It’s always nice after being away for a short while to come home to an unexpected surprise. Especially when that surprise involves a new Irish whiskey!
Sean’s Bar in Athlone is firmly on the tourist trail.
As the oldest bar in Ireland – and possibly the world depending on your sources – mainly due to the old wattle & wicker wall contained within the bar’s structure – it has a steady stream of tourists, revellers & locals entering it’s doors.
Being one of my local bars it’s simply a short walk across the mighty River Shannon for me to enjoy the dimly lit snug like main bar as well as the extensive outside back bar which are often both crowded on a weekend.
Sean’s never had an extensive whiskey range – the usual suspects were to be had; Jameson, Bushmills, Tullamore, Connemara & the Pogues for example – but recently that has all changed.
Sean’s Bar Blended Whiskey has just been released & is available exclusively in the bar either by the glass or the full bottle if you desire.
I popped down on a damp Sunday afternoon to try it out.
Now I wasn’t expecting much from an entry level standard blend.
It has that caramalised nose feel and initially the taste is rather soft & mildly sweet. Very approachable & easy however.
What raises this whiskey slightly above the rest for me is a welcome warming spiciness on the finish – very reminiscent of a Powers Gold Blend.
Produced by West Cork Distillers on a limited run. Packaged in an attractive label with a bit of history on the back. It’s a good excuse as any to give Sean’s a visit!
Get in touch if you do – I might just join you for one!
The Chapel Gates I’m referring to are not the ones in the song of emigration & belonging.
I worship a different kind of spirit.
It too travels all over the world – yet also has a belonging. A place called home – from where it was born – and where all those imbued relationships & history can be awoken by taking a relaxing drink of the noble liquid.
Founder Louise McGuane – like many other Clare folks – left her homeland to seek a career. Now she has returned to the family farm & resurrected the old Irish tradition of whiskey bonding by naming her soon to be released blended whiskey after local grocers J.J. Corry.
An advert for the original – now long defunct – grocers still hangs proudly in the lovely local Crotty’s Pub in Kilrush.
Mrs Whiskey and myself took a trip down to Cooraclare to drop off a few items – and in return received a guided tour of the premises & generous sampling of some whiskey casks.
Whiskey bonding used to be the normal way the brown spirit travelled from the distilleries to the consumer.
Distilleries would sell the spirit to the bonder – usually a grocer – who would then mature that spirit in casks of their own choosing before blending & bottling the results under their own brand names for the ultimate satisfaction of the drinker.
Louise has been quietly buying up her stocks of whiskey for the last few years. Some of it came already casked & others she filled in casks sourced by herself through contacts built up over many years in the drinks industry.
My first sample was from one of those casks.
New make spirit – Louise has & is buying new make from a number of new Irish distilleries – was put into a ‘juicy’ 1st fill bourbon barrel for 1 year. After removing the bung & using a valinch – or whiskey thief – to transfer some of the softly golden liquid into a glass I took a sniff.
At 63% this was powerful stuff indeed. Yet the the rich vanilla & caramel notes from the bourbon cask came through clearly & the overall experience immediately captivated me.
It was certainly youthful & punchy – but there was no nasty burn or smell of rotten fruit I associate with new make spirit – and I’d have bought a bottle as it is. But as 3 years is the minimum age for whiskey in Ireland – it will have to mature for another 2 years. This will alter that initial hit of sweet vanilla & honey with more woody & balanced notes that longer maturation develops – for a bit of explanation read here.
We then moved onto a single grain cask. I got my chance to pull out the bung & fill the glass but compared to Louise’s easy looking example earlier – I broke the bung & left a lot of the precious liquid for the angels to share before getting it in the glass.
The single grain was an altogether softer, fruitier & more balanced tipple still with a healthy bourbon barrel flavour flowing through it. Even Mrs Whiskey enjoyed this one!
On the other side of the rackhouse were some more mature barrels.
An 18 year old aged & worn looking sherry hogshead produced a very fine well balanced mature sherry single cask whiskey – a bit too well defined for my tastes – although Louise said this was one of her favourites. She did profess to knowing the flavour profile of each and every single one of the casks in the shed individually & had even developed a relationship with them all. She would find it hard to part with them for her upcoming Gael blending session the very next day!
My final tasting was from an ex-Bushmills cask acquired from John Teeling at GND in Dundalk. At 26 years old the exact history of the cask was unknown – but clearly peat had played a part as that familiar waft of smokiness made it’s presence felt even before the sample entered the tasting glass.
Rich, warm & well balanced. The soft smokiness never dominated the more subtle flavours yet left a wonderfully long finish on this fabulous malt.
Unlike the brashness of the youthful 1 year old which enthralled me with it’s loud delivery of a few notes – this 26 year old gently developed a full orchestra of flavours to amuse & entertain my palate.
