One of the ways to muscle your way past the crowd generated by the ginaissance is to have a decent marketing edge and there is no better race to concoct a riveting tale than our friends the Irish. I had been eying up a bottle of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin on the shelf of one of our local supermarkets and what had always put me off was paying £30 or more for a 50cl bottle, a tad expensive when there are so many other gins to try. A drop in the price and running out of options persuaded me to take the plunge and sample the product of the curious mind of drinks entrepreneur, P J Rigney, and his bold experimentation, allegedly, in a shed in the Irish town of Drumshanbo, on the shores of Lough Allen in Country Leitrim.
Rigney claims that originality is not just about innovation but also about “bringing together unrelated things for the first time” and “seeing the possibilities that others don’t”. His website, for a gin distiller, is unusually informative and a work of art, a delight to wander around and explore, complete with sound effects. Even if you go no further, I urge you to visit it.
It is tempting, as we are talking about an Irish product, to associate the gunpowder in the gin’s name with the black explosive stuff, a terrible piece of racial stereotyping but there you are. In fact, it refers to gunpowder tea, a form of green tea which has been slowly dried and whose leaves have been rolled carefully into pellets resembling bullets and makes a bold bright, slightly spicy cuppa, a key ingredient of the gin. The other distinguishing feature of the gin is the use of exotic oriental botanicals.
As you would expect from a distiller who has invested so much into creating an image and developing a story, the bottle is a work of art too. It is short and dumpy, blue in colour with vertical ridges in the glass, a wooden stopper complete with a copper collar stamped with Gunpowder Irish Gin and an artificial cork. The label is a light brown colour with serrated edges, rather like a large postage stamp. The front label tells me that it is made of oriental botanicals with gunpowder tea. Beneath that is a picture of a jackalope, a cross between a jackrabbit and an American antelope, a mythical creature for sure but one that conveys the sense of a bizarre or unusual concoction. What baffled me, though, was that it was North American and nothing else about this gin is about that continent. For good measure, some oriental characters appear to the right of the creature.
The label at the back informs me that “the ordinary is made extraordinary” and that Rigney is a “boundary-pushing begetter of hand-made spirits who slow stills gin with nature’s finest oriental botanicals and gunpowder tea”. As well as a red seal the bottle has “DGIG 19/07” stamped on it. It also comes with a little booklet affixed to the bottle’s collar with a red tie, each edge of which is delicately snipped.
There are twelve botanicals which make up this gin, eight of which are added to the neutral grain base spirit in the copper still – meadowsweet, cardamom, juniper, coriander, angelica, orris, carraway seed and star anise – and four – gunpowder tea, Chinese lemon, Oriental grapefruit and Kaffir lime – are put into the vapour basket. After a long, slow distillation process, the spirit is reduced to an acceptable fighting weight of 43% ABV and then bottled and labelled by hand at Rigney’s Shed Distillery.
Is the gin worth all the effort that has gone to its production and the marketing?
Surprisingly, yes. I was worried that the juniper may have just sunk without trace as can happens with a more contemporary style and this concern was heightened when I opened the bottle and took a sniff. It seemed to lack the intense hit of juniper that I look for and was very citrusy. In the mouth the initial sensation came from the citrus but then the juniper announced its presence, hand in hand with a taste analogous to green tea before finishing with a perfect balance of sweet and spicy. The aftertaste was warming, finishing off an interesting and well-balance drink. A definite hit with me.
Until the next time, cheers!