Lemony snippets and a series of unfortunate pre-event leaks

I have no idea where Cork Dry Gin is made. I assume Midleton, but I’ve never heard anyone from there talk about the stuff. Perhaps this is because the brand is just so jaded that no-one can be bothered to mention it, especially when all the chatter these days is about whiskey. But gin is huge – especially small gin, from boutique producers. So if anything is surprising it’s that it has taken this long for Midleton to produce another gin.

The microdistillery in Midleton is the perfect source, being the boutique-y-est string to Midleton’s mighty bow, and so it is that the new gin is being released under the Method & Madness label. We know this because an offie in the North blew their wad and uploaded the info about a month before the launch date.

And so it is we have this confusing puddle of product info:

At Method and Madness, we bottle the very best. We expertly blend the smoothest cream and the finest gin and just a hint of lemonyness and Irish gorse flower to create the most exquisite, velvety gin. Served straight from the bottle or draped over ice, Method and Madness Gin is a taste of Midleton Distillery you’ll never forget.

A delicious combination of black lemon,Irish gorse flower and Method and Madness gin.

Victorian cream gin was more like a liqueur – effectively an Irish cream with gin instead of whiskey – whereas the more modern iteration sees cream used as botanical rather than being added directly. Going by the clear liquid in this M&M release, this is the modern style. – Update – there’s no feckin’ cream in this:

Gorse – or furze, or whins if you’re Scottish  – produce small yellow flowers that smell like coconut. From the Wildflowers Of Ireland site:

‘Get a few handfuls of the yellow blossoms of the furze and boil them in water. Give the water as a dose to the horse and this will cure worms’.  

From the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. NFC 782:356 From Co Kerry.

There’s also a well-know country saying : “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”.

So an aphrodisiac that also cures worms. My prayers have been answered.

Black lemons are black, but are not lemons. They are dried limes, and are used in Persian cooking. So you have local hedgerow botanicals, exotic fruity spice, and cream. Should be interesting. Unless the unwitting leak was in fact a false flag designed to discredit dickheads like me who practically soiled themselves in their rush to share it on social media. The presence of the word ‘lemonyness’ suggests it might be.

Anyway, here is the lemony fresh press release that clears up some of my seemingly innate confusion:

Irish Distillers has unveiled METHOD AND MADNESS Irish Micro Distilled Gin; a bold step into the modern premium gin market and the first release from the Micro Distillery, Midleton. The new METHOD AND MADNESS release pays homage to the historic links to gin in County Cork and underlines the company’s commitment to experimentation and innovation.

Bringing together the experience and expertise of Midleton’s Masters and Apprentices, METHOD AND MADNESS Gin is the result of an exploration into historic gin recipes from 1798, which have been preserved at Midleton Distillery, and months of research into how botanicals work together to create unique flavours in gin.

Overseen by Master Distiller, Brian Nation, and Apprentice Distiller, Henry Donnelly, the gin has been distilled in ‘Mickey’s Belly’*, Ireland’s oldest gin still first commissioned in 1958, at the Micro Distillery, Midleton. The new release benefits from an eclectic fusion of 16 botanicals led by black lemon and Irish gorse flower – imparting notes of citrus and spice with subtle earthy undertones. METHOD AND MADNESS Gin is bottled at 43% ABV and is available in Ireland and Global Travel Retail from March 2019, at the RRP of €50 per 70cl bottle, ahead of a wider release in global markets from July.

To inform the creation of METHOD AND MADNESS Gin, Brian Nation and Henry Donnelly consulted with Irish Distillers Archivist, Carol Quinn, to understand the rich history of gin production in County Cork. In the 18th Century, Cork was a mercantile city and a centre of production for gin and rectified spirits. Merchants such as the Murphy family, who founded Midleton Distillery in 1825, imported a rich variety of spices and botanicals to which distillers had access. In the 1930s, Max Crockett – father of Master Distiller Emeritus, Barry Crockett – created the first commercially produced gin in Ireland, Cork Dry Gin.

A notebook kept in the Midleton Distillery archive dating back to the 1790s, written by a rectifier in Cork called William Coldwell, details the recipes, botanicals and methods that informed the creation of Irish Distillers’ Cork Crimson Gin in 2005. A premium pot still gin, Cork Crimson Gin provided the primary inspiration for Brian and Henry in reimagining the recipe for METHOD AND MADNESS Gin over the past year.