Like the fabulous spirit – the building which contain the casks is a combination of old & new materials uniting to create a thoroughly modern example of an old tradition.
The nearby visitors reception & office are still being finalised from the old cattle sheds of the farm by using the original walls & fittings yet containing up to date facilities & warm hospitality.
The energy, drive, enthusiasm & above all passion for whiskey which Louise exhibits is clearly evident in her ability to create such a wonderful facility in the beautiful Clare countryside of her birth. At times it has been an up-hill struggle to almost re-invent the wheel of whiskey bonding that once was such an intrinsic part of the industry. The current generation of tax inspectors, coopers, blenders & bottlers, town planners & developers are re-learning the skills of a generation that went before.
When JJ Corry The Gael is eventually released in September – it too will encapsulate all that lost history, taste & sense of belonging.
After having had the opportunity to sample some of the raw ingredients – I’m sure it will be a stunner.
The limited run of 7,000 bottles will be non-chill filtered with no added caramel & presented at 46%. Most of the run is destined for America – with limited release to some choice outlets in Ireland.
I suggest you secure your bottle now – it won’t hang around for long!
My thanks to Louise McGuane for her hospitality in showing us round the rackhouse & generous samples.
We wish all at Chapel Gate Whiskey future success.
” 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.
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.
Slane Irish Whiskey flowing either neat – in my case – or with fashionable cocktail suggestions.
And delightfully tasty tit-bits of food served up by the trusty Eastside Tavern crew where the launch was held.
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.
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.
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.
Every now and then the attractiveness of a whiskey bottle – the wittiness of it’s mission statement – or even the name of the expression alone – is enough to tempt me to try a bottle – or at least sample a glass or two.
Fortunately with Flaming Pig Black Cask Irish Whiskey – I managed to acquire a promotional bottle to sample. Many thanks to Flor Prendergast – the entrepreneur behind the brand.
I first encountered the wonderfully named Flaming Pig brand a while ago with their Spiced Irish release.
And the spirit had a wonderfully rich christmassy cinnamon & clove spice finish which despite the sweet start – well it is a 33% liqueur – had a healthy warming whiskey bite too.
The Flaming Pig Black Cask is produced at the West Cork Distillers plant down in Skibbereen who release a fine range of expressions that often break the mould of what an Irish whiskey should be. This one is no exception.
Aged in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, this non-aged statement blend has been imbued with the strong sweetness & flavour of bourbon – yet with an Irish twist.
You could say it’s flavoured with fire!
The rich dark golden colour would imply added caramel in my book – there is no mention of it on the label – although the charred casks would also darken the spirit & add a sweet body to the mix. At 40% strength I assume it’s chill filtered too.
The rich sweet notes build a certain depth at the start- very bourbony with vanilla & caramel – but the delightful hint of warming spices at the end lifts this whiskey for me.
Flaming Pig Black Cask isn’t going to set the world on fire – but it lights up a cold winters evening by the hearth. It also opens up Irish whiskey to new flavours emboldened by the charred barrel ageing.
Something was clearly amiss when the bartender replied;
‘We don’t have that one.’
Even after I’d spotted the distinctly garish – even kitsch – labelled bottle on a shelve of whiskeys.
A little game of,
‘Left a bit, right a bit, down one, BINGO!’
ensued to retrieve said bottle – whereupon the same bartender proceeded to shovel loads of ice into a tall glass.
The ice was duly discarded – after I asked for my whisky neat – and a shot promptly poured in.
‘Oh dear’, I thought, before common sense prevailed and the drink was decanted into a more suitable – if not ideal – tumbler.
Forget ‘A Horse With No Name’ – this was the pub with no name!
It transpires the pub formerly known as ‘Whiskey Fair‘ – and which I’d chosen as a suitable watering hole to meet a friend whilst in Dun Laoghaire for the day – had recently changed hands. We even had trouble finding it as although the old name had been removed from the front facade – no new title proudly embellished the now empty display.
With Irish Whiskey experiencing growing sales figures – I did ponder the managements decision to forgo the whiskey snug as the previous owners had obviously attempted to make a go of it. The premises were in a state of transition to something else – something not including a whiskey bar. Clearly I’d timed my visit during this change and been served by staff who obviously had no real knowledge or appreciation of the remaining whiskey stocks still evident behind the bar.
So what about Stewart’s Cream Of The Barley?
Well it’s an old standard Scottish blend dating from the 1830’s & currently owned by Pernod Ricard after their buyout of Allied Domecq back in 2005.
A rich golden brown colour smacks of added caramel – common in entry level blends.
The nose was sweet with a hint of malt.
The rich velvety malt on taste surprised me – although it soon diminished with an overly sweet overture & a short finish.
Very pleasant, very smooth, very aptly named & actually quite a decent blend for an afternoon chat.