Foraging on the Wicklow Way for some of Ireland's 30 craft gins
Unless you've been living under a moss-covered stone, you've probably heard quite a bit about foraging. You may even be bored with it. It's one of those on-trend words which was popularised by the Nordic food movement, but, over the years, it has become a tad overused. Drop a nasturtium flower in a salad or add a splash of elderflower syrup to a cocktail, and it's foraged. But leaving the cynicism aside, it's a trend I like, and when it comes to drinks, gin is the drink that reflects it most spectacularly.
There are now over 30 Irish craft gins, and most of them use foraged ingredients to add a taste of Irish terroir, but Glendalough Gin takes things one step further. They make a gin for each season, capturing a time and a place in a glass. You may think this sounds like marketing gumpf, but these four gins are quite different from each other. They use a local forager, Geraldine Kavanagh of Wild Wicklow Foods, to gather the seasonal produce, and I was lucky enough to head out to the wilds with her on a gloriously sunny day at the end of August - it was spell-binding. The Wicklow Way is literally teeming with wonderful things to eat at this time of year. I'm a seasoned blackberry picker; aren't we all? But I have never picked sorrel in the wild, which is a leaf with a crisp, lemon flavour that is wonderful in soup or served with fish. And yes, is also very good as a botanical for gin. We also found fuchsia, honeysuckle and fraughans, which are tiny mountain blueberries, also known as billberries, which grow close to the ground.
"I've been picking all of the ingredients for all of the gins from day one," says Geraldine. "We're still working in the same way as we did the very first day, going out, picking the fresh botanicals and putting them in the still. We've continued to work with fresh ingredients. We make what we can, governed by nature. Nature decides what's happening in the distillery."
After the foraging, we head back to the distillery, where a stunning 500-litre copper still gleams out at us. Rowdy Rooney, the distiller, tells me that they call it Cathleen, and it has been in operation every day since March to keep up with the demand for Glendalough Gin, which is now sold in 36 countries. The base botanicals -which include juniper, coriander, angelica root, bitter almond, orris root and pine - have been macerating for about 18 hours and we add in our freshly foraged haul for the autumn gin with some rosehips, yarrow and water mint. The room fills with the heady aromas of the gin as the distilling process begins, and I have a chance to taste it as it starts to flow, although at this stage it is 95pc alcohol.
Whereas the Glendalough summer gin is floral and slightly fruity, with lots of elderflower, wild roses, raspberries, lemon balm, woodruff, heather and a touch of aniseed from the sweet cicely, the autumn gin is the fruitiest, with an abundance of blackberries, elderberries, fraughans, rosehips, crab apples, sloes, sea buckthorn and heather. The winter gin is filled with warm spices reminiscent of barmbrack and Christmas pudding. And then at the end of March, foraging starts for the spring gin. For more, see glendaloughdistillery.com.
3 gins to try
Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin, approx. €35, 70cl
41pc, from the Celtic Whiskey Shop and Mitchell & Son, Dublin; O'Briens and all good independent off licences
This all-season gin brings together the aromatics of spring, summer, autumn and winter with fresh notes of pine, juniper, gorse and citrus and just enough spice to linger afterwards.
Von Hallers Gin, approx. €49.99, 50cl
44pc, from Mitchell & Son Dublin, O'Briens, Tesco and all good independent off licences
Distilled at the Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo in Co Leitrim using hand-picked botanicals from Gottingen in Germany, this gin has a wonderful balance of spicy ginger and fresh lemon verbena, layered over the more traditional gin botanicals.
Blackwater No. 5, approx. €30, 50cl
41.5pc, from Baggot Street Wines, Dublin; Ardkeen Grocers, Waterford; 1601, Kinsale; O'Briens and Next Door nationwide, and all good independent off licences
Classy gin from west Waterford with juniper and citrus on the nose, with warmth and a spicy touch of Indian heat from the coriander, cinnamon and pepper, as well as a floral note.