They have a range of miniature bottles labelled up in county colours covering the entire Island of Ireland.
Meanwhile, I happened to be in Mullingar recently & picked up their Westmeath Irish Whiskey in the surprisingly well stocked off-licence of The Old Stand on Dominick Street – just round the corner from the railway station.
Not being one to leave a bottle unopened – I poured a glass.
There is no indication as to the source of the whiskey. Kilbeggan Distillery does produce malt in the county of Westmeath – mainly for inclusion in blends – but it didn’t strike me as one of theirs -although this young lad is definitely from Mullingar.
The colour was reassuringly straw like – even if added caramel is predominant in entry level blends.
The nose was rather spirity at first – but calmed down on subsequent tastings to reveal some standard vanilla & caramel notes.
A mild tasting with subtle fruits & more of that bourbon cask influence made it’s presence felt after a rather alcohol forward mouthfeel.
There was a bit of a burn at the end – but nothing too unpleasant. Just a straight forward no-nonsense entry level whiskey.
More novelty than nuanced.
My thanks to TOMODERA for posting his thoughts on other county whiskeys here.
Originally released in 2010 by a flamboyant entrepreneur who had big plans for the small island off the West coast of Ireland the whiskey is named after – Inish Turk Beg. The whiskey – if nothing else – comes in a very attractive & distinctive bottle with an equally delightful back story.
By 2013 – it was all over.
Nadim Sadek’s dreams were in taters – and the island sold on.
Those lucky enough to purchase a bottle at the time are likely to see the value increase – those that didn’t – tough. Much like the ill fated Titanic – both the Atlantic liner and the whiskey brand of lottery winner Peter Lavery – this ‘Maiden Voyage’ expression is destined to be the last voyage.
Luckily for me – many bars up and down the country still have a bottle you can order a shot from. So when I encountered Inish Turk Beg in the relaxing West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen recently I had a simple choice to make.
To slightly mangle The Clash’s lyrics – should I buy a glass to see what all the fuss was about? Or should I just leave it – never to try it out?
It’s what you call a ‘no brainer’ really.
If – like me – you are curious about all whiskey – what they taste like, what the style is – irrespective as to the country of origin, manufacturer, back story or not – you try it. Preferably soon after the original release. The longer you leave it inevitably 2 things will happen;
1 – The price will go up.
2 – It will all be gone.
So I tasted it.
A very smooth & soft caramelly nose infused with honey, toffee & a slight earthy note.
Very easy sipping. More vanilla & caramel. The earthy note develops more and gives this expression a rather unique character.
A satisfyingly lovely warm glow from the bourbon cask maturation gently fades away on the palate.
Was it worth it?
In short – yes.
The whiskey inside the bottle isn’t exactly earth shattering – but it is a decent dram. There is enough of a twist to make it interesting. Now you could possibly find a bottle of whiskey for the same price as a shot of Inish Turk Beg that would be equally as good – but it wouldn’t have been the same.
You wouldn’t have had the chat & banter with the bar staff and fellow drinkers as to the merits of whiskey, gin & craft beers.
You wouldn’t have bothered to check up the internet to discover the back story to Inish Turk Beg.
And you wouldn’t have enjoyed a dram from a very fancy bottle to satisfy your curiosity and see what it was really like for yourself.
Maybe if you were an 8th generation farmer growing barley on the fertile soils of West Cork near the historic Galley Head Lighthouse you’d look for a business opportunity that would add value to your crop.
Maybe you’d look for a business that could demonstrate a sense of pride in the beautiful landscape of the wild Atlantic coast you love, a sense of pride in the natural bio-diversity of the area you enjoy and perhaps a business that could stand proud for the next 8 generations of your family.
I had the privilege to visit the distillery site with founder Michael himself. Currently – February 2018 – it’s a glass fronted empty shell of concrete & steel. A landmark legacy building of the previous boom that was never fully utilised before the crash came. Now Clonakilty Distillery have started works to install 3 gleaming copper pot stills – from Barison in Italy – an additional gin still, associated mashtuns & fermenters as well as all the pipework of a working distillery – the building will be transformed into an iconic tourist attraction in an area already awash with visitors.
