First published in The Irish Times, 4th January, 2020
With the surge of interest in alcohol-free drinks, the range of low- and no-alcohol beers is growing annually. Both Heineken and Guinness have produced their own versions.
Guinness released its Open Gate Brew lager in 2018 – made, the blurb claims, “using a special yeast strain that only produces a very limited amount of alcohol”. The international craft brewers have been at it for years; the Danish Mikkeller’s Drink’in the Sun and Brew Dog, Punk AF (.5%) and Nanny State (1.1%) are probably the most popular.
Over Christmas, I tried two Irish alcohol-free craft beers several times and enjoyed both. Dungarvan Main Sail, introduced in 2019, is light and fresh with a good hoppy herby touch and plenty of refreshing citrus. It is 0.4% and therefore qualifies as alcohol-free. Claire Dalton of Dungarvan says: “We use the same brewing technique, using less grain and therefore less sugar which means less alcohol. The challenge was to get some body and flavour into it – so we used a wide variety of grains. It has been very well received.
“Initially, we did it as a once-off to see if there was an appetite out there, but we’ve brewed it several times since. People are definitely looking for no- and low-alcohol beers, but want a more full-flavoured version. The Main Sail ticks their craft box and their flavour profile too.”
The other alcohol-free craft beer I enjoyed was Moonlight from Wicklow Wolf brewery in Newtownmountkennedy. It was maltier, with a pleasant fruitiness and crisp citrus on the finish.
Beer without alcohol doesn’t taste quite the same. Part of that is down to the process used in making it. Also, as with wine, alcohol is part of the taste and carries other flavours. But if you are spending an evening in a pub, frequently it is the best option.
Three very nice bottles of gin arrived on my doorstep recently. Grace O’Malley recently launched several whiskies, including a range of three very good 18-year-old single malts finished in a variety of casks. The Mayo-based company is owned by Stephen Cope, lately managing director of Lir Chocolates and two German investors, Stefan Hansen and Hendrick Melle. They brought in French maturation expert Paul Caris to handle the ageing and finishing of their whiskies. The refreshing floral lightly fruity Heather Infused Grace O’Malley Gin (€44) has no less than 14 different botanicals, most from the west of Ireland.
Also from Co Mayo is Loch Measc Gin (€47), made from wild juniper berries and botanicals that grow on the shores of Lough Mask. Made in a true micro-distillery by Eoin Holmes, this also has some lovely floral notes alongside the true juniper forward style of a London Dry Gin. Holmes also produces a vodka, or Vodca (as Gaeilge).The first whiskey will be ready in 2021. The distillery is in a renovated building in Kilateeaun, near Tourmakeady, with views of Maamtrasna, the Dirk Mountains and of course, Lough Mask. Tours are available see Loughmaskdistillery.com for details.
Pink gin is hugely popular; the original drink consisted of gin with a few drops of angostura bitters, but now it can mean a whole range of flavourings from rosehips, rose petals, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries to pink grapefruit. Some are very sweet and mawkish, others floral, dry and elegant. The 1777 Cacao & Raspberry Gin from Listoke Distillery and Gin School in Co Louth (€35) is definitely in the latter school, perfumed and smooth with subtle notes of raspberry and juniper. If you fancy making your own gin, why not visit the Listoke Gin School – see listokedistillery.ie for details.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th July, 2019
We hear a lot about local spirit and beer producers, but possibly the most Irish drink of all is cider (and we are talking about craft cider here) which in most cases is 100 per cent Irish, made from fruit grown in orchards around the country. All four ciders below were made from estate-grown apples, using wild yeasts, and without the addition of sulphites or preservatives. They are also both coeliac-friendly and vegan.
Cider-making has similarities with wine, with an array of varieties, including many specific to cider-making, and goes through a similar fermentation process. Alongside mead, it can claim to be one of the most ancient Irish drinks of all.
In this country, cider has always faced two problems: a reputation as a summer drink, or as a tipple of choice for underage drinkers. Neither is necessarily true, although there are few things nicer than a good cider on a sunny day. The problem is one of perception and price; consumers are familiar with cheap medium-dry cider and don’t see why they should pay more.
