Irish Whiskey – Which Way Forward?

Writing a blog about the future of Irish Whiskey with a headline photo of a trio of Scottish Single Malts released by the supermarket chain Lidl may seem a little askew – but it highlights an issue pertinent to the current Irish Whiskey industry.

Imagine I’m a supermarket chain of similar standing.

I want some Irish Whiskey.

Perhaps a single pot still, a single malt & a single grain to show off what Ireland has to offer.

I have the branding ready to go.

I have the bottling plant primed.

I have the customers.

Can Irish Whiskey deliver – like yesterday – to capitalise on the Scottish release?

Thoughts welcome.

Sláinte

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Slane Irish Whiskey, 40%, The Launch Party

” Slane Castle has survived on Rock ‘n’ Roll and the inspiration for Slane Irish Whiskey came from the first rock concert we staged back in 1981 with Thin Lizzy.

Phil Lynott’s lyric – Whiskey In The Jar – struck me back then and a dream was born.

Throughout the thick and thin of the intervening years Phil’s song stayed with me, nourishing that dream.

Tonight I’m proud to say that dream has become a reality.

Slane Irish Whiskey is definitely in the jar!

Enjoy the music!

Enjoy the craic!

Enjoy Slane Irish Whiskey!”

And with that – Henry & Alex Conyngham released Slane Irish Whiskey – as well as announcing their distillery – to the accompaniment of local rock band Otherkin -who happen to be supporting Guns N Roses next week at the very same Slane Castle.

Rock On!

I must say – as whiskey launches go – this was pretty damn cool!

Otherkin pumping out their own tunes, along with selected classics from bands that have played Slane over the years.

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Otherkin in action c/othewhiskeynut

Slane Irish Whiskey flowing either neat – in my case – or with fashionable cocktail suggestions.

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Neat, no ice! c/othewhiskeynut

And delightfully tasty tit-bits of food served up by the trusty Eastside Tavern crew where the launch was held.

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Eastside Tavern c/othewhiskeynut

An eclectic gathering of people came to witness this event including Phil Lynott’s mum Philomena fresh from unveiling a refurbished statue to her famous son & all enjoying the the bright sunny Dublin evening that was in it.

But what about the whiskey?

Well it’s obviously not from Slane Distillery itself – which is due to open it’s doors to the public in August.

Slane Irish Whiskey is a sourced blend of quality malt & grain spirits blended and matured together in 3 different types of casks under the watchful eye of Brown-Forman master distillers Chris Morris and Steve Hughes.

Like Otherkin – this is a young, fresh & gutsy whiskey that grabs your attention.

The soft smooth nose captures elements of both the virgin oak and oloroso casks used in a sweet sherry bouquet. There is a bit of depth to the taste with some wood notes & a welcome soft spice from the seasoned American casks too. This all develops into a friendly warmth that gently fades away.

Lovely.

This raises Slane Irish Whiskey up a notch or 2 in my book as the spirit exudes a bit more punch & flavour than standard blends. It would perform very well alongside Jameson’s Crested, Bushmills Black Bush as well as Diageo’s Roe & Co if you’re familiar with these brands.

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Slane -Rock On! c/othewhiskeynut

The bottle is also attractively designed in muscular black with contrasting white & red labeling together with the raised Slane motif on the sides.

If this is a sign of things to come from Slane Distillery I can’t wait for their own offerings of single malts & single pot stills from their 3 copper stills in the years to follow.

Slane Irish Whiskey and Slane Castle Distillery – to borrow a line from Queen who also played Slane.

Sláinte.

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The One, Blend, 40%, x 3.

My first foray into English whisky!

Well – not exactly.

The One is a blend using whisky from the 4 corners of Great Britain – as it exists at present – Scotland, England, Northern Ireland & Wales.

More of a British blend.

The standard expression – bottled at 40% as they all are – is aged in bourbon casks and delivers a perfectly fine tasting experience for a decent well rounded blended whisky.

The sherry finish adds a delicate sweetness to the mix.

Whilst the port finish delivers added body, depth & colour to my palate – as well as a more satisfying heavy mouthfeel.

The Lakes Distillery near Keswick in Cumbia have yet to release their own distillate – but I look forward to the day they do.