The artists drawings of the finished distillery – along with the next door restaurant/cafe showcasing the best culinary delights & locally produced fare that West Cork has to offer – certainly look fabulous.
The views from inside the actual building – overlooking the Clonakilty roofscape & hinterland – are also appealing. Even before the copper stills are in place!
A projected finish of late 2018 is proposed for this ambitious project.
This is more than just whiskey.
It’s being part of the wild landscape from where the ingredients are grown.
It’s being part of bustling Clonakilty with it’s tourists, trades people and locals.
It’s embedding these memories & feelings in your mind every time you raise a glass of Clonakilty Whiskey to enjoy.
So what about the whiskey?
The intention is to produce single pot still Irish whiskey – made from locally grown malted & unmalted barley – but that will take a few years. In the meantime a couple of sourced blends will be released – bearing the distinctive whales tail logo – to fly the flag for Clonakilty Distillery.
The real whales tails can be spotted locally from one of many whale watching boat-trips that ply the coastline during the season searching for Minke, Fin and the impressive Humpback Whale that occur annually.
You might even be lucky to spot one from the stunning Galley Head Lighthouse itself which you can stay in courtesy of the Landmark Trust here. A truly marvelous experience – even if I didn’t see any whales when I visited a few years ago.
The 2 expressions on show are based on a blend of 8 to 10 year old grain & malt ex-bourbon cask matured whiskeys which have been finished by Clonakilty Distillery in their nearby warehouse – I didn’t visit on this occasion – in either virgin american oak casks or port casks. Both are presented at 43.6%, non chill filtered and naturally coloured. Which is always a bonus in my book.
The Port Cask has already been released in Germany. It shows a lovely ruby red appearance & there are some reviews already here.
The Virgin Oak Cask is due for April release in a number of countries & has a far more lighter straw lemon colour about it. Happily I got the chance to sample some of this spirit.
The virgin oak accentuated the vanilla & warm caramel notes which were very forward before a more subdued woody element made it’s presence on a fragrant nose.
The taste is beautifully crisp, fresh & clear with a gently growing glow that warmed me up no end in the chilly February sunlight.
Like the embers of an open fire, the fruity flavours danced around on my palate before gently fading away.
This is not a shy whiskey.
It proudly shows it’s strengths in it’s make up.
It’s a fine drop indeed to launch such a wonderfully ambitious whiskey project on the Wild Atlantic Way.
I’d like to thank Michael Scully for generously taking time out of his busy schedule to show me round the distillery site.
A big shout out too to all the team at Clonakilty Distillery for future success in their whiskey adventures.
One of the joys about entering the An Pucan bar – just off Galway’s Eyre Square in the West of Ireland – is the wide array of whiskey available. Not only do they stock a marvelous selection of Irish – there is a healthy amount of other countries output too.
Italy is one of those countries. They also happen to be one of the Six Nations rugby teams that do battle every year – and as An Pucan is a sports bar – they show the game – as well as having the whiskey!
Puni is the first whisky distillery in Italy – and I was keen to sample one of their expressions.
This Puni Alba release is one of their earlier incarnations. An Pucan’s bottle is the original design – a very attractive & distinctive rectangular bottle at that. Later editions come in a more traditional – yet still very stylish – round shape which is used across the whole range. For me however – it’s the contents that count – so a glass was duly poured.
The nose came over with a rather unique profile. Soft & sweet with a lovely floral touch – yet slightly citric all at the same time. Very intriguing.
The taste started off suitably mellow, followed by a lovely growing heat with a little spicy kick. The floral sweetness developed into a cornucopia of flavour sensations that rolled around in the palate.
The finish was rather short – but left me wanting more!
Why had it taken me so long to try this gorgeous whisky?
On the side of the bottle some interesting information – which became clearer when enlarged – explained why I loved this expression so much.
Turns out it’s triple distilled using a mash of barley, wheat and – my pet love – rye! So that’s where the delightful spice comes from. The combination of these grains works extremely well in producing a phalanx of beautiful flavours which just exploded in my mouth.
Heaven in a bottle!
Much like Linea 77 singing about La nuova musica Italiana – I want more nuova whisky Italiana!
