It’s always nice after being away for a short while to come home to an unexpected surprise. Especially when that surprise involves a new Irish whiskey!
Sean’s Bar in Athlone is firmly on the tourist trail.
As the oldest bar in Ireland – and possibly the world depending on your sources – mainly due to the old wattle & wicker wall contained within the bar’s structure – it has a steady stream of tourists, revellers & locals entering it’s doors.
Being one of my local bars it’s simply a short walk across the mighty River Shannon for me to enjoy the dimly lit snug like main bar as well as the extensive outside back bar which are often both crowded on a weekend.
Sean’s never had an extensive whiskey range – the usual suspects were to be had; Jameson, Bushmills, Tullamore, Connemara & the Pogues for example – but recently that has all changed.
Sean’s Bar Blended Whiskey has just been released & is available exclusively in the bar either by the glass or the full bottle if you desire.
I popped down on a damp Sunday afternoon to try it out.
Now I wasn’t expecting much from an entry level standard blend.
It has that caramalised nose feel and initially the taste is rather soft & mildly sweet. Very approachable & easy however.
What raises this whiskey slightly above the rest for me is a welcome warming spiciness on the finish – very reminiscent of a Powers Gold Blend.
Produced by West Cork Distillers on a limited run. Packaged in an attractive label with a bit of history on the back. It’s a good excuse as any to give Sean’s a visit!
Get in touch if you do – I might just join you for one!
1 – Caribou, a four legged animal prone to herding during annual migrations across it’s North American range. Mainly eats lichens.
2 – Caribou, a recently opened bar in the Wood Quay area of Galway that stocks an amazing array of craft beers, gins & whiskeys.
Pick your poison.
a) Craft Beer as in Commotion Lotion.
A delightfully fruity easy summer drinking lager from the Wexford based Yellow Belly Beer in collaboration with pop punksters King Kong Company.
b) Whisky as in Scapa Skiren.
A sweet, smooth honey laden single malt from the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland.
Throw in a hard working yet friendly & informative bar crew.
Fill with an eclectic mix of;
i – Herds of bearded hipsters gathering – like the aforementioned Caribou – to graze on the amber nectar of craft beers along with their tattooed love birds.
ii – Whiskey geeks discussing the merits of non-chilled filtration & the de-merits of added caramel whilst sniffing, nosing & actually getting round to drinking the expressions before them!
iii – Music fans chilling out to the funky tunes played on the sound system contrasting the perfectly professional yet perfunctory performance of Radiohead at Glastonbury with the wild youthful exuberance of Otherkin at Slane.
Finish with a solid wooden bar filled with craft beer taps, comfortable tables, chairs & the odd sofa to relax in, board games to play with & a lovely floral display outside.
I choose Caribou – the bar.
I choose to sample both poisons – and more from an excellent range.
I choose to go back after my first visit on the ‘Hit The North‘ whiskey distillery tour.
I choose to be that whiskey geek accompanied by the music maestro enjoying the best Caribou has to offer.
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.
After weeks – nay months – spent pored over maps, contacting distilleries & working out routes & times – the day finally arrived when it all came together – to borrow a Beatles track.
With a fresh set of – rented – wheels the inaugural Irish Whiskey Distilleries Tour finally hit the road – North!
Using Dublin as the start & finish point – a small party of dedicated whiskey fans took the short trip up the M1 motorway to our first port of call – Boann Distillery in Drogheda.
Boann is one of those new breed of whiskey distilleries that are currently still being built. Tours are not yet officially permitted but we were kindly shown round this wonderful looking site by Peter Cooney – one of the family members who own this growing drinks business.
When fully complete – a 2018 timescale – Boann will be producing single malt, single pot still & blended whiskeys – along with a tasty award winning range of craft beers already being brewed from it’s neighbouring brewery – and all complimented by a very attractive copper pot stills hall overlooking a field of barley – well, what else could it be?
