There’s a growing range of gins coming from Northern Ireland at the moment. I made the trip across the Irish Sea to bring you a guide to this flourishing Northern Irish gin scene, taking a look at:
- Jawbox Gin
- Copeland Gin
- Boatyard Gin
- Shortcross Gin
- Symphonia Gin
- Echlinville Gin
- FECKiN Gin
- Belfast 1912 Gin
- Belfast Artisan Gin
Ok, so making the trip wasn’t exactly a hardship – it’s one I make regularly because my wife is Northern Irish and we have family and friends there. However, I’d never looked past some of the better known Northern Irish gins. So, I conducted some research and embarked on a personal odyssey to see what this beautiful part of the world has to offer us gin fans…
Jawbox Gin review
I’m cheating a bit by starting off with Jawbox Gin, as it’s already a firm favourite. If you’ve not tried it before, you need to. As you can tell from our original Jawbox review here, we’re full of praise for this classic dry gin. It’s also our reigning champion when it comes to which gins to pair with ginger ale. A Jawbox Gin with ginger ale is a cracker.
Widely available – try prices at Amazon and Master of Malt – Jawbox is made at the Echlinville Distillery near Kircubbin, Co.Down (quite near Newtonards). I think it’s a bit of bargain for the quality you get – this is a well made, classic London dry gin. It’s bottled at 43% and is a vapour-infused gin.
Taste wise, Jawbox has a plenty of juniper and a very pleasant peppery kick to it. Nothing that gets in your face, just a nice hit. That’s why I like it best with the ginger ale and a big wedge of lime, but it’s also a good match for a premium tonic in a classic G&T too.
Copeland Gin review
We’re going to be staying in Co.Down for Northern Irish gin number two. Copeland Gin comes from Donaghadee, which is port town on the coast about 20 miles east of Belfast.
The Copeland Gin bottle promises a gin “cut by the ocean, inspired by history”. That comes through loud and strong on the label as you can see above, and that maritime influence continues through the botanical list. There are 12 botanicals in total, including cubeb berries, lemon peel and flora from local islands including sea pink maritima. Navel orange peel is added too.
I tried Copeland quite a few times during my trip, and enjoyed it so much that I bought a bottle to take back home too. To taste, I found that the orange really shone through alongside a nice full punch of juniper. There are nice things going on in your mouth with those other botanicals, but I couldn’t quite discern them all. I liked that – a bit of mystery and some more unusual botanicals is really welcome.
Copeland Gin is at the premium end of the price range, but it’s bottled at 45%, and you’re certainly getting a lot of flavour for your money. I’d throughly recommend it. You can buy it from Amazon below, or from Master of Malt here. Serve it in a classic gin and tonic with a wedge of orange.
Boatyard Gin review
Trying Boatyard Gin was like returning to an old friend. It’s been a constant feature on the home gin shelf and is one of the first N.Irish gins that I tried. It comes from The Boatyard Distillery on the banks of the beautiful Lough Erne just outside Enniskillen in Co.Fermanagh.
Coming in a distinctive bottle – which I always think looks like it’s wearing a tall homburg hat (just me?!) – it packs in 8 botanicals. Helpfully, the bottle actually lists these out on the label for your in their various percentages (which I don’t recall having seen before). For example, you have juniper (86%), coriander (11%), lemon (0.45%) and sweet gale (bog myrtle) (0.45%) in there.
Interestingly, Boatyard has a unique juniper filtration process that kicks in as the spirit runs off the still. They explain that it’s a process that Dutch gin spirit distillers call ‘dubbel gebeide genever‘ and results in a more pronounced juniper flavour. Actually, the gin is actually called Boatyard Double Gin (to give it it’s proper title).
To taste, that juniper is really apparent. As a believer that juniper is “no bad thing” in a true gin (some might say imperative despite recent trends…), I’m glad. It’s got citrus showing through too though. At a 46% bottling, it’s a robust gin that tastes as a gin should. Give it a try and you’ll be able to tell why it’s a gin that gets replaced when it’s running empty on my own gin shelf (in fact, I’ve got two bottles of it at present just in case).
