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The making of a London Dry Gin is a process subject to certain regulations as regards to inputs, almost like a wine appellation. This was our introduction to Blackwater No. 5*, the LDC from Cappoquin with the heron in the logo that is already making a name for itself.
Peter Mulryan was our informative guide on a visit to the fledgling Blackwater Distillery. Peter, the distiller and one of four directors, told us about the botanicals, 12 if I remember rightly, 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.
The orange skins, by the way, come from Spain, the pulp having been extracted to make marmalade. Some spices, including Cinnamon and Cardamom, are also used.
Juniper is perhaps the best known element, having been traditionally used to make gin, and indeed provides the dominant flavour. Got my hands on a juniper berry and when I crushed it between the fingers it began to feel oily. It is this oil that is extracted and used.
In the still.
Three roots help complete the mix, including liquorice and angelica which “tastes kind of gin-ny”.
And if you thought that this was the first time that these exotic botanicals have reached the beautiful banks of the Blackwater, you'd be mistaken. Peter related the remarkable story of the White family from Waterford who, in the 18th and 19th centuries, imported spices, some from faraway places, and distributed them widely, even sending their own boats up the Blackwater with spice consignments for the many big houses on its banks.
The stills are small here, so small they even have names. Distillation though happens quickly and you can make a decent size batch of gin in a day. By the way, there is a reason why most stills are made of copper. Peter: “Copper softens the mouthfeel. The alcohol won’t ‘burn’ you”, he told us. Aside from the stills, they also have a bottling machine on-site.
Already, the new distillery has cooperated with local brewers, including Dungarvan Brewing Company, as it seeks to position itself away from the really big distillers with which it cannot compete on price.
Still and, right, cooling tower.
And Blackwater can certainly be different as I found out with the next few tastings. First up was the Curious Still vodka distilled from a double IPA by Black’s of Kinsale. “That is taking the bland out of vodka,” said one obviously impressed taster in our small group.
Now we were on to Poteen, called the Spirit of West Waterford, made from local ingredients, and recently subject to government regulations. This was based on a hop-free oatmeal stout, brewed by Dungarvan Brewing Company. It also contains local barley, Flahavan’s oats and "a smidgen of molasses". This “very soft” drink, with an ABV of 43%, was such a hit at the recent West Waterford Festival of Food that the plan is “to move it into commercial production” in the months ahead.
And there is even better news to come. Peter proudly showed us a few small casks made in Finland from juniper wood (the wood itself imported from Serbia). It is hard to get enough of the timber as juniper is a bush, not a tree. An initial batch filled one of the casks and has been a success, “a great gin”, and production of this will also be scaled up. One way of being different.
Small cask, made from juniper.
And whiskey, Well, no whisky yet. Remember you have to wait three years and one day to have your whiskey approved as Irish Whiskey or as Irish Whisky as Peter would spell it. Plans are well advanced but you won't find their whisky on the shelves anytime soon. At present, you may pre-buy one of a limited number of 50 litre casks.
“We offer people a choice of seven whisky styles in a choice of wood finishes,” says Peter. These won't be any old whiskey. You’ll be offered anything from Single Malt to a peated Pot Still Irish. Check out their websitehttp://blackwaterdistillery.ie for details.
Innovation is the name of the game here. Peter, a native of nearby Conna, learned the trade in Scotland and that knowledge and his enthusiasm are now being let loose on the final big bend of the Blackwater. Watch out for the heron silhouetted on their bottles, coming to a shelf near you.
* Blackwater No. 5 is distributed by Classic Drinks.