The Whistler is Boann’s range of award winning single malts from a sourced distillery that are on the market in advance of their own stock. They comprise of a 7 & 10 Year old Single Malt and a 7 Year Old Cask Strength. We kindly had a tasting in the boardroom where Peter pulled out a new 5 Year Old Double Oaked bottle. It’s not yet released – but tastes lovely.
Slane Distillery is the dream of Alex & Henry Conyngham who along with Brown-Forman – owners of the Jack Daniels bourbon brand – will soon open this magnificent distillery set in the Slane Castle grounds on the banks of the Boyne River.
Sadly construction works were still in progress on the day we arrived so a quick photo of the ongoing works sufficed. For a review of the lovely sourced Slane Irish Whiskey blend read a previous blog of mine here.
Great Northern Distillery (GND) in Dundalk is the new powerhouse of John Teeling who ploughed back in the money made from the sale of his Cooley/Kilbeggan business to Beam in 2011. The GND operation can produce grain, single malt and single pot still whiskey & will mainly sell that whiskey to 3rd parties – although a limited release own brand Burke’s Single Malt has just been marketed.
Handily the nearby Kennedy’s Bar happened to have a bottle to sample over our lunch stop. Burke’s is a reassuringly strong bourbon cask matured single malt which coats your mouth & leaves a long warm tingling.
At present GND has no visitors centre – that may change in the future – but the former Harp Lager Brewery is an impressively large facility that will be able to produce a phenomenal amount of Irish whiskey in the years to come.
Cooley Distillery nestled on the picturesque Cooley Peninsular is also not open to visitors. This distillery was originally opened by John Teeling back in 1987 & kick-started the revival of Irish whiskey which continues to this day. Now owned by the Beam/Suntory group who use their sister Kilbeggan Distillery as the visitors centre. Another quick photo stop sufficed in the now rainy weather.
Our last port of call was the only distillery open & actually accepting tours – Echlinville Distillery on the picturesque Ards Peninsular. Sadly there wasn’t anyone available to show us round at the time we passed by on our way up to Belfast.
We did however call in on the wonderful whiskey emporium that is the Bittles Bar who stock the Echlinville range of whiskeys. At present these are also sourced spirits – but the finishes they add to Dunville VR single malt, Three Crowns blend & Bán Poitin certainly make this distillery one to look out for in the future.
The Duke of York provided our last dram of the evening. Another fabulous whiskey bar in the heart of Belfast.
Our dram of the day?
Boann’s The Whistler 5 Year Old Double Oaked. A lovely rich sherry on the nose follows through on tasting combined with sweet bourbon cask maturation notes into a long finish.
It’s always wise to visibly scan the whiskey shelves of any bar you go into to see what they actually have in stock – even if you are familiar with the premises.
I’d not been in the Tullamore Court Hotel for a few months and was very pleasantly surprised by the improved array of fine whiskey before me.
Not only was there a veritable wall of Tullamore DEW expressions lining the front bar, which befits the hotel only being a mere mile away from the new Tullamore Distillery – but also plenty of The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder & Grant’s bottles all from the William Grant & Sons – owners of the distillery – portfolio.
How about a tasty trio of Tullamore DEW to test your tastebuds?
Clearly the hotel is a popular watering hole & welcome bed for the night to many overseas staff and visitors to the Tullamore Distillery.
Meanwhile the side bar had also broadened to showcase the large selection of Irish whiskeys currently available on the market today.
The trio that caught my eyes however were the very distinctive & attractively packaged Method and Madness range recently released by Irish Distillers to much acclaim.
Comprising of a single grain, single malt and a single pot still – these whiskeys have pushed the envelope in terms of style, cask selection & innovation for Irish whiskey.
This happened to be my 1st encounter with them – so I started at the beginning with the single grain release.
Presented at 46%, matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in charred virgin oak, the nose immediately captivated me with warm rich vanilla notes associated with the bourbon casks but heightened with added depth from the virgin oak.
