Walking into the downstairs bar of The Dead Rabbit in New York was like stepping back across the Atlantic and entering a well stocked Irish whiskey bar on the Emerald Isle itself.
In fact there was so much Irish whiskey lining the shelves it would put many a respectable bar in Ireland to shame!
The wall hangings, drinks mirrors & assorted jumble of paraphernalia together with the dark wood finish were also a very familiar attribute in many an Irish bar – along with no food!
As Mrs Whiskey & myself had come in for a spot of grub we were directed up stairs to the middle bar which does serve food – only to find it temporarily closed being midway between the lunchtime menu & evening service – and so ended up on the top floor via a narrow staircase.
The bar here was a slightly smaller affair – yet still well stocked – with a comfortable bench along the back wall complete with high tables & chairs for casual diners & imbibers to sit back and enjoy the fair.
Being an Irish bar – I had to go for an Irish whiskey. Now Dead Rabbit do a selection of whiskey flights – but not including the specific whiskeys I was looking for – so I settled for a glass of Kinahan’s 10 year old single malt along with a burger & chips.
Kinahan’s are one of those sourced brands that are generally not available in Ireland. Mainly found in the American market – they were on my radar to try out. Coming in a blend and a 10 year old single malt they have a back story which you may choose to believe – or not – I found it entertaining.
The soft, smooth, charred ex-bourbon cask maturation taste sat well with my previous drinks yet developed into a clearer, more finely tuned fruity note together with a faint spice on the finish. A pretty fine example of an Irish barley single malt in contrast to the mixed corn, wheat, barley & rye american bourbon mash bills. It perfectly accompanied my rather large burger.
For afters I decided to go native.
A very attractively designed bottle of Angels Envy took my eye.
Hailing from Louisville Distilling in Kentucky with a corn, barley & rye mash bill – the expression I had is aged for up to 6 years & unusually – for American bourbon anyway – finished in ruby port casks.
The rye spice I love was very subdued by both the rich port influence as well as the high corn with added barley mixed mash. It did have depth & a complex nuance – but not that instant POW I was looking for. One to savour over I think.
Suitably sated – we ventured out for the South Ferry subway. Dead Rabbit is only a short walk from the very attractive Battery Park area where clear views of The Statue Of Liberty & Ellis Island can be enjoyed – along with the obligatory boat trips. As the temperatures were plummeting below zero we left the chance to embrace ourselves in the cultural & historic tales of Irish emigration for another day.
Dead Rabbit may not have been around when those early immigrants first arrived in America – but it’s a very welcome bolthole for the modern day traveller. Just be sure to get there early. We easily got a table when we arrived around 4ish – but later patrons had to wait for a while as the venue was packed out by the time we left.
At Brooklyn I booked myself into one of Kings County Distillery tours in the grand old Paymaster Building inside the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Located only a short walk from either the York St subway or the iconic Brooklyn Bridge itself – it’s easily accessible for anyone staying in New York.
Dave – our tour guide on the day – entertainingly took us through a potted history of whiskey distillation in Brooklyn taking in topics such as civil war, taxes, legal & illegal production, alcohol consumption, Irish immigration, prohibition as well as many other related – or not – subjects & then tied the whole lot up together with the founding of Kings County Distilling itself in 2010.
I’ll repeat that year again.
Because that makes Kings County Distillery the 1st legal whiskey distillery in New York City since prohibition.
History has long tentacles.
We were shown the whole whiskey making process from the mashing of the grains in open fermenters,
To the distillation in copper pot stills,
To the maturation of the spirit in virgin american oak casks in the upstairs warehouse.
Kings County Distillery have chosen to go down a a fairly traditional route in that they produce a predominately high corn mash bill bourbon with only a small amount of barely from Scotland.
The use of small casks allows a shorter maturation period – generally less than 2 years – before it is deemed suitable for release. Some larger casks have also been laid down for future expressions & I couldn’t help noticing the ‘rye’ mark on some casks indicating a welcome addition to the current range at some date.
Tasting the actual product of all this hard work and silent development in the wood is obviously the highlight of any tour.
Kings County Distillery treated us to 4 expressions from their current range.
Starting with the Moonshine release at 40%.
The nose was the classic oily & slightly rotten fruit smell I associate with an unaged spirit. The taste followed through as expected with no real surprises. A perfectly fine & smooth example of this style of spirit which is often released by new distilleries as a showcase and money maker whilst the real bourbon or whiskey slowly matures.
The Bourbon release came next.
At 45% ABV this high corn bourbon with added barely, aged for 2 summers, gave a classic caramel sweet bourbon nose & taste together with a little bite. Another perfectly fine example of it’s style which hasn’t gone unnoticed by discerning drinkers as well as whiskey judges by the the amount of awards won.
