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Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Mixing Spirits. Three Sisters
Vodka - Gin - Tonic
Our three featured bottles come from neighbouring counties: Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford, the three sisters.
Highbank Orchards Organic Kilkenny Apple Vodka, 40%, €30.50 (35cl)
If you’re used to vodka with little more than 40% abv going for it, you’re going to be surprised by this with its aromas and flavours of the autumnal orchard, an organic one at that.
The base spirit is made from their own apples and the vodka itself “lends a wonderful apple flavor to cocktails”. Use this in cocktails instead of your regular vodka and wait for the accolades.
This is 100% organic, single estate (grown, distilled and bottled at Highbank) and, yes, it is normal strength at 40%. Haven't got to the cocktail stage yet - waiting for a recipe specific to the product! - but I certainly enjoyed mixing it with Poacher’s Tonic, an excellent new Irish product.
The Highbank vodka comes in two sizes: 35cl at €30.50 and 50cl at €55.00.
Blackwater No. 5 Small Batch Irish Gin, 41.5%, €30.00 (50cl) Bradley’s
In quite a short time, Peter Mulryan Blackwater Gin No. 5 has become one of the most popular of the small batch gins now available in ireland. This London Dry Gin is not the only one that Blackwater produce and their latest, a strawberry one, was launched at the recent Wexford Food Festival.
Twelve botanicals are used in the process, including Coriander which goes “citrus-y” in the mix. Considering that citrus (dried skins) and bitter orange (also dried skins) are also used you could see why he advised against using a lemon in your gin. Lime would be a better choice. Juniper (the oil is extracted and used) is perhaps the best known element, having been traditionally used to make gin, and indeed provides the dominant flavour.
The No. 5 quickly gained loyal fans and Peter, from Conna in East Cork, was on his way. The gin is crisp and elegant with great flavour. They say “ it’s year round summer in a glass” and “liquid sunshine for the soul”. Add in quinine (via your tonic) and you have a most pleasant way of taking your medicine. Well the G & T was one method the British used to counter malaria!
Poacher’s Premium Irish Tonic Water, 20cl, Bradley’s
Now that we’ve highlighted two brilliant Irish spirits (from two producers who have even more on their lists), we’d better guide you in the direction of a good tonic. And just in time, comes this excellent Poacher’s from County Wexford. It is based on a “rich spring water: that has “been pilfered and poached since 1825”.
Taste it on its own and you'll immediately see the concentrated quality. Put it up against a 39 cent can, Freeway Indian Tonic Water from Lidl, and you’ll know why you will pay more for Poacher’s which is in a different class entirely.
Mixing cheaper tonic with premium products is a waste of time, a waste of good Irish gin and vodka and a waste of money. I mixed myself two gins, one of each. As an amateur it took me a while to spot the difference but you certainly notice it on the finish. With Poacher's, the finish (when you swallow) lingers and lingers but the other one kills it there and then. The longer the flavour lasts is a sign of quality in both food and drink. Much longer, much better with Poacher’s. Go for it!
The full list of ingredients for Poacher’s is: Carbonated irish spring water, sugar beets, Irish rosemary, Florida orange, natural flavours and natural quinine.
The full list of ingredients for Freeway is: Carbonated water, sugar. Acid: Citric Acid; Natural Flavouring, Flavouring (Quinine).
Monday, May 23, 2016
Irish Craft CiderA Litfest16 Event
Pete Brown, author of the World’s Best Cider, said the Irish craft cider scene is one of the most exciting right now. The ciders have “high juice content” and the makers “love their apples”. One of the most exciting yes, despite rankling under a very unfair tax regime that would seem to be designed to stifle innovation rather than encourage it.
Take Longueville House Cider Mór as an example. Because producer William O’Callaghan has added a wee spoon of brandy to his basic cider, the tax on Mór is five times the normal. Leslie Williams has raised the general issue many times, saying the current rebate system, which is very good for craft beer makes, is unfair on cider makers. The producers of an excellent wholly Irish product are being punished.
