Bertha’s Revenge is a unique endeavour of a gin that takes its base spirit from whey and its name from a legendary cow – Big Bertha. Bertha reached the grand old age of 48 and had birthed 39 calves by the time she died in 1993, earning herself the title of world’s oldest cow (and most productive mother, to boot). Bertha’s Revenge Gin, distilled at Ballyvolane House Spirits, is a tribute to both her longevity and her maternal instincts.
Ballyvolane House is a historic Irish country house that provides accommodation alongside the Blackwater river. The house is owned by Justin and Jenny Green, having been bought by Justin’s grandfather in 1953.
Justin had long wanted to expand and diversify Ballyvolane House’s offerings and having watched the emergence of craft gins in the UK, soon found himself inspired. When he and school friend Antony Jackson shared a couple of drinks in early summer 2014, they started to discuss making a gin that would share and express the core values of the house.
Though the duo lacked distilling expertise, they had combined experience in the hotel and wine industry and had amassed enough confidence to set about producing a gin together. They always had a pretty clear idea of what sort of gin they wanted to create, says Antony, adding “we are both passionate about food provenance and good quality, and we wanted to produce a really tasty and interesting gin, that would both stand proudly alongside other respected small-batch names and at the same time mirror the ethos and style of Ballyvolane House”.
Ballyvolane House Spirits calls itself a grass to glass distillery, with the whey ethanol made from milk produced just 30 minutes away. For those who don’t know about whey – when milk is separated into curds and whey, the latter is usually a waste product. Instead, Ballyvalone House Spirits add specially developed yeasts to the product, resulting in being able to transform it (once distilled a few times) into a spirit.
Antony is quick to sing the praises of the spirit base that forms Bertha’s Revenge, saying “we find that the whey carries our botanicals, especially the spice element, in a really supportive fashion. It results in a depth of mouthfeel that is really very impressive.”. While we were dubious about the claims upon first glance – after all, it is very unusual to have whey as a base – this comment articulates precisely how the base spirit works in the end gin and the impact that it has on flavour.
The botanical list is long; juniper, coriander, orris, liquorice, cardamom, angelica, lemon, lime, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, almond, elderflower, alexander seeds, grapefruit, sweet woodruff and – quite unusually – sweet and bitter orange all play their part in Bertha’s Revenge. Both the sweet and bitter orange are dried, and when used together give the palate a longer and more complete finish.
Once the spirit has been created from the whey, it is added into Ballyvolane House Spirits’ 125 litre copper pot still along with the botanicals, wherein a short maceration takes place, followed by a slow distillation.
The distillate is taken from the still and blended with spring water (from their own spring) to bottling strength – 42% ABV. This is a genuinely small-batch affair, producing just 100 bottles per run.
Bertha’s Revenge to taste…
On the nose, Bertha’s Revenge has a real sweet acidity coming from the whey. Piquancy flicks at the nostrils and the cardamom pops alongside a peppery tingle. This carries through to the taste; the gin is sweet at the fore – the liquorice and sweet woodruf makes themselves known – but there’s also a creamy (dare we say milky) taste, which must come from the base alcohol itself. Juniper rises up, but is quickly pushed aside by cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, which dominate towards the end and lingers long after the first sip.
This is a smooth, warming gin with a rich, full mouthfeel. It could be drunk neat on ice, but would do well in a G&T with an orange peel garnish and would positively flourish in a cocktail that calls for a spicy gin, like the Red Snapper.
The passion behind this spirit comes through in the taste – it is of genuine quality and is one we’d be quick to recommend. It should do well in the local market; the number of Irish gins is ever growing (Blackwater No.5, Glendalough, Dingle and Exile to name but a few), demonstrating a thirst amongst the population, and with more and more people choosing to drink local products, the quality of Bertha’s Revenge makes it a strong option.
There’s no reason Bertha’s Revenge Gin shouldn’t do well internationally too, though Ballyvolane House Spirits may need to pick a direction for branding. The ingredient list on the back of the bottle lists all of the botanicals, with cutesy elements such as ‘laughter’ and ‘childish enthusiasm’ peppered amongst them.
This is a little twee and counter to the sign off on their own website and social media – ‘The gate is down and the beast is wild!’ Personal preference is a hard thing to cater to, yes, but we can’t help thinking that the latter message is more suited to the intended audience of this gin. It’s not taking itself too seriously and that’s a good thing, but finding that balance of humour and being serious contender is a tough line to draw.
That said, our initial reaction to the idea of a whey base was one of both curiosity and hesitance (something that was completely unfounded – it works beautifully) and we’re sure many others may feel that way. It’s unusual, and combined with Bertha’s Revenge’s cow references, “Irish milk gin” is something of a double edged sword in that it will put off as many as it will attract. We think it will be a positive in the long run and if you are reading this still uncertain – trust us, just taste, it’s mightily impressive.
Antony and Justin have also discussed opening up a distilling course in the past – Ballyvolane House lends itself well to residential scenarios and the land would offer interested parties the chance to taste, forage and distil on site. It’s a way off yet – there would be a lot of planning, investment and building work to get this underway – but it’s not unlikely. After all, it’s only taken two years to get from concept to bottle.
For more information about Bertha’s Revenge, visit their website: ballyvolanespirits.ie
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