As yet another new label is launched, Donal O’Keeffe raises a glass – and wonders if we’ll ever reach ‘peak gin’
Strolling through the red-brick-lined archways of Midleton’s Irish Distillery, I think of an Elvis Costello lyric. “The juniper berry has a very deadly kiss,” sang the artist formerly known as Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus on his album Punch The Clock, a staggering 36 years ago, “but I would say that something here is very much amiss.”
The only thing amiss here — if even amiss it is — with Irish Distillers’ Method and Madness Gin is that the very deadly kiss of the juniper berry is not quite so pronounced as you might expect, and the gin tastes — to this uneducated palate — pleasantly of citrus.
Gin snobs might look askance at such a departure, but as William Shakespeare wrote in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, an even more impressive 420 years ago, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”.
At the Method and Madness Gin’s launch in Midleton’s Jameson micro-distillery, as I take my place with the internationally gathered press, among the bloggers, blaggers, and blaggards, my imposter syndrome is working overtime. The conviction that one is about to be exposed as a fraud is surely apt here: I know next to nothing about gin.
I know the expression “Dutch courage” is said to date back four centuries, to the Thirty Years’ War, when soldiers drank jenever, Dutch gin, for its purported bravery-inducing properties. I know cheap, unlicensed gin led to the “Gin Craze” of the early 1700s, when mass public drunkenness caused moral panic in Britain, with Daniel Defoe lamenting “the Distillers have found out a way to hit the palate of the Poor”.
I know too that gin was christened “mother’s ruin” when heavy gin consumption caused a sharp decline in London’s fertility rate in the mid-18th century. And that’s about it.
I’m a stout drinker — getting stouter by the pint — and wouldn’t be much of a man for spirits. I might have a Jameson at a wedding or a funeral, but that would be it. There are more funerals than weddings, now, and to be truthful I’ve gone off the taste of whiskey.
I’ve drunk a G&T on occasion, of course, and the bitter chemical memory doesn’t really appeal, so not for me the goldfish bowl filled with ice and fruit. I’m more someone who likes the comforting heft of a pint glass, the smooth, heavy swig of porter, and the reassurance that you’ll be too dopey after four or five pints to do anything too stupid before you drift off to sleep.
And yet, here I am, in Midleton’s micro-distillery, thoroughly enjoying a Method and Madness Gin and a Poachers Tonic, surrounded by international media, for a glitzy product launch which features a lot of audio-visual whizz-bang, a clever use of spotlights and strobes, and which lacks only for dry ice to go with the G&Ts.
On display are the various ingredients (16 botanicals, it says here), a clever touch which lends a tactile element to the launch. Lemon, black lemon, lemon peels, bitter orange, and sweet orange sit beside nutmeg, cassia bark, ginger, cardamom, and cardinal pods, which in turn vie with lavender, bay, basil, coriander, caraway, lemon verbena, and the local addition, Irish gorse flower. The black lemon (actually sundried lime) smells incredible.
The juniper berries are essential, of course, and larger than I would have expected. Apprentice distiller Henry Donnelly notes: “Juniper is to gin as the cask is to whiskey, and as the grape is to wine.”
Cork is already synonymous with Cork Dry Gin, but time was when Cork produced three times as much gin as Dublin. In 1807 Cork had 13 rectified distilleries while the capital had 10.
Possessing the world’s second-largest natural harbour — second to Sydney — Cork was a key trading port in the 19th and 20th centuries, with exotic commodities such as lemons, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves commonplace in the thriving merchant city of the 1820s and 1830s.
Method and Madness Irish Micro Distilled Gin is a “reimagining” of Irish Distillers’ 2005 Cork Crimson Gin, which was in turn based on recipes, botanicals, and methods found in the 1798 notebook of Cork rectifier William Coldwell.
Crimson Gin was “way ahead of its time,” says master distiller Brian Nation. “We could have gone back and started up Crimson Gin once again and gone with that, but this was a real opportunity to create something new and different.”
Irish Distillers launched the super-premium Method and Madness range in February 2017, with an aim to “push the boundaries” of Irish whiskey. Their latest product is the first gin to come to the market as part of the range.
Brian led the creative process, assisted by Henry, and Method and Madness gin was created in “Mickey’s Belly”, Ireland’s oldest gin still, first commissioned in 1958, and named after Michael Hurley, a distiller at Midleton Distillery for 45 years.
Sampling a Method and Madness Gin, Brian offers his own verdict on the product. “The nose, I would say, suggests lemon, hints of shredded ginger, and, of course, Irish gorse flower. In terms of taste, there’s a spicy pine, balanced with notes of earthy woodland, and citrus burst. The finish is clean, long, and redolent of slowly-roasted cooked spice.”
The design of the bottle and its label is something special. The Irish-Swedish team of Matthew and Emily (M&E Design) have combined Japanese bottle styles with paper-marbling processes at least a millennium old to create a unique label for Method and Madness Gin. The whorls and swirls of black, white, blue, teal, and gorse-yellow blend and twist in tribute to the gin’s ingredients.
That night, in the bar in the swanky Castlemartyr Resort Hotel, a few hardy souls from the international press are still standing, or at least sitting. Method and Madness Gin and Poachers Tonic is the complementary order of the evening. I ask for one, and it tastes delicious. I even convince myself I can discern the yellow, buttery taste of Irish gorse flower.
Still, though, I find myself craving something a little more familiar, and I guiltily order a pint of stout. No Dutch courage required, but the Castlemartyr barman is the soul of discretion as he murmurs that while the G&Ts are paid for, the pint will cost €5.50.
I pay up. Even this philistine can tell Method and Madness Gin is a remarkable gin, but ultimately some of us will always be stout drinkers, figuratively and literally. Imposter syndrome isn’t always lying, and some of us will always be imposters.
To compound my guilt, in my room waits a commemorative package containing a small bottle of Method and Madness gin, and a Poachers tonic.
That I think of it, Elvis Costello, who wrote of the juniper berry’s “very deadly kiss”, once went by the pseudonym The Imposter, and he also wrote a song of the same name.
“He’ll only bring you souvenirs It’s only going to end in tears And he is only the imposter.”
- Bottled at 43% abv, Method and Madness Micro Distilled Gin launched in global travel retail and in Ireland in March, priced at €50 per 700ml. It will be rolled out globally from July