Category Archives: Distilleries

The Whistler 7yo & 10yo Single Malts, 46%

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.

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Worship the copper! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Just put your lips together and Whistle! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Boyne Brewhouse workings c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Sláinte.

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West Cork Distillers, Skibbereen.

Some whiskey distilleries are shrines to copper & glass for whiskey geeks to worship at.

Other distilleries are housed in statement buildings to wow the tourists.

And then there is West Cork Distillers.

They make whiskey.

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.

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The ‘Rocket’ is on the left. c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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West Cork label c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Glorious Glengarriff whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Fabulous stuff.

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.

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Powerful Poitin c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Slàinte.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Baltimore Whiskey Company – Epoch Rye, 50%

A while ago I visited this distillery. I wrote the following blog at the time – but never published it. As they will shortly be releasing the second batch of Baltimore Epoch Rye – I thought it timely. The previous batch sold out immediately. If you are looking for some – get down to the Baltimore Whiskey Company on April 28th 2018. Or be sorry you missed it!

March 2017

It was baltic in Baltimore.

Our trip to Maryland coincided with storm front Stella resulting in a dowsing of snow with icy winds that would cut you in two.

Thankfully the sun was shining and the Baltimore Whiskey Company had some warming whiskey to taste on the day I visited!

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Baltimore Shot Tower logo c/othewhiskeynut

Housed in an old industrial building just off Interstate 83 on Sisson Street near downtown Baltimore, the prominent & attractively designed Baltimore Whiskey Company logo announced you were in the right building.

Max & Eli – the other co-founder Ian was elsewhere – hadn’t made it in the previous day due to the storm, but were thankfully on hand when I called round to show me their distillery.

It very quickly became apparent that Baltimore Whiskey Company do things a little bit different to other start up whiskey distilleries.

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The homemade still c/othewhiskeynut

To begin with, their rather roughshod looking 250 gallon (1,000 ltr) copper still had been made by their own hands – partly copied on Lagavulin’s stills to produce a heavier & oilier distillate – as well as putting in all the electrics for the plant.

Very commendable.

The fact they are currently maturing a rye whiskey immediately reminded me of Peter Bignell at the Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania with his whole grain to glass, can do, make do & homemade kind of ethos.

The boys in Baltimore however don’t grow their own rye and source it elsewhere – but what they do do is rather special & unique. They use a mash-bill of 70% malted rye and 30% unmalted rye. A single pot still rye indeed!

And finally not only do they ‘keep it real’ by using only 53 gallon virgin oak barrels to mature that rye – they refuse to release a raw moonshine product and are prepared to sit on that rye for the full 2 years – or more – allowing it to be called a straight rye under US rules when eventually released.

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T-shirts c/othewhiskeynut

A very brave decision indeed when there must be financial pressure to realise some return on the initial distillery setup costs. Baltimore Whiskey Company do have a range of gins & apple brandies – as well as the usual array of branded T-shirts, caps & Glencairn glasses – to sell that go some way in plugging that gap though.

In the meantime – from a whiskey perspective – what is that pot still rye really like?

Fortunately I was privileged to be allowed a sample from one of the quietly maturing 53 gallon barrels that are stored on an upper level.

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Max pulls a sample from the cask c/othewhiskeynut

Taken straight from the cask at around 115 proof – 57.5% – and at slightly over 1 year old,  the liquid had already taken on a lovely rich dark brown colour.

There was still a slight new make nose present – sweaty socks or over-ripe fruit – but not overpowering – and for a 100% rye the rich dry spice hit I was expecting wasn’t ‘in yer face’, but a rather more gentle, softer, even rounder & complex experience.

The taste was deliciously smooth. Again the dry spice kick had a more balanced approach on the palate.

Max suggested this was the result of the unmalted rye used together with ageing in 53 gallon barrels – and who was I to disagree? The taste result certainly gave a different – yet welcoming – flavour profile to the other 1 year old 100% ryes I’ve sampled.