Henry Donnelly, Apprentice Distiller at the Micro Distillery, Midleton, commented: “It has been an incredible journey over the past year in pouring over our historic gin recipes, consulting with our Master Distiller Brian Nation and trialing different recipes in the Micro Distillery to bring METHOD AND MADNESS Gin to life. Midleton and Cork are steeped in gin heritage, so to be able to combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create a gin for the future has been a real honour.”

Brian Nation, Master Distiller at Midleton Distillery, added: “The release of our METHOD AND MADNESS Gin represents the next chapter in the story of us re-writing what a modern Irish spirits company can be. Through our work with the Apprentices at the Micro Distillery, Midleton, we continue to innovate and experiment with different grains, distillation methods and spirit types and look forward to sharing our creations with the world in the coming years. As a Cork native myself, bringing the spirit of premium Irish gin back to the city has been a personal highlight – and one that I look forward to enjoying being a part of for many years to come.”

Brendan Buckley, Innovation and Specialty Brands Director at Irish Distillers, concluded: “At the very core of METHOD AND MADNESS is a commitment to push the boundaries of what we can achieve in Midleton Distillery, and I believe that taking a confident leap into the modern premium gin category is the very definition of this mindset. Many new producers in Ireland are releasing gins while their whiskeys mature, but we are in no terms late to the party – in true METHOD AND MADNESS style, we are entering the gin market using our passion and unrivalled distilling expertise as our guide.”

First unveiled in February 2017, METHOD AND MADNESS aims to harness the creativity of Midleton’s whiskey masters through the fresh talent of its apprentices. Taking inspiration from the famous Shakespearean quote, ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t’, METHOD AND MADNESS is designed to reflect a next generation Irish spirit brand with a measure of curiosity and intrigue (MADNESS), while honouring the tradition and expertise grounded in the generations of expertise at the Midleton Distillery (METHOD).

*Mickey’s Belly is named after Michael Hurley, a Distiller at Midleton Distillery for 45 years. Michael Hurley worked in the Vat House at Midleton. He worked for Irish Distillers for 45 years, beginning his career with the Cork Distilleries Company where he was employed as a clerk in the Morrison’s Island Head Office. He then transferred to the watercourse Distillery where he worked for 6 years before coming out to Midleton. A Customs official or ‘Watcher’ named Dickie Cashman gave the still the nickname ‘Mickey’s Belly’ in his honour. It too had come in from Cork to work in Midleton.

METHOD AND MADNESS Gin Tasting Notes by Master Distiller Brian Nation

Nose: Lemon balm and shredded ginger with a unique flavour from the wild Irish gorse flower

Taste: Spicy pine and notes of earthy woodland frost balanced with a burst of citrus

Finish: Clean and long with a lingering rooted orange citrus and slowly roasted spice

I’m at this thing today, so will post 10,000 images from it later on. Til then, some thoughts: Another gin in a crowded market. I assume IDL have done their homework and see that there is the demand for a new gin, and at least under the M&M brand they can release and shelve if it doesn’t gain traction. Also – another notebook? I have no doubt that there is an actual notebook or ten in those archives, but as this is the second release to come from ye old fifty shades of grain, I’d wager you will be good for one or two more before drinkers get a little sceptical. Finally – that is one beautiful bottle. I look forward to falling into a case of them today. On that note: Let’s get facked aaaaaaaaap.

The Confluence

Chinnery, George; George Chinnery; National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/george-chinnery-155349

For more than two thousand years, Guangzhou has been a meeting place – of land and sea, trade and culture, old and new. Separated by mountainous topography from the rest of China, it evolved into a modern, liberal city with its own distinct cuisine and way of life. As the terminus of both the Pearl River and the maritime silk road, it has always been immensely wealthy. It is a city of vast markets, selling food, technology, textiles – anything you want, there is a market carrying it. It is also a city of immigrants – as a crossroads of international routes, it became home to travellers and traders from all over the world, all seeking their fortune in the City Of Rams. This is the story of two such travellers who came to Guangzhou via Dublin, and how their careers – one in 19th century art, the other in 21st century software – intersect.

David Havelin spent several years in the 1990s living in Guangzhou, or Canton as it was once known (the city government itself still uses Canton occasionally when translating to English). An enthusiastic traveller, the Dubliner spent his time there reading as much about the city’s history as he could, focussing on the Old China Trade of the 19th century in particular.  

Havelin kept noticing paintings by one artist, who specialised in portraits of western traders, local businesspeople, merchant families and street scenes: “I kept seeing paintings by this one guy, George Chinnery. He had spent the last 27 years of his life between Canton, Hong Kong and Macau, a portrait artist by profession and a prolific sketcher of local life too. His work is a huge part of the historical record of the early 19th century China Trade.

