One aspect of the growth of Irish Whiskey is the proliferation of new brands hitting the shelves of American liquor stores.
Many will be familiar to drinkers in Ireland – Jameson, Bushmills & Kilbeggan – to name a few.
Others not – Kavanagh, Kilbrin & Wolfhound – for example.
Generally the 2nd list are non distillery producers selecting sourced Irish Whiskey then labelling & marketing it under their own brand names.
For the last few years this has been a growing business.
The number of Irish Whiskeys seeking approval from the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has risen from 120 in the 2016-17 period to 204 in the 2019-20 time frame. Data courtesy TTB Online search page available here.
Clearly this reflects an increased appreciation of Irish Whiskey – as well as a ready supply of Irish Whiskey Distilleries willing to cater for this demand.
It’s marvelous to witness the growing marketability of Irish Whiskey.
I welcome each and every one of these new brands into the ever increasing & more diversified Irish Whiskey category.
There is however still a long way to go.
Scottish Whisky registered 1188 labels in the same 2019-20 period.
Laid out before me were 7 whiskeys – 7 identical glasses – & some water to cleanse the palate between each sample.
Oh! They weren’t completely blind.
They were from a list I’d selected from a fellow whiskey fan as part of an exchange and it included;
1792 Single Barrel, Ballantine’s 17, Chita Single Grain, Dingle 4 Single Malt, Evan William’s Bottled In Bond, Hellyers Road Roaring Forty, Jack Daniel’s Bottled In Bond, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel 100, Kilkerran 12, Miltonduff 9, Naked Grouse, North Star Campbeltown 4, Stagg Jr, & a Surprise.
A Immediately impressed me. Strong spirit, good clean flavours, rich in the mouth. Nice.
B Wasn’t as enjoyable.
C A bourbon – but with a welcome spice.
D Nice easy drinker.
E Another bourbon – strong, opened up on the finish.
F Didn’t enamour me.
G Very intriguing.
I initially went through them trying to match my experiences to the expressions above. It was really guesswork – as I hadn’t encountered them before this session.
On a second round – I scored them.
Then the reveal!
A North Star 80 B Hellyers Rd 72
C 1792 SB 77 D Dingle 4 73
E Stagg Jr 79 F Kilkerran 12 70
G Glenglassaugh Evolution 78
Congratulations to North Star Campbeltown 4 Year Old Blended Malt!
An independent bottle from undisclosed distilleries presented non chill filtered & with natural colour at a hefty 57% ABV.
Obviously my kinda whiskey!
There’s a clear division between the top 4 – bigger, badder, bolder – and the bottom 3 – softer, subtler, smoother.
My only surprise was the poor showing of Kilkerran 12 – normally a distillery I enjoy.
But then that’s the whole point of blind tasting.
To try and eradicate – as far as possible – any bias you may hold,
One of the last bars I entered before the COVID19 shutdown was Garavan’s in Galway.
There on the shelves was an old acquaintance of mine – Michael Collins Whiskey.
Michael Collins is an iconic figure in Irish history. To name a whiskey brand after him celebrates that history.
When having a glass I not only enjoy the whiskey – I also wonder at the momentous changes Michael Collins witnessed – and eagerly participated in – a hundred years ago. There is a similarity to the current changes we are living through with the pandemic.
I ponder at the beauty and longevity of a brand too.
It can outlive changes in distilleries that supply the spirit.
It can overcome changes in ownership.
It can constantly change & adapt to the availability of casks – altering the blending ratios accordingly to produce the finished product.
Yet it’s still remains the same brand.
The Single Malt version before me was the old ‘baseball bat’ shaped bottle originally commissioned by Sidney Frank Importing Co. There is no age statement with this one.
It had a smooth honeyed maltiness to begin with. A characterful bite followed by a touch of dryness on the finish – perhaps reflecting a smidge of smokiness – which is more evident in the 10 Year Old Single Malt offering.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all Irish Pubs are closed for St Patrick’s Day!
That didn’t stop a gathering of Irish Whiskey Fans over on the #SundayNightSup twitter site from gathering online to partake of the world’s first seaweed charred whiskey!
Yes – you heard that right – seaweed!
Irish Atlantic Kombu Kelp is a natural resource harvested, dried & then used to char virgin oak casks at the West Cork Distillers premises. Their triple distilled single malt is then finished in these casks for three months.
The results are simply fantastic!
The nose had an intriguing earthy, almost savoury appeal.
The palate started off soft & malty smooth – very approachable – as those meaty umami flavours grew to coat the mouth in a creamy silkiness.
A drying white peppery spice added a final flourish to this fabulously engaging whiskey.
Congratulations to all the team at both West Cork Distillers and Origin Spirits for putting this highly innovative Irish Whiskey together.
