Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin
Saint Kevin of Glendalough’s Wikipedia page reads like the world’s weirdest game of Top Trumps. Born: 498, died: 618 (a casual 120 years, there). Attributes: Blackbird. Though little is documented – as little was back in the 600s –St. Kevin’s life is said to have begun rather extraordinarily, when a white cow arrived in his early years to supply him with milk. He was educated by monks and eventually ordained, but grew tired of his followers and retreated to Glendalough, wherein he lived as a hermit in a man made cave.
St. Kevin kept nature as company, wearing animal skins and eating what he could forage nearby. It was his story that helped the makers at the Glendalough Distillery decide the shape of their gin. They wanted to use wild botanical ingredients – especially those that people would have survived off in this era – to make a product that would reflect the rich offerings of Co. Wicklow.
The Glendalough Distillery was founded by five friends: Kevin Keenan, Gary McLoughlin, Barry Gallagher, Brian Fagan and Donal O’Gallachoir. They wanted to revive the heritage of craft distilling in Ireland, creating spirits that were true to the country’s history, like whiskey and poitin. St. Kevin has served as an emblem and inspiration to the quintet since the beginning (monks were, after all, amongst the earliest distillers), so the move to follow his story with gin was quite natural.
Glendalough Distillery’s adventure into gin began with a range of seasonal gins, the first of which was summer 2014. Working with a local forger, Geraldine Kavanagh, the team head out into the wilds of Glendalough to pick ingredients, distilling them the very next day so that they retain all of their essential oils.
Kavanagh was careful, when foraging for the spring, summer, autumn and winter gins, to pick ingredients that wouldn’t vary too much year-on-year. McLoughlin explains: “The ingredients are the same, but the weather will impact on oils, flavours etc. If one summer was drier than another summer, the flavours will be slightly different from those same botanicals… the differences, however, will be subtle.”
The Summer Gin was followed by autumn, the autumn by winter and the winter by spring. All four have ingredients in common (a base of juniper, angelica, coriander, bitter almond, orris root and orange peel is shared by all), but each carry with them an individual sense of time. “There is one predominant foraged botanical in each season that really reminds Geraldine of Wicklow in that season,” McLoughlin said. “So for spring it is gorse flower, for summer it’s elderflower, for autumn its fraughan berries and for winter it is sloes.”
Whilst all four gins do a remarkable job of conveying not only time but place as well, they aren’t the easiest sell to the on-trade. People may not necessarily want to stock summer gin in winter and it can be a risky manoeuvre to order a case of gin that’s only in vogue for three months at a time. As a result, Glendalough Distillery has just released an all season gin – Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin.
“It took us a year to get right,” McLoughlin recalled. “We wanted to give you all four seasons in order. As you smell and taste the gin, you get spring notes on the nose, then summer florals moving into autumn fruitiness on the palette, finishing with a spiciness reminiscent of our winter gin.” To our understanding, the Wild Botanical Gin is a blend of all four seasonal spirits – spring, summer, autumn and winter, and to taste it does indeed take the sipper on a journey across the year.
Initially, all five founders took distilling courses and did a great deal of learning on the job to produce their batches, helped along by an old friend of Keenan’s – Rowdy Rooney. Rowdy now oversees all distillation at Glendalough and is very precious when it comes to letting anyone else near his still, Cathleen – a gloriously shiny, 500l Arnold Holstein beast. He takes a painstakingly methodical approach to distillation, tasting and smelling his way through each run to make head, heart and tail cuts depending on the alchemy of each day. There are no robots around – everything is done manually.
Each run takes 24 hours from maceration through to final distillation. “We could do it a lot faster,” McLoughlin said, “but we take this long so that we can tease out the more delicate flavours, and also so that we can choose cut points more carefully.” The botanicals that make up Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin include liquorice root and bark, lemon, elderflower, red clover, yarrow, ox eye daisy, wild raspberry, blackberry leaves, wild rose, watermint, sweet woodruff, lemon balm, sweet cicely, lady’s bedstraw and bell heather.
Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin to taste…
Bottled at 41% ABV, the gin is a forest buffet to nose, with fresh greens and earthy, autumnal spices crying out to be heard above the pack. Soft, sweet gorse and a fresh, crunchy-apple smell take prominence, though a herbal, juniper note vibrates gently throughout.
A woody, sweet liquorice taste is joined by a coriander-like heat. The gin is wild and complex, yet somehow mellow. A grassy spring taste is joined – and eventually usurped – by a hint of delicate summer flowers, elderflower in particular. These give way to autumnal berries and a cassia-like spice, which warms the chest and tingles the lips, but which soothes the throat, instead of burning. Juniper is subtle, if not painfully shy, though a pine taste is left on the tongue long after the gin is supped.
With tonic, the gin’s more cooling properties blossom. Something mentholic and grassy – watermint perhaps – floods the tongue, then a bouquet of flowers lands in the mouth and sits on your senses for the rest of the sip. There’s a strong herbal undertone and a hint of almost-ripe fruit; it’s as though all seasons were taking it in turns to step across a seesaw, with each element – the gorse notes of spring and autumn notes of bilberry, for example – making quick, sharp swaps to dominate.
It’s delicious and beyond interesting and in our opinion needs no dressing up; the flavours are so well balanced and the journey so intentional that to use a garnish would send all that hard work skew whiff. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mix Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin though; its flavours are such that it would be delightful in both a Martini and a French 75, so you should definitely push it to its limits in that respect.
St. Kevin (and his blackbird, of course), is featured on the label on the front of the bottle. He serves as the emblem for all Glendalough Distillery products and adds something of a timeless quality to the bottle; it’s undoubtedly modern, but the imagery has an ancient, Biblical feel to it. Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin, for want of a better phrase, looks cool. The botanicals are embossed subtly onto the label, the Wicklow mountains are represented in its shape and symbols make up a good portion of the lettering.
The next move for the team is to get Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin out into the world. The lack of seasonality means they now have time to build up momentum for the product, and get the tastes of the region into the hands, or rather the mouths, of the world.
Striking many notes, from herbal to floral to fruity, the gin will appeal to many tastes, and though the Pound is a quivering wreck at the moment (therefore Euro pricing can be a little… difficult), Glendalough, at around £32 a bottle, is fairly priced. Much like it’s namesake lake, this is a gin well worth diving into.
For more information about Glendalough Distillery, visit their website: glendaloughdistillery.com
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