There are various interpretations of ballyhoo on the web, publicity, frivolity or fun. They can all be distilled to one attractive package for me however.
An Irish Whiskey released by the Connacht Whiskey Company of Ballina, County Mayo. There isn’t much information on the very attractive black bottle with distinctive embossed silver labelling – but a trip to their website here reveals a bit more.
A single grain Irish Whiskey made with a 93% corn 7% malted barley mix distilled in a Coffey still at one un-named Irish whiskey distillery. Connacht haven’t been around long enough to release their own whiskey – yet – so this sourced grain is made elsewhere & finished in port casks at Connacht’s own facility.
Grain whiskey doesn’t have the allure of it’s stablemate malt – which is a pity. Grain is the very backbone of the modern whiskey industry. Up to 90% of all whiskey sold worldwide contains grain as part of the mix in blended whiskey. Showcasing the best grain whiskey has to offer is always welcome in my book.
Pouring a glass it quickly becomes apparent this is an extremely pale whiskey. A decent amount of legs are also present. Both signifiers that no added caramel nor chill filtration have been used in this expression. Very commendable.
At only 4 years old this is a young, fresh grain whiskey.
The nose is gentle & sweetly attractive. Soft vanillas combine with an enticing floral bouquet which probably emanates from the rather unusual – and possibly unique for a grain whiskey – port cask finish.
It’s very mild in the mouth. No rough edges here. A bit of corn influence, that sweet grainy lightness builds with deeper notes from the combined bourbon barrel maturation & port cask finish in a perfectly balanced mix.
There is no complexity here. A very easy, simple, smooth & eminently attractive grain whiskey that slowly fades to a pleasingly warm finish.
Whiskey as it should be.
Fun, frivolous, tasty, naturally coloured & non chill filtered.
It certainly floats my boat.
An album by Echo & The Bunnymen. Their song Bedbugs & Ballyhoo is the perfect accompaniment to this delightful grain whiskey.
They grew and harvested 5 types of grain in fields around their distillery. Barley, wheat, rye, corn and spelt.
They double distilled the mash in copper pot stills which they have been using since the 1980’s.
And they matured the spirit in a variety of casks for 4 to 13 years.
They brought their plan to fruition and delivered.
I give you Brexit Whiskey.
They make no bones this isn’t a copycat Scottish style of single malt.
They make a big play of the differences. This is a European whiskey. Scottish Whisky Association rules do not apply here.
This whiskey has provenance & terroir in abundance. There is no chill filtration and no added caramel. Something sadly lacking in many big brands.
So what does it taste like?
Well – Austria really.
It’s very earthy. There is a complex mix of aromas from the grains used – but for me a soft rye spice rises from the sweet corn & wheat base to entice me in.
A barley smoothness greats you on tasting – where again that dry rye presence makes itself known. Quite what the spelt adds to the mix I don’t know – I’ve never encountered it before in a whiskey – but there is an earthy almost grounded quality to the taste.
A lot of time can be spent musing over the nose, taste & finish of this delightfully complex whiskey trying to figure out which grains adds their own distinctive notes to the final mix.
Kind of sums up what the European Union project was all about. Trying to harmonise together variety & difference in an enjoyable mix.
That’s an admirable idea which certainly has been captured in this bottle of Brexit Whiskey.
Some people might see Britain’s Brexit as a rejection of the European Union – they in turn might also reject Scottish Whisky.
If Brexit Whiskey is anything to go by – I’ll be saying Goodbye Johnny!
As part of their Father’s Day promotions Aldi have brought to the Irish market the award winning Glen Marnoch range of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
I’ve tried the Islay expression before here. The peat just managed to break through the caramelly sludge to make it a worthwhile bargain purchase – and the Highland bottle interested me next – but all that was on the shelves of my local Athlone store happened to be the Speyside Single Malt.
Now Speyside whiskies are among the biggest selling single malts in the world. They have universal appeal. They are approachable easy drinking & relatively mild. That equates to a lack of any bold flavours in my book and I wouldn’t be a fan.
With that caveat in mind – what did I find?
Caramel. Lots of it. The dominant note I got reminded me of a corn based blend – yet this is a 100% barley malt. Added caramel – or e150 if you like – is often made with dehydrated corn – so maybe that’s what I’m picking up.
It certainly is soft & approachable – no rough edges here – with a smidgen of fruity notes appearing towards the end. A pleasing warm burn gently caresses the palate on the finish.
For the price – added caramel & chill filtration are the norm – the name of the distillery is also not stated either – you get what you pay for.