“Some years after I left China, I was browsing in a London bookstore and came across a biography of Chinnery. I started leafing through it and was surprised to learn he had started his professional career in Dublin. I bought the book, adding it to several shelves of books I had accumulated on China and Chinese history, some going back to Chinnery’s time.”

But Havelin wasn’t just passionate about reading, or art, or software, or travel – he was also a supporter of the then dormant Irish whiskey category. His blog, Liquid Irish, is still a go-to for anyone looking to educate or inform themselves about Irish spirits, where he used his writing to champion Irish food and drink, celebrating all that was good about Ireland:  “The intensity of flavour that can be carried by the tiniest sip of spirit really appeals to me, whether that’s whiskey, gin, rum or something else.”

When he lived abroad he would bring Irish whiskey with him, to show that Ireland had its own craft traditions and could produce something sublime and world class: “I think it’s easier to find Irish food and drink products these days of that quality, but 20 years ago whiskey was what I latched on to. Irish whiskey is an ambassador that represents the finest qualities of this country around the globe, well beyond the parts our diplomats can reach.”

In 2012, the award-winning Dingle Gin was released, and Havelin started to focus more on this rapidly expanding category:  “Whereas whiskey sends a little bit of Ireland out into the world, gin brings the world to us. It is a drink born of trade and empire, with exotic ingredients gathered from far-off lands. It appeals to me in the same way stamp collecting did as a child. It’s a glimpse of the unfamiliar.”

A chance encounter with drinks entrepreneur Marie Byrne saw them deciding to create a company. With Havelin’s background in whiskey writing, and Byrne’s role as co-founder and managing director of the Dublin Whiskey Company, one would be forgiven for thinking that the duo would release a whiskey. But they looked to gin instead.

“I started as an engineer, eventually moving into software development, so I always imagined I’d start a technology business. But the pleasure I got from exploring the craft of distillation and the great people I met in that industry enticed me away. Meeting my business partner, Marie, was the final key, because I had absolute confidence in her ability to form a company around whatever product we decided to make.”

Byrne, apart from her experience setting up the Dublin Whiskey Company, which was sold to Quintessential Drinks in 2016, was one of the founding members of the Irish Whiskey Association and is an adjunct lecturer in Food Science with Dublin Institute of Technology. She is also the founder of the new B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Brewing and Distilling in DIT. So with Havelin’s passion and Byrne’s know-how, they set to work: “Besides an interest in the liquid itself, the idea of creating something from nothing, being responsible for every decision and the success or failure of an entire venture, was something I wanted to attempt.”

In 2016 they created Chinnery Spirits with a view to releasing a gin, but in a crowded market with many remarkable gins on the shelf, they had to think global for their inspiration. Havelin admits that it took him longer than it should have to settle on Chinnery, but once he remembered those links between Dublin and Canton, he had his perfect narrative: “His story and the story of gin mesh so well. He took the trade ships in the opposite direction to the teas and spices and so on, stopping in India first for 23 years before moving on to southern China. His spell in India even coincided with the invention of the gin and tonic.”

So they had a story, but gin hinges on its use of botanicals – from Hendricks with its cucumber and rose petal, to Dingle and its bog myrtle, every gin needs to find a unique element that gives it life, and also makes it stand out from the rest. Havelin’s botanical choices were guided by the footsteps of George Chinnery, as well as his own: “I researched commodities that were imported from China. Tea was the big one, cassia bark was another. There was also rhubarb root which I distilled over and over, varying the process every way I could think of, but without managing to make it taste good. So I left that one out.”

After many trials and occasional error, he thought back to his time in Guangzhou, and the tiny blooms that give the city its nickname ‘The City Of Flowers’.

“I wanted to add my favourite aroma and flavour from my time in China: Osmanthus. When I walk along the streets of Canton I am sometimes stopped in my tracks by the most wonderful fragrance. I look around and there is the osmanthus tree with its tiny flowers. It’s sometimes used as a tea in China. So the cassia and tea represent the Old China Trade, while the osmanthus represents southern China. I was pretty sure in my head that these flavours would work together.”

So they had their botanicals, but then they had to find the perfect versions of those ingredients to make the combination sing: “I initially experimented with tea bought from the UK and osmanthus ordered online from China. Cassia is not an unusual botanical in gin so it’s readily available from the botanical brokers that everyone uses. But I was only able to get the best quality by going back to Canton, to the wholesale tea market there, and hunting among the 3,000 wholesalers for the good stuff. The osmanthus I use is only harvested once a year, at its peak. The oolong is a very particular variety that distills very well, without the bitterness of other teas.”

