Cocktails & cairde
Cocktails seemed a suitable subject over breakfast. The conversation was given licence partly because it was at Ballymaloe House over their Literary Festival weekend and partly because my table companion was Desmond Payne, Master Distiller at Beefeater Gin.
I asked Desmond what made gin such an interesting spirit for cocktails. He replied that juniper was the key ingredient. "But more important than the number of ingredients is the balance of flavours when combined. Gin should create interest and excitement. What I make is not what people taste. People don't drink gin neat; it is mixed in cocktails and with tonic water. Versatility is the challenge - to work successfully with a wide variety of drinks because not all gins work well with all cocktails."
When probed for an insight into his recipe for Beefeater Gin, Desmond revealed that initially he looks to identify the top note flavours. Are they citrus-led with bitter orange peel and marmalade; herbal-led with rosemary and thyme or are the flavours more floral or spicy? Desmond steeps nine plants, his "family of flavours" in neutral spirit for 24 hours. This allows the flavours to marry together before distilling in a pot still.
Asked about the future for gin, Desmond observed that: "At Ireland's airports' Duty Free shops there are very few examples of Irish Gin compared to Irish Vodka. However, because gin is made for mixing with tonic and cocktails, internationally the cocktail revival is linked directly with the gin renaissance. While top-end premium gin is growing, the mid-range is not. For instance, in Spain there are 300 brands of gin and 50 different tonics. It must be very challenging for the barman and begs the question, how can they all survive? Quality lasts."
Here are three of the best Irish products for making cocktails with:
1) Dingle Original Gin, Co Kerry 40pc
Fragrant with locally foraged heather and hawthorn with fuchsia, bog myrtle and rowan berries amongst other botanicals.
€34-€38 at O'Brien's nationwide and in Dublin: Celtic Whiskey Shop; Redmond's; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Deveney's; JJ Fox, Grafton Street; Mitchell & Son; Sweeney's; McHugh's; Martin's and Drink Store.
2) Kalak Vodka, Origin Spirits, West Cork 40pc
Irish malted barley distilled four times in a pot still to accentuate the rich barley character delivering a silky smooth and creamy spirit with depth and complexity.
€44 in Dublin at: Celtic Whiskey Shop; Redmond's; Jus de Vine; Whelehan's Wines; D-Six; Blackrock Cellars; Mitchell & Son and Baggot Street Wine. Stockists nationwide and cocktail recipes: kalakvodka.com
3) RubyBlue Vodka, Hughes Craft Distillery, Lisburn 40pc
Ireland's first potato distilled vodka and Gold medalist at the Global Vodka Masters 2015 competition in London. A restrained vanilla and green apple aroma with a warming earthy richness and refreshing finish.
€35 at SuperValu, Centra and independent off-licences nationwide.
Dublin's Cliff Townhouse chef Seán Smith takes inspiration from his explorations of Galicia, the home of his wife, to create a five-course Spanish-inspired dinner. The Spain on the Green dinner, Tuesday, February 23, starts with pre-dinner drinks at 7pm. Tickets for the five-course dinner including wines with each course are €79 per person.
Tel: (01) 638-3939 or theclifftownhouse.com