Ireland has long been rumored as the birthplace of whiskey, which it then introduced to Scotland. However, both Ireland and Scotland are also becoming world-renowned for their gins. With names like Caorunn, Crossbill, The Botanist (Scotland), and Ireland’s Jawbox and Dingle Gins, we can now add Minke Irish Gin to the Irish scorecard, newly available in the USA.
Minke is made at the Clonakilty Distillery in West Cork, a gorgeous part of Southwest Ireland, running alongside the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a region especially noted for its good food and drink, a fact I can confirm after several visits there, though unfortunately before the Clonakilty Distillery opened in 2018. About an hour’s drive southwest of Cork, the distillery is housed in a striking glass-windowed building in the center of town, its three copper stills visible through the huge windows. Their rickhouse, however, is located outside of town, perched on 650-foot-high cliffs battered and salt-sprayed by the Atlantic’s waves. Head due west from here, and you’ll land in Newfoundland.
Minke gin comes in a handsomely chunky bottle with a logo depicting the tale of a diving minke whale, its namesake. In many ways, it’s the ideal subject for investigating terroir in gin, as most of its components are locally sourced. The base spirit is made from whey, a by-product of cheese made at a 9th-generation family farm near the Galley Head Lighthouse, about nine miles south of Clonakilty. The water is from the distillery’s well, and one of its main botanicals is rock samphire (sea fennel), which is hand-foraged along their coastline. It’s an unusual plant that only grows in Europe, West Asia, and North Africa near the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Black Sea coasts. It tastes similar to parsley and fennel but with a definitively salty sea tang. It’s often used as an unusual garnish for salads and cocktails and, in this case, for the botanical flavoring of gin.
Minke is bottled at a relatively mild 43.2% ABV (86.4 proof), with the fresh sea saltiness from the rock samphire evident on the nose, along with its telltale fennel/anise notes. In addition, the gin exhibits both citrus and peppery spice. Apart from juniper, “citrus,” and the dominant rock samphire, there’s no additional information about botanicals.
This gin is ideal for a gin and tonic, provided you use premium, crystal-clear tonic water such as Fever Tree. When it comes to mixing, I like the ratio used in Spain: 1 part gin to two parts tonic. It’s much more potent than a typical G&T but accentuates the gin’s flavor. With the Minke, you’ll taste the pleasing saltiness, and with its intense citrus flavor, there’s no need to add lemon. Additionally, the anise, fennel, and black pepper are noticeable. Given that Minke is made from whey (a milk by-product), you’ll get a pleasing velvety mouthfeel if you make the drink strong enough.
Clonakilty continues to make news with its impressive Irish whiskeys; now, it can add gin to its accomplishments. I look forward to seeing what they do next!