Wednesday 3 August 2016

Join us for a gin!

American Gin Tasting
7pm, Wednesday, Aug 10th
The Palace Bar, 21 Fleet Street, Dublin 2

All the noise about Irish whiskey in recent years has equipped the (wo)man on the street with a few handy talking points they can resort to when stuck in a conversation with me. Distilleries, styles, brands... we Irish are beginning to get a handle on the topic.

We are not yet such diligent students of gin. Sure, we've noticed the cucumber garnish and can order a Hendrick's by name but that's about it. We don't ponder how it's made or what's in it and are largely oblivious to the recent appearance of Irish craft gins.

It is not that gin is inherently less interesting than whiskey. Historically, in fact, gin and whiskey had much the same starting point.

The problem they both address is how to make spirit distilled from malted grain palatable. Throwing that spirit into oak casks for a few years will knock the harsh edges off and infuse new flavours from the wood. That's whiskey.

Now take that same raw malt spirit, add juniper, spices and other botanicals, distil one more time... et voilà: gin. Or at least the precursor to modern gin. We have since discovered how to distil pure alcohol so we no longer need to mask the underlying taste. But the idea of botanically flavouring spirit persists.

The development of both whiskey and gin was influenced by international trade. Whiskey makers reused the casks that had been used to ship fortified wine to these parts. The Dutch, who invented gin, had global trade connections and colonial possessions that supplied the home market with exotic fruits, berries and spices that became the ingredients of gin. The British enthusiastically adopted the Dutch drink. They had their own global trading empire, surely no coincidence.

Gin though, more than whiskey, is a blank slate upon which to tell a story. It's endlessly fascinating. Behold the variety of themes already in Irish gin:

Historical Trade Links

The inspiration for the entire recipe of Blackwater Gin came from a Victorian-era import catalogue of White's of Waterford. Gunpowder Gin highlights its use of Oriental botanicals.


While keeping a familiar base of gin botanicals, some distilleries opt to make their gins hyperlocal too, foraging around the distillery for native plants. So Dingle Gin includes rowan berry, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather. Shortcross Gin uses wild clover, elderflowers, elderberries and green apples. Dublin City Gin celebrates Dublin rhubarb, something we all seem to grow and quietly adore.

Highbank goes the extra mile and makes the base spirit for its Organic Apple Crystal Gin from apples grown in its own orchard. Echlinville (makers of Jawbox Gin) does the same with grain from around its distillery on the Ards Peninsula.


One step beyond local is seasonal. Glendalough makes four gins a year with the taste of each heavily influenced by plants foraged in season. Dingle now offers seasonal variations too.

As a lifelong city dweller unschooled in Nature, I finally have a way in to plants, flowers, trees, roots, all that cool stuff. Thanks, Professor Gin!


Savvy folk who know when and where to look for the likes of sloes and damsons have long made their own infused gins, combining an off-the-shelf gin with local berries and fruits. There are now commercial versions like St Patrick's Sloe & Honey.


Besides being a vehicle for flavour, gin can carry a good story too. The true tale of the world's oldest cow is proving a popular draw for Bertha's Revenge (nicely tied in with the milk-derived base spirit). Thin Gin is linked with a larger-than-life character from the owner's family's past.

Jawbox Gin invokes the character of Belfast city, Glendalough resurrects St Kevin. Like football fans, gin drinkers can painlessly acquire a smattering of geography, and history to boot.

Echlinville Distillery, makers of Jawbox Gin

Bar brands

Placing the focus back on the contents of the bottle are the bar and distillery house brands, like Black's Gin (from Black's Brewery and Distillery in Kinsale), Eglington Gin (An Púcán, Galway) and No. 57 Irish Gin (from 57 The Headline).

Only the beGINning...

There are a bunch more Irish gin brands on the way, not to mention hundreds next door in Great Britain and countless others worldwide. Now is the perfect time to jump into gin with both feet, while we are all just figuring it out.

Come join us for a gin or four!

To help the conversation along, myself and Marie Byrne are organising a gin tasting in Dublin this month. If all goes well, it will become a regular event. It's not a money-making venture, or a formal society, it's just somewhere for gin fans to congregate, try something new, and learn more about the spirit.

The first tasting is on Wednesday, August 10th, upstairs at The Palace Bar on Fleet Street, at 7pm (sharp!). The theme is American gin. We'll be tasting Aviation Gin, Cold River Gin, FEW American Gin, and Death's Door Gin. Samples will be generous, to allow tasting without and with tonic.

There will also be a chance to scratch and sniff a couple of the botanicals used in these gins.

All this for just €20! Tickets available here.

Do come, it will be fun!

Aviation Gin 
A few more American gins, and a mystery botanical!