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    Guide to Irish Gin

    By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
    More by Dawn

    What is gin?

    When most people think about drinks and Ireland, they usually conjure up images of pints of Guinness or Jameson whiskey. But there’s another Irish drink that deserves a mention: gin.

    Recently, gin has seen a resurgence of popularity, and now a gin & tonic is one of the most trendy things you can order at a pub or bar in Ireland. G&Ts can be delightfully refreshing, like sipping sunshine on a summer’s day, or they can be a spicy belly warmer, the perfect accompaniment to sitting by the fire in the winter.

    Like all alcohols, the creation of gin comes from the mashing of certain grains. This forms the base spirit, in which the distiller must distil certain products, most commonly rye (other options include wheat or barley). Gin can include a lot of different elements but the one thing it needs to include are juniper berries. This is what makes it gin, and all gin contains a degree of juniper berries.

    How should you drink Irish gin?

    gin cocktail

    Gin cocktails made with Bartha’s Revenge gin from West Cork.

    Gin is one of the few liquors that is not consumed neat, making gin an ideal base drink for a variety of drinks – martinis, gin and tonics, pink gin, French 75, negronis and many other cocktails.

    Because the only requirement for liquor to be called gin is the inclusion of a certain quantity of juniper berries, this leaves the distiller a lot of creativity. Gin is a sort of blank canvas – once the mashing is done and the juniper is added, the distiller can play around with their recipe.

    There are many elements that distillers might add to their gin depending on what base notes they are going for such as floral, citric, fruity, spiced, herbal, aromatic, woodsy, sweet etc. Distillers might add a number of botanicals, from tea leaves to herbs, rye, coriander seeds, anise, caraway seeds, lemon or orange peels, roots and types of spices such as ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom.

    To make a G&T, you’ll first need a good quality tonic water. Once the gin is added, you’ll want to add a garnish – some prefer limes or other citric fruits, while others might prefer red berries. Choose a garnish that compliments the base note of the gin itself. As always, make sure you drink responsibly.

    History of gin in Ireland

    gin cocktail

    Unfortunately for this delicious drink, gin doesn’t have the best history, as its short distillation period meant that it was quick and easy to distil it yourself.

    The earliest known reference and recipe for gin was from Bruges and Antwerp (modern-day Belgium), though there is some evidence of even earlier usage by monks in the early Middle Ages.

    Widely produced and consumed in the Netherlands, the English came across gin in the 1600s during the Thirty Years’ War when soldiers were drinking shots of this then-unknown liquid. Many believe this to be the origin of the famous phrase “Dutch courage.”

    In the early 1700s, gin became very popular in England, a period that saw huge numbers of pop-up gin shops during the so-called “Gin Craze.” Various 18th century Gin Acts attempted to curb the drink, but as it was so easy, quick and cheap to make, it was distilled illegally all over England, often nicked “bathtub gin.”

    Interestingly, the gin and tonic origins are actually in medicine. Tonic water was used to dissolve quinine in the British Colonies, used to treat malaria. Gin masked the sharp, bitter taste of the quinine – and voila, the G&T was born.

    Today, gin’s popularity has exploded almost as fast as its various types and flavours, with everything from pink gin to sloe gin, spiced gin, violet gin, or even blood orange gin suddenly found on the market.

    What makes Irish gin special?

    Gin botanicals

    Some botanicals used at Listoke Distillery’s gin school.

    Ireland is a relatively new locale for gin production. Because the island has a limited history with gin, Irish distillers are starting from scratch, distilling their own gins in whatever way they choose.

    A great thing about gin is how quickly the alcohol can be produced, making it easy for distillers to experiment with exciting new combinations and recipes. Distillers are experimenting with a variety of recipes and botanicals, often inspired location and locally-sourced botanical ingredients.

    Gin and tonics and other gin cocktails have exploded in popularity here in Ireland in recent times, and Irish distillers have responded with a variety of different and creative options. This page highlights a few of our favourite gins and the distilleries who make them.

    Because of how quick gin distilling is, some distilleries have started to offer a gin school experience where those interested in gin can learn how to make it and walk away with a bottle of gin brewed by themselves.

    What's the difference between gin and whiskey?

    gin distillery

    The Shed Distillery, where Drumshambo Gin is created.

    Apart from beer, Ireland has two alcoholic beverages that are connected with the island today: whiskey and gin.

    Whiskey is representative of traditional Ireland. There’s a long history of whiskey in Ireland. We’ve had whiskey here for hundreds of years – in fact, Ireland’s oldest continuously operating whiskey, Old Bushmills has been distilling whiskey since 1608. There are a few typically Irish whiskies – Old Bushmills, Jameson, Tullamore, Teeling, Redbreast, and you’ll find them in most traditional Irish pubs.

