Much can be achieved in a relatively short time if you have passion, belief and a determination to succeed. These are all qualities possessed by husband and wife team David and Fiona Boyd-Armstrong of Rademon Estate Distillery in Northern Ireland, which produces Shortcross Gin.
I was delighted to be invited along to the Shortcross Gin Club Event which was held in the stunning surroundings of Galgorm Resort & Spa at the beginning of the month and to learn more about the award-winning distillery and its unique gin from the Boyd-Armstrongs themselves. Hosted in the River Room & Conservatory at Galgorm, we happily sipped on Shortcross French 75 cocktails while we nibbled delicious Canapés and listened to David explain to us how Shortcross came into existence.
The distillery was set up by the duo in 2012 with Fiona as Managing Director and David as Head-Distiller. Giving up good jobs, as a quantity surveyor and an engineer respectively, was not something that they did on a whim but rather because they both fundamentally believed that re-kindling the distilling tradition that goes back centuries in Ireland and also re-defining what an Irish gin should be was something that they could achieve together.
From the outset they instinctively knew that they wanted their gin to reflect the flavours and aromas of the woodlands and landscape of Rademon Estate. David explained how he and Fiona carried out extensive research before embarking on their venture. Together they foraged wild clover, elderflowers and berries from the locale and used them with homegrown apples to create uplifting floral notes, smooth sweet flavours and fresh aromas. These native botanicals were then combined with juniper, coriander seeds, citrus peels and cassia to a wheat spirit base in order to produce their gin. Cut with pure fresh water drawn from the Estate’s historic well, Shortcross Gin is bottled at 46% ABV in small batches of 200-300 bottles at a time.
Our first formal gin tasting of the evening was a Deconstructed Shortcross Gin & Tonic which David talked us through highlighting the gin’s key features. With a subtle sweetness that I particularly liked, Shortcross is long on the palate with a smooth finish. Coriander and cassia give it a nice bouquet and spice whilst the overall feeling is lively and clean-tasting. With this we ate a dish of Wild Duck Ham, Salt-Baked Beetroot, Blood Orange which worked remarkably well with the drink. I found that the freshness of the Gin & Tonic cut through the richness of the meat whilst the blood orange mimicked the drink’s citrus notes.
David then described how, after months of research and visiting other craft distilleries, the pair took the plunge and commissioned a 450 litre copper pot still which was custom-made – combining the best of old and new technologies – to their specification by German still makers Carl. The still also comprises two enrichment columns which each house seven individual bubble plates that enables them to set various levels of reflux during the distillation process to create a smooth and aromatic spirit. We were fascinated to learn that distillation isn’t a process without its dangers and how, because of the presence of alcohol vapours, there is always a small risk of explosions! This, we were reassured, was a situation that was closely monitored.
The distillery’s small batch philosophy, where everything including bottling and labelling is crafted and perfected by hand, means that producing each bottle is quite labour-intensive. However, David and Fiona have embraced the long hours and effort required with an enthusiasm that has seen Shortcross Gin win many awards including a Silver Medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2015.
Keen to build on these successes the pair recently introduced a limited edition Cask-Aged Shortcross Gin which we then sampled. In order to produce it, the gin was rested in French Oak Casks from the Chateau de la Ligne in Bordeaux which had previously contained the Chateau Cuvée Prestige wine. The cask-aged gin was recently exclusively launched through Fortnum & Mason in London where it was the Spirit of the Month for February.
I loved the Negroni which was made with the gin, vermouth, Campari and garnished with a twist of orange peel. With assertive juniper on the nose and a velvety smooth finish the cask-aged gin gives this classic cocktail a contemporary twist. To accompany the Negroni we feasted on Ceviche of Wild Sea Trout, Fermented Cucumber and Radish, another fabulous dish from the kitchens at Galgorm.
Moving on we were shown how versatile Shortcross Gin can be. The G&T with Frozen Grapefruit and Basil Garnish was very different to the earlier gin and tonic we had tried. Here, the frozen fruit intensified and really highlighted the delightful floral qualities of the gin. I loved it. It was served with Lamb, Sweet Carrot & Wild Pea Shoots which I found also brought out and complemented the underlying sweetness of the gin.
We were then treated to a ‘Sensory Experience’ which involved serving hot and cold versions of a Shortcross Punch. This really demonstrated the profound effect that temperature can have on our sense of taste. Although both drinks were the same, but one was served hot and the other cold, I could have sworn that they were completely different. With this we enjoyed a dessert of Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Grapefruit & Pink Peppercorn which was full zingy flavours that further tantalised the tastebuds.
There are many exciting developments on the horizon for Fiona and David and all at Rademon Estate with plans to launch a new Irish Malt Whiskey onto the market in 2018. The whiskey will be matured in a variety of casks which Fiona and David hope will allow new and innovative flavours and aromas to be created.
We finished a most enjoyable evening with another cocktail each. I had the Lemon & Caraway Gin Fizz , a fabulous blend made with Shortcross, caraway infused syrup, fresh lemon and was topped with soda for some fizz whilst my companions had a Cask-Aged Classic Martini and a Cask-Aged Shortcross Sour. These we savoured as we chatted and listened to the live entertainment by Galgorm’s resident swing singer Danny Conlon.
I’m simply someone who loves cooking and experimenting with food and different ingredients. From my early childhood spent in Zambia and Australia before returning home to Ireland I was fascinated with cookbooks and reading recipes. I would spend many hours reading my grandmother’s cookbooks and watching her preparing food in the kitchen.
Although I studied to become a graphic designer and spent a few years working in advertising before then becoming a civil servant, the one thing I always wanted to be was a food writer – sharing my enthusiasm for cooking with others, but I lacked the confidence to do the thing I wanted to do most in case I failed. I finally decided to take a risk and applied for MasterChef Ireland 2014 and was one of the three finalists.
For me, food and cooking is about family, friendship, sharing and conviviality. As a mother of three, I want my children to grow up with a love and appreciation of how lucky we are to live in a country like Ireland with such great produce and so many wonderful food producers. I continue to write and share my enthusiasm for food on my food and recipe blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.