With that lovely long dry – yet slightly oily – soft rye spice finish still fading on my tongue I contemplated another 12 months in the barrel must surely iron out that new make nose, further deepen and balance that lovely rye spice as well as add some soft caramel & vanilla together with additional oaky tannins from the casks.

This is one expression to look out for in the future!

I’m very impressed with the whole ethos at Baltimore Whiskey Company.

The combination of hands on homemade ingenuity – the relaxed & casual welcome – a strong quality control desire to only release a product when deemed ready – a smart yet simple company logo using an iconic Baltimore building – these guys have all bases covered.

I raise a glass to their future success!

Sláinte.

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Masonic Arms, Anstruther, & Cameron Brig, Single Grain, 40%

When out and about I enjoy popping into bars I’ve not previously visited on the off-chance of finding a gem.

The Masonic Arms in the picturesque East Neuk village of Anstruther sits at the end of the West Pier and is more of a rough diamond.

It’s easy to get sucked into conversation in this character driven pub – both from behind the bar as well as in front of it – but the main attraction for me – aside from the gently warming fire – is a great selection of whiskies.

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Some Masonic whiskeys. c/othewhiskeynut

A plethora of single malt Scotch, the usual big brand blends, assorted Irish & some bourbons adorn the back wall.

My tipple of choice however was a local offering – Cameron Brig Single Grain.

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The local whisky c/othewhiskeynut

Cameronbridge Grain Distillery was among the first to utilise the new technology of the Coffey Still back in the 1830’s.

Irishman Aeneas Coffey failed to find many backers in his native land for his controversial invention – yet the Lowland Scottish distillers took to it with gusto. They effectively kick started the rise of blended whisky which went on to ensure Scotch as the biggest selling whisky in the world.

Over 180 years later, Cameronbridge is still pumping out 120 million lpa (litres of pure alcohol) per annum – making it the both the largest and oldest grain distillery in Europe.

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Cameronbridge Distillery c/othewhiskeynut

George Roe used to have the largest distillery in Europe – but he (and other Dublin distillers) campaigned against grain whisky calling it ‘silent spirit’.

It’s rather ironic George & his friends are no more – yet Diageo – who own Cameronbridge – are currently resurrecting whiskey distilling on the old George Roe distillery site in Dublin.

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The new Roe & Co distillery. c/othewhiskeynut

So what does this ‘silent spirit’ taste like?

Well being a bourbon cask matured single grain it has that sweet vanilla & caramel nose going on. I wouldn’t rule out added caramel too.

A soft smooth inviting palate with a pleasant depth left a gentle warm glow in the mouth.

Nothing special really. An easy drinking dram ‘hard to find outside of Fife‘ my fellow barmate informed me – along with the anecdote he often enjoyed it mixed with Scotland’s other national drink – Irn Bru.

I didn’t check the veracity of either statement – but did enjoy a quiet half hour out of the wet & miserable weather to raise a glass to Aeneas Coffey & the Irishman’s contribution to the rise of Scotch.

Sláinte.

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Clonakilty Irish Whiskey, Virgin Oak Cask, Blend, 43.6%

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.

Maybe opening an Irish Whiskey Distillery on the Wild Atlantic Way in the pretty market town of Clonakilty would fit the bill?

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Waiting for the copper stills. c/othewhiskeynut

For that’s exactly what Michael Scully & all the team behind Clonakilty Distillery have been doing.

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.

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Artist’s drawings. c/othewhiskeynut

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!

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On the inside looking out. c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Hail the tail! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Galley Head Lighthouse c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Ruby red port cask. c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Sláinte.

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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.

 

Daftmill Distillery, Fife, Scotland.

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.

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Step up to whisky! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Mash it up! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Copper, steel & wood. c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Corn variety at Widow Jane c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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One man & his whisky. c/othewhiskeynut

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!

Fantastic news!

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.

Slàinte.

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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.

 

West Cork Dha Chasca, 43%, Single Malt

Welcome to the new generation of Irish whiskey distilling,

Welcome to West Cork Distillers.

Welcome to their Dha Chasca Single Malt – exclusively released for the Musgrave Group of groceries.