Is cider now at the same tipping point as craft beer and gin 10 years ago? At a tasting at an event organised by Cider Ireland, I tasted some wonderful refreshing ciders, although many were medium-dry rather than dry.
The Mór from Longueville House was fermented and aged for a year in casks that had previously been used to mature the (excellent) Longueville apple brandy. The estate has a 30-acre orchard, much of it planted 35 years ago, making them one of the very first craft producers, along with Highbank in Kilkenny.
Cousins Barry Walsh and Dave Watson, with his wife Kate, own and run the 30 hectare Killahora estate in east Cork. As well as making a wonderful apple ice wine, a delicious perry and various other fascinating experimental apple drinks, they have two Johnny Fall Down ciders. The Bittersweet below is made from 47 different varieties of apple from their orchard, including many rarities.
The McNeece family bought a farm in the Boyne Valley in 1962. It included an orchard. They always made cider for home consumption, but in 2013, Olan McNeece decided to go professional and make a range of ciders, named after his great grandfather, who used to drive the Dublin-Belfast train that runs through the orchard.
Cockagee is one of a series of ciders made by Mark Jenkinson from his and a few neighbours’ orchards in Co Meath. Jenkinson has more than 100 varieties of apple, many rare, in his organic orchard. Cockagee is keeved or given a very long slow natural fermentation; it is bottled without filtration, pasteurisation, sweetening or carbonation.
Dan Kelly’s Original Cider 4.5%, €3.90
Lightly sparkling with clean refreshing crisp green apple fruits. A great sunny day cider. From See dankellyscider.com for stockists, plus SuperValu in Meath and Louth.
Johnny Fall Down Bittersweet Cider 5.8%, €4.80
Delicious, refreshing, complex cider with pears and green apples; tannic with some good acidity and a light sweetness but definitely one for grown-ups. And preferably with food – pork chops with caramelised apple perhaps. Fromkillahoraorchards.ie
Mór Longueville House Cider 8%, €6.50
A delicious rich and powerful cider, smooth, with red apples, a touch of spice and great length. With barbecued ribs or a roast of pork. From See longuevillebeverages.ie
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday March 23rd, 2019.
This week, a look at four Irish gins, two very new and two more established.
Graham Norton’s Own wines, from Italy, New Zealand and Australia, have been hugely successful in Ireland. Now the team have come together to produce a gin distilled in west Cork. Flavoured with 12 botanicals, including fuchsia, rosehip and gooseberries, Graham Norton’s Own Irish Gin seems destined for the same commercial success.
The shop assistant at Dublin Airport told me that Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin outsold all of its rivals put together. It may be the distinctive blue bottle or the unique flavours, which include gunpowder tea, but it seems to be one of the success stories of the Irish spirit revival.
Founded by the veteran drinks entrepreneur Pat Rigney, Drumshanbo last year sold more than 100,000 cases, with a turnover of €7 million. In November Rigney will launch two pot-still whiskies; next year he plans to open a visitor centre at the distillery in Co Leitrim.
Rigney says the reason for his gin’s success is simple: “It has a real story and a real distillery, it tastes fantastic and it has great packing. I have been travelling for 30 years and picked up all sorts of ideas from far-flung places. What I set out to do is work very hard to create a gin that will compete with the best in the world. It really is capturing the imagination; Irish people buy it in the airport to bring to friends all over the world.”
As well as making Cork Dry Gin, Irish Distillers was a pioneer of small-batch gin, releasing Crimson in 2005; it was very good but ahead of its time. Now it has returned with Method & Madness, the first gin to use gorse flowers, alongside black lemon and a range of spices. It was distilled in Ireland’s oldest gin still, Mickey’s Belly (named after a man who worked in the distillery), which now resides in the microdistillery at Midleton, in Co Cork.
