There's a lot happening in Inchicore, Dublin 8 of late. Already home to Rascals Brewing Company the latest resident (right next door) is Stillgarden Distillery.
The brainchild of Viki Baird and her husband Pat, Stillgarden has both embraced and been embraced by the local community, with residents helping to nurture the distillery's garden of botanicals. We caught up with Viki to learn more about this unique initiative, the company's ethos and to find out how the business has adapted to the ongoing challenge of COVID-19.
Where did the idea for the distillery come about?
Myself and my husband Pat have always been very sociable people and have extensive experience in the drinks industry and company management. We met Éanna Burke mid-summer 2019, the stars aligned and he agreed to join us as head distiller. From concept to launch Stillgarden had grown organically and we believe this is because we have stayed aligned to our ethos of science, community and nature, which to us means there are infinite possibilities.
Could you tell us a little about the community garden?
This started as a cleanup project really because we wanted to tidy the entrance to the estate. So before we built the distillery we rolled up our sleeves and started removing all of the waste from this area and eventually the local community got involved which was brilliant. We thought it would be great to turn it into a beautiful community garden that locals could use so we started a community grow project called the Social Botanists to help populate the area with plants, flowers and botanicals.
We sent local communities hydroponic kits along with seeds and a growing guide. This really took off during lockdown and, once lockdown restrictions were lifted, the botanists were invited to the garden to plant their 'babies' and we provided more seeds so they could begin to grow more. We then added beehives to another area of the estate and they do a great job on pollinating the garden.
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What sort of botanicals do you grow for use in the distillery?
There are so many varieties, among them we have apples, mint, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, rhubarb, coriander, tomatoes, and star flower (borage). We also have rowen berry trees around the estate that will be ready for harvest again in a few weeks.
What is unique about the gin?
The Distiller’s Edition Gin is Éanna's personal recipe and is a combination of 14 different botanicals. The main botanicals are Macedonian juniper, lemon, lime, rowan berry, rosehips and two types of pepper: black pepper and cubeb. When tasting the gin you will notice some piney, citrus and fruity aromas with a light smoke or spice on the finish. Our Social Gin, due to be released by September, balances dry juniper with the sweet and spice of caraway mint and coriander. Along with a traditional pot still, we use vacuum distillation to capture the fresh flavour of the botanicals. We've also just released Early Harvest Seasonal Vodka, which is a vacuum distilled vodka with a subtle note of Timperley early rhubarb, harvested from our garden and from our friends at Ryan's Rhubarb in North County Dublin.
You also produce bottled cocktails. Where do you get the inspiration for the flavours?
The cocktails came about while people were in lockdown as we saw a demand since people couldn't go to bars. We created each one using as much of what what we were locally producing as possible - for example, for in Bees Knees we use the Stillgarden honey - and also asked our social media followers what they would like. The consensus was for something minty so our latest cocktail is the EIGHT.01, Stillgarden’s take on the Grasshopper.
What's involved in the distilling academy experience?
Over two and a half hours, guests learn about Stillgarden, local history, botanicals and the distillation process before making and naming their own bottle of spirit (gin, vodka, sambuca style) using our wall of 120 botanicals. There is also a hands-on masterclass making a cocktail and we also offer tailored events for private and corporate bookings. We have installed glass booths in our academy and have implemented many new safety procedures in line with the Fáilte Ireland safety charter.
How did you deal with the impact of COVID-19 restrictions?
We were disappointed that the launch we had planned for 24th March (invites for the launch party had just been printed) but we adapted. We turned to focus on community projects, firstly making hand sanitiser, which we donated to the local community then we put a big emphasis on launching the Social Botanist Project. Shortly after we saw the demand for online drinks so we launched the Distiller Edition Gin followed by our bottled cocktails.
What’s next for Stillgarden?
Social Gin will be the first core product. To date, all our products have been on sale exclusively from our website or direct from the distillery shop. Social Gin will be different as it will be on sale in off licence, bars and restaurants. We will also be launching the bartenders' lab later this year so we have lots planned.
Stillgarden Distillery, Goldenbridge Estate, Tyrconnell Rd, Inchicore, Dublin D08 EWK2