Ireland’s largest gin event, Gin Experience Dublin, took place last 12th and 13th of April. It gathered over 40 producers pouring more than 130 different gins. It was a great opportunity not only to discover and rediscover excellent products, but to see them all together and spot patterns and trends.
In a “big picture” level, the overarching trend of the festival was innovation. With an industry goal to treble sales by 2022 that is a must. But what shape is this inovation taking in 2019?
1. Irish maritime botanicals
The Irish coast is serving as inspiration for a new wave of premium artisan gins. For example, there’s award-winning An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin from the Sliabh Liag Distillery in Donegal, which among other botanicals uses five locally harvested seaweeds.
Beara Ocean Gin from The Beara Distillery in the Beara Peninsula in West Cork uses salt water and sugar kelp grown in Ventry Harbour, in the Wild Atlantic Way. Its pink sister, Beara Pink Ocean Gin, gets its blush from hand-picked Beara fuschia.
2. A nod to the Mediterranean
With Spain being one of the five key markets the Irish gin industry is prioritsing, having a few gins with mediterranean herbs or inspiration makes sense.
Small batch Garnish Island Gin was inspired by the Italian gardens on the namesake island in West Cork and it’s made by West Cork Distillers. As part of its line up of botanicals, it uses locally foraged herbs including hibiscus, iris, rose, rosemary and thyme.
Míl Irish Gin takes this vibe to the next level… The pot still distilled gin from Alltech is imbued with Mediterranean botanicals and describes itself as “Ireland meets Iberia.” Flavours come from botanicals including juniper, bergamont, orange, almonds, olive, basil, thyme, rosemary, gooseberry and it follows the Spanish G&T school of though.
Hailing from Co. Down, Feckin Unbelievable Irish Gin was also on the sunny side, although not as overtly Spanish-forward. Refreshing and citrusy, lemons feature prominently on its line-up of botanicals and playful branding.
3. Pink provenance
Having a pink gin won’t cut it anymore, the blush now needs a story.
Foraged Irish gin pioneers, the Glendalough Distillery, showcased their iconic wild gin as well as a sloe gin. They infused their spirit with botanicals foraged in the vicinity of the distillery, around the Wicklow Mountains. Their Rose Gin was very special, made with fresh rose petals from three varieties of rose: Wild Rose the Wicklow Mountains, Heritage Roses and Damask Roses.
Blackwater Distillery’s Wexford Strawberry Gin is an ode to the Irish summer. While the pink spirit sees thirteen botanicals in its making, strawberries grown just outside Enniscorthy (Co. Wexford) are in the spotlight.
As if the name of Grahan Norton wasn’t enough to get a gin off the shelves, its recently launched pink gin is proudly made with Irish grain (same as his classic gin, both from West Cork Distillers). Botanicals-wise, a dozen elements converge, including lemon peel, orange peel, elderflower, rose hip, and fuchsia flowers, as well as an infusion of rose petals.
4. Floral flavours beyond rose
While roses were probably the most popular petals used, there was a good variety of other flowers being used to aromatise gins. Both big and small producers were creative with their gardens…
Bloom Premium London Dry Gin brought is known and loved floral classic that features chamomile and honeysuckle among its botanicals, as well as a jasmine and rose pink variation.
One of my absolute favourite gins of the day was Whitley Neill Parma Violet Gin, which combined juniper and traditional botanicals like orris root, angelica root and coriander seed with an aromatic extract of violet flowers.
Warner Edwards Eldelflower Gin was another example, with each bottle containing over 200 individually hand-picked elderflowers from their local Harrington hedgerows. It was delicate and smooth, and the floral presence stood out immediately.
5. Explosion of fruit
While floral flavours seemed to be more in vogue, fruity gins also had a noticeable precence at the event.
One of the biggest surprises for me was Symphonia No2 Apple Gin by The Woodlab in Northern Ireland. Juniper and apple are not a duo you’re used to see together, but it worked so well. Made with Golden Bramley apples from county Armagh it was smooth and balanced.
Another very fruity gin that was turning heads was Brockman’s Gin, For this premium UK producer, juniper and coriander coexist in harmony with juicy blueberries and blackberries. It’s very fruit-forward and aromatic, ideal for creative cocktails.
Going to a more obscure fruit, there was Sixling Irish Gin, by Grills Spirits. Distilled with handpicked eldelflowers from the Cooley Mountains, it presents itself as “Ireland’s only cloudberry gin.” What’s a cloudberry? An amber-coloured nordic cousin to the blackberry, which they source from Sweden.
6. Premium Irish Gins
Variety in Irish gin is not only increasing horizontaly. Producers are going up and the range of premium options is world-class.
I was really impressed with Ornabrak Single Malt Gin, made from 100% Irish malted barely. With only five botanicals (Juniper berry, Angelica root, Douglas fir needles, lemon verbena and lemon peel), it leaves space for the quality of the spirit to also provide a subtle, malty background flavour.
The relatively new Chinnery Gin was another sip of top shelf Irish craft gin. Inspired by the Old China Trade and using exotic botanicals from the far east such as osmanthus flower, oolong tea and grains of paradise, its liquid was every bit as beautiful as its striking bottle.
Hailing from the North, Echlinville Single Estate Irish Pot Still Gin was another stand out. It describes itself as “Ireland’s first super-premium single estate pot still gin” and it merges aromas from the land and the sea into a rich, intense and complex gin.
Overall, the Gin Experience Dublin was a great opportunity for the public to discover new favourites and taste again the gins they know and love.
Some activations by the bigger brands were true crowd stoppers (the queue at the steam punk Gimlet maker by Hendrick’s Gin was constant!), but the real treasure was to see the variety and quality of craft producers finiding their place in a booming category.