This followed through into a warm smooth snug of flavours in the mouth – very reminiscent of a good bourbon – which is hardly surprising as it is made from a high corn mash with some charred virgin oak cask maturation – albeit Spanish oak. There was a slight delay to savour these beautiful notes before a lovely warming, slightly spicy finish coated the palate and enveloped it like a cosy fireside hug.
There is no madness to this whiskey – it’s simply pushing the method of distilling & maturing the spirit to a higher level.
And in the words of Mr Belt & Wezol – I’m happy for Irish Distillers to Take Me Higher.
The single grain category bar has just been raised!
” Slane Castle has survived on Rock ‘n’ Roll and the inspiration for Slane Irish Whiskey came from the first rock concert we staged back in 1981 with Thin Lizzy.
Phil Lynott’s lyric – Whiskey In The Jar – struck me back then and a dream was born.
Throughout the thick and thin of the intervening years Phil’s song stayed with me, nourishing that dream.
Tonight I’m proud to say that dream has become a reality.
Slane Irish Whiskey is definitely in the jar!
Enjoy the music!
Enjoy the craic!
Enjoy Slane Irish Whiskey!”
And with that – Henry & Alex Conyngham released Slane Irish Whiskey – as well as announcing their distillery – to the accompaniment of local rock band Otherkin -who happen to be supporting Guns N Roses next week at the very same Slane Castle.
I must say – as whiskey launches go – this was pretty damn cool!
Otherkin pumping out their own tunes, along with selected classics from bands that have played Slane over the years.
Slane Irish Whiskey flowing either neat – in my case – or with fashionable cocktail suggestions.
And delightfully tasty tit-bits of food served up by the trusty Eastside Tavern crew where the launch was held.
An eclectic gathering of people came to witness this event including Phil Lynott’s mum Philomena fresh from unveiling a refurbished statue to her famous son & all enjoying the the bright sunny Dublin evening that was in it.
But what about the whiskey?
Well it’s obviously not from Slane Distillery itself – which is due to open it’s doors to the public in August.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a sourced blend of quality malt & grain spirits blended and matured together in 3 different types of casks under the watchful eye of Brown-Forman master distillers Chris Morris and Steve Hughes.
Like Otherkin – this is a young, fresh & gutsy whiskey that grabs your attention.
The soft smooth nose captures elements of both the virgin oak and oloroso casks used in a sweet sherry bouquet. There is a bit of depth to the taste with some wood notes & a welcome soft spice from the seasoned American casks too. This all develops into a friendly warmth that gently fades away.
This raises Slane Irish Whiskey up a notch or 2 in my book as the spirit exudes a bit more punch & flavour than standard blends. It would perform very well alongside Jameson’s Crested, Bushmills Black Bush as well as Diageo’s Roe & Co if you’re familiar with these brands.
The bottle is also attractively designed in muscular black with contrasting white & red labeling together with the raised Slane motif on the sides.
If this is a sign of things to come from Slane Distillery I can’t wait for their own offerings of single malts & single pot stills from their 3 copper stills in the years to follow.
Slane Irish Whiskey and Slane Castle Distillery – to borrow a line from Queen who also played Slane.
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.
Recent financial shenanigans in Tasmania only highlight the large stakes at play in trying to develop a whisky distillery.
Nant Whisky Distilling – which had a somewhat troubled financial history – are currently in receivership whilst the sorry mess is sorted out.
It remains to be seen how this new development will play out for the very attractive looking distillery in Bothwell – which I didn’t manage to visit – and a trio of whisky bars – including the one in Hobart which I did call into.
Situated in the wonderfully attractive quayside area of Salamanca Market in downtown Hobart, The Nant Whisky Bar offers punters a large comfortable space to enjoy an evenings libations.
I happened to be the only customer for an early morning – 11ish – visit on a beautifully sunny yet cold winter’s day – complete with a dusting of snow on the slopes of Mt Wellington which rises up behind the city.
