Showing posts with label Wicklow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wicklow. Show all posts

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Glendalough Gin. The Wild One


Glendalough Gin. The Wild One
Gary (centre), with a St Kevin's pose, welcomes us to Glendalough

Glendalough Distillery who, like St Kevin, are soon (well maybe within a year or two) about to move to a permanent home with a great view over the area, use foraged botanicals in their core gin, the Wild Botanical Gin, know all about timing.

Whether in the wood or the mountain or in the distillery itself, timing and that personal know-how is crucial. Both their forager Geraldine Kavanagh and their still-man Rowdy Rooney have that know-how in spades as we found out during a mid-week visit.

One of the founders, Gary McLoughlin, greeted us and introduced us to Geraldine who already had a car load of foraged stuff. She would lead us on a walk through the wooded Glendalough estate and we filled our baskets. Soon, I knew I was in the “wild” when a doctor fly - haven't seen one in years - bit me. Saw quite a few after that but no more surprises.
The still-man

We passed a few beech trees and were interested having been earlier introduced to their Beech Leaf Gin. It is a limited edition with a “beautiful colour” said Gary. Geraldine: “There is just a small window between late Spring and early Summer when the leaf is at its best, when they are soft and good.” 

No point in adding them to our baskets now. But we did add wood sorrel, honey suckle also known as woodbine, and wild blueberries (also known as bilberries or fraughan). Timing again came in to with the latter as their season is just starting and we didn't get that many. On the other hand, the elderflowers are at the end of their season and the wait is on for the berries.

By the way, the sorrel is from the same family as the shamrock. And another note: the Booze Travellers, who visited Glendalough, had a lot of fun with the fraughan (with the word, that is) and you can see it on video here
Geraldine leads us out

Geraldine was “always an outdoor girl, always into wild food from the hedgerows. Wild plants have a better immune system.” After a wild food hunt in May 2011, a bountiful summer, she started doing tours in season and that led to her starting her wild food business. Soon she moved to alcohol finding it “a lazy though interesting way of preserving.

A few years later, Gary and his partners bought a still and started making poitín. “We always had whiskey in mind as well and gin of course. But we always wanted to do something different, something interesting. Why not use the bounty of Wicklow, we thought”. And that was how they linked up with Geraldine.

All four partners, though from differing business backgrounds, “have a great passion for the industry” and now all are full-time with the distillery. “It’s been an exciting journey,’ said Gary. “We are now into 36 countries and growing. Our Irish foraged gin opened doors and it’s just go, go, go.”

 One of the aims of the distillery is “staying true to the tradition and heritage of our ancestors”. The most famous of those was St Kevin who features on the bottle. Kathleen of the Spirits figures somewhere in the legends of Kevin and no surprise that distiller Rowdy named his still after her.


“It is a hybrid,” he told us. “It combines pot and column, a wonderful piece of kit, functional, versatile and pretty!” The initial spirit is made from Irish grain and most of the botanicals, including many of the foraged ones, are added as the process begins. The more delicate botanicals, such as rose petals, have their own later place in the process, and their aromas and flavours are gently extracted by vapour.

The main botanicals in gin are pretty well-known. Glendalough’s juniper is foraged and comes from Macedonia. Their high quality coriander is farmed in Bulgaria. The third main ingredient is Angelica Root from Poland; it has a flavour binding quality (not scientifically proven!) and adds its own natural earthy flavour. Orris root is another common ingredient, dried in the Morrocan sun for five years, and is “very expensive!”.
And as the process comes to an end, the importance of timing features. Rowdy uses his experience plus his smelling and tasting skills to determine when to divert the heads and the tails and leave the liquid he’ll use in the main receptor. “Unlike some, we don't reuse heads and tails. It’s a no brainer for a premium product.”

Rowdy told us he was looking forward to the day when they set up on their new site, a hillside that we would see after lunch. He can't wait for their new garden where himself and Geraldine will grow lots of wild things, “including juniper”. Garry and his partners have indeed very exciting plans for the site and the excitement is building even though its early days. But 2014 was early days too!


Before a lovely lunch at the Wicklow Heather, we enjoyed a gin tasting, going through the four seasonals. The refreshing Spring with gorse (lovely aromas and flavours) and other ingredients (including dandelion). Summer with elderflower predominant, pine, roses, woodruff, lemon verbena and fresh lemon. Get the picture!
Kathleen of the Spirit

In Autumn it is berries, heather, rose-hip, yarrow and crab apples. Seasonal for sure. Winter is earthier, sloes, haws and a little warming spice, a great cocktail gin!

