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!”