It’s a good time for fans of Irish spirits. Where once we had a couple of classic brands to choose from, liquor stores now have shelves devoted to whiskeys from Ireland, and new distilleries are popping up all over the Emerald Isle. The terroir of that unique place now is corked into outstanding bottles of gin, as well.
Newish distilleries Clonakilty and Listoke aren’t just green for St. Patrick’s Day — both have earned certified Origin Green status, meaning a commitment to sustainable practices in all production methods and products.
Barrels of Clonakilty Irish whiskey do their maturing and finishing in a glass warehouse perched 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The small distillery, run by the Scully family, is about 5 miles down the road from their farm. The ninth-generation, three-century-old farm’s barley fields grow in the shadow of the Galley Head Light House, next to windswept, rocky cliffs. Those centuries of sea spray and gentle rains add a complexity to the soil that permeates each grain of the family’s heritage barley.
Single-batch Double Oak is their fledgling cask-finish Irish whiskey. This blend of 8-year-old grain and 10-year-old malt whiskies first is aged in former bourbon casks and then is finished in a combination of new American oak and shaved, toasted and recharred European oak casks previously used for red wine (typically referred to as STR casks). Clonakilty notes that this is the first Irish whiskey to be finished in those casks.
Some of the aromas are hard to identify — soft spices, vanilla, apple, perhaps straw. On the palate, there is a roundness of body, a nuttiness from hazelnut or almond, and a pleasing grassiness. At the finish, there is toffee, as well as lingering spices. There definitely is a savory salinity, perhaps from the sea mist.
Single-batch Double Oak cask-finish whiskey ($46.50 per 750 milliliters) is bottled at 43.6% alcohol by volume (87.2 proof). The simple label features a minke whale, like those found off the coast, near Clonakilty. It ships within the U.S. from shopclonakilty.com.
Listoke is the biggest gin distillery in Ireland, but it’s still a handcrafted, small-batch, family-run operation. The label of Listoke 1777 gin depicts a swooping barn owl, like those that roam the rafters of the 200-year-old barn at Listoke House and Gardens in County Louth. The sleepy rural village of Tenure, where Listoke and its Edwardian walled garden are nestled, is just 20 minutes from Dublin.
Many of the ingredients of the closely guarded recipe grow in the wild, or on the grounds of the garden. Traditional gin herbs and spices, such as juniper, angelica root, coriander and cassia bark, mix in the pot of grain spirit with contemporary botanicals unique to the region — jasmine, sweet orange, cardamom and wild Irish rowan berries. Triple-pot distilling lends a gentler, softer flavor to the gin that, at the same time, also is vibrant and bold.
As mindful stewards of the land, co-founder Bronagh Conlon said, the distillery no longer harvests rowan berries from the garden, leaving them for birds to forage during winter. The distillery purchases sustainably sourced, dried berries now. And, after the distillation process, all used botanicals are returned to the garden as compost material.
Floral aromas are what hit first when opening a bottle of this gin, along with a woody, almost piney burst. It’s juniper-forward, but the blossom notes jump out and mix on the palate with bright citrus, bitter rowan berry and various barks that balance the sweetness. There is a lasting spice finish, with overtones (and a heat kick) of cardamom.
It’s a gin that stands alone over just a cube, and also makes a fantastic gin and tonic. Tonic bubbles bring out even more of the botanical flavors.
Listoke 1777 ($39 per 750 milliliters) is bottled at 86.6 proof, and is available at liquor stores.
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