Friday 3 June 2016

Bloom 2016

Bloom is a magical village where the weather is always sunny and the people are always happy. Like some kind of Irish Food Board-sponsored Brigadoon, it appears from nowhere once a year in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Bloom has several distinct themes but for me it's a chance to meet small food & drink producers from all over the country. Many of them have launched since last year's event and have brought their wares to Dublin for the first time. It's a great opportunity for consumers and producers alike.

I was at Bloom on its first day yesterday. Here are a few highlights from the drinks tent.

Bloom Inn

Blackwater Distillery

Blackwater distillery, inspired by the strawberries coming into season in the neighbouring county of Wexford, has just launched a new gin: Wexford Strawberry Gin.

Peter Mulryan and Kieran Curtin of Blackwater Distillery

The watery fruit proved reluctant to yield its flavour despite macerating in alcohol for 48 hours before distillation. The result does not shout strawberry but a good gin should aim for balanced flavours anyway and this is a very good gin. The strawberry is there in the mix. Particularly, I felt, in the finish.

The colour does not survive distillation, of course, so the gin is tinted an eye-catching pink post-distillation with blackcurrants and more strawberries.

It is served at Bloom with tonic, a slice of strawberry, basil and cracked black pepper.

Móinéir Wine

More strawberries, this time a 100% Irish strawberry wine, made by Brett Stephenson and Pamela Walsh of Wicklow Way Wines. The Irish word "móinéir" means "meadows".

The strawberries are pressed, fermented and then aged in a process that takes about a year. The outcome is an off-dry wine with a rich natural red colour.

The wine can be paired with food (including spicy dishes, the website suggests) or served as an aperitif.

It is only just launched but is available in Whelehans Wines in Loughlinstown, The Parting Glass in Enniskerry, and online from the company itself.

There are more wines on the way, including Blackberry & Elderberry and Elderflower.

Stonewell Cider

East Ferry Farm in Midleton had a few acres under rhubarb that risked going unused. So they called up Daniel Emerson of Stonewell to see if he had any thoughts.

Daniel dug out one of his retired hand-cranked apple scratters and set to juicing the rhubarb. He then fermented it with sugar to a strength of 12%. Due to the acidity, fermentation is slow.

An unusual feature of rhubarb, he told me, is that it retains its flavour and aroma through fermentation. With the rhubarb wine as the backbone, he added small amounts of eating apple cider, dessert apple cider and fresh dessert apple juice. For visual appeal, fresh rhubarb juice made from the redder stalks was also blended in.

The delicate and refreshing result is available on cask at Bloom. In about three weeks' time it will be available in 330ml bottles too, though with a slightly higher fresh rhubarb juice content for a more rosé tint.

By the way, a top tip from a professional rhubarb farmer: don't cut your rhubarb in the heat. It will not regenerate as quickly. Thursday was so blazingly hot that East Ferry's harvest had been delayed until nightfall.

Glendalough Distillery

Glendalough makes seasonal gins, foraging in the forests of Wicklow for botanicals. I was very impressed by their distinctive Spring gin last year. The 2016 version came out a few weeks ago.

It's similar to last year's recipe with about 23 botanicals in all, gorse flower to the fore. That said, with a foraged product it is impossible to replicate previous batches exactly. This one is lighter but still very flavourful.

3,000 bottles of each season were made last year. Volumes will be much higher this year to match demand. They will also hold back a proportion so that they will eventually be able to sell all four seasons side-by-side.

Longueville House

2009 is the latest apple brandy vintage from Longueville House. The apples would have been picked in 2006, fermented to cider, double-distilled, then aged for 4 to 5 years in French oak casks. The fruits of all that effort can be had for the very reasonable price of €35 (for a 50cl bottle). Anyone who finds Irish whiskey becoming too pricey should run Irish apple brandy past their palate.

Longueville House Mór is their base cider fortified with their own brandy. The brandy brings the ABV up from 5% to 8%.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Besides their familiar trio of single malt, single grain and blend, Teeling brought along their new poitín. This is the first released product actually distilled at the new distillery. It's a triple distilled pot still spirit (50% malted barley, 50% unmalted barley), a glimpse of the whiskey that will eventually emerge from cask in a few years' time.

It's one more milestone in the revival of distilling in Dublin, something Teeling marked with a Revival Single Malt last October. There were 10,000 bottles of that all-rum cask matured 15yo malt, now sold out at the distillery shop. There will be a second edition Revival arriving within a few weeks. That will be a 13yo Calvados finish single malt. I tasted it at a recent meeting of the Irish Whiskey Society and I reckon it's going to find a lot of fans, myself included.

Kevin Hurley, Teeling's Global Brand Ambassador, was behind the stand serving up his own cocktail creation, the Teeling Redleg Rebellion. Starting with the rum-influenced Small Batch whiskey, the cocktail layers on tropical and Caribbean flavours of pineapple, citrus and falernum (a sweet and spicy citrus liqueur from Barbados).

The Sun Tavern in London (specialising in Irish whiskey and poitín) recently posted a two-part interview with Kevin...

Dingle Distillery

There is plenty of interest to come from Dingle this year. They already have a good gin, along with a fairly recently launched set of seasonal varieties. In a few months they will add a more premium gin to this lineup.

Dingle began distilling whiskey at the end of 2012. In about October this year they hope to have bottled a selection of whiskeys - both single malt and single pot still - matured in various kinds of wood.