Sláinte

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I sampled all the above whiskies on the Living Room Whisky stall at the 2017 Whisky Birmingham show.

Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Year Old, 2016 2nd Ltd Release, Single Malt, 57.3%

Octomore is my kind of whisky.

Big, bad, peaty & powerful.

And like the Steve Aoki song – I felt The Power Of Now.

At 57.3% it fills the mouth with an explosion of smoke sparked off by some surprisingly sweet notes & tasty flavours.

At first I suspected added caramel but no! Bruichladdich are emphatically against such practices. All the flavour results from the maturation in wooden barrels – in this instance ex-bourbon & French wine casks – hence the sweet notes to start with contrasting beautifully with the powerful – 167ppm – peat hit later into the fabulous tasting experience.

A stupendous dram!

Not all my fellow Whisky Birmingham attendees agreed.

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Port Charlotte 10, 2nd Edition c/othewhiskeynut

One preferred the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old 2nd Ltd Edition at only 50% & 40ppm. which I must admit I found harsher than the Octomore.

We agreed to differ on our findings,

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Sláinte! c/othewhiskeynut

But united on our love of whisky!

Sláinte.

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Gainsborough Bar, Derry & A Trio Of Peat

Despite doing a quick internet search before venturing up to Derry – I’d failed to uncover anything that got close to my definition of a Whiskey Bar as described in my blog here.

That’s not to say Derry doesn’t have some lovely bars that happen to sell whiskey.

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Gainsborough Bar c/othewhiskeynut

An attractive looking corner bar with decorative windows caught our eyes off the Guidhall Square – so we went in.

A fairly simple open square space adorned with nick-nacks & packed with friendly customers greeted us. I happily spotted a selection of Scottish malts to try & started out with a Talisker Skye.

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Scottish Malts c/othewhiskeynut

Being an NAS – non age statement – brother of the 10 Year Old I wondered if it would hold up to the bold peat I’d experienced and enjoyed with the aged expression.

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Talisker Skye c/othewhiskeynut

The peat certainly still satisfied – but a soft sweet note at the start tamed down the overall experience which left me preferring the 10 Year Old.

A collection of colourful characters inhabited the bar and we enjoyed the jovial comings & goings as well as the friendly banter that ensued.

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Inside Gainsborough c/othewhiskeynut

I spotted a Laphroaig Lore on the shelf & went for it.

This is another NAS release from a big peat hitter finished in Oloroso casks in this instance.

Again I found the peat hit had been softened by this finish to  a more soft & mellow smoke which gave it a more rounded & complex taste than the benchmark Laphroaig 10.

2 – nil to the age statements.

Mentioning there was a Wetherspoon pub near to our hotel we decided to have a last one there for the evening.

Now I frequented many a ‘Spoons’ bar when I lived in London and their dedication to craft beer & ales is certainly well received – but there were only a few whiskeys on offer.

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Soft peat from Jura c/othewhiskeynut

A Jura 10 Origin neatly provided a peated trio for the evening.

Oh dear!

Yes there was still peat – but the dominant note of vanilla sweetness let me down.

Big, bad & bold is what I was looking for – but all I got was soft, smooth & sweet.

A bit too much added caramel I think.

A bit like Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle who hails from Derry

Interestingly both Talisker & Laphroaig add caramel too – which would explain the sweet notes I detected. I just don’t understand why they have to do this with single malts. The sweet notes turned me off all 3 expressions.

But when it comes to your age statements versus NAS – Jura came bottom of the list.

The Talisker Skye came out tops – even although I’d prefer the 10 Year Old.

I generally don’t look down on an NAS bottling – but I’m increasingly looking down on added caramel – the proof of the pudding is in the eating however. All 3 of these whiskies tasted overly sweet to me – the Jura decidedly so – which was more of a deciding factor rather than the NAS or age statement issue.

Meanwhile the more variety of styles, tastes, finishes and ages – or not – out there the better in my book.

By trying them all out you begin to appreciate the differences & start to hone down your own particular style.

If you find a whiskey you like – embrace it – regardless of what others say.

We are all individuals with our own taste preferences and idiosyncracies – much like the whiskeys we drink.

Sláinte.

