Foraging origins with Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin

Recently as I was walking by a city gin den I commented to a friend how much I enjoyed their approach to gin – they infuse it with different herbs and vary the fruit served with it depending on the infusion. To my absolute horror she said: “Sure all gins taste the same when you mix them with tonic.” While I vehemently disagreed with her, her comments made me realise I didn’t know that much about the gin making process. Poor form for me I love gin.

As luck would have it I received the opportunity to attend a gin foraging event. Throughout April, Bourne & Hollingsworth Group ran a series of events focusing around the current revival of the ancient, primal art of foraging, in conjunction with Glendalough Distillery.

On arrival to the Bourne on Hollingsworth buildings just off Exmouth Market, I was greeted with a Spring Collins - Glendalough Gin, married with a pine liqueur, fresh lemon and maple agave nectar. Given April was doing nothing to buck her showery reputation, this was the closest I was getting to a spring in my step. It was everything I look for in a cocktail - light, refreshing and easy to drink. Maybe a tad too easy.

About ten other guests and I were guided downstairs for the foraging talk and the gin tasting. Held in B&H’s below and hidden, the small room is different than your normal speakeasy drinking den, it has more of a living room feel. Shot glasses were already waiting on the table.

I tasted three gins, each from the Glendalough craft distillery. The distillery is in Wicklow; the garden county of Ireland. Gary, one of the owners spoke about the concept behind the gin - It has the same base botanicals and the same still as Monkey 47 and Sipsmith, but the locally foraged and the ingredients change every season. These are two of my favourite gins so I had high hopes.

We were guided to taste the autumn gin first and then moved on to winter and spring. Each new pouring created a sense of anticipation. As we tasted, Geraldine, the chief forager for Glendalough talked to us about how they utilise wild botanicals to imbue their gins with the seasonal flavours of the Wicklow landscape, and explained the history, techniques and flavours of the foraged ingredients in their bespoke spirits. Quite literally education through tasting.

Each season had its own distinctive taste. They hark back to a time and place. Heather stuck out to me in autumn, while there was a strong presence of elderflower in spring.  I was quickly becoming a fan. Towards the end of the tasting we were asked to indicate our favourite season. At hands up the room was fairly evenly split.  I raised my hand for spring.

There was a final treat in store, a chance to taste 89% gin which had yet to be cut with water. Never one to turn down a new experience I was keen. I honestly expected it to taste disgusting. It was quite the opposite. The first sip was so raw and the flavour seemed to explode and expand in my mouth. Ladies and Gentleman, this is good stuff.

Following the tasting we moved upstairs for a five-course banquet, celebrating foraged ingredients. Each course was paired with seasonal expressions of Glendalough gin.

We ate in the greenhouse. Greenery is dotted around the room to accentuate the clean bright walls. Furniture is by way of marble tables and patterned arm chairs. The space is inviting – think a mismatched country conservatory.

The menu looked versatile and creative. It kicked off with a starter of potato soup paired with the earlier Spring Collins. When potato soup is done well like this one it’s glorious. The swirl of nettles added a distinctive but appealing kick.

Next up was pan fried sea bream, grilled heritage tomatoes and sea purslane paired with a Ramble. The sea bream was light enough to melt in your mouth. While I am not a huge tomato fan, those around me raved of how they oozed juiciness.

The star of the menu for me was the Ramble. A twist on the original Bramble cocktail with autumn gin, fresh lime, rosemary and crab apple syrup, and finished with a drizzle of sloe berry and sherry spirit. Unashamedly, I drank it in one go.

Main course was roasted spring lamb cutlets, ramson jersey royal new potatoes and curly kale paired with Angelfire. The lightly creamed potatoes were the perfect complement to the juicy and earthy tastes of the lamb.

Angelfire combined the complexity of Glendalough gin with amaro and spiced vanilla liqueur: shaken with fresh grapefruit, lemon and egg. A fiery sour taste gave way to a more balanced angelic sweetness.

Dessert consisted of poached Yorkshire rhubarb, ginger, rhubarb fool and chard. In my opinion the humble rhubarb is underrated. This dessert may just be the thing to take it to the masses.

The final drink of the evening was a Two Lake Toddy.  Their version of a hot toddy – the winter gin combined with cinnamon, cloves and orange juice. While I admired the originality this was my least favourite drink of the evening. While the flavour worked well together I couldn’t quite get my taste buds around warm orange juice.

Overall the evening was a joy from start to finish. I can think of no better way of spending my time than sipping gin in the company of others who love the drink as much as I do.

Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings, 42 Northampton Road, EC1R 0HU

Catherine McNally