A 60th birthday party in London was the excuse to pop over the water for the weekend.
The balmy weather – which Storm Ophelia had pushed up from the South – allowed us to have our Sunday lunch alfresco. Our chosen venue was the recently refurbished Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey.
A few of us recalled one of our last visits to this grand venue – a 30th birthday party – and wondered where all the years went.
Along with the expected Fullers offerings – the Great Northern is now a Fullers pub – there is a varied range of fine craft beers too. What tempted me however was the Compass Box Peat Monster whisky which was situated on the back row of the small yet varied spirits display.
The bottle label itself is a very attractive piece of work & the rich clear peaty aromas emanating from my glass certainly pointed to an equally attractive whisky inside.
Compass Box is the well respected blending & bottling whisky making company of John Glaser who sources the best malt & grain whiskies from around Scotland – ages them in barrels – also carefully selected – and expertly blends them together to produce a range of fine tasting whiskies highlighting the art of the blender.
The Peat Monster is certainly an angel of a whisky.
The familiar peat nose is crisp and clear – but not overpowering.
The taste is suitably smooth and silky. The peat pulls you in & opens up into some beautiful spice notes.
The long & gentle finish wafts all the perfectly balanced notes around in your palate before they fade away.
Bottled at 46% with no chill filtering & no added colour – Peat Monster certainly raises the bar for how good a blended malt can be.
On Wednesday 11th October SuperValu – an Irish owned retail store, part of the Musgrave Group with 223 shops nationwide – officially launch their new Premium Irish Whiskey range at an event in Dublin.
Being unable to attend – I did pop down to my two local SuperValu stores to see what all the fuss was about.
I must say I got quite excited about the breadth & depth of the range of Irish Whiskey on offer. Especially as it encompasses many of the new entrants into the resurging Irish Whiskey scene – as well as a couple of exclusives.
All the big 3 distilleries – Bushmills, Cooley & Midleton – are well represented with their familiar flagship brands.
A clutch of new entrants offerings are also on display – Dubliner, Glendalough, Hyde, Teeling & Writers Tears whiskeys. All of which are currently sourced from the big 3 distilleries above – until the distillate from their own stills is old enough to be called whiskey.
The exciting dimension comes into play with the inclusion of three new distilleries who are actually old enough to produce & market their own whiskey.
Pearse Lyons Distillery only opened the doors to their marvelous facility in the former St James Church in August 2017. But prior to that their current stills – Mighty Mollie & Little Lizzie – had been fired up in County Carlow laying down single malt distillate which is now included in the two blended offerings of Pearse Original & Pearse Distiller’s Choice Whiskey – both included in the SuperValu range.
West Cork Distillers have had a somewhat rocky relationship with the whiskeyratti – but have been busily laying down distillate, releasing a slew of tasty own label expressions as well as innovative 3rd party brands too. They are actually old enough to release their own whiskey – but have never shouted about it if they are. The 10 year old single malt would be too old to be their own stock – but the new West Cork Dhá Chasca – a non age statement double barreled single malt just could be.
It’s also a SuperValu exclusive.
How cool is that!
So I bought a bottle for later evaluation.
What is even cooler is the poster child for the resurgence of Irish Whiskey – Dingle Distillery – have also released a SuperValu exclusive.
Dingle single malt whiskey matured in both port casks & bourbon barrels has been married together to produce this limited edition release.
Sadly it wasn’t in either of the shops when I visited – but wouldn’t it be great to pick up the cream of new Irish whiskey whilst doing your weekly shopping?
And if you’re really lucky – like I was – you might also bag some of the remaining stock of classic whiskey from the recent past!
If that doesn’t make you excited – you’re not excited by whiskey!
There has been an explosion of new Irish whiskeys in recent years. A trend that is likely to increase as the next generation of Irish whiskey distilleries begin to release their own produce.
Another phenomenon of the re-birth of the Irish whiskey scene is the growing number of whiskey bars releasing their own bottlings.
Local to myself in the Midlands, Hugh Lynch’s Bar in Tullamore & Sean’s Bar in Athlone have both released approachable & enjoyable blended Irish whiskey offerings under their own label – both produced for them by West Cork Distillers.
Generally these releases are only available in their bar of origin. Which makes a good excuse for a journey to sample them in their natural habitat – in the pub full of ceol agus craic. Always a bonus in my book!
However when passing through Dublin Airport a while ago I did notice a quartet of whiskeys under the Temple Bar logo.
