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The first time I ever tasted a Hendrick’s gin and tonic was in Chapter One. Former manager, Declan Maxwell, introduced me to the cucumber-enhanced aperitif one evening several years ago, and with that it became my aperitif of choice for visits here.
This Christmas I returned, requesting, as usual, a Hendrick’s and tonic only to be told, apologetically, by my waiter that Chapter One now only serves Irish gin. Rather than disappointment I reacted with absolute delight! This would have been unthinkable ten years ago when few could have predicted how successful Ireland’s foray into gin production would become.
We haven’t just dipped our toes into gin; a new breed of Irish distillers has embraced the industry with such nous and innovation that Ireland now offers over 40 different gin styles from distilleries across the four provinces. The scene is so vibrant that what many regard as the top restaurant in the country can now offer diners a specialist Irish gin menu.
Although Chapter One’s drinks menu hasn’t been updated online to reflect the changes, I think I can recall four of the five quality Irish gins they now serve – Blackwater, Gun Powder, Bertha’s Revenge and Shortcross – as well as Poacher’s Well Wexford tonic water. With spirits this good no one’s going to come looking for a Tanqueray or Hendrick’s.
Last month I dined in Wilde, the newly revamped restaurant in the Westbury Hotel. Now you’d expect a five-star property to offer an extensive selection of pre-dinner drinks, but I wasn’t prepared for the rather wonderful spectacle of a full page in the drinks menu dedicated to ‘Signature G&Ts’. Alongside Hendrick’s, Beefeater, Martin Miler’s and Malfy from Italy, there is an incredible seven Irish gins on the menu. That’s seven out of eleven local, and relatively new, spirits as good as anything else being produced worldwide.
What I loved most about this list is that the Westbury’s mixologists haven’t just stuck every gin with the same tonic and garnish. Instead, they’ve matched each gin’s unique flavourings to specific botanicals, fruits and tonics. There are no shortcuts here, no one-size-fits-all.
That means that your Glendalough Wild Botanical Seasonal gin is served with elderflower tonic, red berries and lime peel. Dingle Gin has been paired with Fentimans Botanical tonic, star anise, lime and mint. Shortcross Gin from Co Down comes with Thomas Henry Indian tonic and a garnish of green apple and blackberries.
Jawbox Gin from Belfast, Bertha’s Revenge from Cork, Blackwater Gin from Waterford and Gunpowder Irish Gin from Leitrim also get the bespoke G&T treatment, with everything from grapefruit peel to cherries and basil making the cut. Tonics range from 1724 to Fever Tree and Poacher’s Well to Thomas Henry Cherry Blossom tonic.
Aside from how delicious this all sounds, it’s a development worth celebrating. With more of us drinking gin than ever before we’re now getting the chance to sample different styles of the spirit as our thirst for something new also grows. Alongside high-end establishments, it’s reassuring to see mid-range restaurants like Coppinger Row and Drury Buildings adding good selections of Irish gins to their bar menus.
You’d expect to find great choice in places like The Gin Palace and JT Pim’s Gin Rummy, but restaurants that meet demand deserve serious praise. In order to support the rapidly growing industry we need to start asking for gins by their name when we’re out. By requesting an Irish gin we can let restaurateurs and bartenders know that the secret is out and we’re no longer happy with the limited offerings of old.
People rarely order a whiskey without specifying the distiller and, if they really know their stuff, the year. Imagine a world where we all ordered gin by name and knew as much about our favourite type as we do our favourite kind of wine.
Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003,) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s ireland-guide.com since 2008 years and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger