Now renowned for its salmon fishing and wonderful scenery, the Blackwater River in south-east Ireland was once at the heart of the Empire built on gin. White’s of Waterford were, in the Victorian period, one of the largest importers of spices in the British Isles. Their vessels would return to Waterford from the far east with new teas, herbs and botanicals which would then be sent by steamer up the Blackwater River. They were landed at the pier in Cappoquin, barely a kilometre from today’s Blackwater Distillery.
The Blackwater Distillery, established in January 2015, is one of a number of new craft distilleries in Ireland and was the first distillery to open in Waterford in 174 years. It is also arguably one of the most exciting, adventurous and prolific distilleries. Turning its back on “hedgerow gins”, and the UK trend towards local ingredients, Peter Mulryan, Blackwater’s distiller, instead delved into the archives of those 19th century imports and discovered a wealth of botanicals which had fallen out of favour. He distilled and experimented with many botanicals but two stood out and those now form the base of their Blackwater No. 5 London Dry Gin.
Following the success of Blackwater No. 5, the distillery launched Blackwater Juniper Cask Gin in September 2015. The cask gin uses the same botanical mix as found in Blackwater No. 5 but in different proportions; sweeter roots such as liquorice are used more liberally, for example, to counteract any astringency from the juniper wood. The gin is then rested in small 50 litre casks made of juniper wood for at least 30 days.
Hot on the heels of the success of Blackwater No. 5 and Juniper Cask Gin (the former recently won Silver at The Gin Masters 2016 whilst the latter took home Gold) the distillery launched their Wexford Strawberry Irish Gin at the Wexford Food Festival in May 2016.
Using a gin loosely based on their inaugural No. 5, Blackwater freeze fresh strawberries grown locally in Wexford and macerate them in alcohol for 48 hours to fully extract their flavour. They then mince the berries and add the whole lot to their still, Sally (named after the heron, often seen fishing on the Blackwater River, and known in Irish as Síle na bportach, or “Sally of the Bogs”). After distillation they add more strawberries and some blackcurrants to the gin, giving it its distinctive colour.
Prior to launch, The Wexford Strawberry Gin was beset by problems – from the wrong bottle, to the wrong cap, to the wrong shrink seal, to the wrong boxes. I came across the gin at Junipalooza where, due to yet another problem with HMRC, only a handful of bottles had made it to London.
Thankfully there were rather more of the Navy Strength Strawberry Gin; 50 of which were specially bottled at 57% ABV for Junipalooza 2016. This didn’t entirely escape the jinx though, either, as I heard that labelling was no more straightforward and considerably costly with the navy strength gin and there were also a few pricing hiccups on the first day at Junipalooza.
In the same, familiar, rectangular bottle as Blackwater’s other offerings, the Navy Strawberry labelling is rather simpler but no less stunning for it. This bottle doesn’t feature the intricate 1844 map of the Blackwater River which features on every other bottle of Blackwater gin. But the navy strawberry featured on the front of the bottle is both elegant and effective. It allows the soft pink colour of the gin to shine through and create a striking impression.
On the nose the gin has a sweet aroma with hints of strawberry and, more distinctly, juniper and spices. There is also a slight delicate creaminess to it. On the palate citrus and juniper dominate but give way to hints of sweetness as well as spiciness. The ripe strawberry flavour comes in most notably on the finish of this clean, smooth gin. This is defiantly a dry gin and most certainly not a sugary liqueur. The strawberry is there but it’s subtle. If it’s a sweeter fruit gin you’re after, you could do a lot worse than checking out Poetic License‘s Strawberries and Cream Picnic Gin.
For a refreshing G&T try Blackwater’s Strawberry Gin with Fever-Tree‘s Naturally Light Tonic or Poacher‘s Irish Tonic which also hails from Wexford, with a slice of strawberry, a crack of black pepper and a basil leaf. If you fancy a cocktail you could try a Strawberry Gin Fizz or a Strawberry Thyme Gin Rickey. Which ever way you drink it be sure to enjoy it while the sun shines!
Blackwater Navy Strength Strawberry Gin is available to purchase from Gin Kiosk (£50).