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.
We’d actually been on the Wild Atlantic Way since Derry – and the sea views from the North Mayo coast road raised our spirits in the early morning light.
But to begin with we ventured on a little detour!
Whilst in the bar the previous evening tales were told of a distillery in Sligo. We drove to the site in Hazelwood House but found little to confirm nor deny those tales. An internet search did reveal planning permission had been granted in 2016 – so if anyone has more information then please get in touch!
Our first planned visit meanwhile was Connacht Distillery in Ballina. A guided tour of the recently opened & fabulous looking shiny new facility by the banks of the River Moy had been arranged. Lyndsey kindly agreed to an early start to show us round the gleaming pot stills & lovely wooden lined tasting room of the spacious site. Like most new distilleries Connacht have a range of sourced products they sell until their own actual spirit is flowing.
Interestingly one of the freshly filled barrels of Connacht new make single malt recently made it’s way over to the beautiful scenery of Clare Island to quietly see out it’s maturation time in the stunning coastal location there. No doubt a large party will be in order when that barrel is finally bottled!
The Straw Boys Poitin – which is now Connacht’s own spirit – & Spade & Bushel Single Malt made an impact this early in the day – but what interested me was the Brothership Irish-American Whiskey. It’s a blend of 10 year old American rye whiskey with similarly aged Irish whiskey and is one of many new expressions currently going down this hybrid whiskey style to either much applause – or disdain.
Personally I think it’s a great idea & has sold out fast! I managed to get my hands on the last bottle before a new label adorns the expression to comply with Irish whiskey regulations. The rye certainly comes through in the mix which pleased me no end.
Only a short drive down the road is Nephin Distilery. Nestled in the pretty village of Lahardaun under the towering bulk of Nephin mountain, Nephin Whiskey have chosen not to release any spirit until their own peated single malt is matured. Using locally grown barley & locally sourced peat – or turf as it’s called in Ireland – this will be a malt with some terroir. My name is already down on the list for the Reserved First Bottles offer!
Nephin have very ambitious & well thought out plans for an attractive distillery in the town along with a malting floor too! Wonderful news. The site is empty at present but everything is going according to plan for this forward looking company. Construction is due soon & expected to be complete by 2018. More power to them.
A long drive through counties Mayo & Galway was eased by the stunning scenery – as well local lads Saw Doctors singing their songs on the car stereo.
The busy crowds of Galway City slowed down our progress as we made our way to the home of Micil Poitin in the popular spot of Salthill.
The enthusiastic founder Pádraic Ó Griallais met us in his micro distillery behind the Oslo Bar where just like his ancestors, Pádraic makes 100% Irish grain Poitin infused with locally sourced bogbean botanicals. The results are a soft, smooth yet slightly spicy refreshing drink which is often used as a base for cocktails.
He also hoped to do a gin soon – and whiskey was on the cards too! But the timescale wasn’t finalised. Nonetheless his Micil Poitin went down very smoothly. We even sampled a taster at 80% which despite my initial misgivings actually proved to be quite palatable. You could still taste the attractive flavour through the powerful alcoholic kick!
The Oslo Bar is also the original home of Galway Bay Brewery – who have since moved onto larger premises in Ballybrit – and is a lovely gastropub serving delicious food & snacks on the popular Salthill promenade which was thronged with folks enjoying the wonderful sunshine.
Later on in the evening we also ventured out into the sunshine on the famous Galway Whiskey Trail to sample the Galway Bay Irish Whiskey that is only available in the 10 pubs & 1 off-licence that make up the trail. We settled on Freeny’s in the end with it’s marvelous selection of Irish whiskey on display.
Being Saturday night the bars were packed with revellers – but we did find space in the newly opened Caribou bar who stocked an impressive array of craft beers, gins & whiskeys. I couldn’t resist a can of Commotion Lotion. A collaboration between pop act King Kong Company & YellowBelly Beer. A tasty & fun beer to end the day!
Dram of the day?
The blended expression of Irish whiskey & American rye that is Brothership.
I went looking for the much publicised Ben Bracken trio of single malts recently released by Lidl – but inadvertently walked into Aldi instead!
What confronted me were not only 3 single malts – Islay, Highland & Speyside – but also a 12 Year Old Speyside as well as 2 double casks – one sherry finish & the other bourbon – all below £20.
As I’m a fan of bolder flavours I went straight for the Islay Single Malt to sample.
For the price – I wasn’t disappointed.
The nose was a pleasing mixture of Islay peat & muted caramelised vanilla notes.
For this category & price point, my assumed position is that caramel is added. You only need to look at some of the promotional photos of the different malts showing identical shades of golden brown for confirmation.