So that's the sour notes out of the way. The rest of this panel discussion, the opening one in the Drinks Theatre at this year’s Ballymaloe Litfest, was focussed on five delicious ciders, five quite different examples, none of which would have been available just a few short years ago.
Pete Brown was joined on the panel by Leslie and by Caroline Hennessy, author of Slainte.
They and the audience were welcomed to the “tractor shed” by Ballymaloe’s Colm McCan as we gathered to hail cider, the drink of the common people for perhaps 2,000 years, according to Pete.
Producer Simon Tyrrell introduced his Craigies 2013 Dalliance. Simon, well known for his wine background, says with Dalliance “we try to express the vinous side of cider”. He mentioned the terroir (Cappoquin Estate, sandstone). The apple blend is fifty fifty between Ekstar and Falstaff, both eating apples, and it spends 15 months on its lees.
Bright fresh fruit with extra creaminess here and you’ll note some cloudiness from the yeasts. Pete Brown said Dalliance proves you can make cider out of eating apples. And this is a good one.
“We use no chemicals at any point” said Rod Calder-Potts as he introduced his organic Highbank Proper Cider 2014. “We encourage microbial activity to counter any malign organisms...Cider makes itself..no sulphites...we put it in a barrell..local yeasts do the rest.”
This was bottled just last week by Con Traas, is 100 per cent apple and naturally dry. Pete loved the contrast between the first two ciders and confessed to being obsessed by yeast, at least with how the yeast converts sugar to alcohol! Leslie reminded us that, compared to beer makers, cider makers get just one chance per year.
And now Leslie introduced yet another type of Irish cider, Cockagee from County Meath. He did mention that there was “devilment” in the name but didn't go into the details. It is keeved, a process common in Brittany and Normandy and explained here on the Cockagee website.
Pete said you can only shake your head with wonder that a process from the 14th or 15th century can still produce a “beautiful natural cider. In a blind tasting, I would class this as Breton and it would be a perfect match with crepes”. Caroline agreed but their hints for crepes went unheeded!
William O’Callaghan, as he introduced his Longueville Mór, disclosed that the first apples in their orchard, planted 25 years ago, were intended for apple brandy rather than cider and that their micro-distillery was the first such in ireland. William, a chef who trained in Normandy, started the move to cider there about two years ago.
The Mór is their regular cider with a drop of apple brandy that “gives it a nice little kick”. It fermented naturally with local yeasts and produced with no sulphite. It went down very well indeed and William is proud of it, quite rightly, “but that tax is a pain!”. Caroline asked him what food would pair with it. On its own or maybe with cheese was the answer. I had it a week or two ago at a cider evening in Electric with fish and chips. Caroline herself was thinking Lemon tart!
|The Ballymaloe five. Dead men.|
We finished with the limited edition (6,000 bottles) Stonewell Tawny 2014. Daniel Emerson told us all about it: “it is a chapitalised dry hop cider..the natural sugar is supplemented with additional sugar and this raises the ABV… minimum aging is 12 months and there is an extraordinary range of flavours over the 12 months”. Lots of tasting, no doubt!
At the end of the process, the cider is “very sweet, like an apple ice-cider”. They decided to counteract this by passing it through Eldorado dry hops. The result was very good and the Tawny has “proved remarkably successful.” And we could all see why. Pete was delighted with it saying it reminded him of a Canadian Ice Cider, “beautiful’.
Overall, it was a great reminder of how far Irish Cider has come in a few years. Perhaps next a tasting of these five might be arranged for the Dail bar and a few home truths delivered at the same time, in the nicest possible way of course!
See also: Hops and Glory. Seven IPAs before breakfast. Only at LITFEST16
Irish Atmospherics at John Wilson Tasting. Mediterranean Island Wines in Spotlight. LITFEST16
See also: Hops and Glory. Seven IPAs before breakfast. Only at LITFEST16
Irish Atmospherics at John Wilson Tasting. Mediterranean Island Wines in Spotlight. LITFEST16
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Twelve Great Food Days 2015
One Day’s Eating or Drinking or Both each Month!
|Charcuterie by Krawczyk|
|Deep in Midleton distillery|
|Diamond in Dublin|
|Ballymaloe. Plants for sale.|
|Hoping for lunch at Longueville|
|Salmon at Bastion (Kinsale)|
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Taste of the Week.