It should go without saying this original bottling came non chill filtered with no added caramel – which raises the freshness, clarity & strength of the engaging flavours within.
Living in the Heart of Ireland next door to the Bog of Allen – the largest peat bog in Ireland covering 950 square kms across 9 counties – I just had to try out this Irish Single Malt from Berry Bros & Rudd.
It celebrates the rich cultural & historical ties Ireland has with these boglands on my doorstep. During the seasons I can smell the burning turf from chimneys on my street, I can see the sods of turf drying in ricks from the motorway as well as a steady stream of tractors & trailers bringing it back home from the bog before the winter sets in.
There are 2 peat – or turf as it is called in Ireland – fired power stations within an hour of my house. A local politician was elected to office on the back of a Turf Cutter’s Association protest over restrictions to bog cutting.
Bogs are the very DNA of Midlands Ireland.
There were 2 whiskey distilleries in Athlone. 2 each in Tullamore, Kilbeggan and Banagher. Birr had up to 4 working distilleries. All within a 30 mile radius and all surrounding the bog with it’s readily available fuel source.
Turf would have been used in the whiskey making process – either to directly fire the stills and/ or to dry the malted barley – thus influencing the character & taste profile of that whiskey.
By the mid 20th century – all of those distilleries closed. Only one kept it’s licence – Kilbeggan – and is now back in production after John Teeling & others started the Cooley Distillery back in 1987.
Cooley Distillery reintroduced peat into the Irish whiskey scene with it’s own Connemara range – as well as many third party bottlings.
Sadly by that time – there were no maltsters producing Irish turf dried barley – nor used Irish turf barrels at hand. All who previously did so were long gone. Such raw materials had to be imported from abroad – usually Scotland.
Craoi na Mona is one such reintroduction.
On the nose there is only a slight welcome waft of smoke on the soft sweet & fruity barley malt.
It’s on tasting a warm roaring turf fire becomes apparent, perfectly balanced by softer fresh fruity notes which start off slightly oily before drifting into a prickly dry sensation.
The smoke lingered like a softly glowing fire at home after an evenings entertainment.
This is a delightfully fresh & almost youthful expression that pleased me no end. I could have stayed all day to embrace it’s charms.
It’s a pity it takes an outside independent bottler to salute the history & tradition of turf cutting in Ireland – but it’s one I’m glad to see.
I just can’t wait for a bottle of Irish whiskey made using Irish turf. Due to the different species of plant that make up that turf – the resultant taste profile will not be the same as Scottish peat – nor Tasmanian peat for that matter – as I found out when I visited that wonderful island here. It’s what’s called ‘terroir’ – and has sadly been missing for a while. Thankfully Nephin Whiskey in Mayo are planning to malt Irish barley with Irish peat as their inaugural release.
Craoi na Mona has been out for a number of years in various expressions. It’s not commonly encountered. But if you do come across it – go for it!
Pikesville was a small neighbourhood in Maryland USA. It is now consumed into Baltimore County and happens to be where some of my in-laws live.
Despite visiting last year – I never did get the chance to try the locally named brand.
Pikesville – as well as Maryland in general – had a thriving rye whiskey business before prohibition. Only now is there a bit of a resurgence of that proud history with new distilleries entering the market.
This bottle in the meantime is made in Kentucky at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown – and when I spotted it on the shelves in Garavan’s – I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Now ‘straight’ in American terms means aged for at least 2 years. ‘Rye’ means at least 51% rye is used in the all important mash bill – the other 49% can be commonly made up of corn, wheat or barley. Added caramel is not permitted.
Rye is a style of whiskey I love.
I like the hit of spicy cinnamon & nutmeg followed through by a rich peppery dryness combined with some softer warming vanilla & caramel notes.
Pikesville Supreme only just had that rye kick. I found it very much muted by the other ingredients – which I suspected as being corn. This resulted in a warm vanilla led nose & taste with only a tingling of rye at the end.
An easy drinking approachable rye yes – but not what I’m craving.
My suspicions on the corn content were confirmed later by an internet search. The mash bill makes all the difference to the taste. In this instance Pikesville appears to have a mix of rye 51%, corn 37%, and barley 12% – which explains why it didn’t light up my life.
