There’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to calling something a gin. All that is really required is to flavor some neutral spirits with herbs of some sort and hey-presto you’ve got yourself a gin. As a result, there’s a wide variety of options on the market that use unique flavorings for their spirits, from seaweed to raspberries — but I had never heard of a gunpowder flavored gin until I found this bottle down in Key West, Florida.
There is currently a wave of new Irish distillers washing over the country (including previously reviewed Teeling Whiskey) making all sorts of interesting and novel spirits. Just like with the American craft distilling craze, these distilleries are following a similar pattern of starting with a gin or a rum before moving on to the more traditional whiskey. The reason is simple: unaged spirits can be shipped and sold as soon as they come off the still, while whiskey needs time to mature first. Unaged spirits give these distilleries a much needed cash infusion while their whiskey is aging away in barrels, waiting to be delicious.
Which is why today we have this gin from the Shed Distillery in Ireland.
Founded in 2014 by PJ Rigney, the Shed Distillery is a place for experimentation and creation of new recipes. Rigney had worked in the spirits industry for most of his career before opening his own distillery, intent on refining his craft and making the most delicious Irish spirits possible. For his distillery, he invested in three dedicated copper pot stills for traditional Irish whiskey, two more for gin, and two column stills to produce pretty much everything else.
The team at the Shed Distillery take pride in everything that they produce. In an interview with Flaviar, Rigney described the attention to detail taken:
We prepare all of our botanicals, all of our grain and pretty much everything on site with our own mills. On the Whiskey side, we cask everything ourselves. We also distill everything for our Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin. All the bottles are filled and labeled on site. And that’s with only 30 people.https://flaviar.com/blog/drumshanbo-pj-rigney-interview/
The distillery focuses on sustainability, and has earned Origin Green status for sustainable business practices which is verified by the Irish government.
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
Gin is one of the simplest spirits to make in terms of the technical processes, but it can be one of the most difficult to perfect in terms of the flavors you get at the end. As with most gins, this starts off with a vat of raw alcohol (“neutral spirit” in distillery parlance) — but where most distilleries will simply import mass produced neutral spirits to start their processes, the folks here only use spirits that are distilled on site.
As for which specific ingredients they chose for their gin, the botanicals are selected by the head distiller and range from items that come from the backyard of the distillery to halfway around the world and all points in between — including the “Gunpowder Tea” from which the gin gets its name.
There are a few different ways that botanical flavors can be infused into the neutral spirit during the distillation process — but where some distilleries will stick to one specific method, the folks at the Shed Distillery use a combination of two different methods to achieve their desired flavor profile. The seed and root botanicals (including including juniper, meadowsweet, cardamom, coriander, angelica root, orris root, caraway seed, and star anise) are “macerated”, which basically means they are submerged in the raw alcohol and made into a liquor-y tea. The lighter and more herbaceous components (including including Chinese lemon, grapefruit, kaffir lime, and the namesake gunpowder tea) are “vapor infused”, meaning that they are suspended in the neck of the pot still and have the gin vapors pass through them during distillation.
The final step before packaging is to rest the gin for about 21 days.
The marketing materials for Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin use the word “exotic” to describe the flavor profile, but I think it also could apply to the bottle. It starts with a standard overall bottle shape: short, fat, base; quick shoulder; topped with a wood and synthetic cork (describing the bottle, not the author). However, the team has created a bottle that takes those basic components and up-levels each element to create something amazing.
The bottle is made of a rich blue glass with a scalloped texture all the way around. The only smooth portion of the bottle is a pad for the label to affix — and the label itself carries the same scalloped feel around the border. On that label — in blue ink that resonates with the bottle color — you can find the name of the spirit, essential information, and an image of a jackalope (a mascot chosen to mimic the vast array of botanicals used). According to the marketing materials, the goal of this design was to bring “two disparate cultures and traditions brought together in a singular flash of inspiration”.
To top everything off, a thin band of copper surrounds the cork. It’s a simple flourish, but might just be the shiny touch that pulls everything together.
The gin is crystal clear, and has an aroma of faint juniper, tea, and grapefruit. It’s a nice combination that gently suggests you are about to sip a gin — rather than punching you in the face with a Christmas tree, as many other gins tend to do.
Immediately on the first sip, you can tell that a lot of care went into finding a unique-yet-balanced flavor. It comes across a slightly sweet, with a mild array of botanicals and citrus. You can pick out some of the distinct elements, specifically the juniper, coriander, anise, and grapefruit as the flavor develops. On the finish, there are some hints of tea and lemon.
Normally, I find gin to be a bit one-note with juniper overpowering everything else in the glass. Here, though, there’s a depth to the flavors that I’m pleasantly surprised by.
Adding ice doesn’t make any drastic changes to the flavor profile — everything is still there, just in a slightly different order of importance. The vapor infused citrus becomes more prominent as the darker and richer components take a step back, with lemon and lime joining the grapefruit.
The one flavor that I lose completely is the tea. Gunpowder tea, named for its similar appearance to black powder pellets, is a green tea that is slowly dried into small pellets that began to be produced in 7th century China. Losing this flavor is the most disappointing part, as this flavor was the namesake of this gin.
Fizz (Gin & Tonic)
Things didn’t look great coming into this portion of the test — the flavors of this gin are layered yet delicate, not usually something that holds up well to some added tonic water. That said, I was very pleasantly surprised on how well the cocktail works. Some of the complexity is lost, but you can still tell that you are drinking a well-made gin, and the tonic doesn’t dilute or overpower the flavors in the spirit.
The nice surprise is how well the citrus flavors pair with the gin. Distillery founder PJ Rigney recommends drinking this gin with a slice of grapefruit. Figuring citrus is citrus, I used a key lime (I was in Key West… when in Rome, right?) and the end result was still a very refreshing drink. It would definitely be worth trying again with the recommended grapefruit, too.
This is where this gin starts to fall down, in my opinion. The flavors had already lost much of their depth and richness once the ice entered the picture, and what’s left cannot stand up to the bitterness of the Campari. Given the delicate flavors of the gin, this is not a surprising outcome — but it’s a bummer nevertheless. It’s not a bad cocktail, it’s just not a cocktail that highlights the gin.
On the Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin website, they have a list of recommended cocktails. Not surprisingly, they are all made with lighter flavor mixers — and a Negroni is not one of them.
So Irish gin is a thing, apparently, and what I’ve learned is that it’s pretty good. Especially if it comes from the “curious mind of PJ Rigney” (as the marketing materials loudly trumpet every chance they get). Credit where credit is due, RIgney has created a complex and very drinkable gin, made with a high level of pride and care that goes into the distillation process which shows in the end product.
The flavor is complex, deep, and evolves depending on how you drink it. There are not many gins that I enjoy drinking neat or on ice, but this one is now on that list.
|Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin|
Produced By: DrumshanboProduction Location: Ireland
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $38.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
From a country known for its whiskey, this bottle might just put Irish gin on the map.