The taste was a bit of a non event. Soft, sweet, slightly watery & muted no doubt by that caramel – but after swirling it around in the mouth for a while, a rich peaty smoke surfaced into a pleasingly warming burn on swallowing which proceeded to develop a lovely long afterglow.
A very inoffensive easy sipping entry level malt whisky at an affordable price with just enough character to make it interesting.
I’m not sure which markets it will surface in the pan-european Aldi store area – but it will certainly fly off the shelves. It makes a decent everyday single malt for the drinks cabinet.
For good measure I compared it to another store brand offering. This time from the Co-operative Group.
The 8 Year Old Pure Malt is a blend of,
‘carefully selected choice malt whiskies from the Highlands Islands and Lowlands of Scotland.’
so says the label.
The same label doesn’t say caramel is added – but it has that same cloying mouthfeel which dulls any freshness or sharpness in the flavours on tasting. There was a little smoke – but not enough to rise above the morass of caramel & vanilla smoothness.
A rather muted dram in comparison to the smoky punch of Islay peat.
And like the Steve Aoki song – I felt The Power Of Now.
At 57.3% it fills the mouth with an explosion of smoke sparked off by some surprisingly sweet notes & tasty flavours.
At first I suspected added caramel but no! Bruichladdich are emphatically against such practices. All the flavour results from the maturation in wooden barrels – in this instance ex-bourbon & French wine casks – hence the sweet notes to start with contrasting beautifully with the powerful – 167ppm – peat hit later into the fabulous tasting experience.
Yes there was still peat – but the dominant note of vanilla sweetness let me down.
Big, bad & bold is what I was looking for – but all I got was soft, smooth & sweet.
A bit too much added caramel I think.
A bit like Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle who hails from Derry
Interestingly both Talisker & Laphroaig add caramel too – which would explain the sweet notes I detected. I just don’t understand why they have to do this with single malts. The sweet notes turned me off all 3 expressions.
But when it comes to your age statements versus NAS – Jura came bottom of the list.
The Talisker Skye came out tops – even although I’d prefer the 10 Year Old.
I generally don’t look down on an NAS bottling – but I’m increasingly looking down on added caramel – the proof of the pudding is in the eating however. All 3 of these whiskies tasted overly sweet to me – the Jura decidedly so – which was more of a deciding factor rather than the NAS or age statement issue.
Meanwhile the more variety of styles, tastes, finishes and ages – or not – out there the better in my book.
By trying them all out you begin to appreciate the differences & start to hone down your own particular style.
If you find a whiskey you like – embrace it – regardless of what others say.
We are all individuals with our own taste preferences and idiosyncracies – much like the whiskeys we drink.
Decomposed vegetable matter that can be used as a fuel source to dry the malted barley commonly used in whiskey production. This imparts a smoky flavour to the spirit which generates much devotion amongst ‘peatheads’ – who go to great lengths to satisfy their cravings.
Luckily for me – I simply cycled down to my local distillery – Kilbeggan – to indulge my passion for peat.
There has been a distillery at Kilbeggan since 1757. It claims to be the oldest working distillery in the world operating out of the same site with a continuous licence from it’s inception.
Bushmills have ‘alternative facts’ dating from 1608. The current distillery however wasn’t built until 1885 replacing an earlier one at a different site dating from 1784.
While it’s undoubtedly true Scotland is the biggest producing whisky nation in the world, they only gained that title in the early 1900’s. Before then Ireland was number 1. The earliest Scottish distillery still in production – Glenturret – dates from 1775.
Kilbeggan – in advance of a new and welcome bill – also has a licence to allow the consumption & sale of alcohol on the premises. Cycling afforded me the luxury of being able to enjoy a few glasses. Allowing me to reacquaint myself with the Connemara 22 year old – as well as trying out the recently re-released Turf Mor expression.
Now none of the Connemara range are actually produced at Kilbeggan. Cooley Distillery in County Louth is where that all happens – but Kilbeggan is one of the maturation sites. It also has a small boutique distillery whose spirit usually finds it’s way into some of the blended releases. There are plans afoot however to allow visitors the unique experience of bottling their own Kilbeggan produced whiskey with a valinch as part of the historical distillery tour. A welcome addition.
The 22 year old has a softly peated nose. As befits it’s age the taste is smooth & complex. The peat is well balanced by many rich notes from the long years maturing in oak barrels. A very fine & well cultured whiskey. Bottled at 46% & non chill-filtered.
Turf Mor is the bigger, badder & bolder younger sibling!
Youthful, exuberant & punchy. This heavily peated single malt delivers a healthy kick to the palate tempered by a soft sweetness. Much more my style.
It’s not as bold & overwhelming as the previous 58.2% incarnation – but a very welcome return of a heavy hitting peat from Ireland at 46% – albeit as a limited Travel Retail release & of course – at the distillery.
