There’s been an explosion of gin in Ireland. New Irish gin distilleries are popping up all the time. In this Irish Gin Guide, we look at some of the best gins in Ireland, from across the country.
After three years of living in Spain, we’ve acquired a taste for gin. Now that Ireland is home, we are exploring how Irish gin distillers are producing our favorite spirit. In our Irish Gin Guide, we’ll share insight into what makes Irish gin Irish, as well as few Irish gin brands we’ve discovered.
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Ireland’s Drink Landscape
Drinking in Ireland has been dominated by one name, Guinness. The drink of choice for locals and travelers to Ireland, Guinness is the undisputed King of alcoholic beverages in Ireland.
If Guinness is the King, then Irish Whiskey is the Queen. Brands like Jameson and Bushmills have huge domestic and international recognition. Meanwhile, over the past decade, there’s been an explosion in the number of new distilleries producing small-batch, artisan whiskey.
Not to be left out, Irish craft beer has taken off like crazy. Across Ireland, over 100 independent breweries of all shapes and sizes have popped up. In a land dominated by big brewers like Guinness and Heineken, craft beer has secured a solid foothold in the Irish drinking scene.
The Rise Of Irish Gin
And then there’s Irish gin. Of all the drinks in Ireland, gin is the spirit whose popularity is either growing or declining depending on who you ask.
Gin has long been a staple spirit in Ireland. According to my uncle, whose family used to own a pub, gin was considered a lady’s drink. In fact, gin is the only spirit my mother, who’s from Limerick, will drink.
In terms of brands, UK gins like Gordon’s and Beefeaters have been staples in pubs around Ireland. Until recently, if you wanted an Irish gin, Ireland’s own Cork Dry Gin was your choice.
First introduced in 1793, Cork Dry Gin is today owned by spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard. It’s the largest selling gin brand in Ireland. Cork Dry Gin an easy-going, drinkable gin you can readily find in pubs, off-licenses, and shops across Ireland. Most importantly, it paved the way for Ireland’s gin revolution.
Ireland’s Gin Renaissance
In addition to its craft beer renaissance, Ireland has witnessed a whiskey renaissance. In 2013 there were only four distilleries in operation. Since 2019, that number has jumped to over 30 distilleries in operation or planned. An ancillary result of the Irish whiskey renaissance has been an Irish gin renaissance.
Making whiskey takes time. A minimum of three years in fact. So what do you do while your whiskey is aging? For many distillers, they make other spirits including gin. After all, bills still need to be paid.
We first learned of this practice during our trip to the Moray Speyside region of Scotland. And it’s no surprise to see this happening here in Ireland. Gin is a relatively straightforward spirit to produce. Distillers already have the equipment and the experience so producing gin is a natural fit.
Many of the over 30 whiskey distilleries across Ireland are producing their own high-quality gin. This is great news for gin enthusiasts like ourselves. Not only does it mean more gins for us to try, but it encourages distillers to push the envelope on creativity.
Gin lovers traveling to Ireland will find new and exciting gin producers to visit. Ireland’s climate factors heavily into the botanicals distillers are using. These uniquely Irish ingredients are putting Irish gins in a class all by themselves.
What Is Irish Gin
This is a good question. For that matter what makes Spanish gin Spanish? Or Scottish? In our travels, we’ve certainly sampled our fair share of gins. What we’ve discovered is that the differences between the gins are subtle.
The subtleties in gin come down to the botanicals used during the maceration process. In Spain, where citrus fruits like lemon and orange are readily available, Spanish gins will feature a lighter, Meditteranean flavor. Here in Ireland, many of the gin makers are using the native flora from the land and the sea to create uniquely Irish gins.
Regardless of it being Irish, Spanish, or Scottish gin, they are almost entirely a London Dry-style gin. London Dry is one of four styles of gin. Plymouth, Old Tom, and Genever being the other three. The signature characteristic of London Dry gins being the pronounced use of juniper berries in the botanicals.
With the increase of Irish gin producers, there’s an effort underway to brand Irish gins in a category all their own. Dubbed, Dublin Dry Gin, brands like Ha’Penny Gin and Chinnery are attempting to put an Irish stamp on the accepted styles of gin.
Putting The Irish In Irish Gin
A friend in the bar trade told me three things make Irish gin, Irish. Good quality Irish water. Indigenous Irish ingredients for the botanicals. Pot stilling to produce the alcohol. His words, not mine.
Ireland is fortunate to have good quality water. In case you weren’t aware, it rains here a lot. So if you’re coming for a visit, pack smartly. Increasingly, distillers are souring water from wells on their own properties to ensure quality. Some filtering is done, but for the most, the water is as natural as it can be.
The climate and terrain of Ireland have dedicated for centuries what can grow in Ireland. In order to make gin, classic gin botanicals like juniper, cardamom, and coriander need to be imported. There’s just no getting around it. What separates Irish gins from other gins is the use of uniquely Irish botanicals.