Shortcross Gin review
Shortcross Gin sees us return to Co.Down, and to the Rademon Estate Distillery. The gin’s name comes from Crossgar, the local village [‘crossgar’ meaning ‘short cross’].
The team behind Shortcross Gin wanted to create something that reflected the Rademon Estate. So, although many of the usual botanicals are there – like coriander, cinnamon and cassia – so are apples, clover, elderflowers and elderberries. It’s bottled at 46%.
Shortcross Gin was a bit of a revelation for me on my trip. I’d never tried it before and I’ll confess that, on first taste, I wasn’t actually a fan. By the end of my trip I was converted – this is a very fine gin indeed, and a bottle even found its way home with me in my suitcase my conversion was so complete!
Why did I get it so wrong? Well, on first taste, I thought it was quite heavy on – what I thought was – fennel (which I don’t really like). Now, I’ve no idea if there is actually fennel present, but didn’t get anything like that the second time around or subsequently. I now suspect that my first taste may have been tainted by the tonic that my first drink was served with (in a Belfast restaurant). Always use a good tonic…
On proper tasting, I found Shortcross to be beautifully complex gin, with plenty of juniper and citrus. I think the local botanicals are contributing to the floral notes too, and there was a light peppery taste that lingered. Very nice all round. Serve with plenty ice and that good tonic!
I’m glad I didn’t walk away from Shortcross, and – full confession time – the bottle I brought back didn’t last long. Another has already been bought (I got mine from Amazon below, but you can also buy Shortcross from Master of Malt).
Symphonia Gin review
We head a bit south to Co.Tyrone for the next Northern Irish gin on the list. Symphonia Gin is from the Woodlab Distillery in Benburb. I first had Symphonia No.1 Gin a few months ago on the recommendation of a family member, with a gift set having been sent across to me in Scotland after they’d tasted it in their local shop. That gift set contained the three gins from the Symphonia Gin range:
- Symphonia No.1 – a traditional gin
- Symphonia No.2 – an apple gin
- A 25% ABV fruit cup, Symphonia No.3
The latter two are very refreshing, but I’ll focus on Symphonia No1. here. A small batch gin, it’s a very fresh on the nose with a hint of what I though was oranges. To taste though, that citrus really shows itself more clearly – it’s very apparent and very pleasant. There’s also some spice and something more floral going on in there too though. I haven’t found a full botanical list, but I’d summarise it by saying that there’s a really nice balance to this gin – it tastes very well thought through!
I’ve tried Symphonia with a few different mixers now. My favourite was elderflower tonic [and I must add it to this link to our article on others gins that go well with elderflower tonic too). However, it’s such a nicely balanced gin that I wouldn’t be too precious about how you decide to serve it. It’s bottled at 40% (as is the apple gin).
Overall, this is another Northern Irish Gin that’s well worth a try if you can get hold of it. You can buy Symphonia Gin from Master of Malt here.
Echlinville Gin review
Back we go to Co.Down again, retuning to the Echlinville Distillery. Echlinville Gin describes itself as “Ireland’s first super-premium single estate pot still gin.” So how did it measure up against its fellow Northern Irish gins?
Well, as the description above suggests, this is a gin that’s created using the distillery’s own malted barley base spirit. More on that in a moment. In the botanical mix for the gin, which is bottled at 46%, are anise, coriander, whin bush petals and some Strangford Lough seaweed. Thanks to the patient gentleman that served me (a few times) and allowed me to have a good nose at the bottle, I think I could detect some of that barley and seaweed on the nose. There’s quite a sweet smell to the bottle that almost reminded me of a whisky [or whiskey…when in Rome, and all that].