Regular readers will know that Blackwater No 5 is one of my favourite gins. The distillery that makes it also makes Boyle’s Irish Botanical Gin for Aldi. The company was set up by Peter Mulryan, a veteran drinks journalist, writer and TV and radio producer. Its new, truly artisan distillery, in a converted hardware store in the picturesque village of Ballyduff, Co Waterford, will open to the public from April onwards, with luck to coincide with Waterford Festival of Food, at the end of the month. The first trial whiskeys have been distilled (and look fascinating) but need a few years’ ageing before being bottled.
Boyle’s Irish Botanical Gin
Made by Blackwater for Aldi, this is a delicious gin, with subtle fruits and refreshing citrus on a firm base of spice and juniper. Amazing value for money. From Aldi
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
A very nicely balanced smooth gin with plenty of juniper, backed up with musky spicy coriander and a unique fresh herbal note. From Off-licences and supermarkets nationwide, as well as travel-retail stores
Graham Norton’s Own Irish Gin
Aromas of juniper and light spices, with classic flavours of pine resin and earthy spice on the palate, finishing with bright floral notes. From SuperValu
Method & Madness Irish Gin
Lemon zest and subtle floral notes on the nose, lightly spicy with clean refreshing orange and lemon citrus on the palate. Stockists: Widely available from off-licences, as well as travel-retail stores
A bottle of this new release arrived on my doorstep this morning. Being short of gin in the house, we tried it this evening.
It certainly has juniper aplenty, but with a massive floral scent that also permeates the palate. I think I get the oolong, I certainly get the exotic floral notes on nose and palate, and a hit of orange peel, with heady decadent fruits, and a lingering dry finish. Great on its own, and quite the mouthful with the excellent Poacher’s Wild Irish Tonic Water. My gin expert heartily approved.
Reading online, I learn that Osmanthus is said to improve complexion and rid the body of excess nitric oxide. In China it is often mixed with green tea leaves to make a tea. I’m not sure my complexion improved, but this is a very tasty gin. I liked the bottle design that includes a Georgian townhouse with oriental images through the windows. For reasons not made clear, Chinnery is distilled in both Dublin and Cork. In case you are wondering, George Chinnery was an 18th century Dublin artist who traveled the world, ending his days in Macau. The bottle design with Georgian Dublin townhouse
Available for €55 from Mitchell & Son, chq and Sandycove, Mitchellandson.com; the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson St., Celticwhiskeyshop.com; Molloys Liquor Stores; James Fox, Grafton St., Jamesfox.ie.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2nd December, 2017
It is hard to believe, given the vast array of bottles on display at Dublin Airport and other outlets, but there are still only half-a-dozen distilleries actually producing whiskey in this country. The rest buy in mature stocks and further age, finish, blend or otherwise leave their unique mark on the final product. Some are excellent, others ordinary, and price is not always a good indicator of quality. Certainly there appears to be an appetite for €100-plus offerings. This autumn we have a flurry of new releases from producers anxious to catch the important Christmas market. Interest in Irish whiskey is at an all-time high, crossing all ages and gender, so this could be the ideal present for that difficult friend or relative.
In September, Walsh Whiskey released the excellent Irishman’s Founder’s Reserve Florio Marsala Cask Finish (€70). If that is beyond your budget, Writer’s Tears Copper Pot (€45) is another, more affordable star from the same source. The Dublin Whiskey Distillery sounds like a made-up name but claims a noble history. It was originally founded in 1830 by John Brannick, who served as master distiller at two of Dublin’s great distilleries before founding his own. DWD closed in 1940 but has now been revived by a group of Dublin businessmen. The Heritage Edition is a blend of whiskey from three different distilleries, aged for five to 10 years in Bourbon casks, primarily first fill.
Dingle was to the forefront of the new Irish distilleries, and therefore also one of the first to release whiskies produced in their own distillery last year. This autumn sees the release of four new small batch whiskies available in limited quantities. This includes the Dingle Single Malt (€65), aged in Bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Casks; the Dingle First Single Pot Still (€90), aged in Pedro Ximenez Casks; and the Dingle Single Malt (€78), aged in Port and Bourbon Casks, the last available exclusively from SuperValu.
