On Thursday evening we found ourselves in a very special place for a very special occasion. We arrived at Milroy’s of Soho, sellers of the finest spirits, and were directed to the back and to the stairs. Only there weren’t any stairs, just nooks and crannies and bookshelves. Luckily somebody else was in the know and pressed a button, the bookshelf moved and there was the stairs. Downstairs is The Vault, a cosy and comfortable cocktail bar, buzzing even at this early hour (6pm), and we met our hosts in what I can only describe as the inside of a huge barrel. We had been invited to attend the launch of the new Wild Botanical Gin by Glendalough, Ireland’s first craft distillery, the first all year round ‘all seasons’ gin after their massively successful seasonal gins. Gary Mc Loughlin, Glendalough’s Co-Founder and Marketing Director and Geraldine Kavanagh, Glendalough’s forager, were on hand to introduce us to their latest hand-crafted spirit.
Glendalough distillery is located in the Glendalough Valley in County Wicklow, home of 6th century monk Saint Kevin and founder and first abbot of Glendalough Abbey, on the east coast of Ireland; not far from Dublin – but a world away. Glacial lakes, mountains and bright green meadows dominate the landscape and provide what is essential to making this special gin: wild botanics in abundance. Every herb, flower, berry, fruit, plant, leaf is foraged by one woman – Geraldine Kavanagh, who scours the hills, woods and hedgerows for all the ingredients that will determine the flavour of the gins. The fresh botanicals get added to the still within hours of having been picked, plus some additional spices depending on the gin, and will be slow–distilled by stillman Rowdy Rooney, to preserve every nuance of the delicate aromas of their limited edition Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Glendalough Gins. Nothing is automated or timed; cut-points are decided batch by batch and by smell and taste.
These seasonal gins put Glendalough Distillery on the map, but soon there was a growing demand from both bartenders and retailers for an ‘all season’ gin and so the team took on the task of creating of single gin containing elements of all four of the seasons in the Glendalough valley. Once again it was Geraldine Kavanagh, County Wicklow native and Glendalough’s forager, who came up with the recipe and then harvesting all the botanicals. The botanical go straight to the still after being picked and there they are infused in neutral spirit overnight before distillation the following day. Master distiller Rowdy Rooney then utilises the Glendalough Holstein still to carefully distill the infusions before diluting the spirit to 41% ABV.
The result is the new Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin, built on a base of classic gin botanicals alongside freshly foraged wild botanicals from the valley, with the notes taking you from the first green shoots of the spring, and summer flowers to autumn berries and winter spices.
It is a beautifully balanced gin, with just the right amount of juniper, citrus and pine (as well as about 30 other botanicals), and I am happy to just drink it with tonic, but it’ll be interesting to see how bars will use it in cocktails.
A team of five friends from Wicklow and Dublin, with a deep passion for reviving the heritage of craft distilling in Ireland, founded the distillery. Initially they started with poitín and since then have moved to whiskey and most recently the release of their gins.
Geraldine Kavanagh grew up in Wicklow and spent most of her childhood outdoors as a child roaming the woods and meadows and learning about plants and nature and what is edible and what is not. She also spent a number of years working in organic farming and in artisan food retail where she managed the award winning Marc Michel Organic Life and The Good Food Store. In addition to being Glendalough Distillery’s forager, she also offers foraging walks from spring to autumn, sharing her knowledge of wild foods.