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Teeling Spirit Of Dublin Poitin, 52.5%

Flying?

We all do it these days.

For a whiskey fan like myself – the journey begins even before you’ve boarded the plane.

The last time I flew out of Dublin I took full advantage of the promotional stalls and tasted over half a dozen Irish whiskey samples – most of which I’d never tried before.

The one that stood out for me happened to be Teeling’s Spirit Of Dublin Poitin.

Why?

2 reasons.

1) This is the first spirit to be released from a new Dublin whiskey distillery for over a century.

That in itself makes this recently released poitin worthy of a punt – which is exactly what I did. But on tasting the spirit – I got a lovely surprise.

2) Spirit Of Dublin is a single pot still Poitin.

Once I worked my way through that initial oily, slightly rotten fruit smell of new make whiskey – I experienced a very welcome single pot still signature spice warming up my palate and making me smile.

Made with a mix of malted barley and unmalted barley – this is a uniquely Irish style originating from an early tax avoidance scheme where unmalted barely attracted no duty.

The unexpected result is a fabulous soft spice together with a slightly richer mouthfeel on tasting – which Spirit Of Dublin clearly possesses.

If it taste this good straight from the stills – what will it be like straight from the barrel after it’s matured for long enough to be called a whiskey?

Perhaps I’ll have to book another flight a few years hence to find out!

Slàinte.

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The Rumble For Rye! PrizeFight Irish Whiskey vs Johnnie Walker Rye Cask

Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!

Y’all ready for this?

Welcome to tonites fight!

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PrizeFight c/othewhiskeynut

In the Green corner we have Irish newcomer PrizeFight weighing in at 43%. An NAS – non aged statement – blended Irish whiskey finished in rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, produced at West Cork Distillers for Pugilist Ltd.

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Johnnie Walker Rye c/othewhiskeynut

In the Blue corner is heavyweight Diageo’s well known Johnnie Walker brand with their Rye Cask blended release at 46% with a 10 years old age statement.

Round 1

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PrizeFight jumps straight out and lands a powerful punch which wounds the Johnnie Walker Rye.

The rich dry rye spice nose of PrizeFight is simply bolder than the muted soft notes of JW Rye.

Round 2

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JW Rye is showing flabbiness with excessive caramel & sweet grain taking the edge of that rye kick.

PrizeFight lands one after another with it’s leaner, cleaner & crisper rye punchiness!

Round 3

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It’s all over now!

PrizeFight delivers a knockout blow with a lovely rich dry spiciness that just goes on and on.

JW Rye retreats to it’s corner – unable to match the youthful invigorating power of PrizeFight.

Three cheers for the Green corner!

Sláinte.Good Logo

 

Sheep Dip, Blended Malt, 40%

Sheep Dip.

A liquid formulation of insecticide & fungicide used to protect sheep from parasitic infestation.

Not something you’d want to drink then.

Unless it’s a whisky.

And you’re attracted by the bold name & proud ram emblazoned on the label.

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Sheep Dip c/othewhiskeynut

Like I was.

Sheep Dip is produced for The Spencerfild Spirits Company.

It has a very satisfying rich malty feel denoting a blended malt composition – no grain content here.

Pig’s Nose is it’s stablemate.

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Pig’s Nose c/othewhiskeynut

The malty notes are tamed down on tasting by the sweet grain used in this pleasant blend.

Ian MacLeod Distillers have recently acquired The Spencerfield Spirit Company and – like all new ventures – there is a revamp.

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The new labels c/othespiritsbusiness

Sheep Dip & Pig’s Nose have shiny new labels.

As the World Whiskies Awards have a category for label design – I feel it worthy to comment – regardless if the content remains the same – which I believe it is.

The proud ram of Sheep Dip – the very emblem that sparked my initial attraction – is now more muted.

Meanwhile the pig for Pig’s Nose has taken on a rather snooty posture – very reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm character Napoleon.

There’s a current world leader that also has Napoleonic tendencies.

Doublespeak, fake news & vanity.

I’d recommend a re-read of Animal Farm – along with a bottle of Sheep Dip.

The combination of an enjoyable whisky together with a very prescient book is just what the doctor ordered.

Slàinte.