A Double Delight
A Double Delight
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Renaissance of the Garden Spirit
Gin’s popularity is on the increase. And, from being the drink for parents and grandparents, it has found a younger audience.
What are the reasons for the increase in popularity? I asked Michael Creedon of Bradley’s in North Main Street (who have 35 gins in stock and are still expanding the range). His list:
- Somewhat like the craft beer explosion, when people spend their hard earned money now, they like to get a return in quality, flavour and taste experience – bang for your buck if you will, with quality taking precedence over price/quantity.
- The emergence of smaller, craft Irish distilleries has increased the overall interest in gin.
- The great diversity in flavour between gins. If you taste 20 different gins, you will quite literally experience 20 different taste sensations.
It is, of course, a very versatile drink available in a variety of interesting flavours and a
bartender can do a million things with it. Cocktails by the score for example.
Gin is also a spirit that lets small-scale distillers get creative.They have the ability to use different botanicals. All this leads to much greater variation than you'd get with vodka.
No shortage of creativity among the new Irish distillers. Most people will know about the botanicals that go into gin, including the essential juniper. The Saint Patrick’s gin is based on alcohol derived from potatoes while Highbank’s comes from the apples in their organic orchards and they use botanicals from their farm. Blackwater have matured gin in Juniper casks.
There is a massive amount of potential and some really interesting products are now on the market as the rise in the number of new producers in the UK is being replicated here. And not just here and in the UK; Germany, USA and Australia have also reported a big rise over the past two or three years.
Good to see the new Irish producers involved. Michael argues that the new producers “need to stand out from the crowd with smart packaging and innovative use of various botanicals and flavours. For example, St. Patrick's Distillery have an Elderflower Gin in their range.”
What are the Irish gins? Michael: “Apart from CDC from Irish Distillers, the new wave of small, Irish craft gin producers are led by Dingle Distillery, Blackwater Distillery, Highbank Orchard, Shortcross Distillery and Cork's own St. Patrick's Distillery based in Douglas. Bradley's also carry gins from England, Scotland, Spain, Germany and Norway.” Two Trees, from the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen, is not in Bradley's. Not yet!
But is all the new gin up to standard? Sometimes, in a new distillery there is more interest in the whiskey. But while waiting the required three years and a day for the whiskey to mature, they use gin as a revenue earner. Do you they rush it out or do they give the gin enough attention so that it can be a long term proposition for them?
Michael Creedon thinks the producers take their gin seriously: “While some gin producers also have the ultimate goal of producing whiskey, this does not have an adverse effect on the quality of the gin. On the contrary, to ensure they maintain a good reputation they put everything into the quality of their gin."
Desmond Payne, the Master Gin Distiller at Beefeaters, says gin and tonic is a marriage that works but there are many more ways to mix. “At present, there is a revival in cocktails, some fantastic ones nowadays. Gin is right back in fashion. Some gin bars in Spain have up to 300 brands (and 50 tonics) on offer and new distilleries are popping up everywhere. There are new gins coming out sometimes that try too hard. You can't change everything at once!”
There is a huge variation in the price per bottle. Does that always reflect quality? Michael: “Higher price does not always mean a better gin as limited supply and difficulty of sourcing will also affect price, however every gin will have its own flavour profile, so it's definitely worth experimenting!”
What are the more popular gins in Bradley’s?
Irish - Dingle, Blackwater and St. Patricks.
International Gins under €40 - Plymouth, Beefeater 24, Bombay Sapphire.
International Gins over €40 – Hendricks, The Botanist, Bathtub Gin.
With all the new and old gins on the market, packaging is more important than ever?
Michael: “Gin, in general as a category, comes in particularly smart packaging and this is something very important for new producers to keep in mind. Consumers buy with their eyes firstly but come back for the quality and taste of course!”
