the botanicals are allowed to rest in a neutral spirit at ambient temperature, before filtering, dilution and bottling. The technique was long seen as a poorer method of producing gin and rarely used anymore. In fact, it is easier and faster to produce a consistent product through traditional distillation. However, with skill and attention to detail, it is possible to create a high-quality gin using this method.
Types of Gin
Distilled gin is made by redistilling alcohol, with a 96% abv, with juniper berries and other natural ingredients. Flavourings can be added after this process but it must taste predominantly of juniper and be 37.5% abv or more.
London Dry Gin
London gin is similar to distilled gin but must contain no artificial flavours or colourings. Only water, additional neutral grain spirit, and a small amount of sugar (no more than 0.1 gram of sugar per litre) may be added after distillation. London Dry gin doesn’t not need to be made in London or indeed in the UK. This is a style or process identification, rather than a geographical identification.
The original Dutch liquor and precursor to modern gin, Jenever enjoys a protected status and is only produced in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The traditional spirit boasts a malty flavour similar to whiskey. In contrast with gin, which doesn’t go through an aging process, Jenever is aged in oak casks for one to three years. Two distinct styles of Jenever are available – Oude (old) and Jonge (young). The older being sweeter and more aromatic, while the younger is lighter and dryer.
New Western/New Wave
These terms began to be used for a number of ‘modern’ style gins around the start of this century. These are gin that have pushed the boundaries of the definition of gin. Gins that strayed away from the traditional dominant flavour of juniper letting more unusual botanicals lead.
These are gins that have one predominant flavour, usually derived from maceration after distillation. These are often coloured by the predominant botanical used. Sloe gin is a classic example of the style but more and more fruit flavoured gins are being produced.
Gin that has been aged in wooden barrels. These take on the flavour of the wood and also the spirit the barrel was previously used for such as Sherry or Whiskey.
Famous Gin Cocktails
Channel your inner 007, by making one of Bond’s favourite cocktails, a Vesper Martini. A stiff drink, which would test the most seasoned of drinkers, the Vesper was invented by Ian Fleming and features in Casino Royale.
20ml Absolut Vodka
10ml Lillet Blanc
- Add all the spirits to a mixing glass
- Fill with ice
- Gently stir the mixture with a long spoon, for 10 to 15 seconds.
- Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass
- Serve with a twist of lemon peel
After the humble Martini, the Tom Collins is one of the world’s most famous gin cocktails. Easy to make and delightfully refreshing, why not give this recipe a try?
25ml fresh lemon juice
12ml simple syrup (one-part water, one-part sugar)
Lemon wheel with cherry
Highball or Collins
- Add the lemon juice, simple syrup and gin to a shaker
- Fill with ice
- Shake well and strain into a Highball or Collins glass filled with fresh ice
- Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon wheel and a cherry
An Italian favourite and a classic aperitivo cocktail. The Negroni is the perfect drink for dinner parties and swanky soirees.
35ml Martini Rosso
Orange half wheel
- Add the ingredients to an old fashioned glass and fill with ice
- Stir until cold
- Garnish with an orange half-wheel
Top Irish Gins
There is a lot to choose from but where to start? We have put together a quick guide to the great Irish gins available, so you can discover some great new tastes for yourself.
Every gin has its own unique flavour notes. This guide will help you find the perfect one for you.
Glendalough Distillery have taken the expertise, botanical knowledge and flavour design gained with their great seasonal range of gins and produced a new year-round release that captures the essence of the four seasons. The delicate balance of floral, fruit and spice notes in their Wild Botanical Gin will keep any gin lover happy.
Try with: Orange slice and a sprig of mint
Dingle Gin is extremely proud of its Kerry roots and only uses botanicals found in the local landscape. Although categorised as London Dry, the gin is infused with rowan berry, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather to create a wonderfully balance spirit using their hand-crafted copper pot stills.
Try with: Mint & Coriander
Made by The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, Connacht’s first distillery in over 101 years. The gin’s flavourings are inspired by the Far East Infused with juniper, star anise, grapefruit, lime and gunpowder tea, complex spicy flavours and aromas married to the delicate fresh citrus and Gunpowder Tea notes.
Try with: A wedge of lemon & Juniper berries
A brilliant name and even better backstory Bertha’s Revenge is named after one of Kerry’s most famous characters – a 48-year old dairy cow. A celebrity in her home county, Big Bertha was a favourite at local shows and even lead Sneem’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Bertha passed away just shy of her 49th birthday, but to commemorate her long and illustrious life, local gin producers, Justin Green and Anthony Jackson, christened their new gin in her honour.
Grain is the base ingredient for most spirits however Berthas Revenge is made from whey alcohol. This produces a smooth creamy texture which marries perfectly with the spicy cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and more delicate juniper notes. Soft and sweet upfront with a long spicy finish.
