Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle runs through the Irish artisan drinks she’s loved this year.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and whether you’re looking to indulge in something delicious to sip by the fire or a special bottle to gift to a loved one, I hope you’ll find something here. The sheer quality in Irish artisan distilling, fermenting and brewing in recent years has been fantastic; let’s all raise a glass to even more beautiful boozy creations in the new year and beyond. Sláinte, folks!
This very special apple ice wine won the Irish Drink category at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild Awards last year, and rightly so – it is absolutely stunning. Killahora Orchards is a family business on an estate dating back to 1837, on which more than 130 varieties of apple and 40 pear varieties are grown. They make a range of beverages using their fruit, but the standout is this Rare Apple Ice Wine. It’s made by slowly freezing apples and then thawing the pressed apple juice to create a richer must than you would get from regular pressing. This works well as a dessert wine, but for me it’s just got to be served nicely chilled with a cheeseboard — the perfect Christmas treat.
Wine is not be the first drink that comes to mind when I think of Ireland, so I was genuinely blown away by this inventive approach to vinification. Limerick-based company BT Wines grow pinot noir and pinot grigio grapes in carefully-chosen vineyards in Germany. The wines made from these are matured with Irish peat, an inventive twist on oaking — think of the smokey flavours and aromas of a peated whiskey, but infused into wine. The white is a little full-on for my tastes, but I think the Peated Pinot Noir is absolutely stunning, and a fabulous gift for anyone interested in exploring unusual drinks.
Lovers of Irish cream liqueur definitely need to get their hands on a bottle of Five Farms; brimming with flavours of fresh cream, butterscotch and vanilla, it’s essentially a boozy dessert in a glass without being overly sweet. It’s lovely lightly chilled as is, over ice or generously drizzled over good quality ice cream, and one of my favourite treats is using it to make homemade liqueur coffees. Made with single batches of fresh cream sourced from — yep, you guessed it — five farms in Co. Cork, it’s a true farm-to-table product. The cream is combined with premium Irish whiskey within 48 hours of collection, and contains more whiskey than other brands — possibly one reason why I adore it so much.
If you have someone on your Christmas list who’s into stronger spirits, why not gift them an artisan bottle of poitín? Ballykeefe Poitín is created in a single estate distillery, going directly from their our fields to your glass, and sustainability is a key concern. Hailing from Co. Tipperary, the poitín won Master Class at the 2018 Global Spirits Masters. “The poitín of today is very different from its illegal predecessor,” owner/distiller Morgan Ging explained in the March issue of Eat Ireland, “and is crafted to exactly the same standards as whiskey.” Experts have described Ballykeefe Poitín as, “warming and viscous, with a malted biscuit flavour and hints of red pepper and new oak.” Enjoy it neat, on ice or with your favourite mixer, or use it to create your own cocktails over the festive season. (Learn more about Ballykeefe in this previous edition of Eat Ireland.)
I’ve long been a fan of everything produced at Highbank Orchards, from their sweet, sticky organic apple syrup — the ideal Irish equivalent to maple — to their dry medieval cider. Julie and Rod Calder-Potts make a range of amazing spirits from their organic apples, and if you can’t decide which one to go for, this selection of three 200ml options — nicely packaged in a gift bag — might be your best bet. The Organic Orchard Spirit is a simply beautiful apple-based aged spirit, popular with whiskey lovers like myself. The Irish Apple Kilkenny Crystal Gin is a single estate gin made with botanicals found on the Highbank farm, including lavender and blackcurrant buds. Lastly, use the award winning Orchard Liqueur in a cocktail or enjoy neat as a gorgeous post-dinner drink.
It’s really hard to pick just one Irish whiskey to recommend; there is an outstanding selection on the market these days, and I love so many of them so very, very dearly. One of my current favourites is the Dublin-based Roe & Co, a blend of Irish malt and grain whiskey, matured in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s smooth and deep amber in colour, with pleasant whiffs of vanilla and a softly spiced, fruity flavour. Despite being higher in alcohol than usual, at a generous 45% ABV, it’s remarkably easy to drink — perhaps a little too easy! A bottle of this will make a gorgeous gift for the whiskeyphile in your life.