Kevin Flanagan looks at the revolution in Irish attitudes to gin, and reviews the iconic brand leader Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin. He finds that an old-fashioned, colonial drink that has become the toast of the hipster generation.
+All good – from packaging to feel of the bottle
+The upside: It’s Irish and it looks great and you can use the unique bottle as a candle holder, while the cork top is the best way to preserve an opened bottle of Champagne I have ever found!
– No cons unless the price of €50 is one!
Like many Irish families living in the UK, my father fought during the 2nd World War. One of my abiding memories was of him allowing me to sip his Gin & Tonic of a Friday night in our house in Wimbledon. He’d sit back and recall drinking below deck of the warship he worked on in the sweltering Bay of Bengal. The reason he loved it so much, he explained, was the sharp, evocative taste of the quinine, added to protect against malaria.
G&T has always been a colonial drink. Perhaps that’s why we Irish never fully embraced it. But all that has changed. There are now more than 30 Irish gin distilleries. Gin sales have grown by a third year-on-year. Craft gin is the new craft beer.
When you go into an off-license, the shelves are groaning with a variety of exotically named Irish gins. From Blackwater No5 to Shortcross Gin, Bertha’s Revenge to Glendalough Seasonal Gin. For my birthday I was gifted a bottle of Leitrim’s Gunpowder Gin, a brand that has created massive buzz.
This is no surprise when you consider the founder of Gunpowder Gin is Pat Rigney who helped develop such iconic brands as Sheridan’s liqueur and Boru Vodka. But as Rigney himself says, there is little point in creating a great craft Irish gin if no one gets to hear about it. And with annual Irish sales of just 180,000 cases, how many craft gin producers can survive? The answer is to export and here, Gunpowder Gin is setting a good example. The brand was selected for the premium drinks collection aboard the Cunard luxury liner MS Queen Victoria and has featured in many 3 Michelin star restaurants and 5-Star hotels. So what is Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin like? It is a slow distilled, handmade combination of 11 botanicals including oriental spices and gunpowder tea.
I found it very refreshing with a unique Irish twist. There are fresh citrus notes with a fresh citrus taste and spicy oriental botanicals mixed with local Irish varieties like Meadowsweet, found around Lough Allen. Gunpowder gin has a green tea that has been slowly dried, the leaves then rolled into shiny pellets. The flavour is bold with a spicy aftertaste that suits my palette.
The downside: at around €50 a bottle (and Aldi do great Irish gin for half the price) you would not want to be lashing this gin back.
JUST THE TONIC – a little bit about the history of tonic and what to look for.
People don’t drink gin neat. From the beginning it was created to be mixed, primarily with tonic water, and here is the next big opportunity. Many readers would have heard about Charles Rolls, the is the co-founder of Fever Tree Tonic water in the UK, who made headlines when he made £70 million selling off a portion of his shares.
Rolls had a proven track record in the drinks industry, having turned around the ailing fortunes of Plymouth Gin. Rolls was approached to create another craft gin product but he declined. Why? Rolls noted that all premium gins were mixed with just one or two mass-produced tonics, so he created a stand-out tonic water which consciously embraced luxury status.
Rolls, and his business partner, spent 18 months finding the perfect ingredients. As a result, Fever Tree is now found in every 5-Star hotel, bar or Michelin-starred restaurant, and the company is now worth a staggering £2billion. The future path to riches in the growing Irish G&T may not be in creating another craft gin but the mixers that go with it.
One Irish group that has already followed in Roll’s footsteps is Poacher’s Premium Irish Tonic Water, the first Irish brand specifically created to be served with premium gin. The “Poacher’s” name comes from the rich spring water of the Litterbeg Estate in Wexford, so highly valued poachers tried to steal it! Poacher’s uses distinct Irish ingredients including fresh Irish rosemary and could be the first of a whole new breed of premium mixers to take on the world. Seems an unlikely revolution is brewing between the Irish and a drink that was once the toast of a colonial empire.
New Products Reviewed serving suggestion
A NEW TAKE ON THE CLASSIC G&T
What you’ll need:
- Irish Gin – pick from the current range of 30 brands
- A large, balloon-shaped wine glass
- Natural tonic water: to taste
- Garnish – slice of lime, lemon, cucumber or grapefruit
- Lots of ice
Freeze a large wine glass and fill with ice. Pour over a measure of Gunpowder and add a premium tonic – my preference would be Poacher’s Premium Irish Tonic Water, made from the spring water of the Litterbeg Estate in Wexford. Add a slice of cucumber or orange grapefruit (nothing too strong to mask the flavour) and voila! A fabulous refreshing drink.
Verdict and Star Rating
Great look and feel to this gin and that’s before you even drink it. Then you are into subtle botanicals with an oriental meets Irish twist – first class with a premium tonic!
FIVE Stars from me