And then we had the pride of Glendalough, the Wild Botanicals Gin, “a gin for all seasons” according to Gary. “Its nose has the freshness of spring, on the palate you have summer flowers and autumn fruits and then the winter spice. Try it with Poachers Tonic.” We did and we could see why it is going down so well at home and abroad. But Glendalough won't abandon the seasons series. “Seasons are brilliant and we will always do them.”
Tasting the seasons

St Kevin's gaff;
the small one!
Their gin range has a few more. I earlier mentioned the Beech Leaf but Gary obliged us also with tastings from their Dillisk Gin and their Sloe Gin. The sloe had remarkable aromas and Garry advised trying it with a little apple juice.

So lots of fun and enthusiasm at Glendalough but lots of know-how as well. Let the journey continue, the story spreading from the lovely hills and lakes of Wicklow to wherever the spirit leads them next. 

The picture on the left shows where St Kevin retreated when his original site became too crowded with fans. He lived in a cave here, the small one, not the large one. 


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Brooklodge Hotel. Excellent Base for Wicklow.

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.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Strawberry Tree. Prize and Surprise.

Strawberry Tree. Prize and Surprise.

Your salad in a tin. Your berry soda hidden among daisies. Your cheese just 90 minutes old.


Last Thursday, I enjoyed the superb Organic and Wild Food Tasting Menu at Strawberry Tree restaurant in Macreddin Village, County Wicklow. For close on three hours, we enjoyed the culinary adventure, ten courses in all, a staggering array of delightful dishes.

Though we had read the menu in advance, each course had an element of surprise. And the dinner itself (plus a bottle of their Irish Crystal Gin) was a prize that I won in an online competition by Kilkenny’s Highbank Orchard, Ireland’s only organic orchard. So I was on a winner for the night!

Wild duck crackers (left) and 90 day cheese
As we made the short way from our room in the Brooklodge Hotel, also part of the Macreddin village, we met the hens on the lawn, a reminder that this is Ireland's only certified organic restaurant. It is also rather plush with gold framed mirrors a dominant feature.

Eight courses were detailed on the menu (and so too were all their suppliers). Our first plate was a “surprise from the local fields”, a wild duck cracker with a mushroom foam and mushroom dust. Delicate and delectable, a tasty surprise indeed.
Smoked salmon

Then we were on to a smooth and tangy Field and Farm, their own fresh 90 minute old cheese (made 90 minutes before service), Baby greens and rapeseed oil. Sea and Shore was next, their own Smokehouse wild salmon, wild seagreens, laverbread and cod’s roe spread. This was a quite a plate, a superb one too.

Wood and Field followed, this a Wild Leaf Salad, fermented garlic, pickled ramson seeds and more. The surprise here was that your salad came in a tin that you shook yourself to mix the elements and then spread onto to your plate that had been prepared with the garlic and seeds. We happily crunched our way through this completely delicious mix and then took a break for five minutes, the first of a few.


Salad in a tin!
Apples featured strongly in Hedgerow and Orchard which was Wild Crab Apple and Dabinett, Three Ways: Spiced, Chilled and Mulled. Instructions were to start with the spiced and that was followed quickly with the chilled to modify the hot spice. And then we finished with the calming mulled Highbank Orchard cider. A super trio.

And there followed yet another surprise insertion and a really gorgeous one, a wild venison consommé topped with a beetroot foam. Quite a flavour sensation to sip the hot venison soup through the beetroot as both flavours came together so well. Simple idea but a superb duo.

Wild venison consommé
Time then for the main events. First up was the inventive Sea and Wood: Pan Fried John Dory, Hogweed, Ground Elder, and their own Pancetta. Once again all the elements gelled together so well and the greens proved a marvellous match with the fish. By the way, everything cooked here on the night was done to perfection and the presentations were excellent.

The Farmer and the Butcher were not to be left out, of course, and they gave us 35 Day Aged Seared Beef Sirloin, slow cooked shin, horseradish cream, Butternut squash and jus. I think that jus contained some bone marrow. In any event, the dish was perfect, a beautiful mix of meat and veg, every element playing a part, nothing superfluous.

Apple three ways
John Dory and, below, filet

We had been taking the odd break and now called another one, the better to enjoy the wine. Hard enough to pick one to match everything here but we were very happy with the performance of the Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner 2011 (biodynamic).


And now we were on to a sweeter drink, another surprise. This was called Just the Hedgerow, a real wild berry soda. The surprise was that it came, both bottles and their glass straws, in a wine box full of grass and daisies. But we found the bottles (not too difficult!) - the soda included some sloe gin - and enjoyed them, a bit of delicious fun, another treat from the vast repertoire here.


Find your berry soda!
 The main dessert was called simply The Wood: a wild sorrel lemon curd, meringue crust, shortbread biscuit. You wouldn't normally expect to find wood sorrel in a dessert but by that stage we were prepared to trust the Strawberry Tree (and they trust Anna’s Desserts). And that trust was repaid with the sweetest spoonfuls! Terrific finish to a memorable meal. Great service too, informative, chatty and time for a joke or two as well.
Dessert
The Strawberry Tree Tasting Menu €75.00
Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner €37.00