That’s not to say it’s a bad rye. In fact many are lamenting the loss of this particular bottling which has been replaced by a 6 year old 110 proof – 55% ABV – expression that might be more up my street. The Washington Post even covered the story here!
So if you’re missing a taste of Maryland – head for Garavan’s in Galway!
Only the other day I was remarking there would be an increase in bars releasing their own label whiskey when;
Out of the hat pops the Dead Rabbit whiskey.
Shortly followed by a Garavan’s 10yo single malt!
I get as excited as a kid at Christmas with every new Irish whiskey release. In this instance it was a lot easier to visit a pub only an hour down the road – rather than a trans-atlantic flight across the pond – for me to sample one of these bottles!
Garavan’s is a gem of a whiskey bar. One of the 12 venues on the Galway Whiskey Trail. It has warm wooden snugs & paneling, loads of whiskey coupled with friendly welcoming & informed staff. What more could a whiskey fan ask for?
I ordered up my Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey – neat as is my way – & awaited the joys that were within.
The nose opened up with some playful fruity notes – this whiskey isn’t shy about coming forward – with some rich vanilla & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation.
The taste was a delight. No holding back here either. Clear, crisp & fresh. More of that warming bourbon influence with a soft prickly spice too.
The finish was suitably long & mellow – yet left a satisfying lingering heat. Time for a tune for the recently departed.
I liked the no nonsense label too. It harks back to bygone days when brown paper bags were the norm – deliveries were done on a bone shaker & each grocer had their own whiskey – from sourced distilleries!
There is no mention on the bottle as to the origin of the spirit within. Under both Irish and Scottish whiskey rules there is no legal requirement to do so – and I’m happy with that.
I don’t judge a whiskey by the cover.
I judge by the contents.
And the contents taste lovely!
Only when I blew up the photos – I’m of an age when all of a sudden the small print has become a bit of a blur – did I see some of the reasons why.
46% in whiskey terms is a magic number. It usually denotes non chill filtration. On my palate at least that means bigger & bolder flavours – more taste sensation & more warming heat. All of which Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice possesses in spades.
There is no mention of added caramel – but the bold clarity of the flavours suggests not.
There are plans to release the whiskey for retail – but in the meantime it’s only available at Garavan’s bar. For me – it’s the best place to experience this fabulous new Irish whiskey – having the craic & sharing the friendly banter with both regular customers and welcoming bar staff.
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
I visited Daftmill Distillery back in August 2017 along with some family members who happen to live nearby.
The visit left me somewhat confused and perplexed, as well as being very impressed all at the same time!
Daftmill is a fully functioning whisky distillery specialising in producing Scottish single malt matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks. There is no visitors centre – arrangements have to be made with the owner to gain access to the farm on which the distillery sits.
The farm itself is off the main A91 Cupar to Auchtermuchty road, but there are no signposts pointing the way. When you do find the right farm track to enter, an impressive array of attractive stone built buildings – along with an almost obligatory glass fronted still house – greet you – as well as a welcoming Francis Cuthbert himself.
Our party of 4 were treated to a thoroughly full & informative tour of the premises. From the fields where the barley is grown to the bins used to introduce the malt to the mashtuns. Through the workings of the Forsyth stills and finally into the dunnage warehouse to sample the gorgeous whisky.
Francis was very open & honest about the whole operation and his passion for whisky shone through. Especially in the still house where I noted the squat bulbous stills and suggested the spirit would be heavy & rich because of that shape.
‘On the contrary’ I was rebuffed. Francis countered with a marvelous explanation of the distillers art that rather than still shape dictating the spirit style & flavour, it was down to the distiller by careful use of charge times, temperature control as well as the crucial spirit cuts that influenced the final distillate.
My praise of ‘farm to bottle’ distilling also took a bit of a knocking.
Originally Francis sent his farm grown grain to a local maltings in Kirkaldy. Sadly due to ‘rationalisation’ that plant closed & the grain had to go further afield. The new plant only accepted bigger batch amounts – which put more pressure on the farm – rather than batches from individual fields – it became batches from all the fields.
I mentioned Mark Reynier‘s plans for different malts from different farms providing a degree of terroir as well as differing taste. This was somewhat dismissed as a marketing ploy.
