Beyond Whiskey and Gin – Less Famous Irish Spirits you Need to Discover in 2018
Christmas might be over, but that doesn’t mean the festivities have to stop. For 2018, we’re recommending that you put a hold on dry January, abandon those New Year’s resolutions, and see what craft spirits Ireland has to offer this year.
Last year saw tremendous growth in the Irish craft spirits category — and we’re not just talking whiskey and gin — craft producers all over the country have been busy venturing into Vodka, Brandy and Poitín.
It’s almost like we forgot about Vodka last year; with the classic spirit from the east undoubtedly overshadowed by its Western European sister, gin. However, good news lies ahead for vodka as a renaissance is most definitely on the horizon!
The category is beginning to grow — particularly premium and craft Vodkas —production is being driven by a number of newly built distilleries producing the spirit whilst they wait for their whiskey to mature. Examples being Straw Boys Vodka in Connacht and Dingle Vodka in Kerry, both of which picked up medals at the Irish Whiskey Awards in 2017.
Similar to whiskey, vodka is usually made from grain spirit. However, in true Irish fashion, some distilleries make their spirit from the crop that has become synonymous with this fine country; the potato. Often described as being a clear, flavourless neutral spirit, vodka is distilled to a high percentage in a column still, which is then treated by charcoal and other materials so that no distinct character, aroma or flavour can be detected. That being said, some Irish distilleries like Blackwater Distillery (Copper Pot Still Vodka) have used the less efficient pot still to create richer flavours.
Another area of experimentation in this field would be the introduction of maturation. Ruby Blue has matured a vodka in whiskey casks and Kalak Vodka have recently brought out an Irish Peat Vodka which has been made from malted barley and aged in peat charred virgin oak casks!
These exciting innovations show that vodka is an exceptionally versatile drink. Whether it’s served neat, in mixed drinks, or in a martini! So next time you’re in a bar and you don’t know what to drink, opt for vodka as it really does go with everything.
Although, there is only two brandy houses in Ireland at present, these boutique brands have some of Ireland’s most incomparable offerings. Ones that have tended to fly relatively under the radar, especially in comparison to some of Ireland’s other brown spirits. And the releases from these two Brandy Barns — Longueville House Apple Brandy and Highbank Brandy— have set the bar for artisan brandy in Ireland.
Both are made from the finest cider apples; both Longueville House and Highbank Brandy harvest their apples every autumn and crush the apples into pressed juice. The juice is then left to ferment over time (developing into a fine form of Johnny Jump Up) and then distilled through copper pot stills. The resulting spirit is transferred into French oak barrels for at least three years, although it can be left for longer. A production process very similar to that of Whiskey — merely swapping the grain for a juicy apple.
So why not swap a hot whiskey with a hot brandy this cold winter’s day?
Otherwise known as Ireland’s moonshine; and associated with a romanticisation of Ireland’s rural past — the drink of the mountain has met modernity face on and is now arriving onto our shelves. The upside to this traditionally subversive drink being taken in by tight vines of commercialisation is that at least we can rest easy it will not turn us blind!
That being said, legalised poitín hasn’t differentiated itself completely from traditional poitín; at least in terms of production. The equipment might be more efficient and eye-catching, but it still is essentially the same process. Most of the distilleries in Ireland still place a strong focus on authenticity; encouraging the consumer to view poitín as a thing of craft rather than a medicinal remedy or drink for entertainment.
Last year, we noticed Poitín becoming increasingly popular, in terms of new products entering the market and even a secret pop up Poitín bar graced the capital. Therefore, this year we expect the Poitín phenomenon to continue, particularly within the cocktail scene as the variety of flavour profiles make it exceptionally good for mixing.
Overall, we’re confident the drinks industry will continue to evolve in 2018; and the Irish craft spirit sector will be no exception. Undoubtedly, we’ll see new arrivals and new distilleries but let’s not forget our old friends; vodka, brandy and poitín. As such, here are our three top picks to ruin your New Year’s resolutions:
Longueville House Irish Apple Brandy
€34.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
A finely crafted Irish Apple Brandy. This is made entirely on the premises of Longueville House in County Cork and is double distilled in their small, traditional copper pot stills. It is then aged carefully in French oak barrels for at least four years.
This can be served straight up as an after dinner digestif or to add an interesting twist in an Irish Coffee.
€55.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
A traditional style Irish poitín which is distilled in the Ards Peninsula from potato, barley, and sugar beet. A raw and earthy spirit that is making waves in the vibrant cocktail scene.
The guys behind this poitín were responsible for the pop up poitín bar (16-61) behind Dame street last month and created some truly fantastic cocktails using Ireland’s historic spirit!
Kalak Peat Cask Single Malt Vodka
€48.50 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
Kalak Peat Cask is a unique Irish Vodka that is made using malted barley and then briefly aged in virgin oak casks that have been charred using Irish peat.
The spirit is distilled four times in traditional copper pot stills and offers similar flavours to a Whiskey but with the lightness and smoothness of a Vodka. The peat cask influence is very gentle and gives the Vodka some subtle flavours of vanilla and smoke.
Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines on the Green on Dublin’ Dawson Street is a multi award winning retailer and a mecca for any whiskey, wine or spirits lover. The store stocks a superb variety of Irish whiskey including many rare and exclusive bottlings. Expert staff serve up free whiskey tastings all day every day, and are on hand to offer any assistance you may need to purchase your favourite tipple. The store hosts a variety of exciting whiskey tastings each month.
Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder Killarney is home to one of Ireland’s most expansive whiskey ranges, stocking an enormous selection of Irish and international whiskey, creative cocktails, Irish craft beers & spirits. Irish Whiskey Experience hosts a range whiskey masterclasses in Killarney and Dublin.