    But it’s time-consuming – it takes at least 7 years to make a batch of whiskey. It requires certain types of barrels. And it takes a lot of space to store all those barrels for so long.

    Gin, on the other hand, is more representative of modern Ireland. It’s chic, it’s exciting, it’s easy to mix into a cocktail for a fun night out. There are an increasing number of cocktail bars across the country. Gin is so easy to mix and match, with many types of gin and several ways to drink it.

    In contrast to whiskey, gin is quick and easy to make. In fact, a batch can be made in just 6 weeks. While whiskey is still a beloved liquor, most distilleries start with gin production while they wait for their first whiskies to mature. In the meantime, and between each whisky batch, it’s time for gin.

    Our guide to the best Irish gins

    So, you’re coming to Ireland and you want to try some Irish gin. The perfect drink to finish up a day exploring Ireland’s great outdoors, have a look through our list of some of Ireland’s tastiest gins so that when you head out to the pub for your evening meal, you know which gin you’d like to test.

    Boatyard Distillery

    You’ve got a few options if you want to try Boatyard gin. Old Tom is a slightly sweeter and rounded drink than your typical London Dry, distilled in Pedro Ximénez casks. Expect notes of juniper, of course, as well as coriander, citrus, liquorice, angelica, and sherry.

    Boatyard Double Gin is called so for its double distillation process and the act of placing juniper at the start and end of the process. It is organically produced with a wheat base and comprises several similar botanicals as well as orris and grains of paradise.

    For something different, try their Sloe Boat Gin, made by steeping wild-harvested sloe berries for 6 months in the gin, and finishing with a wild Fermanagh honeysuckle syrup offering a balanced and natural sweetness. Tasting notes include intense plum, almond and berry fruitiness from the sloes and soft sweetness from the honeysuckle paired with the juniper. Learn more.

    Muff Liqueur

    What’s more blatantly Irish than the potato? Of course, you probably know that vodka is distilled from potatoes, so why not gin as well. Muff Liqueur, based in northern Donegal, distils its gin (as well as vodka) from potatoes – in fact, four different kinds of potatoes.

    After adding the potato base to the pot still, other botanicals are mixed in, including mandarin, elderflower, grapefruit peel, juniper, lemon, and rosemary, later distilled 6 times. For an extra touch, a tasting of Champagne extract is added to the gin at the end of the process.

    This award-winning gin made a splash as the gold medal winner at the 2018 World Gin Masters. Muff Liqueur is ‘native’ to northwest Ireland and is a must-taste for anyone visiting Donegal, Sligo or other regions of this oft-overlooked corner of Ireland. Learn more.

    Visit the North & Northwest

    Donegal and Northern Ireland are among Ireland’s coolest spots to visit for outdoor lovers – and apparently, great places to try Irish gin (and whiskey!). Visit Donegal and the northwest on our Hiking the Causeway Coast & Donegal.

    Prefer exploring on two wheels? Refuel with a crisp gin at each day’s end on our bike trip, Donegal from Cliffs to Coast.

    Prefer a degree of flexibility? Book a self-drive trip to explore the north and northwest – Belfast, Causeway Coast & Donegal.

    Bertha’s Revenge

    Don’t mess with Bertha. Big Bertha was a legendary cow from Co Kerry. Something of a local celebrity, she is entered into the Guinness Book of World Records – she lived some 49 years and gave birth to 39 calves! And when she died, she was so famous that they held a wake for Bertha.

    When tasting Bertha’s Revenge, a premium gin, you can expect a fragrant nose, soft mouthfeel and warming spicy middle notes to mirror her maternal core. With dairy farming an important industry in the region, Bertha’s Revenge uses whey as its base spirit, separated from the curds which are later used in cheese-making.

    A dry and bitter gin, Bertha’s Revenge uses whey from local dairy farmers. This is mixed with the distiller’s natural well water and a combination of foraged and sustainably-sourced botanicals. Bundled together in one bottle, Bertha’s Revenge is a gin that highlights the character of Bertha in her prime. Perhaps a little more niche, it’s worth the effort to track down this gin while on holiday in Ireland. Learn more.

    Dingle Distillery

    Broadly speaking, Dingle Gin is categorised as a London Dry Gin but the devil’s in the details. Dingle Distillery creates its own unique character and flavour by combing its original choice of botanicals.

    The distillers use many local ingredients such as rowan berry from the mountain ash trees, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather to create a taste of the Kerry landscape in each glass. Dingle Distillery’s gin ingredients were carefully chosen to evoke a sense of place and provenance.

    In 2019, this brilliant new Irish gin won the award for World’s Best London Dry Gin and the overall award for World’s Best Gin 2019. Found across Ireland, you’ll definitely find this gin in Dingle and generally across southwest Ireland. Learn more.