In what felt like the ‘last hurrah’ before impending restrictions increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Sonny Molloy’s Bar in Galway held an impressive evening celebrating the launch of the highly esteemed Redbreast Whiskey range’s latest addition – the 27 Year Old.
The numbers attending were slightly reduced from previous events – and a certain awkwardness regards hand shaking & social distancing were always in the background – yet the company, the whiskey and the gorgeous food won out!
There were 3 whiskeys on offer. All introduced by the Irish Distillers Brand Ambassador – Ger Garland.
The first one was a bit of a mystery.
Very sweet on the nose – almost liqueur territory here – quite light on the palate – someone suggested cream soda – before the cask strength made it’s presence felt – leaving the pleasant softer flavours dancing away on the finish.
I was very pleased to hear it was an oat whiskey!
Oats were formerly a common ingredient in Irish Whiskey and it’s marvelous to see it’s return into offerings such as Kilbeggan SPS, Drumshanbo Inaugural – as well as experimentation at Killowen Distillery – and quite clearly at Midleton too!
Just how the results of this experimentation will end up in an actual final product are yet to be decided – but clearly exciting times indeed!
The second offering – also at cask strength – was a much more contemporary affair.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach, Knockrath Wood, Tree 3, 56.6%.
The use of virgin Irish Oak casks – as well as ex-bourbon casks – had accentuated the dry tannic spiciness over and above the initial rich warming vanilla notes to the front capped off by a prickly tingling from the high ABV.
I really enjoyed this one.
The grand finalé?
Redbreast 27 Year Old, 54.6%.
Unlike other Redbreasts – the 27 has seen maturation in ruby port casks.
This has given it a darker, even richer fruitiness. I’m thinking plums, figs & raisins here. The high ABV kicked in at this point & I’d need the addition of water to calm things down a touch.
To be honest – I wasn’t bowled over.
I didn’t find it an easy whiskey to appreciate – and I’m not just talking about it’s €495 price tag. I found it a bit of a challenge.
Redbreast 27 – not for me.
I’d like to thank all at Sonny Molloy’s for the warm hospitality on the evening.
I recently had the pleasure of revisiting Clonakilty Distillery.
Unlike the building site of my previous visit – Feb 2018 blog here – this time the gleaming copper pot stills were in full working order & the rich smells of distillation were ever present during the highly informative & enjoyable tour.
Clonakilty Minke Gin is already available – but it will be a while for their own whiskey to mature.
In the meantime a varied range of sourced whiskeys – with added maturation & finishing at Clonakilty Distillery’s own warehouses on the Wild Atlantic Way – are available at the distillery shop.
I bought a couple of miniatures – part of their core range – as well as taking away some extra samples – I was driving – to enjoy later.
Clonakilty, Single Grain, Bordeaux Cask, 43.6%
A clean, sweet & delicate fruity little number that lulls you in with gentle flavours before delivering a healthy spirity kick by way of entertainment leaving a soft fruit finish on the rear.
Clonakilty, Small Batch, Double Oak, 43.6%
Warming, more malt biscuity. There’s a fruity sweetness from the recharred ex-wine casks which give this blend a juiciness followed with a dry prickly spice from the virgin oak casks too.
Clonakilty, Cognac Cask, 43,6%
A limited edition at the distillery.
Rich warm dark fruits with a touch of nuttiness to boot. Dries out towards the finish with a pleasant spiciness.
Clonakilty, Single Malt, Single Cask, Distillery Exclusive, 43.6%
If you ever need an excuse to visit a distillery – the chance to sample an exclusive bottling is always a bonus.
Warming vanilla enticed me in. A gentle rich maltiness tinged with dry tannic spice caressed my palate. A wonderfully balanced & elegant bourbon cask matured malt.
Clonakilty, Single Pot Still New Make, unknown ABV.
A rare treat indeed!
Using the traditional – as in malted & unmalted barley only mash bill – that signature oily & slightly sour new make nose was evident. A clean & fresh feel was enjoyed before the high ABV kicked in leaving a prickly heat with a touch of spice on the finish.
A well crafted spirit for the wood to work it’s magic on.
Interestingly this new make has already won awards.
All bodes well for Clonakilty Distillery.
The stunning signature building, the lovely cafe, the enjoyable tour and the increasing use of barley from their own farm in future distillations yet to come.
The diversification of Irish Whiskey continues with this delightful smoked salmon pâté from unionhallsmokedfish.com.
Infused with West Cork Irish Whiskey – a venture founded by former fishermen itself – this is not an entirely unexpected food pairing.
I found it a light salmon pâté – yet bursting with flavour.
The fresh citrusy salmon was accentuated by a gentle soft smokiness which gave depth & complexity to the mix. Quite what the Irish Whiskey brought to the palate was hard to judge – but I found it irresistible.
I’d have easily polished off the whole lot if it wasn’t for the other half reminding me to leave some for the guests – who also enjoyed what was left!