As someone whose go-to tipple is a classic G&T, I have never strayed far from the better-known names (one knows what one’s getting, after all). That is until I discovered Northern Ireland’s first craft offering: Shortcross Gin (£40 for 70cl), which is distilled in County Down, a mere 17 miles from where I grew up. As a frequent visitor to the province, I became aware of Shortcross not long after its 2014 launch, and have been loyal to it ever since.
At its helm is husband and wife team Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong, a former property surveyor and engineer respectively. The couple always wanted to go into business together, but it was Fiona, whose family owns the 500-acre Rademon Estate, just outside Downpatrick, who came up with the idea of artisan distilling. “Many of my childhood memories are set against a backdrop of amazing smells from our garden, and after reading a book about the dying art of distilling in Ireland, I knew we were perfectly located to rekindle this special craft.”
The self-confessed “gin enthusiasts” took six months to perfect the recipe: juniper, coriander, cinnamon, elderberries and their signature botanical, wild clover, are cut with fresh spring water from the estate’s well. One sip and I was sold; this is a classic gin, but with a heavenly floral bouquet and none of that eye-watering after-burn, even when sampled neat. And it’s not just me who’s singing its praises – recent accolades include a hat trick at the 2016 international Gin Masters awards.
The couple have gone from distilling a few times a month to almost daily, but never more than 400 bottles at a time. In February they experimented with a cask-aged gin (kept for three months in Bordeaux wine barrels), which went on to become Fortnum & Mason’s best ever selling “Spirit of the Month”. All the local sourcing, distilling, labelling and bottling (my own came personalised – a delightful touch) is still done in house. “It’s important for us to retain total control,” says Fiona, who recommends serving the gin alongside a good-quality elderflower tonic, a sprig of mint and a few chunks of frozen orange.
Provenance is certainly a selling point for Shortcross, but as David points out, the second sales and awards are solely down to it being a “balanced, flavoured and aromatic gin”. Here’s hoping its first single malt whiskey – currently sleeping in barrels, but to be bottled in late 2018 – will be met with similar fanfare.