When I heard that Gerry White had launched a new gin in his native Belfast, I never doubted it would be a success. When Gerry does something, he “does it right”, and I knew he would have the support of the hospitality community in Northern Ireland of which he has been a key player for years.
Mr White is familiar to many from his previous career where he ran one of Belfast’s most characterful pubs, the John Hewitt, a hub for arts, music, food and microbrewery beers. The John Hewitt is unique in that it is owned by a charity, the Belfast Unemployed Resource Trust, and the operating profits from the pub help the charity in its aims.
Jawbox Gin is described as single estate. I’m growing more and more sceptical of these claims made by the raft of new brewers and distillers, but the Jawbox claims are legitimate. It is produced at the Echlinville Distillery which sits on the 300 acre Echlinville estate which provides the grain and water used in production.
The signature serve is with ginger ale, a nod to the fact that ginger ale was invented in Belfast, which leads us to a short history lesson: it’s disputed who exactly the inventor was but it is widely held that it was a Thomas Joseph Cantrell (1827 – 1909) who was born in Dublin, qualified as a doctor and worked at Grattan & Co, a Belfast firm of chemists which also manufactured soft drinks, and introduced the first carbonated “ginger ale”.
Cantrell later struck out on his own, and began trading as TJ Cantrell and, years later, merged with the soft drinks business of Henry Cochrane (1836 – 1904) of Dublin to form Cantrell & Cochrane. This was the beginnings of the C & C Company familiar to many people as the producer of Bulmer’s cider and the originator of the “Club” brands still in existence today.
The name Jawbox is another nod to the past: it comes from the name given to the large square white sinks which have long been associated with Belfast. In days past people would congregate around the large sink and gossip while preparing foods or washing clothes and hence the sinks became known as Jawbox sinks. Gerry remembers hearing this from his grandmother, Maisie Cunningham, for whom the copper still in the Echlinville Distillery was recently named to celebrate a year in business.