A bottle was duly purchased. Well worth the 70km cycle!
The entire Connemara range of peated single malts make a fine display in their new bright livery. Oh! Did I say they are all Irish double distilled peated single malts?
The 2 youthful non-aged statements (NAS) contain some welcome fire & bite in contrast to the rather well-mannered & refined 12 & 22 year old elders.
All are available at the Kilbeggan Distillery – along with the Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan & Locke’s range of whiskeys too.
Kilbeggan is currently owned by the Beam/Suntory group. Due to increased demand it’s advised to book in advance for the guided tours. You are welcome to drop into the very friendly Whiskey Bar anytime during opening hours.
Full of wonderfully rich history & culture, some fabulous whiskeys, a cafe and a bar – what are you waiting for?
He’s missed his train & is looking for a spot to while away the hour – preferably with a whiskey.
Nancy Hands on Dublin’s Parkgate St is only a short walk from Hueston Railway Station and his train home. The pub has a large & welcoming facade. He walks in.
The front bar has the usual array of whiskeys on display – nothing that attracts his eyes – but there seems to be a back bar. He hasn’t been here before & only chose it at random. He investigates.
He’s hit the jackpot!
Loads of Scotch. Many old looking bottles with gently faded fawn labels – no fancy colours here – and loads of Irish too with a slightly more colourful collection.
But what to sample?
As I was that man I decided to continue my exploration of peat.
A Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old caught my eye. Having previously enjoyed the Darach Ur NAS (Non Age Statement) Travel Retail release I thought it would be a good comparison.
The satisfying rich peat on the nose from this Islay distillery single malt reassured me of what was to follow. I found the taste a tad harsh & rather monosyllabic however. Just the one note of pure peat – and a bit too burnt at that. The NAS release wins out on this challenge.
Only when I Googled the bottle did it become apparent that this was an old release prior to a redesign of the label. Maybe some of the subtleties of the whisky had been lost due to the length of time the bottle had been opened? It’s recommended 2 to 3 years is the maximum before the spirit begins to degrade due to oxidation & other chemical reactions that occur & can then spoil the taste. Perhaps this was happening here?
I moved on to the Irish section.
Slieve na cGloc stood out for me.
It’s a peated single malt made at Cooley Distillery from when John Teeling was still at the helm. I’ve read it was an own-label-bottling for the Oddbins off-licence chain in the UK – but I cannot confirm this.
Again that lovely pungent peat on the nose warmly greeted me. The taste this time was smoother – yet the peat punch was still reassuringly intense. A more balanced feel to the malt sang a delightful harmony & had me wondering why there wasn’t more lovely peated Irish expressions.
Slieve na cGloc – named after the mountain below which the Cooley Distillery sits – is an excellent whiskey & much more appropriately named than it’s equally appealing peated stablemate Connemara whiskey that is also made at Cooley.
There is a lovely walk up the hill here – which I did on a crisp winter’s day when last on the wonderful Carlingford Peninsula.
But that was then and this was now.
I could have stayed for more – but the night train was calling.
And being the last one home I didn’t want to miss it.
Nancy Hands is a treasure trove of whiskey.
I know where I’ll be enjoying a bite to eat & a whiskey or two before catching my next train home from Dublin!
Glassware was also on display at the Neat stand with their friendly crew of attendants who had a cool way of promoting the Neat whisky glass.
An identical sample of a whisky – in this case a Scottish blend by the name of Big Peat – was proffered in 2 whisky glasses for the discerning drinker to nose and compare.
It certainly helped that Big Peat is a blended malt from some of Islay’s finest distilleries including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen so a hefty waft of peat smoke was to be expected.
Now I’ve used the Neat Glass for a few years at the Irish Whiskey Awards judging sessions and I have a few at home – but I can’t say I’m a convert.
The thistle shaped glass is made to concentrate the aromas at the centre of the opening without giving that alcohol burn often associated with a strong ABV percentage. So far so good. Big Peat certainly smelled like my kind of whisky.
The second glass was a more traditional tulip shaped offering as in the Glencairn – other brands with a similar style are available. This would be my ‘go to’ glass when at home and in this demonstration I’m afraid to say I got more of that lovely Islay smoke sensation using this receptacle.
I even did some research at home with another whisky and got a similar result.
What glassware you drink your whiskey out of is almost as hotly debated as what whiskey you actually put in the glass to begin with. It took me a few years to appreciate some of the smoky drams out there so it may take me a similar period of time to appreciate the Neat Glass.
Undeterred I asked for a cheeky sample of the wonderfully labelled Big Peat for a tasting.
I’ve actually bought a few bottles of this Douglas Laing brand as presents over the years – especially their Xmas Specials – but by the time I visited the recipient the bottles were empty! – which says something about the quality of the liquid within.