The Winter Spice Whiskey at 40% had me a little confused. It’s basically the standard bourbon release above infused with a mix of baking spices normally associated with Xmas – cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves along with others – but yet it doesn’t have that sweet honey mix of many a liqueur nor can it be a whiskey with the non conventional additives. There is a market for this type of flavoured whiskey however. I couldn’t say it would be my cup of tea though.
A choice of Chocolate Whiskey or Peated Bourbon was offered for the last sample.
It should be obvious which one I went for.
I found the Peated Bourbon the most interesting and satisfying expression at Kings County Distilling.
At 45% the addition of peated barley from Scotland gave a welcome waft of smoke to the sweet bourbon caramel which raised the resultant spirit to a more entertaining yet vaguely familiar flavour profile.
Of the 3 Brooklyn distilleries I visited, Kings County Distilling seem to be the most established outfit producing a fairly traditional style of bourbon which is gaining many admirers. They also do a cracking distillery tour which certainly engages you with the whole whiskey making process.
I can’t say they set my palate alight – but I do wish them future success – they are a welcome addition to the whiskey distilling world.
One thing is for sure – I eagerly await any future rye expression they intend to produce from the casks I spotted on the maturation floor!
My quest to sample as wide a variety of whiskies from as many different countries as possible took me to Whisky Birmingham.
Now in it’s 5th year – the show is organised by The Birmingham Whisky Club – and despite only being a short 45 minute flight from Dublin, there is a different array of whisky brands,styles & ranges on offer on the UK market in contrast to Ireland – which made the journey worthwhile for me.
I wasn’t disappointed!
From the first stall to the last – there were simply so many new expressions for me to sample – I just couldn’t get round them all.
There were a couple of stalls from importers & distributors who had very fine arrays of not-your-usual-whiskies which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Jon & Mike put together a display of some of their favourite whiskies for sampling & sharing along with other fellow enthusiasts. Fantastic.
Several Scottish blenders & bottlers had wonderful displays. A sprinkling of American brands graced the floor together with some familiar Irish faces too!
Held in the wonderfully historic setting of The Bond in Digbeth on the Grand Union Canal & only a short walk from the transport hub of Birmingham’s Bullring. It’s a marvelous venue for such a friendly and relaxed show.
A very welcome feature was the VIP Lounge staffed by the helpful & informative Andy. It was like a little oasis of calm to sit down & relax, chat or take in the aromas & flavours of a choice selection of whiskies.
There comes a point in the proceedings however when you know you are getting close to the edge!
Thankfully there were water coolers dotted around the venue to keep you hydrated – and a couple of street food vendors in the outside area where I enjoyed a tasty pizza.
Masterclasses are another way to slow down the pace as well as gaining some whisky knowledge from experts in the field. If I’d done my homework better the Cheese & Whisky Pairing class would have been my choice. As it was I contented myself with a selection box of satisfyingly rich tasting cheese & crackers from the stall to twin my whiskies with.
Talking of favourites.
I always like to to come away with my dram of the day!
Now in it’s 5th year, the numbers attending are still growing. This reflects the increasing awareness and appreciation of craft beer, food and distilled spirits among the discerning drinking public.
Being my 3rd visit, I’m always amazed at the growing number of Irish Craft Beer breweries, cider makers & distilleries producing a bewildering array of fine tasting alcoholic beverage.
The other reason for attending the show this year was an opportunity to interview the Head Distiller of Dublin’s soon to be opened Pearse Lyons Distillery in the historic Liberties area.
Dr. Gearóid Cahill.
Whiskey Nut (WN) Is the timetable for the distillery opening going according to plan?
Gearóid Cahill (GC) We’re fairly confident in the proposed July opening. But we’re already a full year behind our original plans. At the start of the project the former St James’s Church wasn’t a listed building. A Protected Structure was subsequently applied to the site which we were happy to comply with but this understandably slowed down our schedule. Being a former church surrounded by a graveyard also meant that everytime we wanted to dig a trench for cabling or pipework human remains were unearthed. These had to be treated with respect. All of them were carefully catalogued, analysed for historical data and then reinterred at the graveyard. We have cooperated with the relevant authorities over these and many other issues which have arisen during the construction and done our utmost to comply with all the conditions.
WN Will there be a visitors centre?
GC There will be a visitors centre adjacent to the church inside which the actual distillery is situated. We want to take visitors into the working distillery to feel the heat, experience the noise and smell the aromas of a working distillery, as well as showing them the entire whiskey making process from grain to glass.
WN What style of Irish whiskey are you intending to produce?
GC Dr. Pearse Lyons, the Founder & President of Alltech has a vision and passion to produce a malted barley Irish whiskey in his home town of Dublin. I’m thrilled and equally passionate to be charged with making sure that vision becomes a reality.
