In his latest Great Irish Drinks column, Oisin Davis waxes lyrically and liberally about his respect for those who go "all Irish" behind the bar and highlights a few great examples of such.
For an Irish bar or restaurant, there is no finer way to express love and confidence in your native beverages than to go all Irish. It shows that you have a solid culinary understanding as there is a clear celebration of terroir when you can pair your native foods with native drinks. It shows that you want to support fellow local businesses and help to grow your own economy. It shows an awareness that if we are to truly evolve our homegrown food and drink culture, we need to nurture it as best we can by going as Irish as we can.
With more and more businesses making subtle changes to how they purchase, and with some trailblazing Irish cocktail bars opening soon, 2019 looks set to be the year of the all-Irish drinks menus. Some early adopters of these great practices have actually come from within some of our most-loved and awarded restaurants. Chapter One in Dublin and Ox in Belfast aren't just Michelin-star winners, they both only stock Irish gins.
Not so long ago, this would have made no sense, but the explosion of Irish spirits has led to a range of gins being available that cover every type of taste spectrum within gin. We have wild botanical gins from Glendalough Distillery, berry and fruit flavoured gins with the likes of Mór and more traditionally spicy varieties such as Blackwater and Gunpowder. And there are other establishments going even deeper into the realm of Irish only drinks selections.
I spoke to a few to see what makes them tick.
Dave Mulligan, Bar 1661, 1-5 Green Street, D7 (opening in April)
A veteran of Irish and London hospitality, Dave Mulligan is also co-owner and founder of Bán Poitín. After recently sorting out the ideal location, he is finally building a bar that has had seven years of dreaming and planning gone into it. The 1661 Bar on Green Street will be opening in April and as Dave says, "The bar’s name, '1661' is a nod to the date when the British first imposed taxes on Irish spirits driving our age-old culture underground and kickstarting it’s now notorious reputation."
What he's seeking to establish is a cocktail bar where all the cocktails have an Irish spirit as the main ingredient. The second unique selling point for the bar will be its unrivalled Poitín collection. "As you’d expect, Poitín is front and centre on our menus, not just my own brand Bán, but a selection of over twenty from around the island. We’ll have a large selection of gins, vodkas, whiskeys, craft spirits, and even a number of Irish wines on offer."
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With the season in full swing our penchant for crab apples is quickly becoming an obsession! We’re working on something supercool for next year but for now here’s one of our favs from @1661bar Poitína Colada Bán Poitín PX Sherry Midori Crab Apple Verjus @thebartenderproject . . . . #poitin #itspronouncedpotcheen #banpoitin #poitín #ireland #cocktails #berlind2 #bar1661 #dublin #ireland #watchthisspace
I can't think of anybody in Poitín who has done more to promote and innovate within the category. Bar 1661 will offer a brilliant platform to showcase the spirit. "For me, it’s an education piece, so many people would never dream of trying poitín in a cocktail (most likely they’ve never tried it at all). There is a preconceived idea about what the spirit is, how it tastes and that it’s probably best avoided... I am here to change that."
One of the big drivers for Dave has been watching so many bars embrace spirits from thousands of miles away whilst ignoring what we produce on our own soil. "It frustrates me so much when I see an Irish venue presenting a cocktail list full of the likes of Mezcal, Pisco, Cachaca, all Latin American spirits and all just another country's version of Poitín. It’s our native spirit, predating modern whiskey by more than a couple of hundred years and we are now the first generation legally allowed to sell it in since the 1600s. I think that’s more than enough to get it the respect it deserves on every truly Irish cocktail list across the country."
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Tom Collins, Bourke's Bar at Whelan's Wexford Street, D8.
What started out as a bold pop-up has done so well that its now a permanent fixture on one of the busiest streets in Dublin. If you haven't already been, then check out Bourke's Bar at Whelan's on Wexford Street. It's a tiny, old school sibín-style pub where all the products (except the Coca Cola) are Irish. At the helm of it all is one of their managers Tom Collins.
"I’ve worked in bars for nearly 20 years now and always try to find something different to offer customers, whether that be a new beer or a new gin. The industry can get very boring if you don’t innovate. Bourke’s came about from ideas within the team here in Whelan’s to offer something completely different than what we had been doing already."
Not only has the all-Irish policy created a great buzz and given Bourke's such a different character in a very crowded marketplace, but it has also allowed for a surprise business element. "It’s bringing customers back to the bar to try something different every time or settle on a drink they can’t get somewhere else. It’s also great for customers to try something before committing to a bottle from the off-licence."
There's no denying that such a similar formula has worked a charm for the crew here, but would he have a problem with other bars doing the same? "Absolutely not. Bars would be afraid that the products might not sell, but they’ll be surprised. Suppliers such as Classic Drinks and the Celtic Whiskey Shop have ever-increasing options and will help out with nailing your final selection."
Majken Bech Christensen & Jordan Bailey of Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons, Celbridge, Kildare
It's not only the locally born who are embracing the all-Irish drinks menu. There' s a new restaurant called Aimsir opening up in the springtime at Cliff at Lyons in Celbridge led by a young newlywed couple, Majken Bech Christensen from Denmark and Jordan Bailey from Cornwall. They moved to Ireland last January and have been busy exploring the food producers and ingredients of their newly-adopted home. Their pedigree is most impressive. Jordan was a key member of two-star Michelin Restaurant Sat Bains and three-star Maaemo in Oslo, while Majken honed her skills at two-star Michelin Henne Kirkeby Kro.
After seeing the quality of the produce here and the passion of the people behind them, they have decided to create an all-Irish spirits and cocktail menu. As Majken herself says, "Aimsir means weather and can also mean time in Irish, which perfectly encapsulates the philosophy behind our menu, which is to only use seasonal Irish produce. To that end, we would love to extend that ethos into our drinks offering, and whilst we do have to look further afield for the wine, we are in a very privileged position to be able to offer our guests a range of spirits, tonics, juices and soft drinks from the Irish larder."
This will be something that should be a fantastic manifestation of both Irish cuisine and cocktails. While other bars have examined how to best celebrate our produce mixed into our spirits, few have done it while doing the same with their Irish dishes.
"As with our food menu, locality is very important to us and championing the very best of what Ireland has to offer. There is a lot of talent and devotion behind the top-class produce in Ireland, and the spirits and drinks industry is no exception. Our cocktail menu, therefore, will be a twist on the classics, showcasing the versatility, creativity and above all the quality of the beverage producers here in Ireland."
Author: Oisín Davis
Oisin works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."