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Musgrave Exclusive c/othewhiskeynut

It’s a sherry cask matured single malt finished in heavily charred bourbon casks – and it’s all West Cork Distillers liquid.

Originally founded in Union Hall & now based in Skibbereen – it should come as no surprise that a couple of the original West Cork team came from a fishing background. There is an emblem of a trawler proudly displayed on the simple yet attractively designed bottle labels to denote this.

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West Cork label c/othewhiskeynut

Fishermen are a hardy lot. They have to be resourceful, adaptable & highly self-reliant on the open seas.

Couple those skills with a friend grounded in food research & development and you have the kernel of West Cork Distillers.

There was no fancy Frilli stills from Italy for these lads – nor a lengthy order time for Forsyth’s finest from Scotland.

These lads largely built their own kit! It may not be pretty – but it is effective.

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The Rocket c/o https://whiskyexperts.net

West Cork Distillers have been quietly and industriously honing their distilling skills over the last few years. They have also invented & fabricated their own barrel burner to char the casks to their own specifications. And if you want to see it in action read the Whiskey Experts excellent blog on West Cork here.

Dha Chasca is one of a few recent expressions that only contain their own distillate – which attests to the journey they have taken in becoming a fully fledged Irish whiskey distillery.

There is a strong sherry note on the first sniff – mellowed by sweet bourbony notes of vanilla & caramel from the charring.

On tasting the warm notes of vanilla dominate to begin with. The dry sherry slowly makes it’s presence felt before a welcome hint of spiciness.

The bourbony notes fade to quite a dry mouthfeel with the spices tantalising & teasing the tongue as it slowly fades.

Unlike some of their earlier releases, Dha Chasca has no added caramel. This seems to mirrored in later West Cork expressions and could almost be a defining feature of the new generation of Irish distillers & bottlers. Teeling, Hyde, Pearse Lyons & JJ Corry have all eschewed the common practice of putting e150 in their offerings – unlike most of the multi-nationally owned established distillers.

This seems to be a trend in Scotland too with the likes of Kilchoman, Bruichladdich & Bunnahabhain now stating no added caramel in their releases.

Whether this trend will be the start of something more seismic – like the introduction of the Coffey Still in establishing blended whiskey – remains to be seen. It’s  a move I’d be pleased to see growing & I welcome West Cork Distillers embrace it.

Despite what the industry says – I believe you can taste the difference.

The Dha Chasca is clean, crisp & fresh.

I suggest you get down to your local SuperValu or Centra to try it out for yourself.

Sláinte.

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Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Royal Oak, Carlow.

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!

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Welcome barrel c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Opening plaque c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Inside the distillery c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Irishman 12 c/othewhiskeynut

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!

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Irishman 12 Marsala Cask c/othewhiskeynut

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.

That’s something worth waiting for!

Sláinte.

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Pearse Lyons Distillery, The Liberties, Dublin

The Pearse Lyons Distillery officially opened it’s doors to the public on August 26th 2017.

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.

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Blind whiskey tasting in progress c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Now let’s go inside & have a whiskey! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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The whiskey window c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Mighty Mollie & Little Lizzie c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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The tasting trio c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Cooper’s Select c/othewhiskeynut

Would it be available in the nearby McCann’s Bar?

‘Probably’ came the reply.

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.

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Town Branch Rye c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Paddy Irish Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

Oh dear.

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.

My thanks to the Celtic Whiskey Club & Pearse Lyons Distillery for  a wonderful day out in Dublin.

Sláinte.

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Slane Distillery Launch Party

August 24th may have been the proposed date for the opening of Slane Distillery – but the practicalities of fitting a modern working whiskey distillery into the protected structures of Slane Castle’s former stable sheds – along with an attractive visitors centre & cosy whiskey bars – often means there are delays – so the Launch Party went ahead as planned in advance of the opening in September.

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Entering the distillery c/othewhiskeynut

Fortuitously, an invitation to the Launch Party happily saw me entering under the arches of the stable clock into a large attractive quadrangle surrounded by the almost complete distillery on one side – and a lovely tasting bar set into the former stable bays themselves on the other.

