I started St Patrick’s celebrations early this year with an invitation to a “Spirit of Sharing” drinks evening at the Irish Embassy last week.
I have to admit that I was quite daunted at the idea of a few hours of sampling alcoholic drinks then having to find my way home afterwards.
Since its inception in 2011, Origin Green has developed to help in areas as diverse as energy usage, emissions, waste, water use, animal welfare, biodiversity and social sustainability. It now covers all sectors from farms and fisheries to food and drinks manufacturers.
Arriving promptly at 6 pm, I was greeted with a cocktail and a room bursting with twenty whiskeys, gin, cream liqueur, poitin and craft beer producers. This confirmed the prospect of a “dangerous” evening indeed while making me realise that there is much more to Ireland than Guinness and Baileys!
The Ambassador, Dan Mulhall, introduced the event with a true Irish flair, while the occasion was hosted by world whiskey specialist Dominic Roskrow and cocktail consultant Charlie McCarthy (an option, unfortunately, omitted from my university career day).
My appreciation for whiskey is very limited and Poitin, dubbed as “one of the most potent alcohol drinks on the planet”, was way out of my league (even though I regretted afterwards not to have tried one of Charlie McCarthy’s Poitin cocktails).
Wisely, I think, I decided to concentrate on Origin Green’s Irish creams, beers and gins. While not all the companies below are full members of the programme yet, they all have started along the path of accreditation.
Highbank Orchards is built on a 17th-century farmyard. As an artisan organic farm, it produces many different drinks derived from apples ranging from apple juice to apple vodka.
With overtones of over 12 organic botanicals, their single estate organic apple Crystal Gin is delicious. It is grown, fermented, distilled and bottled on the farm. Calvados lovers will also appreciate Highbank’s Organic Orchard Spirit which can certainly rival some very good French brands.
One of my favourite finds was Coole Swan, a superior Irish cream liqueur made from single malt Irish whiskey with white Belgian chocolate and fresh cream. Not your standard grandmother’s Irish cream! Delicious on its own, you can also add it to desserts, cocktails, ice creams etc.. Fresh and smooth it has a natural cream colour and its bottle is based on the Victorian milk bottle. A winner all around which you can buy in the UK.
Na Cuana is a family-owned Irish company and a full member of Origin Green. It operates Ireland’s only brewery-distillery in one. It produces a wide range of craft beverages such as Merrys’ Irish Cream, Adams Cider, craft beers from Boyne Brewhouse plus whiskey and gin from Boann Distillery.
Their naturally flavoured range of smooth Irish Creams is delicious, with a special mention for salted caramel and white chocolate. Once again you could drink these on their own or use them in desserts, ice creams or cocktails.
Kerrygold is a name I associate with butter so I was taken aback when realising they also make drinks. Natural Irish cream from grass-fed cows, oak-aged Irish whiskey and velvety chocolate is the winning combination behind Kerrygold Irish Cream. Another brand I hope will soon find its way to the UK as currently, you can only buy it in the US and Ireland.
Carlow Brewing was established in 1996 and is one of the pioneers of Irish craft brewing. From Irish Stout, Irish Red Ale to Irish Pale Ale (to name a few), they have an extensive range of draught and bottled beers available in UK pubs and bars as well as online from Ocado.
Galway Hooker is another independent artisan brewery. Established in 2006, its beers are made in small batches and devoid of any preservatives and brewed using only malt, hops yeast and water. The range includes 4 beers: Irish Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Irish Stout and Irish Dark Lager. Right now you can enjoy Galway Hooker in Ireland and France.
Wicklow Wolf grows its own hops including Cascade, Perle, Bramling Cross, Chinook, First Gold and Nugget. Striving for closed-loop manufacturing and participating in the locavore movement, Wicklow Wolf handcrafts its beer 1,500 litres at a time. As a pale ale drinker, I was pleasantly surprised by the Black Perle Porter from Wicklow Wolf. This dark beer with hints of coffee, chocolate and caramel was my favourite craft beer that evening. Hopefully, the UK will be able to enjoy it soon.
I was pleased to get home just a little the worse for wear, having had an enjoyable evening at “Spirit of Sharing.” It opened my eyes to a wide range of craft drinks from local producers passionate about their products and striving to operate sustainably. The whole experience was a breath of fresh Irish air.