Speaking of SuperValu, it recently expanded its whiskey range to include a number of exclusives. As well as the Dingle above, they now offer very limited quantities of two single-cask whiskies from Powers, both retailing at about €200. Aged for 15 years in cask, these are superb, rich, full-flavoured spirits, classically Powers in style. Elsewhere, the 2017 edition of Midleton Very Rare (€180) has been released, in a new very smart luxury bottle and wooden case, as has the Mitchell’s Green Spot Ch Montelena Whiskey, aged in Zinfandel barrels from Ch Montelena in California, a follow-on from their excellent Green Spot Ch Léoville-Barton.
Lastly, the Irish Whiskey Awards recently crowned Teelings The Revival IV as their favourite whiskey, with Jameson Black Barrel as the best in the sub-€60 category.
Dingle Single Malt Batch No.2 Irish Whiskey 46.5% (€65)
A very attractive medium to light-bodied whiskey with refined subtle citrus peel, vanilla and toasted nuts. Stockists: Dingle Whiskey Bar, The Loop, Dublin Airport, specialist off-licences and select SuperValu.
DWD Heritage Irish Whiskey 40% (€48)
A rich full-bodied whiskey with honey, milk chocolate, caramel and hints of Christmas cake spice. Stockists: Specialist off-licences and The Loop, Dublin Airport.
Mitchell’s Green Spot Pot Still Whiskey, Zinfandel finish. 46% (€69.95)
Full of warmth and character with delectable red fruits, pears, apples and toasted hazelnuts. An enticing, intriguing whiskey. Stockists: Mitchell & Sons, chq and Sandycove, and specialist off-licences.
The Revival IV, Teelings 15 year-old Single Malt Irish Whiskey 46% (€120)
Finished in Muscat casks, this is a medium-bodied fruit-filled whiskey with peaches, lemon zest, candied orange and lemon, and subtle vanilla. Stockists: Specialist off-licences including the Celtic Whiskey Shop.
The young and the old made the trip up from Midleton Distillery to launch four new whiskies in Dublin last week, all under the banner of Method & Madness. The old guard was made up of Ger Buckley (Master Cooper), Brian Nation (Master Distiller), Kevin O’Gorman (Master of Maturation) , Billy Leighton (Master Blender), David Quinn (Master of Whiskey Science). Lots of Masters. The new team included David McCabe (Apprentice blender), Karen Cotter (Apprentice Distiller), and Katherine Condon (Apprentice distiller).
Irish Distillers cannot be accused of resting on their laurels, having launched several new or revamped ranges of whiskey over the last few years. The Method & Madness series allows the team to experiment with limited releases of more exciting styles of whiskey. As they have just taken delivery of a new micro-distillery, currently being installed in Midleton, we can expect more in the future. This is a genuinely fascinating range of whiskeys.
Single Grain Irish Whiskey Finished in Virgin Spanish oak casks.
This single grain whiskey forms the base for all Jameson whiskies. It has been aged for 12 months in toasted virgin Spanish oak casks. Lightly aromatic, it has a smooth texture with a real spiciness (cloves?) and plenty of toasty oak. 46% €49
Single Malt Whiskey Enhanced with French Limousin Oak Casks
This single malt was made from a batch of whiskey distilled in Bushmills in 2002, when both Dave Quinn and Billy Leighton were working there. When Bushmills was sold, it came with them to Midleton. The influence of the French Limousin oak was so marked they only used it in part of the blend. Beautifully perfumed and elegant, with a lovely sweet palate of biscuits, toasted nuts, and a lingering finish. 46% €79
Single Pot Still finished in French Chestnut
‘The Irish Whiskey Act allows us to push the boat out’, says Billy Leighton, as it doesn’t limit ageing to oak casks. They used sweet chestnut or Spanish chestnut, unrelated to Horse Chestnut, for this whiskey, and the result is spectacular. Ger is delighted with how it turned out. This is an amazing whiskey with a warm spicy rounded nose, a big powerful palate, with plenty of wood character, sweet spices, honey and golden syrup. 46% €69.
Single Grain 31 year old single cask Cask Whiskey
Just three casks of this were made, and all bottled separately. It was distilled in 1985. We tasted cask 21614 which yielded 105 bottles. A wonderful delicate nose, sweetish but more precise, elegant and incredibly long, with honeyed fruits and spice on the finish. 52.5% €1,500 a bottle!
