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« In Search of Irish Brown Bread | Main | Home Again: Scrounging up a Tasty Dinner »

Ireland Adventure: Rhubarb Martinis and Irish Gin

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” begins the opening line in the haunting 1938 novel, Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier. The protagonist and narrator then vividly describes the exquisite grounds of this grand fictional estate.

It’s my first thought as we drive up to the beautiful, historic Ballyvolane House, a country house in Castlelyons, County Cork, and family home to Justin and Jenny Green and their children. On vacation recently, Steve and I stayed for two nights, opting for dinner on one of those nights, and enjoying the full Irish breakfast both days.

While this was Steve’s first visit to Ireland, it was my sixth, and Ballyvolane House, where I’ve dined on many trips accompanying U.S. magazine food editors with my client, Kerrygold, feels like an old friend. Despite its familiarity, every time I take that drive, I’m reminded of the Du Maurier classic.

In spring, the property is in full bloom—a profusion of rhododendrons, wisteria, magnolias, bluebells, buttercups—a color explosion of more floral varieties that I can name or remember.

Dinners in the elegant dining room, showcase what’s best in Irish cuisine—simple, well-prepared courses featuring ingredients from the estate’s own walled garden or sourced from local artisan producers.

There was new excitement at Ballyvolane House this year: Justin and his partner have started a gin distillery in a farm building in the rear of the house. They’re making small-batch, handcrafted, Pure Irish Milk Gin with whey alcohol from local dairy farmers, incorporating locally foraged and grown botanicals.

The gin is called, memorably, Betha’s Revenge, in honor of Bertha, the legendary cow of County Kerry that holds the record for the world’s oldest cow, having lived to a ripe age of 48 years; as well as the world breeding record, having given birth to 39 calves in her lifetime.

Justin gave Steve and me a tour of the distillery and a taste of his remarkable gin, now sold in Ireland and London and coming to the U.S. this year.

“We’d been watching the gin space the last five years,” explained Justin, as he poured. “And we saw what was going on in London and New York. The whole resurgence of gin has been absolutely astonishing. So we went to London on a research mission and we were blown away.

“We had an epiphany by the whole gin scene,” he recalled. “We set up a couple of meetings with a number of distillers in London as part of our research and one of them was a gentleman called Charles Maxwell, who is the head distiller at the Thames Distillery. He recommended we look at whey as an option—whey ethanol because it was produced very close to where we live and we wanted to create a gin that was 100 percent Irish. And that set us off on our whey journey.”

Whey is the byproduct of making cheese, one of Ireland’s major food exports. It’s only in recent times, that the dairy industry has developed a method to turn whey into alcohol.

“As we started playing around with whey as our base spirit, we realized very quickly that it was extremely high quality, has a lovely, rich, full, soft mouth feel, and it also carries our spices very well.

“It’s lovely with a good tonic and it’s lovely as a sipping gin, just with a little splash of water, as you would drink a single malt whisky after a meal,” Justin said. “Our gin is really good as a sipping gin with a bit of water or a couple of lumps of ice and that’s how we would recommend you drink it as well. It makes a cracking martini, too.”

Before dinner, our host made us a scrumptious cocktail with Bertha’s Revenge gin and a housemade syrup using rhubarb grown in the walled garden of Ballyvolane House.

Ballyvolane House Rhubarb Martini
Ingredients for rhubarb syrup:
1pound caster sugar (superfine sugar)
1 pint water
1 bunch rhubarb, cut in 2-inch-long pieces
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Boil the sugar and water to make sugar syrup. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the rhubarb and ginger and poach gently until the rhubarb is soft. Allow to cool for one hour and strain the rhubarb through a sieve. Decant the rhubarb syrup into a bottle and store in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge and it freezes really well too.

Ingredients for 2 Rhubarb Martinis:
3 shots Bertha's Revenge Irish Milk Gin
2 shots rhubarb syrup
1/2 shot fresh lime juice
2 lumps ice

Chill two martini glasses by putting them in the freezer or leave a few lumps of ice in them for a few minutes. Put all the ingredients together into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Hold the shaker in two hands and shake it over your shoulder. Pour the Rhubarb Martini through a cocktail strainer into the glasses. Always taste before pouring and add more syrup if too sour or more lime juice if too sweet.


  • When using a cocktail shaker, avoid trying to make too much quantity in one go as the cocktail doesn't mix well when full. Mixing two Martinis in one shaker is best.

Recipe from Bertha’s Revenge Irish Milk Gin.

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