Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Eastham

What It's Like to Craft Your Own Custom Gin at Ireland's Only Gin Distilling School

Ireland Food + Drink
by Tiffany Eastham Mar 15, 2022

I first discovered Listoke Distillery & Gin School while planning a road trip to see some of Ireland’s most stunning castles. Despite being tucked away among the country’s most narrow and winding roads, Listoke seemed more than worth the added detour.

Listoke Distillery came bursting onto the scene in 2016 with its slick branding, spicy orange flavors, and contemporary Gin School, a first in Ireland. Listoke is the brainchild of nurse turned distiller, Bronagh Conlon. Located on the outskirts of Drogheda, the distillery is just a mere 45 minutes north of Dublin, yet it still feels like a curious and hidden gem. Together with her family, Conlon has masterfully created a small-business brand with a larger-than-life outreach. This concept — which combines a distillery with classes on how to craft gin cocktails — intrigued me immediately, and I decided I needed to stop by for a tour.

Listoke Distillery & Gin School bottle

Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Eastham

When I arrived, I was greeted by Sarah McAvinchey, Conlon’s daughter and director of sales, who agreed to give me a behind the scenes tour of what makes their gin school so special. A self-taught master distiller herself, McAvinchey explained that their flagship gin, Ireland Listoke 1777, has won multiple awards, including Best Irish Gin and Best Gin in Europe. She describes the signature product as having warm and spicy notes that are enhanced by cardamom pods and cassia, while the citrus of choice is orange peel with a hint of jasmine. The warming orange notes of Listoke 1777 create a beautifully balanced taste.

Listoke Distillery & Gin School offers a three-hour immersive experience in all things drinking and distilling gin. After some ground rules, guests are served a welcome gin and tonic featuring Listoke 1777, but the gin continues to flow throughout the duration of the class. The distillery’s “no empty glasses” policy ensures you get the full gin tasting experience.

Listoke Distillery & Gin School classroom

Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Eastham

At the beginning of the class, I’m led into the official Gin School room lined with sparkling copper stills and glass jars filled with dried botanicals. Four larger jars sat in the middle of the island that McAvinchey described as the “core four.” Ninety-nine percent of gins will include juniper, coriander, angelica root, and orris root. This is the starting base.

Listoke Distillery & Gin School botanicals

Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Eastham

After blending the recommended amounts of core ingredients, guests are left to mix and match among the variety of additional citrus, floral, and spicy ingredients. Each botanical comes with an identification tag and suggested quantity, but it’s up to the student distiller whether or not to actually follow the recommended amounts – it’s your custom blend, after all. The instructors offer guidance and suggestions to those that want it, but they encourage a fun, relaxing, and educational atmosphere that doesn’t adhere to a strict timeline.

McAvinchey remarks that if you favor a punchier gin, for example, try kicking up the pink peppercorns or another spice in your concoction. I prefer fruity and floral notes, so I’d be more inclined to add rosebuds and dandelions to mine. The combinations are nearly endless, and that’s what makes distilling your custom gin a personal journey.

Listoke Distillery & Gin School stills

Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Eastham

Once the mixing and matching is complete, each member of the class is presented with their own one-liter copper still and a connected network of coils that circulate around the room. From here, the distillery process is pretty simple. Listoke uses a base alcohol that, together with the mixture of botanicals, will boil and steam to perfection as part of the distilling process. This “set it and forget it” method takes a mere 30 minutes from start to finish.

While we wait for our gin to finish distilling, I’m led out to the warehouse for a proper tour of the stills that are responsible for creating the distillery’s signature flavors. I’m immediately hit with that same punchy, sweet aroma of a freshly distilled Listoke 1777 before being guided to the bottling station. McAvinchey proudly admits that her’s is the only distillery of this scale that still bottles and labels each product by hand.

The final minutes of distilling are spent enjoying a spread of local meats and cheeses with another round of gin and tonics. Those last drops of freshly distilled gin eventually make their way into your very own bottle that is sealed and labeled with Listoke’s signature owl logo.

I left Listoke Distillery with a fantastic local experience, a new appreciation for the distilling culture, and a generous amount of gin in my purse. Its distilling classes typically run every Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening. You can also find the gin in some spots around the United States, most countries in Europe, and China.

Head to Listoke’s website to check out the distillery or sign up for a class, and if you ever find yourself with a stopover in Dublin, venture out of the city for an experience that won’t disappoint.

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