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 23rd July, 2016
Irish whiskey is on the up, both here and abroad. No week seems to go by without a new release. The explosion of interest has been great for the industry but it also has a downside; it has put huge pressure on stocks of aged whiskey.
In the future, it is likely that we will see fewer whiskeys with a statement of age – “10 year-old” etc – and more “NAS”, or no statement of age. Scotch is facing similar difficulties.
Over the past year or so, Jameson has released a trio of threesomes; a combination of new whiskeys, repackages or re-releases, all in smart clear glass bottles with cool retro labels. Together they represent a significant move forward for the brand, to sit alongside whiskeys with a statement of age, such as Redbreast and Yellow Spot.
The Deconstructed Series has three whiskeys, entitled Bold, Lively and Round. The idea is to show the three key characteristics of Irish whiskey. Those of you who have gone though our airports recently and visited the shops will have spotted them on sale at €36.
This is a clever way of explaining the complexities of whiskey to someone starting off on that journey. Next up is the Heritage Series, which includes Black Barrel, reviewed here a few weeks ago, Crested (no longer Crested Ten) and Signature. All have been available for a few years, but the presentation has been nicely updated.
Going towards the super premium level we have the Makers Series, a trio created by three key craftsmen: head distiller Brian Nation, head cooper Ger Buckley and head blender Billy Leighton.
“For me it was like being a kid in a sweet shop,” says Nation, “although Billy was the dad, always saying ‘no’ to everything I wanted. He is essentially the stock controller.”
The origin of the names is heritage driven. A spirit safe is a small glass container, often lined with copper that allows the distiller to analyse and sample the spirit leaving the pot still. The Distiller’s Safe is very much a spirit-driven whiskey, although it does have a wood contribution. According to Buckley, “it was very exciting to get involved with whiskey, it’s not something I would normally do. I love the sweetness of American oak, the vanilla and other spices.
“We called it the Croze, because that is the one tool I need to make a barrel. I have been using it all my life, and so did my dad.”
As for Blender’s Dog, a dog, is the small cup used to draw samples from a cask. It is an essential part of any blender’s equipment. Together the three make a fascinating new range of Irish whiskeys.
The Distiller’s Safe, Jameson
Peaches and spice on the nose; elegant creamy texture with butterscotch on the finish.
Stockists: Specialist off-licences
The Cooper’s Croze, Jameson
Sweet vanilla & toffee nose; not overly oaky, with toffee, dried fruits, toasted nuts & Oloroso sherry.
Stockists: Specialist off-licences
The Blender’s Dog, Jameson
Big, powerful and smooth, with rounded sweet toasted oak and a long spicy finish.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th June, 2016
First the gin, then the tonic. Oisín Davis is one of the leading lights of the cocktail business in Ireland. I bumped into him at the Ballymaloe Litfest, and for the first time I can remember, he had a soft drink in his hand. The liquid in question was Poacher’s Tonic, Ireland’s first tonic water. All of these new Irish gins obviously need something to mix with, and Davis thinks he has the answer. Until now, you could only buy an Irish-made tonic syrup from americanvillage.com. Fever-Tree and other premium tonic waters have been hugely successful in the UK, so it was only a matter of time before someone came up with an Irish version.
The Poacher’s Tonic certainly went down well at the Litfest – supplies ran out the first evening, and an emergency dash had to be made back to the warehouse. It is made by Davis and partner Vaughan Yates from spring water drawn from Litterberg House in Co Wexford and bottled in nearby Enniscorthy.
“We wanted to make is as Irish as we could,” says Davis. “We got 150 kilos of Irish rosemary and shipped it to a perfumer in the UK, who extracted the rosemary essence. We use cinchona bark to make a natural quinine and add Florida orange and sugar beet for sweetness. It was a year in the making with all sorts of complications and experiments.” According to Davis, Poacher’s pairs best with gins that don’t have too much spicy coriander and cumin, and is less sweet than standard tonics.
