It’s not an order of flatpack furniture from Swedish retail giant IKEA.
It’s 3 quality whiskies from 2 of Sweden’s growing whisky distillery scene.
The samples arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Irish Drams blog here.
I’ve previously enjoyed a Mackmyra before – Edition 1 to be precise – so I was looking forward to more delightful flavours from these sample jars.
Box I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting before – nor will do in the future as the distillery has been renamed as High Coast Distillery after a legal dispute with Scottish whisky bottlers Compass Box. The sample before me was bottled as Box however – and I’m reassured the liquid will remain the same in the new livery.
Pity they didn’t call themselves Hygge – as I got a lovely warm & cosy feeling after drinking their Single Malt 2nd Step Collection 03.
At 51.3% it’s both strong flavoured yet delicate at the same time. A lovely dry ashiness permeated throughout the spice rich taste. Fabulous.
I may have tried the samples in the wrong order – as the Mackmyra Svensk Ek – Swedish Oak – failed to ignite my tastebuds as instantaneously.
At 46.1% it’s possessed of more subtle & smoother notes with a gentle spiciness mixed in – it may have been overpowered by the Box. One to savour at a later date.
What wasn’t overpowered was the Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask.
At 58.2% this was Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy!
Just my kinda whisky!
It said peated bourbon cask on the label. Yet I got ash.
Damp ash in a Swedish forest after a smorgasbord of barbecued meats and fish from the night before.
The wonderfully oily beginning assaulted the palate with flavours dancing all over the place before drying out into a fantastically ash laden & long lasting finish.
If it possibly could have gotten any heavier – I’d have cut it up into chunks.
Now you could go onto both Mackmyra & Box websites to read up all about the transparency, terroir & provenace of these whiskies – but when they taste this good – it’s only icing on the cake.
I’m happy to let my tastebuds tell me all I need to know.
Living in the Heart of Ireland next door to the Bog of Allen – the largest peat bog in Ireland covering 950 square kms across 9 counties – I just had to try out this Irish Single Malt from Berry Bros & Rudd.
It celebrates the rich cultural & historical ties Ireland has with these boglands on my doorstep. During the seasons I can smell the burning turf from chimneys on my street, I can see the sods of turf drying in ricks from the motorway as well as a steady stream of tractors & trailers bringing it back home from the bog before the winter sets in.
There are 2 peat – or turf as it is called in Ireland – fired power stations within an hour of my house. A local politician was elected to office on the back of a Turf Cutter’s Association protest over restrictions to bog cutting.
Bogs are the very DNA of Midlands Ireland.
There were 2 whiskey distilleries in Athlone. 2 each in Tullamore, Kilbeggan and Banagher. Birr had up to 4 working distilleries. All within a 30 mile radius and all surrounding the bog with it’s readily available fuel source.
Turf would have been used in the whiskey making process – either to directly fire the stills and/ or to dry the malted barley – thus influencing the character & taste profile of that whiskey.
By the mid 20th century – all of those distilleries closed. Only one kept it’s licence – Kilbeggan – and is now back in production after John Teeling & others started the Cooley Distillery back in 1987.
Cooley Distillery reintroduced peat into the Irish whiskey scene with it’s own Connemara range – as well as many third party bottlings.
Sadly by that time – there were no maltsters producing Irish turf dried barley – nor used Irish turf barrels at hand. All who previously did so were long gone. Such raw materials had to be imported from abroad – usually Scotland.
Craoi na Mona is one such reintroduction.
On the nose there is only a slight welcome waft of smoke on the soft sweet & fruity barley malt.
It’s on tasting a warm roaring turf fire becomes apparent, perfectly balanced by softer fresh fruity notes which start off slightly oily before drifting into a prickly dry sensation.
The smoke lingered like a softly glowing fire at home after an evenings entertainment.
This is a delightfully fresh & almost youthful expression that pleased me no end. I could have stayed all day to embrace it’s charms.
It’s a pity it takes an outside independent bottler to salute the history & tradition of turf cutting in Ireland – but it’s one I’m glad to see.
I just can’t wait for a bottle of Irish whiskey made using Irish turf. Due to the different species of plant that make up that turf – the resultant taste profile will not be the same as Scottish peat – nor Tasmanian peat for that matter – as I found out when I visited that wonderful island here. It’s what’s called ‘terroir’ – and has sadly been missing for a while. Thankfully Nephin Whiskey in Mayo are planning to malt Irish barley with Irish peat as their inaugural release.
Craoi na Mona has been out for a number of years in various expressions. It’s not commonly encountered. But if you do come across it – go for it!
I always try to pick up some new whiskey – for me at least – when I’m out & about. I popped into the local Oddbins whilst in London recently & came out with this Smokehead miniature – well – it’s air travel friendly.
Contrary to a lot of what has been said regarding transparency in the Irish whiskey world – this bottle of Islay Single Malt doesn’t say which distillery made it. It does say who bottled it – Ian Macleod Distillers – who do own distilleries – but not on Islay.
Islay is renowned the world over for it’s peaty whisky and Smokehead is a brand which exudes that quality. It’s also proudly a mystery malt – along with others like Finlaggan & Aldi’s Glen Marnoch – in that the actual distillery isn’t disclosed – leading to much speculation & guessing – which is part of the fun.
I also crave a bit of peat influence in my whiskey. It adds a bit of punch & vitality to the glass. Much like these French rockers who also go by the name Smokehead.
The nose has that lovely rich peaty smoke which enwraps me with it’s charms. A hint of caramel jars with me however and I immediately get suspicious of added e150. This was later confirmed by an internet search here.
There’s quite a nice oily mouthfeel on the taste. It reminds me of a dark heavy Bunnahabhain – although most pundits reckon the malt is Ardbeg – with a lovely spiciness too.
The smoke lingers on the finish & just makes me want to dive in for more.
Overall it’s a decent smoky peat dram. The caramel gives it a dark & heavy feel rather than the crisp & clear taste of Peat Monster by Compass Box. It’s also way more balanced than Glen Marnoch where the smoke only just rises above the morass of caramel in the mix.
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?