Not content with releasing the obligatory blended offering – Temple Bar have taken it a step further and are offering a trio of age statement single malts at 10, 12 & 15 years old.
I didn’t ascertain where they were sourced from – there are only a few choices at this age – but they were all what I’d call standard bourbon matured Irish whiskeys.
That’s not to say they weren’t good – all of them are far better than the blend offering a richer, smoother & more flavoursome experience for the discerning drinker.
There were subtle differences between all 3 – but for me the 12 year old proved to be the sweet spot.
The combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes from the bourbon cask combined with some woody tannin notes from the oak barrel won me over.
Having a taster in the airport lounge before a long flight wouldn’t be the ideal spot to really savour these malts. That will have to wait for a visit to the actual Temple Bar in Dublin where a flight of all 4 whiskeys in the comfortable lounge area can be truly appreciated.
Driving into the grounds of Walsh Whiskey Distillery you half expect the butler from Downton Abbey to meet you at the end of the long drive surrounded as it is by lush green pastures populated by lively horses, docile cattle and mature trees.
Instead a barrel of Walsh Whiskey awaits you!
Followed shortly by an impressive looking purpose built whiskey distillery fronted by an idyllic duck pond – populated by real ducks! – bordered by green banks that would make an ideal spot for a bit of outdoor whiskey tasting.
Bernard and Rosemary Walsh have spent many years building up the Irishman brand to get to this. A complete grain to glass whiskey distillery built on the grounds of Holloden House estate in the County Carlow countryside a few miles out of Carlow town itself.
The distillery was opened in 2016 and has been in full-time production from that date making all 3 styles of Irish whiskey; single malt, single pot still and grain.
Our tour guide – Paddy – entertainingly took us through the very spacious & clean working distillery showing us the process by which the barley – from the nearby fields – ends up as the uisce beatha we all love in the glass before us.
Walsh produce that whiskey using the traditional triple distilled method using malted & unmalted barley for the single pot still & malted barley for the single malt. They also have an impressively tall pair of stainless steel coffey stills through which they distill the corn based grain whiskey.
There are plans to build maturation warehouses on-site too – but at present this takes place off-site for now.
Unusually for such a large operation in a new build there is no computerisation of the process. Bernard insisted on the old methods whereby the distillers – there are 12 of them in total – have to nose or sample the new make every 20 minutes during production to ascertain when to switch from the heads, to the heart & finally to the tails for every batch. Certainly putting reliance on there sense of taste & smell.
Talking about taste – after the tour there is the obligatory tasting session in the fabulously appointed Still House Lounge overlooking the scenic duck pond as well as the historic Holloden House itself.
There are 3 tasting options;
The first offers the choice of either the Irishman Founder’s Reserve or Writers Tears Copper Pot blends. Interestingly both these blends contain a mix of single malts & single pot stills only , giving them a richer & slightly more oilier & softly spicy feel than other blended expressions.
The middle choice has you tasting the lovely Irishman Single Malt, the Irishman 12 Year Old & the Writers Tears Red Head Single Malts.
Finally the premier choice offers cask strength heaven in the Irishman Cask Strength, Irishman 17 Year Old & Writers Tears Cask Strength expressions.
Fortunately for our group there were the newly released Founder’s Reserve Florio Marsala Cask Finish at 46% & the stunning Irishman 12 Year Old Florio Marsala Cask Strength at 56% expressions to sample. The cask strength certainly hit the right notes & is only a distillery release at present. Pity it was sold out on the day we visited as there would have been some eager buyers!
Currently all the whiskey in the Walsh Whiskey portfolio is sourced elsewhere from an undisclosed distillery with Bernard Walsh himself overseeing the blending, maturing & final bottling of the product. Most of the releases also contain added colouring – although the sherry finished offerings would be naturally darker & slightly sweeter from the marsala casks used.
The Walsh Whiskey Distillery is certainly an impressive building set in a stunning location with lovely scenery. The dedication & passion for whiskey making is evident – and I eagerly look forward to the proceeding years as the new make Walsh spirit quietly transforms itself within it’s maturing casks into Walsh Whiskey made with their own stills.
As I sit tasting a whiskey, relishing it’s flavours & relaxing in the warmth of the brown spirit – my mind often wanders to the stories contained within the glass.
You could say it’s the ‘Message in a Bottle’ that often excites me.
Coleraine Distillery used to produce first class whiskey. Opened in the early 1800’s – Coleraine made triple distilled malts of distinction before struggling during the two world wars eventually coming under the ownership of nearby neighbour Bushmills. It was converted to a grain distillery in it’s latter years before falling victim to Irish Distillers rationalising plans in the 1970’s when grain production was moved to the New Midleton Distillery & Coleraine closed for good.
