Raymond Gogan, his wife Juliet and business partners Bronagh Conlon and James McKenna have joined forces to open the country’s first ever gin school at Listoke Estate outside Drogheda. We talked to Raymond about the unique experience on offer and the family’s longstanding connection with the world of Irish distilling.
What inspired you to open Ireland’s first gin school?
We have a small craft distillery in beautiful old stables built by the famous Colonel Francis Battersby. We produce our Listoke 1777 brand here and we thought it would be nice to create a gin experience to impart some of the knowledge we had picked up and give people an opportunity to make their own gin. From this desire our gin school was born.
My wife Juliet’s family is steeped in distilling history. If you go back four generations on her mother’s side you end up with John Jameson and his wife, Margaret Haig of Haig Whiskeys in Scotland, and the same couple appear five generations back on Juliet’s father’s side. The Haigs were also in business and married into the Stein family, and together they exported the first white whiskey alcohol from Scotland to London to be rectified into London Dry Gin in 1777. Colonel Battersby built the house at Listoke in 1814 and from there it was passed onto the Cairnes family who owned Cairnes Brewery in Drogheda and later to my wife Juliet’s family, relatives of the Cairnes, so it’s an interesting connection.
What can participants expect at the School?
On any school there’d be twelve people, so we start with an opportunity to meet everyone over a gin and tonic. Then we go into the distillery to take in the ambiance, hear about the fascinating history of Listoke and learn about the importance of the different botanicals to the taste profile of the gin. We do another tasting to give people a feel for the different flavours, whether it be a floral or a spicy gin so they can start to get an idea for what they want to create themselves. Aside from what’s known as the “Holy Trinity” of gin; juniper, coriander and angelica root, we recommend using between seven and twelve botanicals. Once you get more than twelve it gets so complex that it’s very hard to discern the different tastes. We then select the botanicals, some of which come from Listoke’s Edwardian garden, and people often pick something extra to bring something different to their gin.
Is it a very technical process?
To make a gin that stands up to EU regulations you must have ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin above 96% ABV juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.) and if desired other natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant. It’s hard to make a bad gin at our gin school, and equally hard to make a really good gin, however some people have produced really interesting gins here. We assist each person in starting the still and stay with them guiding them through the process. There’s a good bit of craic once people have started the distillation process in their own mini still. We have our brick oven going, make some food and from there people start tasting their gin and making slight corrections to what they might have in there.
The gin comes off the mini-still at 72 to 74%, so once they get to the end of the process, it has to be diluted back to between 40 and 45% ABV. There’s a bit of lab work going through the dilution process with a hydrometer, using Listoke well water. When that’s finished the gin is bottled and sealed, you create your own label and name your gin, which is a lot of fun, and you leave with your own bottle of gin. So far everyone has left smiling!
Tell us about the Listoke 1777 brand.
The name Listoke derives from the Irish Lios tseabhaic, which translates as ‘Fort of the Hawk’. In the woods we still have birds of prey and two barn owls that come and go. It’s in tribute to them that one of them appears on the Listoke 1777 bottle. In producing gin here we’ve worked on what’s available in the Edwardian garden and what’s available in the countryside around us. We have juniper trees, but we’re not taking product off them at the moment, so we import our juniper and angelica root, while orange is easily sourced. In Listoke 1777 we have nine botanicals, so in addition to the ‘Holy Trinity” we have oris root, jasmine, cassia, orange peel, cardamom and rowan berry. Although we’re an Irish gin, we follow the London dry gin process in our own brand. We stick to doing it in a pure way so everything is added to our iStill before distillation.
One of the biggest challenges in getting the project off the ground was mostly in trying to keep the character of the building and at the same time making it fit for purpose. It was difficult enough bringing the most modern technology into a 200-year-old listed building, while preserving its heritage and meeting the standards required, but we got a lot of help from the Revenue Commissioners, the Enterprise Board and the Planning Office.
Aside from the gin experience, what else can people enjoy at Listoke?
We also have the Listoke Tearooms, a Garden Shop and an Art Gallery. We do an open call to local artists three times a year and we plan to exhibit some of Cathy Gilroy’s work on the Boyne Valley Garden trails around Easter. There are also geese, a mass of doves, a multitude of birds that are handfed and there’s always a foal or a yearling knocking about, so Listoke is always well worth a visit.
More information on the Distillery and Listoke Gin School are on listokedistillery.ie
For further details on the Estate visit Listoke.com
Words: Martina Murray