Modern gin is far from the uniform and boring orange juice spiker that was all the rage back when Rocky Balboa was a small time boxer and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was killing it at the MTV Video Music Awards. The spirit’s rags to riches narrative has the juniper infused drink at the top of the bar now, with chic reinterpretations of classic cocktails, craft distillers pushing the boundaries of the category and enthusiastic consumers charmed by its botanical garden of wonders. Is this long-lasting love or is it just gin-fatuation?
P. J. Rigney, creator of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin and the man behind successful Irish export brands Sheridan’s Irish Cream Liqueur and Boru Vodka (which was part of Castle Brands and successfully exited in 2005 with a valuation of over $100 million); is confident in the long term potential of gin: “The gin market is experiencing steady growth with gin consumption in Europe alone forecast to increase by 12.3% by 2019 according to Euromonitor International.” For him, it’s the super-premium sector the one that will see the biggest growth and the one that’s attracting the most new consumers.
“The international market is now looking for super-premium brands that stand apart, with unique heritage and unrivaled quality and taste” and he adds that Ireland’s international reputation as a producer of premium Whiskey “paves a strong international route to market for a super-premium new Irish gin.”
Many of the Irish distilleries that are currently making gin are very young: Glendalough Distillery was established in 2011, Dingle Distillery launched in 2012 (and although they recently bottled their long awaited whiskey for the first time, Dingle Gin got a name on its own merit in the mean time), Blackwater Distillery opened in Waterford in 2015, St. Patrick’s Distillery launched at Bloom 2015, Drumshambo Gunpoder Gin launched in December of the same year and Dublin City Gin launched in January 2016, just to name a few.
Besides opening in the current decade, numerous craft gin distilleries in Ireland have other things in common: a strong interest in exporting and in producing high-end products. Barry Fitzgerald, Brand Manager of St. Patricks Distillery speaks of how producers became more sensible after the recession and now that the country is recovering, they “want something authentic and to know more about what they consume. They are looking for a different experience, higher quality and provenance than before.” Many also make other spirits such as vodka or whiskey. Since craft whiskey is also a highly coveted spirit yet it takes longer to age and it is considerably pricier, craft gin has become a reasonable complementary product and nowadays whiskey and gin have reached a symbiotic relation in the pots of many producers.
Stephen Glennon, Director of Dublin City Gin, is convinced that “the newfound interest in gin will last” but he believes that the market “will change a great deal over the coming years”. For him, the post-recession gin boom is “incredibly exciting” and although he’s delighted to be part of it, he’s aware that time will distill distillers: “there have been so many new gins coming on the market over the last years and months, but I think we’ll see that the gins that were released in a hurry to capitalise on this modern gin craze will soon be left by the wayside as the cream rises to the top.”
Barry agrees on the fact that “craft gins are now at the start of a major market renaissance” and he believes it will continue “for many years to come”, and again, adds that quality craft gins with sophisticated taste profiles are the ones that will do best.
Regarding the characteristics that the refined and savvy recovery-times drink enthusiasts demand from gin producers, P. J. Rigney considers that “it can’t be anything less than exceptional” and good quality isn’t enough by itself anymore, “it must also be exciting and different” as consumers are looking for something very special and palates have evolved to become more discerning.
Stephen “wouldn’t be surprised” if the future of the gin market ended up looking like the present of the craft beer market, “where every possible taste is catered for, and with a very engaged and knowledgeable audience.”
Trends to Watch
As market reports suggest that gin is playing the long game and its renaissance is not just a summer hit, what’s next? Being artisan and good are just basic givens, so what can we expect from gin producers that want to stay current and stand out? According to Chris Wisson, Senior Drinks Analyst at Mintel -the world’s leading market intelligence agency- “gin is in fact now most likely to be drunk by younger consumers [British aged under 35], suggesting that it has a chance to forge a dynamic image and move into even more innovative areas”.
The selection of interesting botanicals and fruits to infuse gin with is one of the strongest trends. From citrus peel to strawberries, elderflower, lavender, spices and roots, the artistry of distillers will be put to the test as juniper ceases to be a solo artist and gin becomes an infinitely customisable harmony.
In tune with the craft beer comparison, limited edition and seasonal gins are two of the ways in which the thirst for novelty is quenched. An example of this is Dingle’s Four Seasons, which also plays on the gift-ready presentation. As Chris Wisson states on Mintel’s report, ” there are opportunities for brands to stand out from the pack… for example via eye-catching packaging, limited editions or small batches and interesting flavour innovation.”
Yellow gin, or barrel aged gin will be another trend to watch, as distillers that also make whiskey are experimenting with barrel use and coming up with light golden oaked gins. Even though the idea is not new (dates back to the 18th century), the relatively obscure style is adding to the diversity of the new wave of craft gins. Brands such as Beefeater and Bombay Amber are some of the big names that have launched aged gins in the last few years.
Want to try modern, interesting Irish gins? Here’s some ginspiration…
€43.95 – Available at Bradley’s Off-License (Cork), Celtic Whiskey Shop (Dublin) – 40% ABV
Aromatic gin made from potatoes, distilled in small batches in Douglas, Cork. With a delicate and pleasant taste of elderflowers, it’s mild flavoured and friendly on the palate. Because its flavours and aromas are subtle, it is a good gin for simple cocktails with a citrus element to balance it.
€34.99 – Available at Martin’s Off License – 42.5% ABV
Made on the classic London dry gin style, this is an elegant and versatile gin distilled in pot stills. Some of the botanicals that are infused in it are Rowan Berry, Fuscia, Bog Myrtle, Heather, Chervil and Hawthorn, these are macerated for 24 hours in spirit to get a present but not overwhelming blend of aromas.
€46 – Available at O’Briens – 42% ABV
A very aromatic gin with flavours that persist in the palate and with a strong presence of juniper complemented by a milder note of citrus fruits. This gin has the character to withstand strong flavoured cocktails and it pairs well with warm spices like ginger, as well as with juicy citrus fruits.
€50 – Available at O’Briens – 46% ABV
Smooth yet persistent, this gin is made in small batches in Co. Down, northern Ireland, and features a rich combination of fruit, herbal and floral aromas. Apples, elderberries, elderflowers, coriander, lemon and orange accompany the juniper for a complex result that is both smooth and very persistent.
€47,50 (on offer at €43.50) – Available at Mitchell and Son – 41% ABV
The botanicals for this gin are foraged by the producers, who venture in the wilds of the Wicklow country side to get fruits, berries and other botanicals. It’s made in very small batches with a different combination each season. Spring is fresh, crisp and floral, ideal for delicate or herbal cocktails.
€53.99 – Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop – 43% ABV
Hancrafted in the Shed Distillery, Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, it mixes Oriental berries and roots with locally foraged meadowsweet. Fresh citrus and fresh gunpowder tea are also part of the exotic blend, which results in a smooth gin, with a hint of anise, cardamom and citrus peel.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.