Importing these himself from China, Havelin was now plugged into the old spice routes, like a trader of yore. But the old world was about to collide with the shocking new, as Byrne and Havelin got a grips with actually producing a Dublin Dry Gin.

Many of the gins you see in the supermarket will be quick to tell you about what they are, or who they are, but often share little about where they are from. Havelin and Byrne, with their shared expertise in the drinks sector, knew that complete transparency was an important factor in a modern, confident drinks brand: “We agreed right at the beginning that we had to be able to tell people what was in the gin, how it was made and where it was made. This put some constraints on the manufacturing process. If we were making a Dublin gin, we had to distill in Dublin. We couldn’t contract manufacture in a location that had no connection to the brand story.

“Of course, as our label says, Chinnery Gin is distilled in Dublin and Cork. We would love eventually to distill entirely in Dublin once the finances allow it. Instead, we are distilling just the botanicals that are unique to Chinnery Gin – the oolong and osmanthus – in their entirety in Dublin.

“I went down to West Cork Distillers and sat in the lab with their distiller, Deirdre Bohane, to create a gin base with the other 8 botanicals to complement the oolong and osmanthus. The final gin is a blend of the distillates from the two distilleries. Chinnery had strong family connections in west Cork so distilling there will let us talk about that side of his story too.

“Distilling in Dublin brings two practical advantages. First, I distill the botanicals individually, so I can choose the cut points to suit each botanical. Second, I am distilling under vacuum so the distillation takes place at a much lower temperature. This preserves the flavours of the osmanthus. It’s too delicate to put in a traditional gin still to boil with the other botanicals.”

The base is infused with eight botanicals including cassia bark, juniper, coriander seed, liquorice root, sweet orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica root and orris root. The result is a fragrant gin, floral on the nose with notes of gooseberry and orange zest. Sweet, spicy and fruity on the palate, its finish is crisp, clean and satisfying.

Havelin was incredibly methodical in his approach to making the gin and crafting the brand – but the real obsessive in him came out with the design of the bottle. Just as the botanicals are used across the sector as a differentiator, the bottle design is crucial, as one gin after another strives to be the most eye-catching peacock on the shelf.

Like Jobs and Ive, Byrne and Havelin took the look of the bottle just as seriously as they had every other aspect: “I was a complete pain in the ass for the designers. I’ll give you one example: We worked with one of the best companies in the business, Stranger & Stranger, in London. They were great, but I was never satisfied with the building on the front label in the early designs – the brick pattern was wrong for the Georgian period, the appearance of the sash windows wasn’t typical, and so on. So eventually they told me to supply an architectural diagram of the building I wanted on the front label. I hunted all over Dublin but couldn’t find one with the requisite detail. So I drew my own. Actually, since we were unsure about the bottle shape at this stage, I wrote a program to draw a Georgian townhouse, where I could vary every parameter to control the number of rows of bricks, window size, etc. Even to randomly vary the tone of each brick. I sent them the result and they put it on the front of the bottle. I fiddled with pretty much everything else on the label too.”

Chinnery Gin bears a Georgian Dublin townhouse façade – peer through the sash windows on the front label and colourful imaginings of the Far East are visible across the inside of the rear label. Set in this scene, near the landmark Pazhou Pagoda on the Pearl River, is the figure of an artist at his easel, honouring Chinnery.

Reminiscent of a Chinese lantern, the bottle shape itself is also unique: Rather than using a template, they opted to go for a completely individual creation, as Havelin explains: “The glass bottle is unique to us. We didn’t intend going down that road initially but somehow we ended up sculpting bottles out of clay and 3D-printing caps. Fun!”

The fruits of Havelin and Byrne’s labours are on the shelves at selected stockists nationwide (Celtic Whiskey Shop being their distributor). The label is beautiful, the glass even moreso, and the spirit is, like it’s own backstory, one of contrasts and intersections, cultures colliding and combining. This gin flows from a vast delta of stories, ideas, experiences and lives – from George Chinnery, to Havelin and Byrne, from Dublin to Canton – the route that Chinnery Gin took to market is mapped out by chance encounters, calculated risks, and passions pursued.