As Desmond Payne said at Ballymaloe LitFest, gin and tonic is a marriage made in heaven. But which tonic goes with which gin? What are the most popular tonics sold in Bradley’s?
Michael: “The quality of the tonic you use, it being the most popular mixer for gin, has become very important to consumers. Schweppes is still the traditional tonic used in Ireland but we have an ever increasing demand for tonics such as Fever Tree, 1724 and our most popular variety, Fentiman's.
Fentiman's is most popular, we believe, because it offers 3 varieties in the range – standard, light or herbal tonic water. Experimentation is all part of the fun to see which one you like yourself.
We have also recently added a tonic syrup to our range. The usual mix is one part syrup, 2 parts gin and 3 parts soda/sparkling water. However, these quantities can be played with to get the perfect mix for you! We currently carry Bradley's Tonic Syrup from American but have just recently discovered a tonic syrup produced here in Galway. We are very excited about this and will be adding it to our range very shortly!”
Friday, June 19, 2015
The Brooklodge Hotel at Macreddin Village
Excellent Base for Wicklow Attractions
The saints of Ireland invariably seemed to end up in the most beautiful locations. St Kevin of Glendalough fame found another beauty spot not too far away in Macreddin, the present day location of the gorgeous Brooklodge Hotel.
Macreddin was important in the history of the area for a long time afterwards but then fell into decline, revived only by a band of brothers, the Doyles, who reimagined it and rebuilt the little village. Here, in the heart of the Wicklow countryside, they have everything you need to get away from it all in the 21st century.
Then again, there are not too many hermits nowadays and you may need a little company, maybe a lot of it!. So, you can have birthday party here. Or indeed a full scale wedding - they even have their own village church! Kevin may have come for the food, wild and organic, and that was why I visited a few weeks back. More precisely, I was there to try out their splendid Wild and Organic Tasting Menu.
That menu was served up in the Strawberry Tree, the premium restaurant in the village. But there is another one called the La Taverna Armento, which features a full Southern Italian menu. There is a bar in the hotel and another in the village. Oh, there’s lots more including a spa, conference suites, an equestrian centre, a food store, and a golf club. Reckon if Kevin came back, he'd stay around for a long while. Might even buy his food at the very popular Macreddin monthly farmers market.
I was there for just the one night and was very impressed. Took a walk around - there are quite a series of rambles, some long, some short. Mine was just around the green, saying hello to the hens of course, glad of the organic message their presence indicates. And I was friendly towards them. After all, they were supplying the eggs for breakfast.
And that breakfast, served in a beautiful room (you may also have it in your bedroom), was indeed a delicious affair. No shortage of juices and also the Macreddin Village Smoothie. All the cereals, also fresh fruit, yogurts and my pick which was the Porridge with Honey and Cream.
The main event was Poached Eggs on Irish Potato Cake and I could also have had had their version of the full Irish, also pancakes with Highbank Apple Syrup or Grilled Wild Fish. No shortage of lovely breads, their own of course, and organic tea and coffee to wash it all down.
Our room was excellent, very well heated and that is another story. Comfort was top class and no shortage of space either. The bedroom was on a spacious glass-walled mezzanine with its own bath. The main TV was downstairs but there was also a mini-one above. Shower and toilets were downstairs.
Staff were excellent throughout, at reception, in the restaurant, in the bar, everywhere, and helped make it a stay to remember in a place to remember.
- Brooklodge, away on its own, is still a good base to see the main Wicklow attractions. Avoca village is just 15 km, Glendalough 20, Wicklow town less than 30 while Powerscourt Gardens is about 50km via the M11. They provide directions to the village from Dublin but not, for some reason, from the south.Related posts: Strawberry Tree's Wild and Organic Tasting Menu.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Highbank Organic Orchards
Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of MicrobesI’m walking through long rows of apple trees, all in blossom, pink and white abound. The grass between is ankle height, lush and liberally populated with white daisies. Lush, but recently topped. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have seen battalions of dandelions.
