Peter Mulryan – Blackwater No.5 Gin
Blackwater No.5 Gin has gone from strength to strength and awareness is growing each month, what’s it been like from the inside?
Peter Mulryan: It’s great to see people drinking and enjoying Blackwater No.5 Gin, but it’s been hard to adjust to the stop/start demand of a new product. In other words we have no idea how much gin any market will take, so you ship and not know if there will be another order that month, or that year! That’s pretty nerve wracking. Some months the orders come in dribs and drabs, other months everyone reorders or you get a new customer and it’s non-stop. It’s still our first year, so as yet there is no pattern to it.
That must make forecasting very difficult, no doubt it’ll just become non-stop after a while though! You have had a successful career as a writer, author and producer before moving into distilling. How have you found the change and what’s your favourite part of making gin?
Going from writing about spirits to actually making the stuff has been liberating. My favourite part of the job is what my youngest son calls “making a creation” – I am forever distilling strange things, or mascaraing, or maturing or foraging. It’s endlessly rewarding!
Talking of “creations”, 2015 has been exciting from a liquid perspective too, with not one but two gins made… could you tell us more about the fabled Juniper Cask and how it came around?
The Juniper Cask Gin project goes back several years. I was making a documentary in Kosovo and saw how impressive the juniper trees were. Unlike Irish juniper, those that have grown in a continental climate are much larger. I remember being at a saw mill and seeing a juniper tree being cut up. The scent was amazing and got me thinking what would happen if you stuck gin in a juniper cask.
But it took me several years to find a cooper who would build me a cask, and several more years to get a gin formula that wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the wood. It was very rewarding and we are again experimenting with other woods now.
There’s a lot of local historical ties to the botanicals you use for your flagship Blackwater No.5 Gin too, even though they are quite classic in the context of gin. What made you want to use the local archives as a starting point when developing your recipe?
We questioned everything. Why go with a 70cl bottle? Why use local botanicals? Why have a round bottle? There is a danger in just going with the crowd. One of our earliest decisions was to stay away from local botanicals. Mostly they are used not for flavour, but for marketing purposes. Sure it makes cute copy, but it’s become a cliché.
When we found one of the largest shippers of spices in the Victorian period was White’s of Waterford and they used to ship botanicals up the Blackwater River to all the big houses – it was just too compelling to ignore. It gave us a local angle and a real story not some nonsense about grubbing around in the hedgerows or picking shamrocks. If you want to use local botanicals then do it properly. Be brave. That’s why in 2016 we will pilot a 100% Native Irish Gin where local botanicals aren’t PR dressing, the gin will actually be made from 100% Irish botanicals and 100% Irish spirit.
Brave indeed! For those who don’t know it – how would you describe the taste of Blackwater No.5 Gin?
One of the things I love about gin is the choice. As no one is the same, there is a gin for everyone. I wanted Blackwater No.5 Gin to be bright and clean – so we distil very slowly and take a very narrow cut. I wanted a gin that would unfold in the mouth. Juniper giving way to sweet citrus, yielding to spice, warming to roots and ending with a flourish of Seville orange.
In your opinion, do you think there is a loss of quality in making a concentrate as opposed to doing a “one-shot” gin?
There is no doubt, if you make gin ‘concentrated’ enough, eventually it will show. However quite where that point lies is a matter of debate. Although Blackwater No.5 is a ‘one-shot’ gin I have distilled it at 2:1 and 3:1. At 2:1 there is little in it, just a slight loss of smoothness. At 3:1 the GNS ‘burn’ was more evident.
And whilst we’re on the slightly more controversial subjects… Do you think there should be clearly defined guidelines as to what constitutes a “craft” gin and do you think the scale of an operation has any role to play in the debate?
I think the only point in defining ‘craft’ would be if there was a tax break attached. Say you got a refund on duty for being under so many litres per annum, that would help the small operators. Otherwise I think it’s pointless to define craft, you might as well debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Fair enough. The Irish market does have a unique set of challenges but you are ahead of the curve when it comes to Irish craft distilling, which is set to boom in the coming 18 months. Is this incoming tide something you are having to adapt to and what kind of challenges are you facing for 2016?
We are very open about what we do and often hold Gin Distilling Workshops, we have a karmic approach to distilling and genuinely like to help people start up. Surviving isn’t about stifling competition, it’s about embracing it. So we’re just going to have to be better, more innovative and more driven by our customers. But that’s good.
We all love a tipple or two so other than your own creations, what other gins to you enjoy? Are there any that you particularly like?
This a golden age for gin. There are now some spectacular gins around right now and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. It’s hard to mention some and not others but here are some of my ‘go to’ gins.
I like Sipsmith because it uses a classic palate of botanicals to create a gin with flair and imagination. I like Monkey 47 for using local botanicals properly, that is for taste not marketing. After that I like Crossbill for being brave, Gin Mare for dancing on the savoury side and Tarquin’s for being subtle.
What’s your favourite garnish in a Blackwater G&T?
A slice of lime and lots of ice!
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