Having said that – over in rivals Lidl – the Dundalgan Charred Cask Irish Whiskey sells for the same price.
It’s also soft & approachable. It has a far more warming – even inviting – bourbon vanilla & caramel nose – and packs more flavour too. All this from a blend.
For a fiver more you get the Dundalgan 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
Compared to the Speyside this is in a different league.
It’s cleaner, crisper, packs more flavour, more fruit & has a far more balanced appeal about it altogether.
Even in the bargain basement range there are enjoyable drinking experiences.
Not something I can say about the Glen Marnoch Speyside.
Standing outside the Whiskey Live Dublin event after the first session – shooting the breeze with a few fellow attendees – a gentleman passed by whistling away to himself. Only when he stopped to chat did we realise it was none other than Pat Cooney, founding father of the Boann Distillery in Drogheda, County Meath, and after whom their sourced range of single malt whiskeys are named!
It reminded me I never actually got round to sampling the 2 miniature malts I was given as part of my very enjoyable & informative tour of the distillery last summer!
At the time of my visit the Green Engineering stills were in situ and made a very impressive sight contrasting with the glass & wood of the statement building.
The pipework meanwhile hadn’t been connected – although I now believe it has – and I’m certainly looking forward to the start – or should that be re-start? – of distillation in Drogheda.
In the meantime – to bridge the gap – the current unnamed sourced range comprises of the 7 & 10 year old – my 2 samples – as well as a cask strength 7 year old. There are other expressions outside of Ireland too.
All are non chill filtered & presented naturally coloured at 46% – or a powerful 59% for the cask strength which certainly packs a punch.
The 7 year old – otherwise known as The Blue Note – comes over very subtle on the nose for me. A hit of alcohol faded to reveal gentle vanilla followed by a dry metallic sherry influence.
The 10 year old – otherwise known as How The Years Whistle By – provided a softer, smoother & more woody influence with it’s extra 3 years maturation.
The tasting continued in this vein. Both were crisp & clear expressions with orchard fruit notes merging into that dry prickly sensation I enjoy. Again the 10yo exhibited more warming vanilla & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation which elevated the flavours – cue for a song.
Both had suitably long finishes with enjoyable heat.
I found them rather safe standard bearers of bourbon cask matured, sherry finished Irish single malts exhibiting that delightful orchard fruit feeling with subtle sherry notes intertwined. A lot of people like them – awards have been won too – but I must admit to preferring something a bit more bolder & stronger flavoured. The softer sublime & more subtle – perhaps even more balanced notes – are a little lost on me.
What isn’t lost on me however is the quiet determination & hard work all the Cooney family have put into the Boann Distillery site. Behind the gleaming copper, glass & wood of the actual distillery is a large working brewery which produces some tasty beers & ciders under the Boyne Brewhouse & Cooney’s Irish Cider brand names.
There is also a very large modern bottling facility which was hard at work on the day I visited.
I also cannot fault the hospitality & warmth of the Cooney family members. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them on a number of occasions. They all display a well deserved sense of pride & passion in what they are trying to achieve & build with this combined distillery & brewery project just off the main M1 motorway north of Dublin.
I congratulate their present achievements and wish them continued future success.
It also happens to be one of the most sought after whiskies in the world with prices going through the roof & distilleries cancelling sales of age statement malts to conserve stocks.
Which is all a bit of a conundrum for sticklers of whisky rules and regulations – as Japan has none.
Doesn’t seem to have damaged their reputation for making fine malts by my reckoning.
Anyway – I’m in this bar – The Rag Trader in Dublin if you need to know – and I’m looking for a whisky I’ve not tried before. Nikka All Malt – in a rather unusually designed bottle – catches my eye – so a glass is duly ordered.
Now the All Malt is a blend of 3 types of malt from the Nikka empire.
Miyagikyou distillery malt, Yoichi distillery malt – which tends to be peated, and Coffey malt – that is barley malt which has been distilled in a Coffey still. Makes for a lovely combination in my book.
I’ve had some Yoichi Single Malt in the past and enjoyed the smoky peat flavours. Coffey Malt also impressed me. Partly because of it’s unusual manufacture – but I found the taste quite appealing. So I was looking forward to this one.
Now at 40% it’s probably chill filtered and colouring has been added.
It starts quite slowly. Soft, rich toffees & smooth. Some fruity notes appear before a lovely malt biscuity peat takes over. It’s not over powering – just very pleasant ashy smoke that raises the enjoyment of this lovely little All Malt for me. On the finish there are some more fruity notes to round things off.
A pleasingly pleasant easy sipper.
