The boom in the Irish drinks industry is continuing, with visitor centres becoming a significant contributing factor to growth.  There were almost 2.8m visitors to breweries and distilleries in 2018, an increase of 7%. Diageo’s new whiskey Roe & Co is now up and distilling in the Liberties since early June and the visitor’s centre is open already – a wise move on their part given its proximity to the Guinness Storehouse.

Grace O’Malley is another new whiskey brand which launched in recent weeks with a couple of interesting iterations already available, including a port finish, single cask Amarone finished edition.

Stephen Cope, formerly Managing Director of Lir Chocolates, is the driving force behind Grace O’Malley and the plan is to have a bonded warehouse overlooking the Wild Atlantic Way.  Liberties Whiskey meanwhile launched on 4th June and as well as the Dead Rabbit they also have the Dubliner and Liberties brands up and running – the Liberties Copper Alley recently won a double gold at the International Spirits.  Walsh Whiskey has launched a Marsala Cask finish for The Irishman, and also recently added a Double Oak (cognac and bourbon casks) finish to the Writer’s Tears range.

Blackwater Distillery is happily distilling whiskey for release in a couple of years, but in the meantime, the team is not neglecting its gin.  Following a gold medal at Bloom for their innovative Gin Garden they have just launched a Tanora Gin, inspired by Cork’s favourite soft drink. The gin has a fairly classical Juniper profile, but thanks to the addition of a shed load of tangerines it has a rich orange colour and a citrusy tang.

Another gin with a (metaphorical) orange tinge that came across my radar recently is Cloudberry Gin; founded late last year and distilled in Louth.  As well as the usual juniper, coriander, and cassia bark botanicals, there is also elderflower from the Cooley Mountains and cloudberries from Scandinavia.  The resulting gin has an interesting floral fruity kick to the finish. Cloudberries used to grow in many parts of Ireland but have almost died out, except on the Sperrin Mountains.

Despite sustained pressure from the macro breweries, the microbrewery movement keeps chugging along, slowly converting citizens to the joys of beer with flavour.  While craft taps continue to disappear from traditional pubs thanks to ‘incentives’ from the big boys (read into this what you will), the micro breweries are seizing back control of some of the factors of production by opening their own spaces.

Treaty City Brewing in Limerick opened a new visitor centre and microbrewery on Nicholas Street in Central Limerick in May and tours are underway already, complimented by the onsite bar. Rascals in Inchicore is rattling along, and promises to always have 13 beers on tap as well as tasty pizza. Dead Centre in Athlone is doing the same with the bonus of a gorgeous riverside view of the Shannon.  White Hag Brewing’s Hagstravaganza festival is on from the 26th-27th July in Sligo. I think this is the future for craft beer in Ireland – destination spaces.

Meanwhile in Mitchelstown, one of the pioneers of the second wave of Irish craft beer, 8 Degrees Brewing (now owned by Irish Distillers), is eight years old and is releasing eight new beers on the theme of 8-Ball pool to celebrate.  The Red Ball #3 is my favourite so far – a big brassy Aussie IPA packed with Antipodean hops.

A bottle of Elstar Irish Apple WineI’d hoped to have cider news for you, but despite this appearing after the launch of the Cider Ireland report they wouldn’t tell me anything.  I can tell you that Daniel Emerson of Stonewell Cider fame has launched an apple wine made from Elstar apples at 12% ABV. Elstar tastes a little like a bitter apple version of Sauvignon and is an impressive debut – expect more iterations next season.  Emerson won two top awards at the International Cider Awards in London earlier this year for his Rós Rhubarb cider (Innovation Trophy) and for his Tawny (Speciality Cider Trophy).

In Food Festival News, EatYard in Dublin hosts a Wine and Cheese Festival from the 8-11th of August and the same crew (BodyTonic) is also behind the Big Grill Festival in Herbert Park on the 15-18th August.  Also in August is the Dalkey Lobster Festival, A Taste of Donegal and Taste of Cavan.  Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic will be bigger than ever with chefs and food and drink producers appearing on one of five mini-stages while Grub Circus at the All Together Now festival over the August Bank Holiday will also have tastings, demos and fun – I’ll be at both.

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