I don’t wholly agree.
Yes – it is a marketing ploy – but one that should be aspired to.
I haven’t tasted whisky from different barley – but I have tasted bourbon from different corn.
Widow Jane Distillery in New York used a variety of colourful corns to produce 4 bourbons with the same mash-bill, distilling process & maturation regime as possible. The only difference being the corn variety. I must say I was extremely skeptical I would notice a taste difference. But I was proved wrong – it did make a difference – and a very enjoyable one at that too!
We moved into the still room. A magnificent shrine to copper, wood, glass & the mysteries (or not as the case may be) of distillation. Francis was in his element here. I was just a little perplexed that he clearly focused so much passion & attention to detail in this area of production as opposed to other areas.
Maturation in oak barrels is the final piece of the whisky jigsaw – or at least it was when I visited.
Now the wood policy at Daftmill was taken care off by a cooperage who supplied Grade A casks of ex-bourbon barrels from America & ex-sherry casks from Spain. What this means in practice is that the bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in America. There didn’t seem to be attention taken as to the source distillery for each individual barrel which would again result in slight taste differences.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact by the time we got round to entering the bonded warehouse for that all important tasting, the 11 year old ex-bourbon single cask simply blew me away with it’s winning combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes combined with a lovely oakiness – as well as that gorgeous dry mouthfeel associated with cask strength whisky.
A similarly aged ex-sherry cask impressed even more with a soft sweetness contrasting with the oaky tannins of over a decade in wood. Francis suggested there was a musty note on the sherry cask – which I found appealing – which should disappear with further ageing.
But here was the conundrum.
Daftmill is a wonderfully attractive distillery. It sits in the middle of a farm that grows the barley used for distillation of it’s stunning single malt whiskies, there is at least 12 years worth of stock AND it is run by the farmer that grows the barley who has a passion for that whisky. Yet there was no idea of a release date planned for the gorgeous spirit!
Or at least that’s what we were told at the time.
Because as of December 2017 an announcement was made to the effect that Berry Bros & Rudd – wine & spirits merchants, blenders & bottlers of good repute & reputation – had entered an agreement to release Daftmill whisky beginning in 2018!
I have every faith in the winning combination of Daftmill’s skills in distillation – together with Berry Bros & Rudd’s attention to detail in both ‘grain to glass’ ingredient control as well as a stricter wood policy – will not only release some stunning single malts in the months to come – but go on to produce award winning malts of distinction.
I eagerly await the first bottling.
I’d like to thank Francis at Daftmill for the hospitality shown during our visit. Congratulations to all at Daftmill Distillery & Berry Bros & Rudd for the partnership agreement. I doubt the negotiations were easy. Best wishes for the future success of all concerned.
Mindful I’ve been bigging up the excellent Aldi 26yo Irish Reserve. In the interests of fairness & partiality I couldn’t leave out seeing what the other German retailer Lidl had to offer on the whiskey front.
The pre-christmas special on the shelves seemed to be their own label Dundalgan 10yo Single Malt – which I eventually got round to sampling.
Being a supermarket release – I’m not expecting ‘non chill-filtered’ anywhere on the label. Nor am I expecting any sense of provenance – let alone the name of the field or even the variety of barley used for the terroir.
What I am expecting to find is exactly what it says on the rather plain & simple label.
At 30 euro – what else would you be looking for other than the basic legal requirements?
Oh! It does add ‘aged in bourbon casks’ – but there is no mention of added caramel – (which is probably in there) – nor the distillery that made it – (Cooley would be my guess) – because it doesn’t have to. If you want that kind of information – buy something else.
On the nose it’s very inviting. Soft, smooth, the usual vanilla & caramel notes, whilst Mrs Whiskey found pleasant floral aromas with hints of orange & spice.
It didn’t disappoint on tasting either. A very easy mellow vanilla to begin with, hints of maltiness, followed by a lovely growing heat with just a dash of peppery spice to give it a lift.
A rather gentle medium finish rounded off this extremely pleasant & easy drinking single malt.
It doesn’t have the depth of the Aldi 26yo – but then it’s under half it’s age and 60% the price – and I certainly found the Dundalgan 10yo surprisingly enjoyable.