To taste, this is an incredibly smooth gin. There’s plenty of juniper and fruit here, and it’s all very nicely balanced. That barley is still hanging around too, and it makes for a very pleasant drink. I tried it both neat (it worked well over the large ice cube I had it served with) and with a couple of different tonics. I thought it worked best with a good Indian tonic water, although I’ve just noted that they recommend elderflower tonic and lemon (or mint). Either way, Echlinville is a good gin in a G&T. I didn’t have the opportunity to try it as part of a cocktail this time around, so can’t comment. Would be interested to hear what you think in the comments below if you have.
I’d really recommend that you try an Echlinville Gin. It’s quite distinctive and it’s one I’m certainly going to re-visit on my next trip to N.Ireland. You can buy it from Amazon below, or buy Echlinville from Master of Malt here.
FECKiN Gin Review
Also distilled at Enchlinville is FECKiN Gin. Before you ask, the name isn’t perhaps what you think. Apparently it’s a mixture of influences: the Irish verb “feck” (to steal throw or leave in a hurry – as in “feck off”, I imagine…); an expression of disbelief or pain; and an Irish saint from the 7th century. I like the branding, but what about the gin?
Bottled at 40%, FECKiN has quite a straight-forward botanical list of five: angelica, cassia bark, coriander and lemons all joining the juniper.
I’d not tried this particular Northern Irish gin until this trip, although had been alerted to its promise by a friend (who “very much enjoyed it” whilst over in N.Ireland himself as you can see by the picture below) and I was looking forward to trying it.
A FECKiN Gin in it’s natural N.Irish environment (Feckin awful photo courtesy of C.Low)
To smell, and taste, this is one refreshing gin. Big hits of juniper and lemon. The flavours are bold, and I didn’t actually think it needed any sort of garnish (I wouldn’t stray from lemon if you do). Lob some ice and good tonic in a glass and you have a cracking gin and tonic.
Belfast 1912 Gin
On the day we took the family to visit the Titanic Exhibition in Belfast (which is excellent, as is W5 nearby if you have kids) I was lucky enough to get to try Belfast 1912 Gin that evening in a Belfast pub. There’s an interesting backstory here, with the gin being recreated based on a secret gin recipe originally distilled in Belfast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I say that I was lucky to try it because I’m a little unsure as to its current status [stocks at stockists appear low, and it looks as if the firm entered administration in 2018 – can any reader confirm this?]
The very fetching light blue bottle, featuring a ship’s propeller, contains a 43.1% gin with a botanical mix including lime, coriander and angelica. Like Echlinville Gin above, the nose promised a bit of malt from the grain spirit used.
To taste, I found it had quite an earthy quality that certainly revealed the juniper. There was also that lime coming through and I thought a bit of pepper too. I had the sum total of two G&Ts with this gin though, so I can’t say that this was the most thorough review I’ve ever undertaken! It did however, come across as a nicely rounded gin and one that’s worth seeking out if you can find it.
Belfast Artisan Gin
The one that got away! After trying 8 out of these 9 gins I didn’t manage to complete my taste tour of Northern Irish Gin by finding any Belfast Artisan Gin.
Reviews I’ve seen suggest a smooth gin, with notes of spice and citrus. It’s bottled at 40% and you can buy it here from Irishmalts.com. Please do let me know what you think of it in the comments below, or via email to contact@whichgin.
I’ll be back to N.Ireland soon though, so will make a point of seeking this one out!
Northern Irish Gin tours
I didn’t get the chance this time, but several of the distilleries mentioned above have tours (although some are time of year dependent). Some links below for you to check:
- Echlinville Distillery tours
- Shortcross Gin tours
- Boatyard Distillery tours
- Copeland Distillery tours
I think they’d be well worth a visit. If you’re looking for tips, also worth a visit in Belfast is Berts Jazz Bar at The Merchant Hotel. A great range of cocktails that we enjoyed working our way through:
Northern Irish gin guide
Well, that concludes this guide to Northern Irish gin. I’m a big fan of N.Ireland, its people and produce. Please do let me know in the comments below – or contact me at [email protected] – if you find any more gins for me to try on my next trip!
Cheers! Andy K.