Irish dairy is transforming into something a bit more intoxicating
Story by Cate Huguelet • Illustration by Damien Weighill • For Hemispheres - the Award Winning Onboard Magazine for United Airlines, August 2016.
“We’ve always been known for our field-to-fork philosophy,” says Justin Green, owner of Ballyvolane House, an idyllic inn in Irish dairy country. So when Ireland’s winter tourism lull prompted Green to diversify, he was determined to find a pursuit that complemented the inn’s locavore ethos. In a stroke of inspired creativity, he turned his attention to whey, the tart liquid byproduct of cheese- and yogurt-making, which is tricky to dispose of in large quantities. Green’s sustainable solution is Bertha’s Revenge, a whey-based gin borne out of a tour of London’s burgeoning craft gin scene. While there, he met Charles Maxwell, head distiller at gin-focused Thames Distillers, who explained that whey distillation was pioneered in the late 1970s some 50 miles from Ballyvolane, at West Cork dairy outfit Carbery. “I came back going, ‘Right, we’re definitely doing it,’” recalls Green.
With the late 2015 debut of Ballyvolane House Spirits Company, whey officially entered gin territory. Green and co-distiller Antony Jackson completed 19 runs before they hit on their final recipe, a blend of whey distillate from Cork cows, a spice- and citrus-forward bouquet of botanicals (some, like sweet woodruff, foraged on-site), and Ballyvolane well water.
For Green, however, whey’s smoothness is best showcased by standalone sipping. “It’s rather like a single-malt whiskey,” he notes. Best of all, Bertha’s Revenge echoes Ballyvolane’s philosophy beautifully. “It’s a lovely Irish story,” Green says. “We’re known for the greenest dairy pastures in the world, so it’s a natural step.”