WN I’m very excited by the return of rye as an ingredient in Irish whiskey manufacture. There is already a rye cask finished Irish whiskey on the market. Midleton have planted fields of rye near Enniscorthy and Kilbeggan/Cooley are currently maturing a rye single pot. Are there any plans for this style of whiskey at St James’s?
GC The design of the distillery and the dynamism of Alltech allow for a high degree of flexibility & innovation. We can produce beer at the distillery, over and above that required for distillation. We can access any type of grain we require through the Alltech agricultural division and we will be using the best casks from our Lexington distillery in Kentucky. Together with the relatively small size of the, what you can call a boutique distillery we are about to open, we can respond & react to any change in style or vision we wish in the coming years.
WN You come with a very impressive career both academically and practically mainly founded on brewing. Has distilling always been a dream for you?
GC I’ve worked for many years in the brewing industry and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I love working for Alltech as the passion and enthusiasm Dr Pearse Lyons has for brewing & distilling is something I share. It’s that enthusiasm that drives our team to hold the Alltech Craft Brews And Food Fair every year to showcase the growing rise of craft beer, cider and spirit making in Ireland. A lot of our staff give freely of their time to help organise & run the event and we see it as showcasing the best that is out there. There is also a growing blurring of lines in the types & styles of beer now available. Just when does a heavily hopped dark porter stop being a porter & become an IPA? It’s a question I often have to adjudicate on being a judge at the show. Those blurred lines are also entering the whiskey market with stout aged whiskey, IPA aged whisky and other variations. This also feeds back into the growth of barrel aged beers. These are exciting times.
I’m very confident and comfortable in the field of brewing which is the first step in whiskey production. I’m also very comfortable with the science and technique of distilling. The whole process of maturation in wood is a much less understood area and still a bit of a mystery – although I’m getting much valuable advice & experience from the team over in Lexington.
WN There are some who say up to 70% of the flavour in a whiskey comes from the influence of wood maturation. Would you agree with that?
GC I wouldn’t go that high.It’s true wood plays a yet not totally understood role in the final flavour profile – but the spirit you put into the barrel in the first instance has to be of good quality. No matter how long you age a bad distillate it simply won’t become a stunning whiskey. Understanding the variables of wood maturation, temperature fluctuations, types of wood, charring levels and previous contents all play their part in the final whiskey. They will all become a major part of my – and my teams work – over the next few years.
WN When you get time to relax at home,
and at this a wry smile suggested this wasn’t a common experience
What would be your drink of choice?
GC Erm, well when I get the time, I like to sit down with a good bourbon, usually over ice. I enjoy a malted Irish too but I wouldn’t be a fan of a heavily peated Scotch.
At this point I finished my interview by thanking Gearóid for giving me the time out from his busy schedule for the talk and fired off a couple of photos for the blog.
During the small talk I discovered he’s originally from Collinstown in Westmeath!
Westmeath gains another notch in the wonderful world of whiskey!
And talking about Westmeath, why not finish with another of Westmeath’s finest – Joe Dolan – here singing a song titled Sister Mary. Chosen by me for Gearóid Cahill building the Pearse Lyons Distillery in a former church!
I wish all the team at Alltech future success with the Pearse Lyons Distillery – and eagerly await the opening.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can worship at the shrine of whiskey and celebrate the mystery of wood.
What better way to engage with a new whisky than at the launch of a new whiskey magazine called The Cask.
The Cask Magazine is proudly based in Ireland – but has a global outlook when it comes to a passion for whiskey.
An eclectic mix of whiskey fans, bloggers, celebrities, imbibers and industry giants gathered in the wonderful surroundings of the Irish Whiskey Museum to raise a toast to the success of this brave new venture.
In the midst of all the media rush to tweet, post, photo & record the event I spotted a bottle that screamed out to me to
Distilled in the former Czechoslovakia before the fall of The Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of communism. Who remembers the joyous occasion of the tearing down of walls rather than building of them?
Left to mature under the distillery in Pradlo for 23 years before it’s ‘re-discovery’ and release into the marketplace to a changed world. This whisky certainly has a story to tell.
So what is it like?
Soft, smooth & very refreshing with a lovely malty note that pleased me no end. Hammerhead delivered a delightful blow to my tastebuds.
Almost as silky & smooth as the beautiful glossy pages of The Cask Magazine!
Whiskey for me is a journey of discovery and enjoyment.
Cask Magazine certainly added to that enjoyment with their fabulous launch night.
They also added to my journey by unexpectedly increasing my world whisky count to 19 countries with a wonderful single malt from Czechoslovakia. Still a few more to go to match their Around The World In 24 Drams article!
I’d like to wish all the team at The Cask Magazine a long & productive publishing future.