Rather than being hit on the head by a lump of turf – as portrayed on the bottle – I was gently caressed by a short sweet note before being immersed in a beautiful peaty smoke which tantalised the tastebuds.
The finish was long and satisfying and would have tempted me for more if there wasn’t so many other drams waiting to be sampled at the show.
I’d like to wish good luck to all the Neat Glass crew. It can’t be easy converting die-hard tulip shaped glass fans like me to Neat – and many thanks for the Big Peat.
Trying to drive up Mt Wellington and then take a ferry ride to an off-shore island in the middle of a winter’s storm probably wasn’t our finest hour – but it was our last day on Tasmania.
The snow covered top of Mt Wellington eluded us as the access road was blocked by fallen trees due to the high winds that made walking along O’Gradys Falls Track a bit hazardous. We were rewarded however by some stunning views of the Mt above us and Hobart itself below.
A reviving mid-morning snack had to be delayed as the nearby cafe – and surrounding area – had no electricity due to broken power lines. A detour to Mt Nelson satisfied us with some tea & cakes looking over the indented coastline framed by a permanent rainbow that lay off to the east.
Heading in that direction down the Huon Valley we passed by suburbs with names like Kingston, Margate and Blackmans Bay, home to a lovely sandy beach…
And Overeem Distillery. Sited in the owners back garden the distillery isn’t open to visitors but does produce some stunning single malt whisky which I managed to sample later on in my trip.
Nearing Kettering signs for Bruny Island appeared and on a whim Mrs Whiskey suggested we go there. Despite the high winds and squally weather the ferry ride was very smooth. Half an hour later we were driving on Bruny itself and rounding a corner came across House Of Whisky.
Sat on a slight rise overlooking a sheltered bay House Of Whisky isn’t what you expect on a small island. It’s a treasure trove of Tasmanian whisky containing a myriad of bottles from all the distilleries – allegedly the largest collection of Tasmanian single malt whisky in the world!
I could have stayed all day!
But one look from herself reminded me I was the driver and that WE were on holiday together to explore the scenery and had an island to see whilst the weather was still reasonable!
I quietly arranged to call in on our way back for a snack.
At over 100km long Bruny Island is made up of North Island and South Island separated by a picturesque narrow isthmus called The Neck. We chose to head North to Dennes Point on the appropriately named Storm Bay. Very quickly we left the tarmac behind and drove on dirt roads which ran through pleasant pasture land interspersed with some forest & scrub.
A picnic table beside the beach was being lashed by salty spray from the foaming sea whipped up by the winds and I feared for the state of the hired car on our return.
A row of distinctive post boxes by the roadside in an otherwise deserted forest area hinted to a sparsely populated island.
The crowning glory of the island has to be the stunning vista of The Neck which despite the grey skies, rolling seas and brooding storm clouds still captivated me with it’s rugged beauty. Home to thousands of Fairy Penguins and Short-Tailed Shearwaters, The Neck marked our turning point as we headed back for the ferry.
A bowl of award winning hot & tasty chowder duly warmed us inside House Of Whisky after our bracing walks. Herself enjoyed a fine Tasmanian wine whilst I had some difficulty choosing which whisky to taste from the bewildering display.
I went for one of only 2 Tasmanian Whisky Bottlers – Heartwood, The Revelation.
Tim Heartwood matures casks of Tasmanian single malt to his own particular style and requirements which he then releases at cask strength. At 62.5% this Tasmanian sphagnam peated expression distilled at Lark Distillery certainly packed a punch. Rich & full bodied with a 50% peat influence I was expecting a bigger peaty hit rather than the soft afterglow of a barbie by the billabong.
‘Aha’ added the very helpful owner who also is the proprietor of Trapper’s Hut whisky.
‘That’s because it’s Tasmanian peat, it tastes more soft than Scottish peat.’
It certainly is a different taste experience to a traditional peated Scotch.
It got me wondering what an Irish whiskey would taste like containing Irish barley infused with Irish peat?
At present, peated Irish expressions use Scottish peated barley. There are historical and economical reasons for this – but I’m pretty sure there would be a slight taste difference if it was tried.
Heartwood The Revelation had it’s own characteristics in contrast to similarly peated Scotch expressions which endeared itself to me.
Locally produced with ingredients sourced locally – Heartwood has provenance and terroir in abundance.
Alas a ferry awaited us so I couldn’t indulge in more whisky tastings. Oh for a more elongated and relaxed visit!
It took just over an hour to get back to Hobart. The heavens opened up in almost biblical proportions on the way, washing the car of all the sea salt and dirt track mud acquired on Bruny.
Our memories of Bruny and House Of Whisky will not be so easily discarded.