This is the Message in a Bottle.
So I took a sip.
The current incarnation of Coleraine is a budget priced blend trading off it’s past glory. The nose has that e150 caramel characteristic of an entry blend – the taste is rather muted but approachable – the finish is slightly harsh but not unwelcoming – overall no strong flavours, no surprises, but for the price point – it’s grand.
This is the Message in a Bottle.
So I took another sip.
Brexit – for those that don’t know – is the name given to the process by which Britain will leave the European Union after the historic vote in 2016.
Northern Ireland is part of Britain – along with Scotland, England and Wales.
Depending on how the talks go – Northern Ireland will be out of the European Union (EU) by 2019.
As ‘Irish Whiskey’ is an EU definition – Regulation 110/2008 – I’d argue that definition no longer applies post Brexit. I cannot see how a non EU country will be allowed to label itself the same as an EU country.
This is the Message in a Bottle.
So I took another sip.
Now initially this means whiskey collectors will have a field day. Just think – all the whiskey producers in Northern Ireland will no longer be able to label their produce as ‘Irish Whiskey’.
To the best of my knowledge they are all engaged in making, planning or building a whiskey distillery. After 2019 they will all be out of the EU – and if you click on the names you will be guided to their websites.
Do you think the 27 remaining member states will allow a non-member state to trade under an EU registered label?
I think you will get a resounding non, nein, nie, ne ………… and so on.
This is the Message in a Bottle.
So I continued to sip and ponder.
But it gets more complicated.
There is no grain distillery in Northern Ireland.
At one fell swoop all blends produced there will now become whiskey made in an EU country – Ireland – as well as a non EU country – Northern Ireland.
That will go down well with the Brussels bureaucrats!
It was beginning to wreck my head too!
This is the Message in a Bottle.
I needed another sip at this stage.
But wait a minute. Doesn’t Bushmills export some of it’s liquid South for other bottlers & blenders to use?
Won’t that be subject to import taxes & customs control?
Won’t the resultant whiskey become a non EU product or a hybrid whiskey at least?
This is the Message in a Bottle.
And it was all getting a bit too much for me – and another song popped into my head.
We’d picked up the Wicked Camper late in the afternoon & left the Melbourne cityscape heading West. Our first stop was the industrial town of Geelong – which happened to have a whisky distillery in the 1960’s producing spirit of dubious quality – to stock up on provisions.
Being wintertime in Oz, it got dark around 5pm. We just managed to catch the sunset over Port Philip Bay from the campsite in Portarlington – well, so near so far as the saying goes. The original Portarlington is only a half hour from our home in Ireland but lacked the sandy beach & pier of it’s Aussie sister.
The next day say us join the Great Ocean Road proper at Torquay – and only then did the stupendous views of heavily wooded steep hills cascading down into the wide blue ocean below enthrall us with it’s rugged beauty with every twist & turn of the road.
An overnight stay at Cape Otway found us shivering during the night away – we had underestimated the cold of an Australian winter – so a cabin was booked in Port Campbell the next evening to warm ourselves up!
This marked the end of the Great Ocean Road for us as we intended to double back & head out to the Eest of Melbourne for the remainder of the trip – but there was one destination I didn’t want to miss – Timboon Distillery.
Nestled as it is in the pleasant valley town of Timboon at the end of an old disused railway line – Timboon Distillery is part of the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail. We both sat down for a tasty mid-morning snack of locally produced artisanal foods. I also got chatting to Josh – the master distiller & owner of the distillery and friendly eatery.
The still was rather small compared to Irish & Scottish standards – but it was attractively situated in the corner of the restaurant along with some quarter casks aging the spirit. The mash for the distillate was provided by a local craft brewery Forrest Brewing. I sampled Timboon’s Port Cask offering at 41% & found it a lovely rich, dark & slightly heavy single malt – well I am always partial to a port cask finish. So much so I bought one of their 200ml bottles to take home with me.
There happened to be a booklet which caught my eye as well.
The Whiskey Trail. Illicit Whiskey Distillers in South West Victoria. I had to have it.
Inside are the stories of hardy frontier men & women who had fled poverty & starvation in their home countries of Britain & Ireland of the 1850’s to carve out a new life in Australia. They often faced hardship in that venture & many turned to illicit distilling to keep themselves afloat. Descendants of these settlers have produced this highly informative booklet & placed plaques at historical sites to make up a whiskey trail.
