Below is an excerpt from GINNED! Magazine about Blackwater Distillery's Nº 5 London Dry Gin. Every month, Craft Gin Club members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of features about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
“One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it.”
This French proverb sums up the life of Blackwater Distillery’s founder and distiller, Peter Mulryan. During fifteen years, Peter traveled the world as a producer for the BBC, experiencing incredible adventures and gathering amazing stories as he traveled. What he did not know at the time is that he was merely delaying fate.
His destiny began to appear as his travels pushed him to pursue a complementary route - that of a whisky writer. Over bottles of bad wine in the Greek islands with wine expert Oz Clarke he made the decision to investigate his love of the spirit and has since become one of Ireland’s premier whisky scholars with five books to his name.
But whisky scholar was but a first step into the alcoholic beverage industry, an industry which he has since discovered is in his blood. Upon turning 50, as his father passed away and his eight year old son was diagnosed with leukemia, Peter’s life came full-circle, carrying on a family tradition that he was not even aware was in his family. As he discovered his desire to dive into the alchemy of distilling, he also found that his father and mother met while his father was working as a chemist at a Waterford brewery. If that wasn’t enough, Peter’s uncle, aptly named Peter, was a master brewer at the Anheuser Busch brewery in St. Louis. “So there must be something genetic in there,” smiled Peter.
FATE FINDS A FORTUNATE CULTURAL SHIFT
As Peter immerses himself in the trade to which he was fated with Ireland’s first craft distillery, he faces huge competition. The Irish alcohol market has been defined by virtual monopolies for decades: Guinness controlled the island’s beer and Irish Distillers it spirits, primarily whisky. A few microbreweries here and there popped up in the 1990s, but according to Peter, “it was a very slow burn.” In recent years, things in the beer market have accelerated with Peter estimating that there are about sixty breweries beginning to make a dent in the Guinness monopoly.
Distilleries are another story: Blackwater Distillery claims to be the first craft distillery to start operations in Ireland. Peter says that his decision to launch a distillery was influenced primarily by occurrences in the United States which has seen the number of microdistilleries skyrocket over the past decade with the American Distilling Institute predicting their numbers will break 1,000 within a couple of years. “American microdistilleries are moving faster, are more innovative and never think that they’re about to fail,” explained Peter. “They do a great job combining business and fun,” he continued.
The reason for the US’ craft distilling and beer booms is the changing tastes and demands of consumers, a cultural shift that has arrived in the UK in recent years and that is now arriving in Ireland. For these reasons, Mulryan thinks that before long, more of his countrymen will certainly take up distilling.
Those that do, however, will likely not be as weathered in the craft as Blackwater’s Master Distiller. Although Peter is a self-taught distiller, he has been hanging around distilleries for years as a whisky writer, traveling the world and experiencing different distilling methods first hand at different distilleries. “I learned pretty much by osmosis,” he grins.
Particularly over the past year, after he made his decision to launch a distillery, Peter increased his visits to distilleries and read everything he could. “Distilling is a science, it has parameters. If you obey those parameters you can replicate what others have done before,” he explained. In a way, he finds that being a distiller isn’t too far off from his days as a television producer in that “You sort stuff all day long,” and you need to keep aware of your resources, how much you have of them and when you need to apply them.
That’s not to say that distilling is a staid job. Quite the contrary! Peter has a penchant for experimentation and thinks that “the alchemy is in the distilling.” In February, he ordered 1,000 litres of un-hopped oatmeal stout from a local microbrewer, un-hopped because hops - a staple ingredient in beer - don’t distill very well. The first time the oat liquid goes through the still, it comes out at about 30% ABV, a liquid that Peter runs a second time which results in a 70-80% spirit which he then brings down to bottle strength. “If I left it in wood for three years, it would be an Irish whisky because it’s just grain - there are no hops in it.”
Peter has no plans to stop his experimentation. “Every couple of months I’d like to try something new, runs of about 250 bottles max. It’s just fun,” he said while describing a spirit based on an Indian Pale Ale, a Native Irish Apple Vodka and a gin based on a ginger stout that he has in mind, not to mention the all-important Irish Whisky. Since gin comes from the Empire, Peter is doing a great job of keeping things local. His experiments are influenced by local producers, such as the stout-providing microbrewery, and will be distributed at local food festivals.