I am in Kilkenny, in the healthy heart of Highbank Orchards, an organic farm owned and managed by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts. This is excellent land for farming, recognised as such for many centuries - even the Normans had their eyes on it. The farm-yard is 17th century, the house is 19th, and the distillery (which I've come to see) is 21st.
|Rod in the new distillery|
Now though, on a lovely May evening, all is calm as Rod takes us through the orchard, though not through all its twenty acres. Fourteen of these are mature, planted with quite a few varieties, including Dabinett, Blusher, Bramley and, scattered in among the others, that lovely juicy Katy. Katy is an early apple and has lost its blossoms.
Nothing has been sprayed here for twenty years. It is not that nothing ever threatens the apple trees but they are essentially healthy and can look after themselves. And Rod reckons much of that is down to the microbes in the soil, billions of them, all "working", not necessarily together - some eat one another - but combining to preserve the habitat. They are not disturbed, not traumatized by chemicals, and so the orchards live on and thrive. “Soil health depends on a thriving population of organisms”, says Dan Barber in The Third Plate.
They are transferred then to the apple press, an expensive piece of kit, and the juice is extracted to be used in the delicious products that Highbank now produces: Apple Juice, Apple Juice with Organic Mulled Spices, their famous Orchard Syrup (Ireland's answer to maple syrup and launched in 2010), Highbank Drivers Cider (a delicious, sparkling refreshing non-alcoholic drink), Highbank Proper Cider, and a honeyed Medieval Cider.
They are a busy couple and you’ll see them at markets and food festivals all over the country, including most recently, Sheridan’s and Ballymaloe LitFest. Besides, they are involved in promoting good food generally. Kilkenny too is naturally close to their hearts and so we couldn't have had a better guide on a quick Saturday morning run through the marble city than Julie.
She showed us, with pride, restaurants such as Zuni and the Salt Yard, Slice of Heaven and its newly opened cookery school, the food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre. Then you need something to serve your food in so off we went to Nicholas Mosse in Bennettsbridge, you need some nice lighting while dining and we got that at nearby Moth to a Flame (Larry Kinsella’s hand-made candles) and you also need something nice to look at on your walls and shelves and we found plenty of that at the Bridge Pottery.
Needless to say, the credit card took a bit of a hammering. On the previous afternoon, left to my own devices, I was on the drinks trail! Called to Billy Byrne’s Pub (the Bula Bus and its excellent onboard restaurant is parked in the back) and sipped some nice local beer by Ger Costello and a pale ale from 12 acres.
Of course, I couldn't leave Kilkenny without calling to Le Caveau. Pascal himself was busy on the road but we did take advantage of the reductions for Real Wine Month and went off happy with a couple of his organic wines.
And it was the drink that brought us to Kilkenny in the first place! In Highbank's internet competition earlier in the year, I won a meal at The Strawberry Tree and, in addition, I also won a bottle of Highbank's new Crystal Gin and that was in the car with us as we said au revoir to the Marble City and to two of its outstanding citizens, the Calder-Potts.
|Le Caveau (left) and Bennettsbridge (from the Nicholas Mosse pottery)|
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Taste of the Week
Highbank Crystal Gin
This is unique in these parts, a superb Irish produced gin from the apples of Highbank Orchards, owned by Julie and Rod Calder-Potts. It has aromas of the orchard and, not surprisingly, there are also flavours of the orchard.
While most of the usual botanicals are used here, including the essential juniper and other regulars such as dried citrus skins, Highbank also use six botanicals from their organic Kilkenny farm, including lavender and blackcurrant.
Highbank begin, not with bought-in alcohol, but with their own alcohol produced from their own apples. On the next trip through the still, the smallest legal still in Ireland, the botanicals are added. It is small batch production and bottling is by hand.
Local wine merchant Pascal Rossignol (Le Caveau) is impressed: “Caresses your palate with a richness and smoothness of aromas and flavours very rare in spirits.” Couldn't have put it better myself, an unique Irish gin from the rocks of Kilkenny and our Taste of the Week comes in a gorgeous bottle as well.