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SB Voices: Could Irish gin be the new Irish whiskey?

Following soaring consumer interest in Irish whiskey, are we about to see an explosion in Irish gin? Nicola Carruthers takes a look at gin producers electrifying the category.

Irish producers are creating interesting new gins featuring local botanicals

While Ireland has become well known for producing whiskey, Guinness and poitín, it now seems that another Irish libation is gathering pace: gin.

At a showcase of Irish drinks producers held by Irish food board Bord Bia in London last month, I was surprised to see such a huge amount of Irish gin producers in one room.

The explosion of the gin market in recent years has seen the launch of more than 30 different Irish gins in all parts of the country – and more than 130,000 cases of Irish gin were sold around the world in 2017.

According to trade association the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), while 2017 “marked a breakthrough in terms of exports” for Irish gin producers, with shipments more than trebling in the year, 2018 will see Irish gin “go global” and grow exports to the US, Canada, UK and Germany.

The Irish Spirits Association also recently noted that gin producers in Ireland are hoping to triple sales over the next four years, targeting five million annual bottle sales by 2022.

Smaller distillers are entering the category through innovation with interesting flavours – a prime example is milk-based gin Bertha’s Revenge.

Meanwhile, Shortcross Gin maker Rademon Estate Distillery announced a £2.5 million (US$3.5m) distillery expansion. The distiller installed a 10-plate copper column still system for gin production – said to be the “most advanced gin still in use in Ireland”. The small batch gin is made with local spring water and distilled with local botanicals, including clover, apples, elderflower and elderberries, as well as juniper and coriander.

Then there’s Ireland’s The Shed Distillery, which launched its Gunpowder Irish Gin back in 2016. The producer uses a Medieval copper pot to distil the liquid before it’s blended with oriental botanicals, Gunpowder tea and local Irish ingredients.

Authenticity is also playing a key role. Glendalough Distillery in County Wicklow, which claims to be Ireland’s first craft distillery, produces poitín and whiskey in addition to gin.

The distillery produces four seasonal gins in order to reflect the way that the Glendalough valley grows and evolves over the course of a year, which was followed by an “all-seasons” gin that came to market last year. The gins are made with seasonally foraged Irish botanicals, including Alexander seeds, Hawthorn berries, sloe berries, ground ivy, sage, Rowan berries and rosehips. Clearly, proof of origin continues to be important to distillers and consumers alike.

While it hasn’t peaked the interests of any of the big players just yet, if other spirit sectors are anything to go by it can only be a matter of time before the bigger drinks groups want in on the action. Whether that’s through acquisitions or the creation of their own products, well, we’ll have to wait and see.

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