In our exploration of Irish gins, we’ve come across gins using very Irish botanicals. Some of the botanicals we’ve come across include meadowsweet, bog myrtle, and a type of seaweed call dillusk. These are by no means, your typical gin botanicals.
In fact, when we lived in Spain, the only gin we came across that had similar botanicals is Nordés which uses a seaweed called glasswort. During our trips to both Scotland and Bristol, we never came across any gins using these ingredients. This, more than anything else what makes Irish gins Irish.
Distilling The Alcohol
Drawing on the knowledge of my friend in the bar trade, I asked him to educate me more on distilling alcohol. After a lengthy and fairly scientific explanation, I walked away understanding there are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to gin-making in Ireland.
There are gin producers who are buying neutral alcohol to make their gin and those who are distilling their own. Is one better than the other? For me, the jury is still out. My experience with Irish gin is still at an early stage. Perhaps more practice is needed.
One way to understand how a gin was produced is to examine the “legs” or “tears” of gin in a glass. Much like with wine, gin legs will run down the side of a glass after swirling. A gin made from a pot stilled alcohol tends to be more oily. This oiliness helps the gin cling to the side of the glass.
Irish Gin Brands
It’s taken time and some retraining of my palette, but Irish gins are growing on me. I still love my Spanish gins, but there’s something about Irish gins I’m very much enjoying.
As somebody who has traveled the world in search of new food and drink experiences, it’s been fun and educational exploring Irish gins. Coming to Ireland as a visitor it was always about drinking Guinness. Now that Ireland is home, it’s about exploring and discovering the depth of Ireland’s food and drink offerings.
With that said, here are a few Irish gin brands we’ve discovered.
Bertha’s Revenge Gin Co. Kerry
Established in 2015, Bertha’s Revenge Gin owes its name and main distilling ingredient to cows. But not just any cow, a nearly 49-year-old bovine legend from Co. Kerry named Bertha. A Droimeann cow who lived a full life, the spirit of Bertha is kept alive in this unique Irish gin.
Made using whey alcohol, a cheese-making by-product produced by local dairy cows, Bertha’s Revenge Gin blends sustainably sourced botanicals to produce its small-batch milk gin. Unlike any other gin in Ireland, it’s absolutely worth tracking down a bottle.
Blackwater Gin Co. Waterford
Located in Co. Waterford along the banks of the River Blackwater is the aptly named Blackwater Distillery. One of the best Irish gins we’ve tasted thus far, this micro-distillery produces artisanal vodka, whiskey, and best of all gin.
Blackwater’s original small batch No. 5 gin is a classic example of London Dry Gin. It’s a crisp, light, and clean drinking gin. Hints of citrus, cinnamon, and of course juniper are in perfect balance. In addition to No. 5, Blackwater offers a range of infused gins including a Barry’s Tea gin.
Skellig Six 18 Co. Kerry
Along Ireland’s rugged West Coast in Co. Kerry sits Skellig Six 18 Distillery. Influenced by the sea and the land of “the Kingdom” Skellig Six 18’s gin is a welcoming Irish spirit rich in taste and aroma. A small-batch gin, it’s handcrafted to ensure the highest quality possible.
Skellig Six has looked to the surrounding sea and land to flavor their artisan pot still gin. One of the best-tasting gins in Ireland, birch, Douglas fir, and yarrow, along with dillusk, a type of seaweed found in Ireland provides its distinct flavor. Along with traditional botanicals, Skellig Six’s gin is refreshing, crisp, and easy to drink. Perhaps too easy.
Kinsale Gin Co. Cork
Located in one of Ireland’s most picturesque small towns, Kinsale Gin combines 21 botanicals into a smooth and refreshing Irish gin. Sourcing many of the botanicals from the surrounding countryside, Kinsale Gin balances florals like elderflower and elderberry with classic juniper. The result is a highly drinkable gin. Kinsale works perfectly in a proper gin and tonic but also stands out in gin-based cocktails. For something different, try mixing it in with some Kinsale Mead.
Silks Gin Co. Meath
Produced by Boann Distillery in the heart of the Boyne Valley, Silks Irish Dry Gin is a shining example of using what grows locally. Silks Gin features 14 different botanicals including apple blossom, honey, elderflower, and hawthorn blossom all grown on the Cooney family farm. The botanicals are macerated for 24 hours giving the final product a light and refreshing flavor profile.
Dingle Gin Co. Kerry
Co. Kerry based since 2012, Dingle Gin is an independently produced family-run distillery. Its award-winning London dry gin incorporates numerous botanicals from around Kerry. Elements of bog myrtle, fuchsia, hawthorn, and heather all feature in the gin. In addition to producing Dingle Gin, the distillery is home to Dingle Whiskey and Dingle Vodka. Tours of the distillery are available.