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Merrylegs? c/othewhiskeynut

The horse theme continued with the lovely life-size installation of a running horse made out of used whiskey barrels set in the attractive walled garden grounds.

The modern distillery – capable of producing all 4  types of Irish whiskey, single grain, single malt, single pot still & blended – is the latest venture by the Conyngham family to secure the future of Slane Castle which has been in their hands since 1703.

This long lineage – along with rock ‘n’ roll tales of Slane Castle gigs – was explored by the opening speech of Lord Mountcharles – or Henry to his friends – who recalls his joy as a young boy watching the horses being saddled up for a ride in the very quadrangle we now stood – and the new found joy of watching us all enjoy a glass of Slane Whiskey after the first seeds were planted of establishing a whiskey distillery back in 1981 with Thin Lizzy’s headline appearance at the first Slane Castle concert singing their classic ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.

Brooke Brown Barzun – part of the Brown family dynasty that still controls drinks giant Brown-Forman to this day – followed on these historic themes with her personal involvement in seeing the Slane Whiskey project come to fruition.

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Brook Brown Barzon speaking with Henry & Alex Conyngham c/othewhiskeynut

Lawson Whiting  from Brown-Forman spoke about the excitement & joy of being able to see that original dream by Lord Mountcharles become a reality in creating the wonderful Slane Distillery we see today. He also thanked the hard work of Alex Conyngham in establishing thousands of accounts across Europe & America for the current Slane Whiskey bottling,  which in true american speak was described as ‘awsome’.

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Lawson Whiting c/othewhiskeynut

Alex himself rounded of the speeches by thanking all those that had been involved in the project- from the recently hired distillery staff in their smart new livery, the myriad of builders, designers, engineers & electricians who constructed the distillery, the county planners, officials & office staff who assisted over the mountain of red-tape associated with building a distillery in a listed building on the River Boyne Special Area of Conservation, and many others too, but lastly his loving wife & children for his long absences from home to build the future of Slane Distillery.

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Slane Distillery staff c/othewhiskeynut

And with that – a toast was raised to the launch of Slane Distillery – the drinks flowed and the rock ‘n’ roll began!

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Party time! c/othewhiskeynut

I used the opportunity to wander round the site firing off a few shots of the cooperage display area, chatting to a few fellow attendees & indulging in a drink of neat Slane Irish Whiskey after forgoing the trendy cocktails offered.

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Well, I did have one cocktail. c/othewhiskeynut

I liked the touch of including LP records of bands that had played in Slane over the years being offered for sale in the well stocked distillery shop – & had another drink.

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Whiskey & vinyl c/othewhiskeynut

I bumped into & chatted to old acquaintances & new friends as I continued to asses the quality of the Slane Irish Whiskey blend.

It wasn’t until our rather merry little band of now very happy Dublin bound launch attendees chatted away on the bus home did it dawn on me how inebriated I’d become on an empty stomach!

Luckily for me – the others seemed to be in a similar situation – & what little supplies we had left were quickly consumed along with increasingly animated banter.

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Did I mention I prefer it neat? c/othewhiskeynut

I did put forward the proposition that the marvelous marketeer’s dream of the long historic back story of Slane Castle together with the more recent rock ‘n’ roll status of Slane concerts coupled with a similarly aged whiskey heritage of Jack Daniel’s fame & rock connections was such a marriage made in heaven that what was actually in the bottle was mere icing on the cake.

‘Aha’ said another, ‘yer not shy about putting it away however.’

Which indeed I wasn’t.

Testament – if any is required – that behind all the hype, Slane Irish Whiskey is an enjoyable easy to drink blended whiskey with just the right amount of character that stands on it’s own merits – even if I was beginning to have difficulty in that department at this point.

Sláinte

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I should point out that Brown-Forman & myself would advocate a policy of responsible drinking.

Apart from a sorehead & a dry mouth in the morning, there were no ill effects a substantial breakfast could’t fix.

Apologies to anyone on the very enjoyable evening I may have accosted with my increasingly incoherent ramblings.

I wish all involved with Slane Distillery future success.