“Seeing is believing, but tasting is God’s truth”
I learnt a lot about the Irish as a young engineer working for Wimpey Construction on the Canterbury Bypass and other building jobs around London – their capacity for hard graft, their gift for the Blarney as well as blithely mangling the English language, and their love of a good drink; even if it was Guinness and whiskey stirred in a galvanised bucket before the pubs opened on a Sunday lunchtime.
It wasn’t surprising then to find a lot going on with the label as well as the ingredients for the enigmatically named ‘Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin’: a product of The Shed Distillery in County Leitrim.
Best start with my confusion over the name after Juliet told me she’d ordered a bottle of “Gunpowder” gin on Amazon which, given the reason for only carrying 57% gin on our warships, had me expecting to sample a new Navy Strength spirit. On arrival, however, the figure turned out to be a more modest 43%, as the moniker actually refers to the inclusion of ‘Gunpowder Tea’ along with a selection of oriental botanicals. The latter, referenced by the vertical line of Chinese characters on the label, alongside the mythical figure of an antlered rabbit, or Jackalope.
A Jackalope is a mythical cross between a rabbit and an antelope.
The Chinese actually call the tightly rolled pellets of buds and young leaves “zhu cha” or pearl tea, and the English translation is thought to relate to its appearance rather than any explosive potential. PJ Rigney, the gin’s creator, collects together Chinese lemon, oriental grapefruit, kaffir lime and star anise to blend with juniper and more common botanicals such as angelica root, orris root, cardamom and coriander seed.
While you’ll find references to PJ’s curious mind on both the website and the bottle, one might also categorise the process as having a split personality, where the mainstream botanicals are steeped in the small batch pot stills at the start of a slow distillation period, but the three oriental citrus fruits and the gunpowder tea are loaded into baskets for vapour infusion; as per the Thunderflower Juliet reviewed recently.
I borrowed my headline from one of Wimpey’s foremen whose enthusiasm for building offered a newly cast bridge abutment the eulogy: “Seeing is believing, but touching is God’s truth.” For me Gunpowder Gin is a subtle, oriental/London Dry fusion which in terms of our nautical past I’d rate more akin to the tea clipper, Cutty Sark, than Portsmouth’s ironclad Warrior. Enjoy!