Founded in 2012 by husband and wife team Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong, Rademon Estate Distillery is located outside Downpatrick, County Down at the couple’s historic family estate. Created to be a classical gin with a unique twist, Shortcross Gin is a fantastic addition to the category and, as a distillery, deserves to be celebrated for re-invigorating the now almost lost craft-distilling legacy of the area.
To say that the team at Rademon Estate Distillery are proud to be Northern Ireland’s first award winning craft distillery is an understatement. It’s clear that their gin and the journey they have been on to create the distillery has been a passion project from the start. Shortcross Gin is very much a personal affair.
Created by husband and wife team David and Fiona Boyd-Armstrong, the Rademon Estate Distillery was only established in 2012. David, formerly an engineer from East Belfast, and Fiona, formerly a quantity surveyor, decided to rekindle the distilling tradition that spans back centuries in Ireland.
The name Shortcross came from the Gaelic for Crossgar, ‘An Chrois Ghearr’, meaning ‘the short cross’. The name (and symbol) had history and heritage naturally associated with it. For David and Fiona, it also subtly referenced the location of their distillery.
After months of research and visiting other craft distilleries, the duo took the plunge and commissioned a still. Their still was custom made to their bespoke specification by German Still makers Carl. While many have Carl stills across the UK and in the craft distilling world, the Shortcross stills have combined the best of old and new technology; with a 450L Copper Pot Still as well as two Enrichment Columns.
The enrichment columns each house seven individual bubble plates that enables them to set various levels of reflux during the distillation process, creating a smooth and aromatic spirit. There are now a few distilleries with similar added columns, but few have two of them with as many plates that are used (or “activated” as some say) during the process. It also future proofs the operation as it allows them to create varying spirits, harnessing the stills in various ways.
What about the gin you ask? Aspiring to create something unique and which was reminiscent of the surrounding forests and gardens at Rademon Estate, David and Fiona foraged wild clover from local sources. The gin also includes elderflowers and elderberries, which combine to create both uplifting floral notes and smooth sweet flavours, whilst the homegrown green apples contribute fresh aromas and lively sweet notes.
These regional botanicals are combined with juniper, coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel and cassia to a wheat spirit base in order to create their balanced gin. Cut with pure fresh water drawn from their historic estate well, Shortcross Gin is bottled at 46% ABV in small batches of 200 – 300 bottles at a time.
On the nose, elderflower and elderberry give the gin some lift, but it never strays too far from a core juniper backbone. Shortcross has a classic yet contemporary flavour. Verdant notes from juniper and clover are layered with the lemony coriander spice. There’s a delicate peppery yet leafy (angelica) finish too, with an overall oily mouthfeel that adds a rich texture to the experience when tasted neat. Elderberries emerge to taste too, complementing the floral elements well. It’s not often that a gin has a sense of place. Few set out to achieve it and even fewer succeed. In this light, Shortcross is an intriguing gin that’s true to the base idea of “Craft Gin”, which should be about having its regional accents as well as the small batch methods that the term implies. It’s impossibly smooth too. We’ve tasted it time and again and never quite believed the 46% ABV (it really is) as it’s simply so soft and elegant.
The distillery sits in a beautiful countryside estate surrounded by landscaped gardens, wild meadows and rivers with lots of wildlife. In many ways, this is a fitting metaphor for the gin itself, which feels fresh and natural. The team hand bottle, wax dip and sign each bottle and while no cottage industry – the gin benefits from that personal touch that’s been taken all the way through the branding. As regular readers will know, we love a good bit of design work here…
Focusing in on the heritage associated with the name ‘Shortcross’, the design team discovered the short cross penny. For the budding numismatists out there – the coin dates back to the tenth century and was one of the most successful English coin designs in history. Having sourced an original coin, they took high-resolution scans to incorporate it into the gin’s branding and packaging.
Thick parchment paper is used for the labels and the brand stamp comes from a rough-edged copper coin from King Henry 11’s Dublin mint. One of these is even framed and hanging in the distillery. It’s geeky, detailed yet equally restrained design work. In doing so, there is an instant charm to the gin. It feels like something you’d want to hold and have as pride of place on the shelf, but not in an ostentatious way.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that given one half of the team is the daughter of well-known property developer and Rademon Estate owner Frank Boyd – who made Northern Ireland’s 2010 Rich List – and with a distillery that sits within a 500 acre estate, funding came easy to Shortcross Gin. This was not the case and they are not a pair of hapless dreamers with cash to burn. Moreover, this was no overnight distillery based on a whim either – far from it.
The initial idea for Shortcross began in 2012 when Fiona and David began their travels across Europe, North America and Asia learning everything they could about distilling and the spirits industry. It was only a year later that they placed the order for their custom still in 2013 (it finally arrived in Summer 2013). As always with new distilleries, it’s never just the case of pressing a switch and the producing a finished gin. The Shortcross recipe development took place from October 2013 to March 2014. That’s quite a long time but the duo wanted to redefine what an Irish Gin could or even should be, so there was quite a lot to focus on, learn and to get right. It took two years to go from initial idea to a bottled gin but it was worth the wait, the flavour of Shortcross Gin speaks for itself!
The finances were equally considered too, Invest NI awarded a £42,782 grant to help Rademon Drinks explore export opportunities for their £500,000 overall project. In comparison to many other craft distilleries, this is on par or below many figures we’ve seen. While it may seem trivial to point this side of the distillery’s journey out, we do so to shine some wider context on their achievement. It’s impressive and real. It’s no fantasy project or flash in the pan.
Their business is based around the same sound principles as all the other successful small craft distillers in Europe: lots of planning, solid research, expensive copper at the start, hard graft all the way through and good taste to underpin it all. One year into their journey, they are just a team of three and everything is done between them. They should be proud of what has been created so far.
Shortcross is more than simply worth seeking out if you see it. Go out of your way to find some. It’s fresh, lively and the perfect way to re-introduce craft distilling culture back to Northern Ireland. With barely four years behind them, there is a long way to go for the gin and the distillery as a whole as they are growing each month. No doubt the road ahead will be fraught with perils but expect to see much more of Shortcross Gin as well as more craft distilleries emerge from the area. Exciting times await and we’ll be watching enthusiastically as they grow.
Shortcross remains one of our editor’s favourite gins and having tasted, reviewed and written articles about well over 200 gins in total, that should tell you everything you need to know about the quality and authenticity of this gin. You need this in your cabinet.
For more information about Shortcross Gin, visit their website: www.shortcrossgin.com
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