    Wild Burrow Gin

    Wild Burrow is an Irish gin made by West Cork Distillers for the supermarket Lidl with a couple of awards under its belt and an affordable price tag. With a taste is similar to Drumshambo Irish Gin, it is easily accessible and perfect for mixing up an evening G&T pre-dinner drink with your group.

    Wild Burrow gin has a soft, leafy, herbal aroma alongside citrusy taste and slight bitterness. Ingredients include many local Irish botanicals, such as angelica, blackberry leaves, wild garlic, dandelion, Scot’s Pine, as well as lemon, orange, orris root coriander, dandelion flowers, Scots Pine, wild garlic and wild fennel.

    This is an easy, comfortable gin that goes well with most tonics and makes for a great introductory gin to anyone new to the drink. You might not find Wild Burrow at pubs, but it’s easy to pick up a bottle to drink on your trip – pair with a fresh lemon slice and even a sprig of rosemary, according to the distillers.

    Garnish Island Gin

    Garnish Island gin

    Garnish Island is a small island off the coast of West Cork’s Beara Peninsula, known for its paradisal gardens, stunning views and a faraway location at the end of Ireland.

    John Annan Bryce acquired the island in 1910 for its mesothermal climate. He employed expert botanist Harold Ainsworth Peto to cover the island with tropical flowers and plant stunning Italian walled gardens. Today, the island is publically owned after it was bequeathed to the Irish people in 1953.

    Garnish Island is crafted by one of Ireland’s few female distillers, Deirdre Bohane, at West Cork Distillers. Distilled in a custom, hand-made copper pot still, the carefully selected sixteen botanicals infused in Garnish Island Gin were inspired by the lush gardens of Garnish Island. Learn more.

    Minke Gin

    Minke Gin is the delicious product of Clonakilty Distillery located on the southern coast of Cork. Its name is inspired by the great minke whale, beautiful marine creatures that are sometimes spotted off the coasts of Ireland (particularly Ireland’s southern coasts, in the vincity of where Minke Gin is created – learn more about Irish marine wildlife).

    What makes Minke Gin special? That would be this gin’s star ingredient, native rock samphire. Sustainably harvested by hand while it is in season, the team climbs the cliffs along Cork’s shoreline to gather the samphire. Not easy, but when you taste the gin, you’ll see that it’s worth the effort!

    The base spirit used to make Minke Gin is derived from whey. Minke Gin is still produced on a 9th generation family farm, offering a unique velvety texture and mouthfeel. Any visitor to southwest Ireland should include this gin on their to-drink list, though you can find this tasty gin throughout other parts of Ireland as well.

    Clonakilty Distillery also runs a gin school on site a couple of times a month – a masterclass in the gin-making process, where you’ll get to distil your very own bottle of gin to take home and enjoy. Learn more.

    Visit the Southwest

    The Dingle Way

    If you’re interested in exploring the southwest, you’ll have lots of options. For Dingle, you may like to Hike the Dingle Way, with guided and self-guided options.

    Southwest Islands

    If you’re interested in islands, visit several of the islands of the southwest on our Hiking & Island Hopping hiking journey. You can visit Garnish Island itself, inspiration for the gin of the same name, on our West Cork Escape.

    Ring of Kerry

    Want adventure paired with luxury? By day, challenge yourself to hike the Mountains of Kerry or cycle the wild Kerry Peninsulas. By night, pamper yourself in luxury hotels. The perfect way to end your day is with a gin & tonic in hand!

    Drumshambo Gunpowder Gin

    Founded in the early 2000s in the rural backcountry of Co. Leitrim, Drumshambo is the delicious product born from distillery owner PJ Rigney’s travels across the world.

    Drumshambo Gin is famous for its inclusion of gunpowder tea leaves, an ingredient Rigney tasted while in India, though it wouldn’t have its iconic taste without the local meadowsweet, sourced just a few kilometres from the distillery.

    A number of other botanicals are added, including Angelica root, orris root, caraway seeds, grapefruit, lime, coriander and several others, along with juniper berries, of course. The iconic blue bottles were designed to invoke images of early 20th-century tonic jars.

    When making a gin and tonic with Drumshambo gin, be sure to drink it with a lime or grapefruit slice. Drumshambo gin is sweet and refreshing – we recommend avoiding a sweet tonic pairing. Learn more.

    Sling Shot Gin

    Did you know that you can distil peat as a botanical in gin? Ireland is known for its blanket bogs, heather-topped hills and dark, peaty soil. Lough Ree Distillery, located in Ireland’s often-overlooked Midlands region, are apparently the first to use peat as a botanical. Peat has long been used in whiskey, so why not gin too?

