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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide
West of Ireland food writer Anne Marie Carroll introduces Galway’s first Gin Festival and related treats.
The craft beer revolution is in full swing and has well and truly whet the consumer’s appetite for higher quality beverages. The new thirst for premium alcoholic products has set the stage for the micro-distillers to start a revolution of their very own.
Whiskey distilleries have begun to pop up across the country over the last few years. Since whiskey is required to be in a cask for three years to earn the Irish stamp of approval, many operators struggle to survive long enough to break even. Gin, however does not suffer from the same limitations. The process of making gin is quicker than whiskey, no long-ageing in barrels or intricate blending of different casks is required.
Once the preserve of the older G&T brigade, the recent surge of interest in cocktails has seen gin become one of the most fashionable spirits of them all. Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s started the trend over a decade ago, but since then a host of new craft gin producers has sprung up in the US, Britain and beyond.
Meanwhile, a new generation of craft producers in small distilleries around the country are redefining Irish gin. As a nation we always had a flair for whiskey, now we are starting to get to grips with white spirits.
An excellent single-estate organic apple-based gin and one distilled from cows’ whey are among the very few made with a spirit base produced in Ireland, however there are many distilleries dedicated to creating bespoke, artisan gins flavoured with the very best botanicals. Gin must contain juniper but after that it is up to the master blender to come up with the blend of herbs, spices or fruits to put create their own unique spirit.
As craft gin production has taken off here in the past two years, the variety of Irish gins available increases. Wild clover, elderberries and elderflowers give some gins an aromatic hint of meadows. Some are based on wild flowers and herbs foraged locally, some experiment with seaweed flavours gin, some go foraging in the countryside for herbs and roots to flavour their gin while others use spices imported from across the world. You can even make your own ‘bathtub’ gin simply by soaking juniper berries and whatever botanicals you favour in a neutral spirit like vodka, though the new gin drinker is much more discerning.
Most gin is consumed in cocktails, where the combination of botanicals can really add complexity to the mix. Classic cocktails, such as negroni, martini or simply the gin and tonic are in fashion, but there are plenty of innovative options on cocktail menus as well. Fever Tree is the preferred tonic water, although each gin tends to go very nicely with the market leader, Schweppes. Whatever way you drink them, the new gins offer a range of fascinating flavours.
With the gin craze sweeping the nation, it’s no surprise that a gin bar has just opened its doors in Galway city. With over 100 different types of gin, Tigh Nora is Galway’s first Gin bar, a haven for gin drinkers. Tigh Nora is situated next to The Front Door Pub on Cross Street and offers a bespoke range of Irish and international gin brands, perfectly complemented with a range of premium tonics, served with a variety of fresh garnishes.
Tigh Nora is named after Nora Barnacle, the wife and inspiration of James Joyce, who is arguably Ireland's most influential and celebrated writer. Nora was a Galway girl and grew up just around the corner, passing by this bar every day on her way to school and to visit her family. In her late teens Nora moved to Dublin where she met James Joyce and he instantly fell madly in love with her. The day they met, Thursday 16th June 1908, is famously depicted in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses and now celebrated annually as ‘Bloomsday’.
Nora Barnacle’s fondness for gin is the reason that Tigh Nora is predominantly a gin bar today. But, while gin is certainly the speciality at Tigh Nora, it also serves a full bar menu including draft beer and a variety of whiskeys and spirits, along with a wine and cocktail selection. There is also a lunch and evening food menu with a selection of tapas, light bites, salads and sandwiches, sharing boards and daily specials - perfect to enjoy with a drink of your choice. Inside Tigh Nora you will find an intimate bar with soft lighting, comfy seating, an open fire and shelves laden with books, making it the perfect spot to enjoy a G&T. The staff are always happy to make a recommendation from their gin selection.
In Galway in particular, gin has been embraced as the most popular drink of 2017. On Thursday 30th March - Sunday 2nd April 2017 the West of Ireland’s first Gin Festival was held, with a four day fun-filled celebration of all things related to gin in the bars of The Latin Quarter.
It was a weekend of complete gin-joyment where a range of events took place, from master classes, gin afternoon teas, cocktails competitions and new gin brand launches to name a few. The focus of the festival was to encourage people to try the variety of gin and tonic brands now available on the market, both Irish and international brands. There was also a focus on the education side of how gin is produced, learning about the perfect serve when choosing garnishes and how tonics enhance the flavour of the drink.
Located in the heart of the city, The Latin Quarter is often referred to as the cultural hub of Galway and is home to many of the city’s quirkiest and best-known pubs, restaurants, shops and hotels. The area also boasts pedestrianised cobblestone streets that offer a unique festive-like atmosphere and provides the heartbeat to the City of the Tribes.
From gins 'n reels session at Tig Choili, blind tasting in The Dail Bar, Bombay Gin masterclass at The Kings Head, gin and food pairing in The House Hotel, to serving a selection of gin and tonics in Taffes, Tigh Neachtain, Busker Brownes, Murphys, Dew Drop Inn Freeneys and more, all of Galway’s best loved watering holes were involved.
The Latin Quarter committee commented, “Galway is renowned as the city of festivals, so adding Gin Fest to the programme of events is another fantastic celebration for locals and visitors to the city to savour. In the past year, bars across the country have seen a surge in the popularity and demand for gin, so we want to create a festival that brings people together from the master distillers to those who enjoy drinking it".
It was the inaugural year of the festival, made possible with the support of sponsors and the commitment of the bars in The Latin Quarter, all working together to create another fine addition to Galway, the city of festivals. Here’s hoping it will become an annual event.
Anne Marie Carroll is a freelance food writer and member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild who lives in Galway with her husband and two children.
With a background in design and illustration, Anne Marie made the switch to journalism with a regular food and wine column in The Galway Advertiser. Her work now mainly focuses on restaurant reviews, writing and editing recipes, the development of food photo shoots, including styling and photography. She also writes for a number of other publications and works as a consultant for small producers, food retailers and restaurants.
Anne Marie writes about all things food from the West of Ireland at her blog, Warm & Snug & Fat. You can also find her on twitter as @Biscuits4ABear