The Sipsmith Blog

Around the World in 80 Gins: Irish Gin

in Articles August 22, 2014

The Irish have their whiskey, Guinness, and Bailey’s, and the English have their gin – right? Well, not quite.

In fact, Ireland is home to a rich and lively gin drinking scene, and the country is hardly inexperienced when it comes to distilling Irish gin.


In fact, distilling is an ancient art in Ireland. While it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact date, the Irish have been distilling for at least 1,000 years – if not longer. Throughout Ireland’s history, and up into the present, one of the most popular spirits was poitín (also sometimes spelled poteen, and pronounced “potcheen”).

This fiery spirit, often quite sweet in character, was initially distilled from malted barley, though ingredients as varied as potatoes, treacle, whey, and other fermentable sources were also used. Poitín has quite the reputation: likened to moonshine, it was said to have damaging effects when produced by unskilled hands. However, it’s also considered one of Ireland’s national drinks, having been given Geographical Indicative Status in 2007, and when done well, it’s almost akin to vodka or an unaged whiskey.

The fact that poitín was illegal for more than 300 years – from the 1660s all the way up to 1997 – didn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm for the stuff. In fact, they distilled it in small pots (or “pota” – where poitín’s name originates from), in case they’d have to hide away their supplies at short notice. Today, poitín is still popular – a number of artisan distillers, such as Glendalough and Teeling – are producing excellent versions – and in many ways can be considered a local forerunner to gin.

What Do They Drink:

Apart from the poitín, gin is also steadily gaining popularity in Ireland, with Cork Dry Gin far and away the most popular choice. As it’s not a London Dry Gin, Cork Dry leans less towards punchy juniper flavours and more towards smooth, subtly sweet notes – it does very well in dessert-like cocktails. Exiles Irish Gin is another defiantly Irish style, distilled with locally sourced botanicals ranging from red clover flowers to honeysuckle blossoms and even shamrocks.

But that’s not where Irish gin ends. Though its corporate base is in England, distiller Knockeen Hills produces an Irish Heather Gin that prominently features the botanical against the smooth backdrop of a traditional, whey-distilled spirit. And Dingle Distillery, one of Ireland’s newest distilleries, is a Kerry-based producer that turns out a gin dosed with local botanicals ranging from rowan berries and fuchsia to bog myrtle and hawthorn.

How Do They Drink It:

Whether in cocktails or served neat, there’s no one preferred serve – here it’s down to preference.


For an Irish gin cocktail recipe, we turn to the producers of Heather Gin, who suggest pairing their aromatic spirit with zesty, slightly bitter grapefruit.

Grapefruit Fizz, adapted from Heather Gin:

25ml gin

25ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

25ml simple syrup

100 ml soda water

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add the first three ingredients and stir with a bar spoon to combine. Top up with soda water and stir just until mixed. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Feature images © sitriel/iStock/Thinkstock, klenova/iStock/Thinkstock

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