It just so happened our intended route took in a few!
Obviously Timboon Distillery is part of the trail – with a display on the wall showing the history.
Next stop was the former Cobden Police Station where many of the raids started from. It now happens to be an ‘op shop’ – or charity shop – where we handily picked up a duvet & pillows to make our nights in the Wicked camper more comfortable!
Lunch stop was in the agricultural town of Camperdown with it’s fine wide avenue. The old Courthouse happens to have a whiskey plaque on it – but the very helpful tourist information officer inside was unaware of it’s existence!
We took her outside to show her when I eventually found it – and in return she informed us of the lifesize sculpture of Rabbie Burns!
And a lovely spot to eat at the Snout In The Trough food, wine & beer emporium! Marvelous. Like Natalie Imbruglia sings – I’m ‘Wishing I Was There’ again.
The randomness of finding a whiskey trail founded on illicit distillers – some of whom were from Ireland – followed by a Scottish icon who enjoyed a drop or two but was actually employed as a tax inspector himself – all washed down by some gorgeous Aussie whisky – now I wasn’t expecting that at the end of The Great Ocean Road!
Paddy – to my tastes anyway – is my least favourite of the standard entry level trio of blends produced by Irish Distillers.
The other 2 being the flagship Jameson Original & Powers Gold Label. All of these blends contain pot still whiskey in their respective recipes which result in varying degrees of that signature spice flavour associated with single pot still.
I’ve still to sample all 3 blends back to back yet for the ultimate taste comparison though.
Despite Jameson & Powers coming in an increasing array of offerings – Paddy was left floundering with only one – that is if you exclude the honey & apple liqueurs available in other markets.
However in 2013 – to celebrate 100 years of the famous brand – this special single pot still bottling was released.
Packaged in a lovely wooden case – complete with a photo of the legendary Cork Distiller’s salesman Paddy Flaherty – after whom the brand was named – together with an attractively labelled bottle – the overall effect is very attractive.
The liquid inside is also very enticing!
The rich nose & taste of orchard fruits instantly won me over to the joys of this wonderful single pot still in some select whiskey bars where this limited edition bottle can still be found.
Limited being the key word here.
As at nearly 5 years done the line from the original release – the availability of this whiskey is becoming increasingly scarce & hard to find.
It’s falling into that category of whiskey people buy not to drink – which is a pity – but to collect.
I managed to get my hands on one of these beauties for less than 80 euro.
At that price it won’t be around for long. Especially as the Paddy brand has now been bought by American drinks company Sazerac.
I wonder what Paddy Flaherty would have made of that?
You’ve gotta hand it to Irish Distillers – the largest producer of whiskey on the island of Ireland – for constantly coming up with new & innovative expressions for our delight & delectation.
The very successful Jameson Original blend is by far and away the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world – but to be brutally honest – I find it rather bland & characterless.
The surprise hit of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition gave the Original blend a welcome dose of character by it’s final maturation resting in casks that previously held stout from the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.
This has led to further collaboration with craft brewers around the world with limited releases of Jameson Caskmates in various regions to add more flavour & depth to the Original blend.
The latest incarnation of the Caskmates series takes it’s lead from the hirsute hipster’s darling drink of the craft beer scene – IPA.
You could say it’s bigger than Hip Hop!
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give it the original title – is a style of beer characterised by the varying degrees of bitterness provided by the inclusion of hops in the recipe. It currently fuels the growing interest in craft beer with an explosion of new tastes, new flavours & new styles.
Jameson has taken a leaf out of the craft beer scene to age their latest Caskmate in IPA casks – also from the nearby Franciscan Well Brewery – to provide new tastes, new flavours & new styles to the whiskey world.
So does it work?
Well – the back story and the flavours in the Stout Edition had me hooked so on hearing O’Briens had a limited run of 2000 for a trial period – I was first in line for a bottle!
But what does it taste like?
The dark colour struck me first – perhaps I was taking the IPA influence a bit too much in expecting a pale yellow offering!
On the nose it was relatively soft with a hint of citrus, quiet nice actually.
The taste came over crisp & dry. The bourbon maturation notes faded quickly to leave a pleasant dry lemony tart finish.
Novel & intriguingly enticing.
The overall experience was of a well balanced blend with subtle flavours throughout – perhaps just a bit too subtle for me.
But the hint of hops at the end together with a sprinkling of spice won me over.
I happened to be in Dublin myself that day – but as I (and a few other whiskey heads too) were busily judging the blended whiskey category for the upcoming Irish Whiskey Awards in another part of town – the alcohol took it’s toll on me and I was in no fit state for any distillery visit.
