Photo by Caroline Brady

It’s quiet at the Gin Palace on Jervis Street, just a handful of customers sitting at the bar, chatting easily with the staff. In fact, it’s the quietest barmaid Karolina Donegan has seen it in a while.

It’s Monday 16 June, two days after an Ireland-Scotland match, which happened to coincide with World Gin Day.

That was extremely busy, Donegan says. A lot of Scottish fans, tourists, and regular gin drinkers. She’s glad today’s a bit of a slow one. Allows her to catch her breath.

She’ll need to, because next week is Dublin Gin & Tonic Fest, a celebration of premium Irish gins taking place in 30 venues across the city from 22 June to 27 June. With a €5 wristband, each venue will offer 30 percent off one of three gins: Dingle Gin, Shortcross Gin, or the seasonal tipple from the Glendalough Distillery.

At the Gin Palace, they’ve mixed up a special Wicklow Way gin and tonic, named after the Dublin-to-Wexford walk, with Glendalough gin, fresh mint and pink grapefruit.

“What’s interesting about these three gins [on offer] is they all use wild and foraged botanicals from their locality,” says Oisin Davis from Great Irish Beverages, the company behind the festival, which  works to highlight small city venues and Irish drinks. Each of the three gins is really the taste of a place.

Behind the Buzz?

Since opening 13 years ago, the Gin Palace has gone from stocking 10 types of gin to a whopping 160 from all corners of the globe, and now has the largest selection in Dublin.

From where barman Colin Daly stands, he’s witnessed a sharp rise in gin’s popularity. “It had a stereotype for a while,” Daly says. “Gin makes you sin or gin makes you cry. It’s not like that anymore. There’s such a variety and so many flavours that there’s something for everybody. Especially coming into summer; it’s just so palatable, so refreshing.”

Figures mostly back Daly up. Across Europe in the last five years, the gin market has wobbled a bit. But there’s been overall growth of 1.2 percent between 2009 and 2014, and 4.7 percent growth from 2013 to 2014, according to figures from market analysts International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR).

The most growth is in the market for premium gins, with the knock-on effect that older mustier, dustier gin brands are having to up their games.

There’s a lot of experimenting going on now across Ireland, says Davis, from Great Irish Beverages. “There’s people distilling gin now with potatoes, there’s people distilling gin in Kilkenny with apples, there’s even people experimenting with seaweed.”

Then comes a promise: “I guarantee this time next year, you’re going to see double the amount of gins on the Irish market,” he says.

Where’s Dublin’s Gin?

There’s one place missing at the moment from Ireland’s gin line-up – Dublin.

That’s likely to change towards the end of this summer when– if all goes to plan – Stephen Glennon rolls out the first batch of Dublin City Gin. Unlike other gins, this drink isn’t a byproduct of another signature drink; it’s the main event.

Glennon and his friend started making gin a couple of years back, just chucking botanicals into vodka and seeing what happened. “The first experiments almost caused us blindness and several days of hangovers. But we got better at it,” Glennon says over the phone from Germany, where he works as a translator. (His friend and co-founder, an engineer, lives here in the Dublin.)

They’ve learnt a lot since then and have a master plan to become Dublin’s first eponymous gin. Next step: finish tweaking the recipe and get the first batch out with the help of Blackwater Distillery in Waterford. Bigger dream: their own little distillery pub in the city. It’d be a place “where we’d distill our gin on the premises and have a little pub there as well,” Glennon says.

Part of the attraction of gin distilling is the creativity. Beyond juniper, coriander seeds, and angelica root, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what you can put in. “Anything you want after that is completely up to you,” Glennon says. So what’ll be in Dublin City Gin? Glennon’s keeping the ingredients under his hat for now.

Infusions at the Gin Palace

As well as offering traditional gins of juniper and lime, Gin Palace stocks gins infused with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, coconut and grapefruit.

Brockman’s Gin is one of their best sellers. It’s made with the infusion of 10 different berries, botanicals including Bulgarian coriander, and the unusual fruit characteristics of blueberry, blackberries and Valencia orange zest.

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin is another big seller and a favourite of both Daly and Donegan. It is flavoured with rangpur fruit, a hybrid of a mandarin orange and a lemon that yields a refreshing lime taste.

Each gin is served with the correct garnish, so behind the bar there are lemons, limes, cucumbers, rosemary, juniper berries, grapefruit, basil, raspberries. Each gin works best with a particular type of garnish, which brings out more flavour.

The bar also stocks sloe gins, which are red in current and red in colour and don’t use juniper. The purists would argue that a gin without juniper is not a gin. This proves you should never let a purist get in the way of a good drink.

“Standard gins can have an acquired taste,” Colin says, “but with the variety of infused gins we have on offer, there is something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.”

At the tables, most are nursing pints not gins. The atmosphere is relaxed, subdued almost. Saturday, World Gin Day, seems to have taken its toll. With the Dublin Gin & Tonic Fest on the horizon, this might be the calm before the storm.

With additional reporting by Lois Kapila

Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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