A Drop of the Irish – Gin…
The first licenced Northern Irish distillery in 125 years, Echlinville describe themselves as a “field to glass” distillery. They’ve also resurrected Dunville whiskey and offer a drop of poitín too
Article by Catherine Ferguson
You know you’re in Northern Ireland when you pitch up to visit a distillery and the first things you see are huge pots of tea and plates piled high with the biggest, freshest scones you’ve ever seen. When you leave a few hours later, having topped off those scones with gin, whiskey and poitín, you know you’ve had a good morning.
Little more than a stone’s throw from my Grandmother’s home, a visit to Echlinville was a far cry from our childhood family holidays, building sandcastles and chasing crabs on the picturesque beaches of the Ards Peninsula. It was heart-warming to hear founder, Shane Braniff’s tale of the distillery, and to learn that a little bit of the Ards Peninsula lies in every drop of their premium gin.
The first Northern Irish distillery to be granted a licence in 125 years, Echlinville describe themselves as Ireland’s only ‘field to glass’ distillery; in contrast to many of the gin producers that have shot up around the UK, all of the barley used to distil their spirits is grown and harvested on site. They top it off with Strangford Lough seaweed and locally-grown, hand-picked botanicals.
Head distiller, Graeme Miller, has done a wonderful job on Ireland’s first single estate gin. Echlinville gin is fresh and citrusy, with a touch of liquorice, lavender and coriander, harnessed through a basket of botanicals suspended in the still during its trickle pot distillation.
For a slightly bolder, cheekier option, his Jawbox gin is equally appealing. The Belfast Cut Classic Dry Gin is becoming increasingly available across the British Isles and is named after the old slang word for the ever-popular ceramic Belfast sink. They were aka the ‘jawbox’ as it’s where women would meet to wash everything from dishes to clothes to small children. The bygone equivalent of a water-cooler, all the gossip of the day wash shared round the sinks – jaws going ten to the dozen. Rumour has it that ginger ale was also invented in Belfast, so it’s little surprise that they advertise their perfect serve as Jawbox gin, ginger ale and a wee stick of honeycomb.
Echlinville distillery isn’t just about artisan gin: they’ve also resurrected Belfast’s Dunville’s whiskey brand, last distilled some 80 years ago. With 200 years of distilling history behind the name, they’ve got a lot to live up to. Dunville’s PX 10 year old single malt won three gold medals at the World Whiskey awards, and offers hints of nutmeg, spice, vanilla and citrus with an oaky, almost Christmassy feel.
Of course, I couldn’t leave Echlinville without popping my poitín cherry. Illegal in Ireland for some 300 years, it only moved out of clandestine production in 1997 and is slowly but surely making its way back to any self-respecting mixologist’s cabinet. Now available in Selfridge’s, Bán poitín is pleasantly quaffable. With it’s creamy, oily feel and spicy, chocolately finish, it slips down surprisingly easily, although it can’t be a coincidence that ‘póit’ is Irish for hangover.
Widely available across Northern Ireland, the Echlinville spirits are slowing meandering their way across the rest of the UK and can be purchased online at Sheffield-based www.lebonvin.co.uk; tours and tastings can also be booked at echlinville.co/visit/.