Try with: orange peel
This gin is distilled using 21st century distillation equipment housed in a 200-year-old stable on the grounds of Listoke House in Co. Louth. It is a combination of traditional and inspiring botanicals growing both in the wild and in the Edwardian walled gardens at Listoke estate. Leaning towards spice and citrus flavours, it has great use of botanicals with each distinct and clear in the taste yet the gin is more than the sum of the parts.
Try with: Orange Peel
Blackwater Distillery are looking to the history of Waterford for inspiration with their Blackwater No.5. Whites of Waterford were one of the largest importers of spices into the British Isles in the 19th century, bringing in exotic ingredients form around the world. Blackwater have created their gin using only botanicals that would have landed in Waterford during the 19th century for a delicate floral and gently spiced aroma and flavour.
Try with: Orange Peel
Heading north to a former boatyard on the banks of the picturesque Lough Erne, we have Boatyard Double gin. Boatyard is the brain child of Joe McGirr who brings years of experience working with household names like Glenmorangie and Moet Hennessy. Double gin is a traditional Dutch style of distilling where the spirit is given a second contact with fresh botanicals to give greater depth of flavour. Everything about Boatyard distillery is about attention to detail, authenticity, and provenance, from taking the unusual step of making their own base spirit, an organic wheat spirit, to their beautiful label that has been printed on a 1960's letterpress printer. The result is a gin with classic Juniper led character backed up with a complex mix of spicy root botanicals and light citrus notes.
Try with: Grapefruit wedge
The gin is produced by Gavin Clifford and his father Michael, at their distillery in Newtownmountkennedy, county Wicklow, using a in a traditional copper pot still. The still was designed by one of the oldest still manufactures in the world, John Dore & Co, and then manufactured in Ireland. Every bottled of Bonac 24 is hand filled and hand labelled. The whole process, from base spirit and botanicals to beautifully balanced gin in bottle, takes just 72 hours.
A balanced, fruity, and spicy gin with an exceptionally smooth palate. The delicate aromas on the nose open up on the palate with classic juniper profile upfront giving way to fresh citrus and smooth spearmint before finishing with a touch of sweetness and complex spicy notes.
Try with: Mint and Lime
Produced in small batches in Tullamore. The recipe represents 18 months of development by distiller Eoin Bara. Firstly, the softer fruit flavours like blackberry, raspberry and cranberry are achieved by seeping the fruit for 24 hours. The floral and spice flavours are achieved by vapour distillation of botanicals like juniper, angelica, coriander and rosemary. The result of this care and attention to ingredients and technique is a gin that delivers upfront juniper notes leading to earthier, spicier tones with a distinctive mixed berry character that bursts forth on the finish alongside a tart kick of cranberry.
Try with: Raspberries & Basil
Distilled by husband and wife team Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong on the couple’s historic family estate just outside of Crossgar, Co. Down. The surroundings are stunning, with wildflowers, meadows and rivers teeming with wildlife and Shortcross gin reflects this in every last drop. The use of unusual and interesting botanicals such as fresh apple, elderberry and wild clover, as well as more traditional varieties like juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel and cassia, produces a vibrant, floral style of gin.
Try with: Apple Wedge
Pot distilled gin from the Pearse Lyons Distillery. The bottle and styling take inspiration from the Ha’penny bridge in Dublin while the recipe takes inspiration from the Victorian era walled garden of Phoenix Park. The recipe consists of thirteen different botanicals including as blackberries, lavender, geranium and dandelion flowers soured in Dublin
Try with: Celery and apple
Jawbox can boast to being Ireland’s only single estate gin, created using their own base alcohol distilled from grain on grown on the 300-acre Echlinville Estate. Jawbox is a nickname for the Belfast sink, once a feature and site of hard work in every home in the city, and the producers believe it reflects the hard work and dedication that goes into producing this gin. It is a classically styled gin with bold, punchy notes of juniper, citrus and spice.
Try with: Ginger ale
Another form The Shed distillery in Co. Leitrim, the makers of the also excellent Drumshanbo Gunpowder gin. The gin is named after Albrecht Von Haller, a notable character of the German Enlightenment movement and founder of the Göttingen botanical gardens in 1736. It is from these gardens that the primary botanicals are sourced; Halleria lucida, or the tree fuschia (also named after Albrecht Von Haller), alongside German ginger and Lemon Verbena. This is a delicate gin with gentle use of spice lead by lemongrass and ginger flavours.
Try with: lemon rind
Small batch gin produced by Blacks of Kinsale, already well known for their craft beer. An upfront and classically styled gin with juniper and spicy elements such as liquorice and cardamom alongside a citrus twist.
Try with: Grapefruit Slice
Made from over 20 botanicals including many Irish botanicals such as apple, hawthorn flowers and tansy. Named in honour of Isacc Thin, a notable character around Waterford in the 1920’s, renowned for his hobby of making bathtub gin.
Try with: Orange Wedge
A true provincial gin delicately prepared using botanicals, such as rosemary and thyme, pine foraged from Garnish Island in West Cork. Along with some fruitier citrus elements. Produced by West Cork Distillers already well known for their great range of whiskey.
Try with: Lemon & Lime