Gerry Scullion of The Chocolate Factory has come up with his own very unique tonic water. “I make it from scratch using cinchona bark and other spices and a small amount of Irish lavender. It is also a water kefir, and far less sweet than the standard tonic (2 calories a bottle). I create the fizz by the addition of organic honey and bottle-condition for approximately two weeks.” The result is a quite delicious adult tonic, great by itself or with gin.
I received another bottle of Irish gin just after going to press with my last article. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin is the latest creation of Pat Rigney, the man who came up with Boru vodka and Sheridan’s Irish Cream Liqueur. Made in his new distillery in Drumshanbo, it is aimed primarily at the export market, but already has good distribution here in Ireland.
If you fancy trying out anIrish G&T, the Irish Gin & Tonic Fest runs from June 20th-25th, where pubs, restaurants and hotels will be serving one or more of eight Irish gins with a tonic of their choice. See greatirishbeverages.com for further details.
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
A very different gin with a distinctive spiciness and refreshing herbs alongside the juniper.
Stockists: Widely available including Dunnes, O’Briens, Mulloy’s, select SuperValu.
Poacher’s Tonic Water
€1.55 for a 200ml bottle
Light and refreshing, with lovely subtle hints of rosemary. Great with or without the gin.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 11th June, 2016
Irish craft brewers are fond of ageing their beers, usually stout, in casks previously used to age whiskey. The resulting beers can be very good, sometimes gaining a percent or two in alcohol, as well as flavour, from the wood. But what happens if the barrel is returned to the distiller and used to further age whiskey?
First out of the blocks on this were Jameson and Cork craft brewer Franciscan Well. ‘It all started in 2013 it started when Shane Long of Franciscan Brewery asked us for a dozen used whiskey barrels to make a special Christmas brew’, says David Quinn, head of Whiskey Science at Jameson . ‘We tasted the results and thought it was fantastic. He did a second batch in 2014, and we got a call asking us to take the barrels back, as he didn’t have the space to keep them. More on a whim, we decided to refill them with mature Jameson and left them for 4-5 months. We had a taste and were blown away. It came across as discernably Jameson, spicy, fragrant and fruity, but with other characters through the interaction with stout – coffee, cocoa and chocolate and hints of hop. They were all there at a level of intensity that complemented instead of dominating. The taste had a different complexion; a texture, a creamy mouthfeel a coating sensation we found fascinating’.
Jameson ran a pilot scheme in Dublin and Cork, and as with the stout, the shelves were cleared in a couple of weeks. In 2015, they started to lay down enough barrels to launch Caskmates abroad. Apparently it has gone down very well in the U.S. So much so that Jameson linked up with craft brewers in London and Brooklyn, supplying them with whiskey barrels to create their own limited edition beer, and then releasing a local unique Caskmates.
Jameson are no longer alone; back in March, Galway Bay Brewery launched 200 Fathoms, an Imperial stout aged in whiskey casks borrowed from Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey. Now the favour has been returned with a single cask release from Teelings of 200 Fathoms whiskey, aged in the stout casks. Another distiller has plans in the pipeline. Glendalough Whiskey gave a couple of barrels to Five Lamps brewery for their barrel-aged porter. The barrels were returned and filled with 10 year-old single malt. 400 bottles will be produced, available later this year in Dublin Travel Retail. I tasted it on a visit to the distillery; it was rich and full of chocolate. Lastly O’Haras have been working with Tullamore Dew for their (delicious) Leann Folláin stout, aged in whiskey casks. It seems only a matter of time before the favour is returned. For the moment, Tullamore DEW offer a whiskey aged in cider casks.
Muldoon Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Whiskey infused with hazelnuts and toffee. Delicious sweet caramel and toasted nuts.
Stockists Celtic Whiskey; World Wide Wines and other specialist off-licences.
Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey
Scented fruity and mildly spicy; long and sweet with coffee, chocolate and subtle hops. Superb whiskey.
Stockists: widely available.
Teeling Whiskey Single Cask 200 Fathoms Irish Whiskey
Stockists: Exclusively from Teelings Distillery, Dublin 8.