Irish Spirits to Enjoy Beyond WhiskeyBy Stephanie Moreno
Once a year the world celebrates all things Irish with a focus on music, food, and drinks. Typically Irish whiskey gets the lion’s share of the beverage spotlight, but there are other Irish spirits worthy of praise. So when you’re out shopping for Guinness and Irish whiskey, don’t forget to check out these other categories to get a unique taste of the Emerald Isle.
Just like the rest of the world, craft distilleries in Ireland have been cropping up at a rapid pace. And while many of them are making whiskeys, distillers often make a gin in order to pay the bills. One of the wonderful things about Irish gin is that native botanicals are often employed which helps these gin brands stand out from the rest. There are so many Irish gins on the market these days that you could buy a new one each month and still not taste them all. Challenge accepted.
This Irish gin is made with meadowsweet which is sourced from the town of Drumshanbo in Co. Leitrim where the gin is produced. Other botanicals include kaffir lime, oriental grapefruit, Chinese lemon and gunpowder tea. In addition to this gin, other Irish spirits made by the brand include a single pot still whiskey and a vodka made from the sausage tree fruit.
Located on the west coast of Ireland, independently-owned Dingle Distillery opened in 2012 as one of the first of the new wave of Irish distillers. The Irish spirits made here include whiskey, vodka and this gin using Irish botanicals such as rowan berry, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorne and heather.
This pot still distilled gin is made with 13 botanicals including blackberries, dandelion flowers, lavender, geranium and cracked black pepper, along with more traditional gin botanicals. It’s named for the Ha’Penny Pedestrian Bridge which crosses the Liffey in the center of Dublin.
Rather than using the customary neutral grain spirit, this Irish spirit is made with barley that is grown, harvested and floor-malted on the distillery’s own farmland. This small batch gin uses botanicals such as gorse flower petals, lavender, anise and sweet kelp, among others.
This vodka starts with milk from Irish dairy farmers in Co. Cork. The curds used to make cheese are separated from the whey which is typically a waste product. Yeast is added to the whey to convert the milk sugars into alcohol and this is what gets distilled. This is now the base neutral spirit for the gin. To that, eighteen botanicals are used including the requisite juniper, a variety of citrus, elderflower and sweet woodruff. Local well water is used in its production.
Poitín or poteen is a traditional Irish spirit made from cereal grains, potatoes, sugar beets, whey or molasses. It’s typically sold as a clear spirit without aging, but it can spend up to 10 weeks in wood as well as be infused with flavors. Although it was illegal from 1661-1997, this is one of the Irish spirits to have recently been given a protected geographical indication by the EU — along with Irish whiskey and Irish cream liqueur. There are just a few sold in the States, but they’re well worth seeking out.
This poitín has been made from locally sourced malted barley. The name is inspired by the saying “mad as a March hare” referring to the fact that March is breeding season for hares. In order to win the attention of the females, they brawl. Your results may vary.
Glendalough has a variety of Irish spirits under its umbrella including several whiskeys and a variety of gins that are all worth seeking out. The brand also has three poitín selections to choose from including this cask strength version. It’s distilled from sugar beets and malted barley and is lightly aged in virgin oak casks. In addition to the lower proof version, the brand also has a poitín which is aged briefly in sherry casks.
This poitín is made from 50% malted barley and 50% unmalted barley, all of which is sourced from Ireland. It is distilled three times in traditional copper pot stills and is bottled at 52.5% ABV without aging. This was the first release to come out of the Teeling Distillery which opened in 2015; the first distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years.
Cream liqueurs are often made with real milk or cream, but there are also dairy-free options made from almonds, rice and other vegan ingredients. Whiskey or rum is often used for the base. Naturally, these winter liqueurs would make fantastic additions to hot chocolate or even cocktails like a White Russian. But feel free to enjoy with a couple of ice cubes for an easy serve.
First introduced in 1974, Baileys Original Irish Cream is made from Irish whiskey, Irish cream, spirit and chocolate. There are many other flavors in the Baileys portfolio including vegan and a recently released light version.
This Irish cream liqueur is made using cream from grass-fed cows, Irish whiskey, real chocolate and Irish spirit. It is made from the same milk used to create the brand’s popular cheese and butter.
This was crafted by Michael Walsh, master distiller, master blender, and family beekeeper for Boann Distillery. This Irish Cream, dubbed The Blenders Select, begins with single pot still whiskey which uses malted and unmalted barley in its makeup. Then Irish cream from grass-fed cows is blended in.
As vodka can be made anywhere in the world from any agricultural product, naturally Ireland has a few brands to offer. Often these Irish spirits will be made from grains or potatoes, and some brands even use locally-grown ingredients.
This Irish vodka is made using non-GMO barley, primarily sourced from growers in the southeast of Ireland. It’s malted in Cork and milled, mashed, fermented and distilled in West Cork using copper pot stills. The name Kalak is the phonetic spelling of “Cailleach,” the Celtic goddess of winter. Also worth mentioning is the brand’s Peat Cask Single Malt Vodka. For this spirit, the brand takes peat from West Cork and then chars virgin American oak barrels using a peat fire. It’s then aged for four months.
Made from Irish potatoes, this is the second release for the brand following a gin which is also made from a potato base. The brand also makes an Irish whiskey. Muff Liquor Company is named after Muff, a village in Co. Donegal which sits near the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This is a wheat-based vodka released by The Connacht Whiskey Company. The name Straw Boys refers to the tradition in western Ireland of wedding crashers who would obscure their faces with conical straw hats. Soon after dancing with the bride and groom — and likely having a drink — they would leave. Their appearance was considered good luck for the couple. There is also a poitín released under this brand name which is made with malted barley.
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