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Nant Whisky Bar, Hobart

Recent financial shenanigans in Tasmania only highlight the large stakes at play in trying to develop a whisky distillery.

Nant Whisky Distilling  – which had a somewhat troubled financial history – are currently in receivership whilst the sorry mess is sorted out.

It remains to be seen how this new development will play out for the very attractive looking distillery in Bothwell – which I didn’t manage to visit – and a trio of whisky bars – including the one in Hobart which I did call into.

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The Nant, Hobart c/othewhiskeynut

Situated in the wonderfully attractive quayside area of Salamanca Market in downtown Hobart, The Nant Whisky Bar offers punters a large comfortable space to enjoy an evenings libations.

I happened to be the only customer for an early morning – 11ish – visit on a beautifully sunny yet cold winter’s day – complete with a dusting of snow on the slopes of Mt Wellington which rises up behind the city.

There was a good range of whiskies behind the bar – Scotch, Japanese, Irish & some American too – but I did notice Nant were the only Australian representatives on show. Now OK. This is a ‘tied’ bar – but as Tasmanian whisky is promoting a friendly camaraderie & all the other bars in town had at least 2 or 3 Tasmanian distilleries products on show – it did make me ponder.

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The Nant Bar c/othewhiskeynut

There was a choice of 2 Nant whisky flights to enjoy. The cask strength at 63% – or the standard 43% offering.

Now there are some expressions that are perfectly drinkable at 60% and above – but they are few and far between. I also find adding water a rather imprecise exercise which would probably bring down the liquid close to the 43% level anyway – and as it was still the morning – the standard flight it was.

I think I chose well. Even at 43% there was a strong alcoholic kick on the nose of all 3 single malt expressions.

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Nant whisky flight c/othewhiskeynut

Starting with the American Bourbon Cask, there were the signature vanilla & caramel notes coming through. Very nice – but very familiar. I’d find it hard on a blind tasting to distinguish this Australian malt from the best Scotland or Ireland has to offer.

The American Sherry Cask brought added depth & fruity notes. Whilst the darkest coloured French Port Cask bottle gave the heaviest mouthfeel with deeper & richer notes. The Port Cask – as you may have already guessed – came out tops for me.

Oddly, the Bourbon Cask was the priciest to buy – at tear inducing prices – which when I questioned the bartender, she shot me a look which suggested I shouldn’t follow Kasabian’s advice & Shoot The Runner!

With the future of Nant Distilling now very uncertain – the labels, design & content of any further releases may change. There are barrels still maturing – but who knows what will happen to them.

Perhaps what I sampled back in 2016 are destined to become collectors items never to be repeated again?

I’m just happy to have had the opportunity to taste what I did at the time.

Whisky.

It ebbs and flows on the fortunes & failures of the time.

Catch it while you can.

Sláinte.

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Sunken Still, Belgian Rye Whisky, 45%

Further exploring the world of rye whiskey I have come across a certain amount of opposition & even derision of the term Irish Rye.

It is some what ironic that Irish Distillers are currently recreating Irish Rye from long forgotten records where quite clearly rye was commonly used in the production of Irish whiskey.

I’d even suggest there is some merit to the proposition that Ireland actually invented Rye Whiskey. America only popularised it with the influx of Irish immigrants & know-how.

Who knows?

What I do know however is that Ireland is a little late in joining the current rush for rye.

France, The Netherlands, Finland, England, Czech Republic and even India all have rye whiskey products on the market – and if you click on the countries you will be guided to the relevant rye.

I managed to get my hands on one of those new breed of ryes from Belgium via the marvelously named Drankenwereld online bottle shop. Despite the alleged openness of the European Union – it still took a few emails to arrange a safe & prompt delivery.

Sunken Still Rye Whisky is a 4 year old rye matured in bourbon barrels from the Filliers Distillery in Belgium who also do the Goldlys whisky range.

I found the nose to have a curious honey sweetness with a spice that reminded me of cinnamon – almost into liqueur territory here.

Mrs Whiskey adored the nose & likened it to perfume.

Luckily the taste was clearer with the dry rye spice punching through the soft sweetness to give a long lasting finish.

A pleasant & fragrant Belgian slant on the rye flavour profile.

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