A day in my working life, an occasional series providing an insight into how entrepreneurs spend a typical working day. This week, Geraldine Kavanagh Botanical Forager for Glendalough Distillery and Founder/Owner of Wicklow Wild Foods.
Geraldine Kavanagh is the Botanical Forager for Glendalough Distillery. Geraldine spent most of her childhood outdoors and over many years her knowledge of edible wild foods expanded until she decided to make a career out of this passion. Geraldine started her own wild food business, Wicklow Wild Foods, in 2012, with a range of wild foods for sale at farmers’ markets and seasonal guided wild food foraging walks. In 2014 her guided walks were featured in The Irish Times. The article was spotted by one of the founders of Glendalough Distillery who were at this time exploring plans to create a gin that would contain elements of Co. Wicklow, the ‘Garden of Ireland’. They contacted Geraldine the following Monday and within weeks, when the Summer botanicals they decided to include in their recipe were available, all hands were on deck and the first foraging trip for the first Summer Gin was a great success. Geraldine now works full time for Glendalough Distillery, she continues to give guided foraging walks on weekends from March to October.
January 2017, Glendalough launched its Wild Botanical Gin, a consistent gin that will be available all year round. Glendalough have recently launched an Irish seaweed gin and a sloe gin, a beech leaf gin will be launched in the coming months.
07:00: Corral the children into getting ready for school. Make sure they have a good breakfast, at this time of year we have wild syrups or wild berries from the freezer, great for the immune system. Make lunches, feed the hens, let the dogs out. Have a cup of very good coffee made by my husband, with freshly ground coffee beans, dandelion coffee just won’t do!
08:50: Drop the children at school; it is convenient that they all go to the same school.
09:00: I usually know where I am going to work for the day. In spring it might be to pick gorse flower, the yellow coconutty flowers are a key ingredient in our Spring Gin, giving it a lovely floral nose and perfume. I could be heading to the coast for coastal plants, the woods for greens, the mountains for heather or wild blueberries for the Autumn Gin. My work is directed by what’s happening in nature and changes every two weeks throughout the season. I might spend many hours in one place or move to different locations, I may visit a place only once a season, some botanicals can be harvested quickly, some will take hours to get just a kilo or two. I use my hands or scissors to harvest, scissors helps to avoid pulling up roots, I want to ensure that plants I harvest from continue to grow. Some of the work can be a little painful, I have tried many methods of harvesting gorse but I always end up with thorns in my fingers. I use willow baskets to harvest with, the botanicals are less likely to bruise and they are kept cool, I can keep a basket on my arm and be ‘hands free’. I love the smell of willow too.
I spend most of the day on my own, I enjoy my own company, I enjoy being out in nature. I work away, picking the best botanicals, smelling and tasting and observing as I go. Sometimes I even meet other animals doing the same thing as I am doing, like a deer or squirrel. This is now our fourth year of making award winning, wild botanical gins, I am familiar with each of the recipes for Glendalough Distillery Seasonal Gins and the Wild Botanical Gin so I know exactly what flavour we are trying to create with each one.
I also might have an idea for a recipe that I am working on, I can sometimes have an idea in my head for months, an incomplete recipe waiting for a wild ingredient to bring it all together, stores for the future.
I am contactable throughout the day with my phone, I answer any important emails and keep in touch with the great team of people who work behind the scenes, there are now 16 employees at Glendalough Distillery, our whiskeys, poitin and gins are on sale in 34 countries worldwide. I sometimes send in nice photos or news from the foraging world that can be used for social media. I am always learning too. Each year I learn more about the wild foods of Ireland. At the last count I had collected over 70 different edible wild foods over the year, not all of those would be suitable for gin, over the season we would use over 40 different leaves, herbs, flowers, berries, fruits and even seaweed in the distillery.
Some days instead of foraging alone, I take groups out with me. We pick botanicals together and I then take them down to the distillery. It’s a special experience. People put the ingredients in the still that they harvested with their own hands, a few weeks later they get a bottle of gin from that run. The communion with nature, the slow pace of the day, the quiet, the beautiful Wicklow countryside, the surprising flavours and smells from the botanicals, the beautiful copper still, these elements make it a very special, sensual, memorable day for our special visitors.
If it is the Summer holidays, the children might come to work with me for the day, we might spend the day in the woods picking berries, they can work if they want and get some pocket money, or they can go off and play, they know a lot about wild food and so much about gin even though they have never tasted it! At lunch time we might go for a quick swim in a nearby river or mountain pool to cool off.
17:00: This is an important part of the day at Glendalough Distillery, I bring the fresh botanicals to the distillery. Rowdy Rooney, our distiller, has finished that day’s distillation, the still has been cleaned and filled for the following day, the botanicals are recorded and weighed and placed in the still and left to infuse overnight. Then Rowdy and I have a chat about the day, we taste and smell the gin from that day and give it our seal of approval. If for any reason we are not happy with the gin, we will investigate; because we are working with a changing array of botanicals, adjustments might need to be made in a recipe or, for example, in the cut-off point where hearts become tails in recipes where botanicals have higher levels of oils. Rowdy runs a tight ship at the distillery, meticulously recording each distillation and keeping records and samples of each run. Like me he is happy to work in his own space and passionate about the quality of every single bottle.
17:30: Pick up the children if they are not at home already, my husband works from home so he can often do the afternoons.
The evenings can be busy, with sports, people coming and going, time to catch up on chores, homework, vegetarian dinners for some, meat for others.
In the foraging season life becomes very busy and activities I enjoy like going to sing in my local choir can get left by the wayside.
21:00: I have a great collection of interesting drinks at home, with an early start each day and a young family my life is not as rock ‘n’ roll as you might expect for someone who works for a distillery! I don’t drink a lot, instead I like to drink a small amount of something really special. I like to experiment with different garnishes and explore food pairings for our ever growing range of gins. There are now seven on the market and many more ideas. Rowdy and I like to experiment in the distillery so we always have a few experimental vessels on the go. Some will never make it to the shelves but might be available exclusively to visitors to Glendalough Distillery, we will open to the public next year and I have to say visitors are in for a treat!
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