Luckily for me the next week provided a further opportunity in the single grain, single pot still & cask strength category judging at which I paced myself rather better with adequate water & food intake.
So by 4pm I happily had the chance to be shown round the week old distillery by the friendly & informative guide – sorry – storyteller – Bernard.
The distillery is highly unusual in that it is housed in an old church – complete with graveyard dating from the 1100’s!
Bernard himself did a sterling job exploring some of the many stories that make up both the past, present and future of the current whiskey distillery.
The stories continued inside the distillery building that had the wonderfully gleaming copper pot stills placed in the old alter area surrounded with stunning stained glass windows.
The pot stills themselves are a rather unusual design for Irish whiskey. To begin with there are only 2. Mighty Molly – the larger wash still and Little Lizzie – the spirit still – which along with the familiar bulbous pot also has a rectifying column on top.
Both were manufactured by Vendome in Louisville, Kentucky, where Pearse Lyons has his Town Branch Distillery. Interestingly, these stills were previously used in County Carlow to produce some of the whiskey that ended up in Pearse Whiskey blends – which we got to taste later in the all important sampling – where all good distillery tours finish – in tasting the actual produce.
Pearse Irish Whiskey comes in 4 styles & flavours – all presented at 42%
There are 3 blends. Blends are whiskeys that contain both grain whiskey and malt whiskey. 2 of the Pearse blends contain malt that has been made using the stills now situated in the former church.
The Original started off our introduction to the Pearse family whiskeys.
Aged in bourbon barrels for 3 to 5 years this light whiskey came across crisp & clear to me – very enjoyable & approachable – even after the single pot stills I’d enjoyed earlier in the day.
The Distiller’s Choice is also a blend using slightly older malt & grain components with final maturation in sherry casks. This gives the whiskey a slightly sweeter taste which I must admit didn’t wow me as much as The Original.
The final offering was the Founder’s Choice. A 12 year old single malt from an un-named source. This also had the fairly soft, light & approachable character of an Irish bourbon cask matured single malt.
By now I was chatting with fellow distillery tourists to find out which expressions they enjoyed. We did ask about the last bottle – the Cooper’s Select – and despite being on sale in the distillery – it wasn’t offered for tasting.
A plan was hatched. My new whiskey buddies – a young American & an English couple would meet there after our distillery purchases.
Now McCann’s is currently hidden behind scaffolding & hoardings as the whole block is undergoing renovation as part of the Pearse Lyons Distillery project – I can’t wait to see the final result of the refurbishment to this fine old bar,
Inside were a large crowd of regulars enjoying the craic & watching the late afternoon sport on the telly. My new american friend was already enjoying a Guinness – well the brewery is just next door! – but I insisted on ordering some Cooper’s Choice.
Cooper’s Choice is an aged blend matured in bourbon barrels with final maturation in sherry casks. It’s also a sourced whiskey while Pearse Lyons own distillate is quietly resting in wooden barrels.
I really enjoyed this one. As did my friend who was now joined by the English couple.
Spotting the bar also stocked the output from Pearse’s Town Branch Distillery I couldn’t resist the Town Branch Rye.
At 50% it delivers that powerful peppery spice kick on both the nose & mouth that I simply can’t get enough of – big, bad, beautiful & bold. Lovely!
Meanwhile one of the chatty locals insisted we had some traditional Irish whiskey – so a glass of Paddy’s it was.
Yes it was smooth & easy – but it lacked the full blown character & hit of the rye we just tried previously.
I could have stayed longer – but I had a train to catch – so made my way to the station with just enough time to grab an Iarnród Éireann cup of tea & sandwich to sober up.
Whiskey for me is a journey of discovery.
I discovered a lovely new Irish whiskey distillery along with some beautiful new expressions – and hopefully led others to discover more too.
Cask strength whiskies have a certain appeal – that full blown mouthfeel & explosion of taste – but should come with a bit of a warning that perhaps plays the old Electric Six classic ‘Danger! High Voltage’ as you pop the cork!
At 61.2% this Oloroso matured monster of a single malt certainly packs a punch.
It’s one of those whiskies that hit the back of my throat & numbed my tongue with the high alcoholic strength before subduing to deliver some of it’s rich dry sherry notes.
With water I found it a rather muted sherry bomb of a dram which lacked the shine of the collective high praise this bottle attracts.
When I can enjoy other cask strength offerings neat which deliver their rich flavours without the burn –