    The peaty flavour creates a rich and smooth mouthfeel and an early finish. Expect notes of pine, citrus and mint as well as cardamom and juniper of course, with the peat finishing the taste off with an earthiness.

    Sling Shot Gin is a bold and fresh gin that is easy to drink, and is made using a unique botanical that defines the Irish Midlands, a region often overlooked by visitors but with its own hidden corners. Interested in a deep dive in gin-making? Lough Ree offers a gin school to learn how to distil your own deliciously peaty bottle of gin. Learn more.

    Boyle’s Gin

    Southeast Ireland gets some of the sunniest weather in Ireland and therefore is Ireland’s breadbasket. Boyle’s Gin is composed of a delicious concoction of local delights – blackcurrants from Wexford, apples from Cork and elderflower from Waterford. Specialist judges praise Boyle’s fruitiness and balance.

    Garnish it right – Blackwater distillers recommend a Boyle’s G&T should be paired with a lime wedge and orange peel. In taste, it is similar to the more famous Drumshambo gin.

    Where does the name come from? Boyle’s Gin is named for Waterford’s most famous character, Robert Boyle, alchemist and founding father of modern chemistry. He’s the creator of Boyle’s Law. Your chemistry school days are a little fuzzy? Blackwater Distillery prints Boyle’s Law on every bottle, just in case you’re curious. Boyle’s Gin is only found in Aldi, but makes a great souvenir for your Irish holiday. Learn more.

    Blackwater No. 5

    Created by the same master brewers behind the delicious Boyle’s Gin, Blackwater No. 5 is a classic London Dry Gin. Blackwater No. 5 dates back to the 19th century when the recipe was designed using only a set of a dozen botanicals imported into Ireland by White’s of Waterford, some of which are unique to Blackwater No. 5 gin.

    Expect confident notes of juniper berries as well as coriander, cinnamon, lemon and more, a silky texture, floral and citric notes, with a lingering finish. Blackwater No. 5 is crisp and elegant, making it a delicious choice for your great as a G&T. Best combined with a lime wedge and lots of ice.

    For a summer-y flavour, try Blackwater’s strawberry gin, distilled using Wexford’s famously delicious strawberries, picked locally in Enniscorthy. No need for sugar or sweetener – Wexford’s strawberries are flavourful enough! Learn more.

    Glendalough Gin

    Glendalough rose gin

    There are a couple of gins on offer at Glendalough Distillery. Glendalough’s Wild Botanical Gin captures the essence of Glendalough, taking inspiration from the Wicklow Mountains in which both the distillery and the monastery is located. The distillery uses wild ingredients from the mountains surrounding the distillery, transporting you to the wilds of the Wicklow Mountains. For the Wild Gin as well as their Glendalough Rose Gin, Glendalough’s botanicals are foraged daily from March to October by a master forager for an extra-special local flare.

    Glendalough Rose Gin is redistilled with additional fruit, flowers and spices. This is then combined with three varieties of rose petals, including the rare and elusive wild rose from the Wicklow Mountains, large heritage roses, and the prized damask rose to create a naturally rosy and very floral pink gin.

    Each botanical is chosen to evoke a profound sense of place and appreciation of the flavours of the Wicklow Mountains. Now, don’t you deserve a fresh gin after each day’s hike through the hills that inspired and produced this gin along the Wicklow Way? Learn more.

    Listoke Distillery

    The award-winning Listoke 1777 is praised for its subtle orange and spice flavours, leading to a robust, refreshing gin. Unlike other types of gin, Listoke 1777 can be served neat with ice. Or for those who prefer the traditional gin & tonic, sip Listoke gin with an orange peel and a good quality tonic water – the distillers recommend pairing with Poachers Wild Tonic.

    Want to know more about the gin-making process? Listoke Distillery offers a gin school, which you can attend to learn how to distil your very own bottle of gin to bring back home with you.

    Choose your own recipe and botanicals from the many options, and while you wait for your gin to begin distilling, tour the distillery and taste some of Listoke’s gins. Learn more.

    Visit the East

    The Wicklow Mountains comprise one of Ireland’s six national parks, offering some phenomenal hiking and hillwalking options. It is also home to Glendalough Monastic site, one of Ireland’s most important cultural sites from the Middle Ages, and the beautiful Powerscourt Estate and Gardens.

    Visit Glendalough and Wicklow on our hiking trip, Hiking the Wicklow Way, with guided and self guided options.

    Prefer a degree of flexibility? Why not embark on our Ancient East Self Drive.

    This guide was written with contributions from Ryan Doe.

    Drink Irish gin on your next Ireland Adventure

    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    “American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

    View profileMore by Dawn

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