Fintan’s tall tale is just the tonic

We conclude our weekly new series looking at the rise of the development of small-batch handcrafted alcohol-free drinks. Today KATE RYAN talks to Pamela Weaver of Fintan’s
Fintan’s tall tale is just the tonic
Pamela Weaver of Fintan's.

YOU have gone as far as you can making home brew beer, kombucha and kefir, but the desire to make delicious drinks remains. What to do?

If you are Pamela Weaver, the answer lies in a very niche sector indeed: craft mixers.

Pamela is the co-founder of Fintan’s, producing small batch botanicals hand-made in West Cork. There are three products in the range: two botanical syrups (No.1 for Intriguing Cocktails; No. 2 for Old Fashioned Cocktails) and a Blackberry and Lime Shrub (a botanical sipping vinegar). All three have been designed to complement high-quality, small batch craft spirits but also, refreshingly, as a delicious alternative non-alcoholic tipple.

Wall to wall craft spirits are everywhere, but where’s the craft mixer?

Pamela decided to give making craft tonics a go with recipes based around favourite flavours from years experimenting with home brewing.

“Anyone who homebrews moves through the same phases: start with the beer kit that you half poison yourself with; move onto grains, milling and breeding your own yeasts. Brewing Belgian style beers, your world is opened up to unusual flavours; things like grains of paradise, candy, bitter orange peel, all sorts of ways of introducing additional flavour rather than just through the yeast.

“A lot of what I put in the syrups comes from messing around with beer, ingredients I was familiar with or unusual flavours that work really well with others.”

The Botanical Syrups are zesty with citrus and a good punch of quinine flavour from infusion with genuine cinchona bark. The Shrub is bright with berry flavours and refreshing lime and tangy with apple cider vinegar. The intensity of their flavour is in the hands of the imbiber — diluting to taste or with your favourite craft gin, for example.

Off to Market

“We had friends round, and as often does happen when people come round to ours, there a homebrew on so talk turns to brewing.

“My partner, Janet Paterson, said ‘Oh, Pamela’s been making tonic waters’, so I brought some out to taste. My friend looked at me and said ‘this is really, really good — you should sell it’, so we did!”

Since its incredibly low-key soft launch on social media, orders for bottles of syrup and shrub have come thick and fast, proving a challenge: both Pamela and Janet have full time jobs and the drinks are genuinely small batch and hand made.

“This is what I like doing for kicks – this is my hobby, I like making drinks. I love flavours, I love messing with ingredients and seeing what you can get out of them and often less is more.

“The ingredients we use in our drinks are all natural, we’re not using any essences or extracts — everything is hand processed so it is totally artisanal in the truest sense. I sit in front of a computer all day for work, so this is how I get to unleash my creative side.”

Going Alcohol Free

Motivations abound for those going alcohol-free: health and lifestyle lead the charge, but changes in drink-drive laws present an opportunity to think differently about our drink choices on a night out.

Fewer, but no less relevant, are those that simply do not like the taste of alcohol or how it makes them feel.

Fintan’s, says Pamela, offers the opportunity to drink something that has been as carefully crafted with all the satisfaction and mouthfeel of an alcoholic drink, but without the downsides.

“As someone who does enjoy a drink of alcohol, that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for something that is equally as enjoyable that doesn’t have any alcohol in it. There’s only so much soda you can drink, or alcohol-free beer, even fizzy water.

“That was the motivation for the flavour combinations in the Botanical Syrups: something reminiscent of alcohol but doesn’t taste of it, and I didn’t want it to taste like fake alcohol either, because what if you don’t like an alcohol taste anyway? A lot of the elements, certainly in Botanical Syrups, are there to resonate with what you would typically find in an alcohol drink, but not to imitate it.

“With the Blackberry & Lime Shrub, we wanted something you could drink a lot of and feel refreshed but not full; something you could have with a meal. If you’re dropping €80 on dinner, you don’t want to drink Coke; and you’re driving home so you’re not going to hit the wine list, so what can you have that would complement the meal? The Shrub has acidity, a bit of spiciness and earthiness that can complement any kind of food, just like wine.”

What’s in a name?

Pamela and Janet moved close by to The Bull’s Pocket in 2016, and began developing their Syrups from 2017 during which time the Gaelic myth of Fintan came to light.

“Near where we live on the way to Bantry is Donemark. I wondered where the name came from because it doesn’t sound like it has an Irish root. I found it mentioned in a book of Gaelic bardic poetry called Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland). Legend has it that the first people to step foot on Ireland was Cessaire, Noah of the Arc’s niece and granddaughter, and Fintan.

They landed at Dún na mBarc (Donemark); Cessaire died of a broken heart and Fintan became ‘Fintan the Wise’, advisor to numerous kings and high kings of Ireland.”

How do you take yours?

“To keep Fintan’s genuinely small batch we can’t mass produce it, but we’re also not telling people how much to use. You can pour a drop of this into a drink on its own or add sparkling water: you have more flexibility to make it to your own taste,” said Pamela.

“Initially, we came up with drinks recipes for using the syrups, but now people are having a go figuring out how they like to drink it. Everyone’s tastes are different and some will like their drink more or less intensely flavoured.”

Someone mixed the Blackberry and Lime Shrub with whiskey; Botanical Syrup 1 mixed with Kinsale Mead Summer Haze, and we’ve also made an unbelievably good Espresso Martini with Botanical Syrup No. 2.”

Small is Delicious

“When we say it’s a small batch on the label we really do mean it! Each batch is only 24 bottles per recipe; the Botanical Syrups take three days to make and the Shrubs take up to two weeks,” said Pamela.

“We cold press the blackberries for the Shrub for a brighter flavour, and we only use fresh berries so it takes a lot of blackberries to make a small amount of shrub. It requires patience, something I’ve inherited from my brewing days!”

Slow and steady wins the race, and keeping the production of Fintan’s sustainable is paramount.

“This is a craft product and small batch, there is only so far you can push that before it stops being those things. We need to keep it natural where we can, because that’s the difference in the flavour, we don’t want Fintan’s to be viewed as just another pre-carbonated drink. Fintan’s is a quality product and takes time to make it; and I don’t mind waiting — as long as no one else does!”

Stockists: Mannings Emporium, O’Donovan’s Clonakilty, Bradley’s Off Licence.

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