Boatyard Double Gin is made by an Irish farm to glass producer that places emphasis on craft from the first detail to the last. Founded by former London Distillery Company COO Joe McGirr, Boatyard Distillery places provenance, ethos and – of course – taste at the heart of its products.
Joe McGirr has been playing on the edge of big booze brands for years. He worked for Glenmorangie and Möet Hennessy before his stint at The London Distillery Company, where he learnt the gin ropes from founder Darren Rook. “Gin is a category which I felt an affinity towards,” McGirr told us. “I felt that it gives an incredible amount of freedom legally to play and experiment with botanicals and recipes. The possibilities are endless.”
Creating your own product – especially if that product is gin – is a romantic notion, but as regular readers will know having heard the turmoils many a maker has undergone just to get started, the bureaucracy that surrounds it is more akin to the post-iceberg part of Titanic than the tap dancing in the basement bit… “Planning permission for the distillery site, HMRC approvals, equipment engineering and finally product development. Each thing takes a year,” McGirr explained. “Or double the amount of time that you had originally thought.”
The recipe for Boatyard Double Gin was one formed by a process of elimination. McGirr always had a clear vision of what he wanted the gin to taste like, so working from a botanical library and using tasting panels (many, many tasting panels – sometimes as many as one a day over a period of months) he brought his vision to life.
The final botanical line up is formed of juniper, sweet gale (bog myrtle), unwaxed lemon peel, coriander, grains of paradise, orris, angelica and liquorice. The botanicals are all organic, a choice made not as an easy marketing slogan but for the sake of quality. McGirr told us: “Through development I saw massive consistency discrepancies in the juniper that we were getting. We now have organically certified juniper from Bulgaria which has been the most consistent and high quality I have seen.”
The local angle comes from the sweet gale, which is harvested twice a year by McGirr’s nieces and nephews in Fermanagh. The trick to sweet gale is to pick it early in the morning, and not after rain – no mean feat in Ireland!
This obsession with quality extends beyond the botanicals used to flavour Boatyard Double Gin. McGirr wanted to ensure control throughout, so the entire process begins with the production of Boatyard Distillery’s base alcohol. This is made with organic floor malted wheat and Champagne yeast (high ABV fermentation with a low flavour so ideal for a gin base). Though the spirit is rectified to 96% ABV, thus becoming neutral, McGirr believes that the base flavour comes through, adding “a lovely breadiness” to the final product.
As the neutral spirit comes through the still, juniper is introduced into the filtration system, giving the spirit both its first dose of pine and it’s “Double Gin” moniker. It is a technique that some Dutch Jenever makers have used for centuries, although they tend to do this after the final distillation, not before.
The resulting spirit is blended with a bought in, organically produced wheat spirit, which the botanicals are added to before being left to macerate for 18 hours. Now, before you spit your gin out and shout about the “grain to glass” claim going straight out of the window, have patience… time and equipment are the main factors behind using two base spirits.
The goal, eventually, is to create everything in house, but as fermentation takes five days, with three runs thereafter (a stripping run, a rectification run, then the gin run), each 200-bottle batch takes three weeks from start to finish (including two weeks resting time). The inclusion of the bought in spirit currently adds to the volume of gin that can McGirr and his brother-in-law, Dennis Perrett, can create in this period. They are working at increasing efficiency and volumes to make all of it in house and we’ll update this article as and when they reach this milestone.
Boatyard Double Gin to Taste…
Grains of paradise is an unrelentingly dominant botanical, seemingly regardless of the quantity in which it is used. While Boatyard Double Gin has an undeniably ginny smell, the heat from the grains is loud from a distance. Bright citrus and piny juniper captivate the nose, too, while a floral sweetness – possibly from the orris – sits at the back.
Sipped neat, grains of paradise – as expected – combines with lemon peel to whip the tongue and set fire to the throat. There is absolutely nothing subtle about Boatyard Double Gin, and it certainly makes a grand entrance. It holds strong at the fore, yielding to an almost soapy citrus taste, before the piny, medicinal juniper kicks in with a vengeance, followed swiftly by an enduring yet thankfully more gentle floral note. The overall impression of spice is given heft by the gin’s considerable ABV – which at 46% is stronger than the average seen in the UK. On second sampling there’s another layer, one that does indeed have the cereal-like quality that McGirr suggests.
Boatyard Double Gin is pretty extreme when sipped neat, but it wasn’t designed for such a purpose. With tonic, the spiced harshness is muted, whilst the sweeter botanicals – namely liquorice, orris, angelica and orange – rise up. It becomes soft, sippable and interesting enough to serve without a garnish. It’s genuinely a very delicious G&T – one that manages to be both cooling and refreshing, as well as more distinctly nuanced, despite the warmth of the grains of paradise.
McGirr’s suggested serve is a slice of grapefruit and a low sugar (but not no sugar) tonic. Grapefruit is often the garnish of choice for such a gin as this – one which tows the line in terms of a traditional profile but which talks with its maker’s accent. To use a grapefruit is to serve ice and a slice with a twist, thus emulating the gin’s dual nature.
Boatyard Double Gin is bottled beautifully. Every ingredient, along with its weighting, is listed on the dark blue label, which is created on a restored 1960s Heidelberg letterpress by a small company in Wales (they also make Dodd’s labels). This hands on craft is what McGirr believes will set his gin apart from the competition. “We are involved in every stage of production which gives us control over the entire process. The ability to make our own neutral spirit is fantastic and has allowed us to be able to showcase a different way of making neutral spirit. Without shouting about it on our label, we want to set ourselves apart as the true identity of craft.”
The bottle is tall and broad, it’s colour speaking of the sea and the Naval history of gin. It is tactile and stand out, earning Boatyard Double Gin a Masters award for packaging at the Spirits Business Global Design awards within months of its release.
There is something so satisfying about seeing someone turn a passion project into a legitimate and successful business. Boatyard Distillery had a very long journey to get their product on the shelf, but if McGirr had to go back and do it all again, there’s no doubt that he would. When we asked him what the most memorable part of the journey had been so far, he answered simply: “Seeing our product come alive with liquid into a bottle with amazing packaging. This product has the heart and soul of both my family in Ireland and my wife’s family in London. It’s great when we see it in a bar or shop alongside other brands.”
In the short term, it’s hard to say whether or not audiences really consider where the base alcohol comes from when they’re purchasing gin (though the lack of producers making their own suggests that it is hardly a consideration at all). By creating their own however, Boatyard Distillery are showing a long term commitment to control, craft and an understanding that details – all details – matter. They’ve set themselves apart as producers that are keen to hold their hometown aloft; to celebrate where they’ve come from and where they’re going with a good gin in genuinely fantastic packaging.
As McGirr himself told us, the ethos behind the distillery is “to create farm to bottle spirits in the most beautiful setting in the world.” Looking at what they’ve made, one can only admire their first steps. It is evident to see that theirs is a distillery that that gin fans will be hearing a lot more from in the future…
For more information about Boatyard Distillery, visit their website: boatyarddistillery.com
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