Havelin and Byrne started the business in 2016, with Havelin going into it full time after six months. In doing so, he walked away from a reliable job in an industry that moves fast, in which it is easy to become irrelevant once you leave. Knowing the story of Chinnery – a volatile eccentric who described himself as ‘the ugliest man on the south China coast’ – means Havelin is all too aware of the fact that the artist ended up in Macau and Canton after he fled mounting debts in Europe. But now his product is out there after two years of hard work, Havelin says he would do it all over again: “There are certainly things I wish I had known before I started, that would have got us to market much sooner. Compared to a salaried job it’s been a lot more work for a lot less money so far, but it is also so much more enjoyable and challenging. Of course I still don’t know whether this whole thing will pan out or not. The moment the business becomes self-sustaining will be a huge relief.”

This interview ran in FFT.ie.

As part of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival, Chinnery Gin will host a cocktail evening at The Big Romance on February 13th. Inspired by the Old China Trade and the travels of Georgian-era portrait artist George Chinnery, Chinnery Gin uniquely contains osmanthus flower and oolong tea, sourced
directly from Canton by Chinnery Spirits co-founder and distiller, David Havelin.

As well as including two cocktails created for Chinese New Year, the event will explore the trade links between Dublin and China during the Georgian era, when the city’s well-to-do enjoyed tea, spices, silk and porcelain that made their way to Dublin via the Old China Trade.
Tickets include two Chinnery cocktails and a guided gin tasting with David Havelin. Available now at €12.50 from Eventbrite http://bit.ly/ChinneryCNY. This event is strictly over 18s.

Holy waters

As monks go, St Columba was pretty rock ‘n’ roll. A great-great-grandson of High King Niall of the Nine Hostages, he once started a war over a copyright issue and ended up narrowly avoiding excommunication by exiling himself to Scotland. He sailed past Islay, where Irish monks introduced distilling to the Scots, and set up a Christian outpost on Iona, from where he set out to spread his faith.

But he is also remembered for being the first person recorded to have an encounter with the Loch Ness monster. He came across some Picts burying a companion who had been killed by a ‘water beast’ in the loch. Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across the loch and bring back a boat on the other side – but the man was only halfway when a fearsome creature appeared.

Invoking the name of God, Columba formed the sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.”

The monster fled, but despite the fact that 1,500 years have passed since that account, and although Columba has largely been forgotten, Nessie’s legend shows no signs of diminishing. Loch Ness still seems a magical place, where the walls between our world and some fantasy kingdom are crumbling, where anything can happen. No wonder then that a family who have lived on the banks of the loch for 500 years have decided to try and capture some of the magic of its waters.

Lorien and Kevin Cameron-Ross, above, the founders and directors of Loch Ness Spirits, hand pick their own ‘black gold’ juniper and local botanicals from their land on the shores of Loch Ness.  They then combine it with the water of the glen to create the limited edition ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin. Just 500 bottles of the first batch of ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin have been distilled.   

Already an award winner, achieving a gold medal in ‘ultra-premium’ category and silver medal in the ‘London dry’ category of The Global Gin Masters Competition in June, ‘Real and Rare’ Loch Ness Gin was described by the judges as “A sparkle of juniper mixed with earthy angelica and aromatic pine blossom.”

Co-creator Lorien: ‘Inspired by a local gin tour and noting how rare and precious juniper was, we got to thinking about the juniper around us when we walked the dog at home.

‘It has been a steep learning curve and we have worked extremely hard to hand pick the juniper and other botanicals, but we have made it, and are desperately proud of the result.

‘The family has been working the rugged shores of this loch for 500 years and this is just the next stage in that tradition of working the land. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it could be the most delicious thing we have produced in half a millennium!’

So what of the gin – it has a freshness on the nose that I wasn’t expecting, a real light air of lemongrass, with hints of fresh-cut fennel bulb. There is a definite menthol element that really lines it up as a palate cleanser – citrus notes, but with a hint of brine. The mouth is definitely a big departure  – lots of cotton candy, a slight medicinal sweetness, leaving more of that initial citrus in its wake. A refreshing gin, served with too much tonic water and you might drown out some of the more hidden depths. I took this neat, then with ice, then tonic, and favoured a weightier measure of gin and less of everything else; like the beastie in the loch, it is an elusive sip that definitely needs more exploration.

As for Nessie, her enduring myth was revived recently by Ian Bremner, a distillery worker who took this photo:

Speaking after, Bremner said: “I suppose it could be seals – but I’m not so sure. The more I think about it, the more I think it could be Nessie” – proving that from St Columba to the Cameron-Rosses, all you need to make the waters of Loch Ness magical is a little faith.