How gin got its fizz back
With Ireland's first G&T festival in full flow, we chart a spirited comeback for the white stuff
Published 25/06/2015 | 02:30
From 'Mother's Ruin' to craft brewing, now gin is just the tonic for Ireland's trend-conscious hipsters.
Three centuries after the Gin Craze infamously gripped London, sparking moral outrage, sales of the white stuff are booming here, figures show.
As the inaugural Dublin Gin and Tonic Festival gets into full flow this week, 'ginnoisseurs' here say the old-fashioned aperitif is no longer just for nanas.
"Our mission with the festival is to encourage Irish people to have as much pride in their locally made drinks as they now have in their food," says festival organiser Oisin Davis, "and to champion venues to do the same.
"With summer finally upon us, we thought it was the perfect time to get out there and celebrate Irish gins with some tonics."
Thirty venues across the capital are taking part in the five-day celebration of gin - historically used to take the edge of medicinal quinine tonic - with tastings, food pairings and talks among the events designed to urge festival-goers to rethink the drink.
"People still have this preconception that gin is an old ladies' drink," admits Derek Garry, manager of The Gin Palace on Dublin's Middle Abbey Street, one of the venues involved, "or that it makes you depressed.
"Nowadays, there's such a broad range of flavours, there's something to suit everyone's palate.
"Older generations tend to stick to traditional London-style gins such as Tanqueray or Bombay [Sapphire]," he continues.
"But we also get a lot of younger people coming in to try more exotic gins infused with things like blackberries, like Glendalough, which is made by hand at a micro-distillery in Wicklow."
Indeed, of the bar's vast array of 150 gins from around the globe, in recent years, an increasing number are homegrown.
Waterford-based Blackwater Gin, Dingle Gin and Shortcross Gin from Northern Ireland are just some of the small-batch brands now found on shelves alongside old favourites including Cork Dry Gin.
"Gin never went away," reckons David Boyd-Armstrong, co-founder of Shortcross Gin, launched by craft distillery Rademon Estate in County Down three years ago.
"Both men and women have been enjoying it in equal measures for years.
"If someone tells me they don't like gin, it usually means they don't like London dry, which has that rasping, dry finish people traditionally associate with gin.
"Once you get into it though, gin can be a lot more fragrant and uplifting than you think. We distil with elderflower, for instance."
Despite an overall decline in spirit sales here, the juniper berry-based beverage has managed to buck the downward trend to become the new 'it' drink.
Earlier this year, Gordon's Gin, owned by Diageo, reported how it had increased its market share by 4.52 points to 37.3pc. Globally, the gin and white spirits market is worth €103 billion.
Not long since comedian Dylan Moran memorably described gin as "not so much a drink as a mascara thinner", suddenly it seems it's hip to sip.
"Our timing with Dingle Gin was just perfect," tells Mary Ferriter, general manager of Dingle Whiskey Distillery, which also makes Dingle Original Gin and Dingle Distillery Vodka.
"Like everything, drinks go in and out of fashion, and gin has become very much en vogue. The classic G&T has always been a recognised pre-dinner drink, but gin-based cocktails are also becoming huge among younger people."
Just like the Queen Mother, who famously enjoyed a gin and Dubonnet each day at lunch, the Kerry tipple even got the royal seal of approval when the Duchess of Cornwall sampled the specially-made 'Duchess Cocktail' at the House Hotel in Galway recently.
"I only read they had used our gin to create the cocktail in the paper the next day," reveals Mary, "so it was a pleasant surprise. I think her exact words were that it 'packed a punch'!"
But there's another, altogether more practical reason why the three year-old distillery, owned by Porterhouse Group founders Oliver Hughes and Liam LaHart, and others like it have embraced the whole gin thing.
Unlike whiskey, which takes years - sometimes even decades - to mature, a batch of gin takes just 72 hours to turn around, she explains.
"By law, whiskey takes at least three years to mature, whereas we can do a run of gin from start to finish in three days.
"Our very first cask of whiskey matures this December. Gin and vodka is the lifeblood that will hopefully keep us going in the meantime.
"On our distillery tours, visitors, particularly Americans, are blown away by the quality of alcohol coming from this small island."
Coriander, heather and hibiscus are just some of the aromatic botanicals modernly helping to revamp gin's 'paint stripper' image.
Whatever gin you go for however, the age-old G&T is still the best way to enjoy it, according to the experts.
"For me, I think it has to be the quintessential gin and tonic garnished with a twist of orange," says David Boyd-Armstrong of Shortcross Gin. "Served neat over ice, gin also works well as a sipping drink, but that's not for everyone."
Madonna certainly left a bitter taste when she posted a snap of teenage son Rocco holding a bottle of gin online last year, later telling critics to: "Calm down and get a sense of humour".
As gin exports soar to a record-smashing £390 million in the UK though, in the wake of World Gin Day earlier this month, it's clear that gin is a serious business.
"Gin is the most versatile spirit out there," argues Derek Garry of The Gin Palace, where a measure of gin ranges from €5.70 to €14. "It works just as well in cocktails as it does with tonic or on its own. We've even started making gin and tonic cupcakes for our customers.
"The tonic is important," he adds. "If you're going to spend a few bob on a nice gin, you might as well splash out on a good tonic as well."
How to make the perfect G&T at home
Upstairs @ Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh, bar manager and mixologist Paul Lambert says his team have cracked the secret to the perfect G&T. "The key is the tonic," he says. "In the bar we use Fever Tree, but whatever brand you use, it should have nice carbonation and not taste too quinine as this can overpower lighter gin.
"Floral, spicy or dry, the type of gin itself comes down to personal taste. For instance, if you like floral gin, Hendrick's Gin, infused with cucumber and rose, is a good bet.
"The ideal tonic-to-gin ratio is just over 3:1, or approximately 120ml tonic per 35ml gin. Traditionally you would add a slice of lemon to your G&T.
"Depending on the infusion however, other garnishes like cucumber, mint or grapefruit can work just as well. To make your G&T, fill a 12oz Slim Jim glass with ice and add the garnish, pouring the gin directly over the garnish for added flavour. Finally, pour the tonic over the whole lot. Essentially, it should be tall and refreshing."