Gunpowder Gin Co. Leitrim
Certainly one of the more recognizable Irish gins, Gunpowder Gin hails from Drumshanbo in Co. Leitrim. Inspired by the mythological jackalope, half jackrabbit, half antelope, Gunpowder is itself a blend of Irish and international botanicals.
Meadowsweet from Ireland is mixed with green tea, cardamom, coriander seeds, angelica root, and other botanicals to create a light aromatic gin. We like to garnish with grapefruit peel to draw out the assortment of botanicals in our gin tonics.
Cape Clear Island Distillery Co. Cork
Our first “island gin,” Cape Clear Island Distillery, is located eight miles off the coast of Baltimore in Co. Cork. The distillery is the brainchild of several islanders wanting to produce their own Irish whiskey and gin. Cape Clear distilled its signature 3 SQ. MILES for the first time in 2019. Cape Clear embraces its unique location in its spirits. The gin incorporates “island-harvested fuchsia, honeysuckle, and laminaria digitata (a type of sugar kelp).” This combination of local Irish botanical along with juniper, coriander, and cubeb makes for a smooth, enjoyable gin. In terms of what to garnish with Cape Clear, we’ve played with several garnishes. After “extensive” research, we’ve found rosemary to be our favorite with Cape Clear Gin.
Mor Irish Gin Co. Offaly
Tullamore in Co. Offaly is world-renowned for its whiskey. But thanks to Mor Irish Gin, you’ll soon have to associate high-quality gin to that list. Produced from the Arderin Distillery since 2015, Mor Gin is handcrafted using only the finest botanicals. Their London dry gin features juniper, coriander seeds, Angelica roots, rosemary, and other botanicals. This produces a refreshing and highly enjoyable gin.
Glendalough Distillery Co. Wicklow
From the Wicklow Mountains in Co. Wicklow comes Glendalough Gin. It’s the type of gin, gin lovers hope to discover. Super easy to drink, perfectly suited for gin cocktails or in a proper gin tonic. Glendalough gin was founded by friends looking to reinvigorate distilling in Ireland. Well, they’ve done it. Using natural botanicals sourced in the surrounding mountains, the gin demonstrates just how good Irish gin can be.
Runway28 Gin Co. Donegal
Say Hello to Ireland’s first aviation-inspired gin. From Ireland’s stunning Co. Donegal, Runway28 looks to capture the spirit of flying in its gin. Founded by two commercial aviation veterans, Runway28 blends classic botanicals with an added hint of pepper. It’s an easy-drinking gin perfectly suited for a proper gin and tonic. As Co-Director Marieann says, “if life gives you juniper, make gin.” Well, this #AvGeek is very glad they did.
Tipperary Boutique Distillery Co. Tipperary
From their family farm in Co. Tipperary, Jennifer, and Stuart Nickerson are bringing something different to the Irish gin world. Tipperary Gin is made using “Brigid”, one of their copper pot stills, and a family gin recipe. From these, Jennifer and Stuart have produced a refreshing citrus-forward Irish gin. Relying less on chill filtration, the gin produces a pearlescent cloud in the glass when combined with tonic. The result is a refreshing and eye-catching experience.
Muff Gin Co. Donegal
A family-run business dating back to the early 20th Century, the Muff Liquor Company in Co. Donegal continues a long tradition of distilling excellence. Using the most iconic Irish food product, the potato, Muff distills their award-winning Irish potato gin and vodka using only the finest ingredients and botanicals. Six times distilled, Muff gin features a balanced blend of botanicals including rosemary, grapefruit peel, elderflower, and mandarin. Light and refreshing, it’s an easy gin to enjoy.
Boatyard Distillery Co. Fermanagh
Situated on the banks of Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh, Boatyard Distillery is an award-winning farm-to-bottle distillery. From their own farm and bog, Boatyard produces many of the ingredients used in their gins and vodka. These farm-to-bottle spirits are clean, light, and very drinkable. Boatyard offers both a classic London-Dry and an Old Tom-style gin.
FAQs – Irish Gin Guide
That’s a difficult question. We all have our favorites and certainly, some brands have marketed themselves better than others. Gunpowder Gin continues to be the Irish gin with the most brand recognition. That said, both Glendalough Gin and Wild Burrow Irish Gin are also some of the best gin brands in Ireland.
If you are going to be a London Dry Gin, you’re going to need juniper. There’s no way of getting around it. Aside from juniper some of the best botanicals for gin include coriander, caraway, and angelica root. From there the sky’s the limit with other botanicals like citrus or licorice.
Like many things in Ireland, England has had a great deal of influence on what people drink. Gin is closely associated with England, especially for London Dry Gin. While Guinness and whiskey remain the more popular alcoholic drinks in Ireland, gin has become increasingly popular. Several whiskey distillers are seeing potential in gin making and have begun to offer their take on gin.