A True Gin-tellectual – Pat McGrath of The Pink Lounge Gin & Champagne Bar at The Ross Hotel
It’s World Gin Day! declares Pat McGrath gleefully, as we sit down in a fuschia leather booth overlooking a glowing neon “Pink Lounge” sign in Killarney’s very own dedicated Gin and Champagne Bar. Housed in the uber stylish Ross Hotel in the centre of the ever-thronged epicentre of Kingdom tourism, Kerry may not be the first place you expect to find such an opulent outpost, but the second you walk in to this flamingo hued feast for the eyes, your preconceptions will be dispelled.
Love it or hate it, the G&T is undoubtedly the king of the drinks world here in Ireland at the moment, with distilleries across the country creating craft gin well capable of bettering the Bombay Sapphires and Tanquerays of this world. Taking the guess work out of gin, The Pink Lounge is a truly unique venue having opened less than two years ago, with plenty of stories to tell already.
Regaling me with the story of how this unexpected find came to be is Pat, gin enthusiast, bar manager extraordinaire and cocktail aficionado. Having been sent by General Manager Ciara Treacy on a gin-vestigation of sorts before opening the Pink Lounge in 2015, Pat set off to Berlin to soak up the cocktail culture of one of Europe’s most forward-drinking cities.
It is very safe to say, Berlin is the place where it all starts. Between Berlin and New York, it channels from there to London and about four years later it comes to Ireland!
Pat immersed himself in the German capital’s cocktail scene, drinking in inspiration and settling on the perfect concept for The Ross’ new bar. “I spent three full days visiting bars, all of a similar style – where you sit down and actually talk through the experience with the customer” he says, and with this model in mind, he set about writing the menu, which is more than a little impressive.
With 60 different gins and 8 champagnes on offer, the USP of the Pink Lounge is that every gin on the menu, 25 of which are Irish, tells a story, says Pat. “We have our menu, The Gin Bible, so the team can tell you where every gin came from. Each of the craft gins in Ireland has a quirky little story of its own” he says, confirming that each of their waist-coat wearing, dickey-bowed gin professionals loves regaling visitors with these tales and creating a bespoke G&T tailored to their taste.
It is as much an education as it is a drinking experience.
For Pat and his team at the Pink Lounge, crafting the perfect G&T for each guests is an art, and the menu is written to encourage inquisitive palates to seek out new experiences. With a snappy paragraph on each gin, each detailing the main botanicals, where it comes from and what it is best served with, you could spend all day mulling over your choices.
But of course, there is a team of well versed gin-tellectuals to guide you on your journey, with a few laughs along the way. Having enthralled you with gin tidbits laced with Kerry charm, like how Bertha’s Revenge is in fact made from milk and named after a legendary 48 year old cow from Sneem, the process of crafting your dream gin and tonic begins. “The guys know to ask if you want your selected gin in a bloom glass or a crystal cut tumbler, do you have a preference of fruit and do you have a preference of tonic, before making a recommendation.”
But the personalisation of this experience doesn’t stop there. Pat explains the lengths they have gone to to make this a one of a kind gin haven, travelling as a team to the Listoke Distillery in Drogheda last March. Here, they experimented with creating their own bespoke gin. “Four of us went up to explore, making one that was spicy with ginger and pepper, there was a sweet one with vanilla, mint and orange and one with quite a lot of anise.”
The one we ending up picking was quite floral and delicate, with basil, bay leaf, grapefruit, honeysuckle, rose and kaffir lime leaves and we serve it with grapefruit and basil garnish and Fever Tree elderflower tonic – my recipe!
Following a blind taste test with twenty five of the food and beverage team from the hotel, twenty picked this inspired blend, which is now The Ross Gin. So when you take a sip of the bespoke Ross gin, you are getting an actual taste of the hotel’s unique personality.
This personality has travelled the length and breadth of the country – “we got the label printed off and stopped at every county border with it! Hazards on, hopping out, taking the snap. You could say that was our sales and marketing trip for Ross gin!” Pat laughs.
On adding it to the menu, Pat notes they haven’t added a paragraph on The Ross Gin to the Gin Bible yet, because it may yet evolve. “Besides, it is so much more personal for Steve from behind the bar to tell you the story of how four handsome men from the Kingdom ventured up to Drogheda to create our own gin – we have great craic out of the whole thing!” he laughs heartily.
But the Pink Lounge is just one piece of the playground-like puzzle at The Ross, and a name synonymous with a great cocktails and a guaranteed buzz any night of the week is The Lane Bar. Cocktail sales have sky-rocketed here in the last two years. On a Saturday Night, a good one, The Lane would serve 500 cocktails, I am wide-eyed to learn. In disbelief, my immediate inquiry is how?! “Two guys going at 100 mile an hour!” he answers with a grin and more Kerry than his native Roscommon accent singing through.
Pat’s research trip to Berlin also opened his eyes to cocktail crafting techniques like infusions, and this is evident on the menu at The Lane in drinks like the chilli-lime margarita, which involves the intricate process of cooking the tequila with chilli and limes in a sous-vide. On uptake for these more innovative creations, Pat confirms that “the Daiquiri was 70% of cocktail sales for a long time, but this year it has been pushed back to 35-40.”
“I think mixologist is a very loose term, but I suppose I can make cocktails”, he says humbly, before explaining that they have just put the finishing touches to their new cocktail menu, which with 14 new cocktails is a serious revamp. Not keen to rest on their laurels and allow the menu to go stale, Pat is constantly working towards exciting new offerings like a zingy Lemon Rhubarb Mojito, adding to the offering of 12 unique Mojitos in The Lane.
While the ethos is fun and games, plenty of hard work and dedication goes into ensuring every cocktail is crafted with precision, care and skill, with the best possible ingredients. “The prep they have to put into it is insane. Five to six kilos of mint a week – which has to be plucked, by hand and then 5 to 6 litres of fresh lemon juice each week, squeezed by hand.”
Knowing well that this would be a stark sink or swim endeavor in Killarney, Pat admits “it was a huge gamble at the time – a gin bar in Kerry – but now it doesn’t sound that risky as you walk down the street and every bar has craft gin. “Gin and Tonic is now bread and butter,” he affirms. With a thronged bar full of beautiful people every weekend, it is safe to say rolling the dice on this trend payed off for The Ross, ahead of the pack.
“There are great places outside of Dublin, places cropping up in Sligo, Galway, Cork too and it is great to see the cocktail revolution spreading,” Pat says when pressed on the misconception that cocktail culture is regretfully lack-lustre outside of The Pale. Having sampled his handiwork myself and hearing about the level of craftsmanship which goes in to each and every cocktail served here, I can’t help but concur, mentally planning my next visit as our chat comes to a close.
“I feel good…I knew that I would!” exclaims James Brown, the closing song in the soundtrack of my visit and an apt theme song for the The Ross as a venue. A cheeky grin here and a mischievous wink there, this truly unique destination is writing a fun-filled story all of its own.
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