The Irish Gin & Tonic Fest

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Irish Gin Fest

London is already well under the spell of gin, one-time mother’s ruin and now hipster’s delight. In recent years the boom has hit Ireland, who seems to be making up for lost time. As an island famed for its whiskies, beers and freshly grown produce, surely it’s destined to become a heavyweight in the craft gin world too.

Irish Gin Fest

At The Irish Gin & Tonic Fest at the Bootyard in Dalston, four gins shared centre stage. They were Bonac 24 from County Wicklow, Dingle from County Kerry, Boatyard from Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Gunpowder from County Leitrim. The tonic of the day was Poacher’s, a premium Irish beverage that’s high in quinine, low in sugar and made with natural ingredients.

My first whistle-wetting of the day was courtesy of Bonac 24 Irish Gin, first neat and then with a splash of rosemary tonic and segment of orange. Gavin Clifford, who makes the drink with his dad Michael, told me that the juniper berries are steeped for 12 hours. The natural botanicals that give it its fresh, slightly earthy flavour include cucumber, bergamot and curacao.

Next up was Dingle Original Gin. Fresh, smooth and floral. I learned that nine of the 13 botanicals are grown locally on the rugged coastline amid the moist climate of the south-west. Those botanicals include rowan berries from the mountain ash trees, bog myrtle, heather and hawthorn. Intriguingly, I was told that they’re handpicked by druids. The distillery started out with whiskey before adding vodka and gin to its repertoire. (The distillery is open to the public, should you wish to visit.)

Irish Gin Fest Dingles

Of the four, Boatyard Double Gin boasted the finest presentation. The thick, dark blue label was created by a small Welsh company by means of a restored 1960s Heidelberg letterpress, and it lists every one of the ingredients within. At 46% it’s particularly strong, and is at its best when complemented with tonic. It’s full-flavoured and interesting. Founder Joe McGirr (whose business card was as exquisite as the bottle label), explained that he uses organic juniper from Tuscany as well as his mum’s home-grown rhubarb. The key botanical is sweet gale from the bogs.

Irish Gin Fest Boatyard Gin

I found the final tipple, Gunpowder Irish Gin, the most surprising thanks to its slightly spicy zing and earthiness. The special flavour comes from the vapour-infusion of Gunpowder tea from the Orient, Kaffir lime and a variety of hand-distilled botanicals such as cardamom and star anise. Angelica root lends a hint of liquorice.

Irish Gin Fest Gunpowder Fin

Its creator, the worldly jet setter PJ Rigney, set up The Shed Distillery in the ruggedly beautiful Drumshanbo, where he began fusing locally grown fare with ingredients collected from all over the globe. Sean, the brand manager, advised avoiding sugary tonics with this one. It suits red grapefruit and a good premium mixer.

The tasting finished, I chose a couple of the gins to enjoy with their recommended furnishings: Gunpowder with Poacher’s Tonic and a slice of lime and red grapefruit; Bonac 24 with Poacher’s and a mint and raspberry garnish.

Unused to sipping gin neat, the day was a lesson in the appreciation of its subtle and varying flavours. A couple of the distilleries I learned of are a mere 30 miles from one another, creating a sort of gin crafting community on the Emerald Isle, yet each ambassador I spoke to conjured up an image of a uniquely inspiring landscape all of their own.

Despite being a couple of years behind Britain with their gin boom, it’s clear that Irish gins are on track to become big players.

The Irish Gin & Tonic Festival ran from June 25th – July 1st 2017.

EatCookExplore was a guest of the Irish Gin & Tonic Festival.

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