If you haven’t tried Japanese whisky before this is a relatively affordable expression to start with. It may not have that ‘wow’ factor – but there is enough flavour satisfaction to keep it interesting and certainly for me – very enjoyable.
Which translates as Kanpai – or Sláinte in Japanese.
Lots of it – over 2 million litres of pure alcohol last year.
Housed in a variety of sites spread throughout the pretty West Cork town of Skibbereen the distillery is rather nondescript – hiding – as it does – in a small industrial estate.
There is no visitors centre. The distillery isn’t exactly pretty. But by prior arrangement I was lucky enough to be shown round the operation by an enthusiastic & energetic John O’Connell who along with fellow friends Denis McCarthy & Ger McCarthy, set the business up in 2003.
After a rocky start, the team at West Cork Distillers are getting into their stride.
The combination of John’s research & development background with Denis & Ger being former fishermen means they are used to relying on their on ingenuity and skills to pull themselves through. It also shows in the rather unusual ‘Rocket’ still that they made themselves – along with a lot of other rather ingenious inventions that aid in the distilling process.
But what of the actual spirit?
Well a vast amount of it goes to third parties, supermarket own labels, pub bottlings & other non distillery producers. That’s not to say it isn’t good quality. Many awards have been won for these products & I’ve chosen a few of them on a blind tasting as my best in class.
They also release under the West Cork label with some innovative & fabulous expressions – but more of that later.
A strong sense of ambition, drive, innovation & ingenuity is evident on being shown round the various sites.
Working 24 hours a day 6 days a week means a lot of barrels to fill & a lot of warehouses to store them in. The three I saw were packed to the rafters. Luckily West Cork Distillers are currently engaged in building more warehouses on the outskirts of the town – along with plans to erect a very large Coffey still which currently looks like a giant copper jigsaw set! I’m confident however they will put it together & fabricate it to their own requirements.
Some of these requirements are a desire to use Irish sourced malt, grain and yeast.
The malt is relatively easily obtained.
The commonly used grain for distillation in Ireland however is corn. Ireland unfortunately doesn’t have the climate to grow distilling grade corn. The bulk of it is imported. West Cork Distillers have therefore bucked the trend and are using Irish grown wheat.
This has posed problems for the master distiller Patrick Harnedy. Wheat is a more ‘lively’ grain to work with which has resulted in an overflow of froth on a number of occasions. But they are soldiering on and honing their skills.
On the yeast front they were looking forward to developing a strain sourced from the wonderful West Cork countryside that would be unique to West Cork Distillers yet still allow them to produce award winning whiskey.
Any tour wouldn’t be complete without the all important tasting.
Many familiar brands & supermarket releases were on show. A lot of them I’d already enjoyed. I was drawn to to those I hadn’t tried before or enjoyed only fleetingly.
The West Cork Distillers Glengarriff range was one that stood out.
They are single malts matured in casks that have been charred – by West Cork Distillers home made charring machine – with either Irish Peat or Irish Bog Oak.
I’m all for the return of peat to Irish Whiskey and what West Cork Distillers have produced here is rather unique.
It’s the first modern Irish Whiskey to use Irish Peat in it’s manufacture!
Most other peated Irish expressions have to use malted grain imported from Scotland as the process to dry out the barley with peat smoke has died out in Ireland.
I was rather surprised by how much of a peat influence there was on the nose of this youthful & fresh malt just by the barrel being charred with Irish peat as the fuel source.
It followed through to the very enjoyable taste too. A mellow malt start with hints of vanilla from the charred cask evolved into the softly glowing embers of a peat fire.
Nothing in your face, just the warmth of an open hearth gently warming the palate. I should add it’s non chill filtered and natural colour too.
And it won’t break the bank to get your hands on one either. O’Briens are stocking it around the €40 mark.
A final mouth pleaser was in order.
Asked to sample a poitín I gladly took a sip. Yes it was strong, but possessed a clear fresh taste & satisfying appeal.
Only then did John laughingly reveal the bottle.
John O’Connell’s Poitín bottled at 72%!
It was one of the marketeers mad ideas.
Did I say West Cork Distillers don’t have a marketing department?
That is left to the many third parties that buy their spirit. Parties like Halewood International that are behind both The Pogues Irish Whiskey as well as Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey.
Both of which I’ve bought & enjoyed previously.
Knowing the source & meeting the team that made the spirit just makes it all the better.
West Cork Distillers are one of the most dynamic & innovative whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
I wish them continued future success.
I’d like to thank John for the generous amount of time & enthusiasm he displayed showing me around the distillery sites.
Many thanks too for the poitín – a fun drink indeed!