The Glendalough Distillery was founded by five friends: Kevin Keenan, Gary McLoughlin, Barry Gallagher, Brian Fagan and Donal O’Gallachoir. They wanted to revive the heritage of craft distilling in Ireland, creating spirits that were true to the country’s history, like whiskey and poitin. St. Kevin has served as an emblem and inspiration to the quintet since the beginning (monks were, after all, amongst the earliest distillers), so the move to follow his story with gin was quite natural.
Glendalough Distillery’s adventure into gin began with a range of seasonal gins, the first of which was summer 2014. Working with a local forger, Geraldine Kavanagh, the team head out into the wilds of Glendalough to pick ingredients, distilling them the very next day so that they retain all of their essential oils.
Kavanagh was careful, when foraging for the spring, summer, autumn and winter gins, to pick ingredients that wouldn’t vary too much year-on-year. McLoughlin explains: “The ingredients are the same, but the weather will impact on oils, flavours etc. If one summer was drier than another summer, the flavours will be slightly different from those same botanicals… the differences, however, will be subtle.”
The Summer Gin was followed by autumn, the autumn by winter and the winter by spring. All four have ingredients in common (a base of juniper, angelica, coriander, bitter almond, orris root and orange peel is shared by all), but each carry with them an individual sense of time. “There is one predominant foraged botanical in each season that really reminds Geraldine of Wicklow in that season,” McLoughlin said. “So for spring it is gorse flower, for summer it’s elderflower, for autumn its fraughan berries and for winter it is sloes.”
Whilst all four gins do a remarkable job of conveying not only time but place as well, they aren’t the easiest sell to the on-trade. People may not necessarily want to stock summer gin in winter and it can be a risky manoeuvre to order a case of gin that’s only in vogue for three months at a time. As a result, Glendalough Distillery has just released an all season gin – Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin.
“It took us a year to get right,” McLoughlin recalled. “We wanted to give you all four seasons in order. As you smell and taste the gin, you get spring notes on the nose, then summer florals moving into autumn fruitiness on the palette, finishing with a spiciness reminiscent of our winter gin.” To our understanding, the Wild Botanical Gin is a blend of all four seasonal spirits – spring, summer, autumn and winter, and to taste it does indeed take the sipper on a journey across the year.
Initially, all five founders took distilling courses and did a great deal of learning on the job to produce their batches, helped along by an old friend of Keenan’s – Rowdy Rooney. Rowdy now oversees all distillation at Glendalough and is very precious when it comes to letting anyone else near his still, Cathleen – a gloriously shiny, 500l Arnold Holstein beast. He takes a painstakingly methodical approach to distillation, tasting and smelling his way through each run to make head, heart and tail cuts depending on the alchemy of each day. There are no robots around – everything is done manually.
Each run takes 24 hours from maceration through to final distillation. “We could do it a lot faster,” McLoughlin said, “but we take this long so that we can tease out the more delicate flavours, and also so that we can choose cut points more carefully.” The botanicals that make up Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin include liquorice root and bark, lemon, elderflower, red clover, yarrow, ox eye daisy, wild raspberry, blackberry leaves, wild rose, watermint, sweet woodruff, lemon balm, sweet cicely, lady’s bedstraw and bell heather.