There was a good range of whiskies behind the bar – Scotch, Japanese, Irish & some American too – but I did notice Nant were the only Australian representatives on show. Now OK. This is a ‘tied’ bar – but as Tasmanian whisky is promoting a friendly camaraderie & all the other bars in town had at least 2 or 3 Tasmanian distilleries products on show – it did make me ponder.
There was a choice of 2 Nant whisky flights to enjoy. The cask strength at 63% – or the standard 43% offering.
Now there are some expressions that are perfectly drinkable at 60% and above – but they are few and far between. I also find adding water a rather imprecise exercise which would probably bring down the liquid close to the 43% level anyway – and as it was still the morning – the standard flight it was.
I think I chose well. Even at 43% there was a strong alcoholic kick on the nose of all 3 single malt expressions.
Starting with the American Bourbon Cask, there were the signature vanilla & caramel notes coming through. Very nice – but very familiar. I’d find it hard on a blind tasting to distinguish this Australian malt from the best Scotland or Ireland has to offer.
The American Sherry Cask brought added depth & fruity notes. Whilst the darkest coloured French Port Cask bottle gave the heaviest mouthfeel with deeper & richer notes. The Port Cask – as you may have already guessed – came out tops for me.
Oddly, the Bourbon Cask was the priciest to buy – at tear inducing prices – which when I questioned the bartender, she shot me a look which suggested I shouldn’t follow Kasabian’s advice & Shoot The Runner!
With the future of Nant Distilling now very uncertain – the labels, design & content of any further releases may change. There are barrels still maturing – but who knows what will happen to them.
Perhaps what I sampled back in 2016 are destined to become collectors items never to be repeated again?
I’m just happy to have had the opportunity to taste what I did at the time.
It ebbs and flows on the fortunes & failures of the time.
Arriving in New York City after a 7 hour flight, the first thing on my mind was a taste of American whiskey – and what better place to satisfy that desire than the eponymously named American Whiskey bar at 247 W 30th St.
Now I have to admit we had to push our way through the heavy throng of very loud & cheery office workers who were enjoying a post work drink before we managed to find an empty table at the rear of the bar. Even here we had to almost shout to make ourselves heard above the din – but were attended to very quickly.
Not being sure what to taste from a very comprehensive whiskey list – and being unable to view the bar (which I normally like to do) because of the crowds – I chose the Rye: Winter 2017 flight.
The presentation of the 4 rye whiskeys in Glencairn glasses set in a thick wooden tray complete with a tasting note card with room to leave you’re own notes on impressed me very much.
As did the very tasty burger & brussels when it arrived too.
Something whiskey bars in Ireland should emulate.
On my flight – which changes with the seasons – were 4 different ryes. In American terms this means they all contained a minimum of 51% rye grain in their mashbills to be legally allowed to be called a rye.
Kicking off the evening was Sagamore Rye from Baltimore at 83 proof.
This is a sourced rye for a new distillery that is currently being built in downtown Baltimore. It’s a blend of a ‘high’ and ‘low’ rye cut with water from the owners farm in Maryland and aged for around 2 years.
I found it had a very welcome strong rye kick with that dry spice making itself felt prominently. It’s youthful exuberance was refreshing – though lacked finesse.
Despite being softer & sweeter – it did morph into a rich dry rye on tasting & had a wonderfully long lasting rye finish. Part of the Wild Turkey range.
The final tasting was Whistle Pig 10 Year Old Rye at 100 proof.
Again I was expecting more – but what I got was soft, smooth & sweet. There was a slight rye kick but it faded far to quickly for me.
For my initial foray into rye I found the full on youthful kick of rye from Sagamore won out over the more refined & balanced age statement offerings.
Russell’s came in 2nd closely followed by Whistle Pig & High West at the rear.
Meantime the burger was going down well & the crowds were beginning to thin a little so another drink was ordered.
What else could I finish on other than Hudson Manhattan Rye? As I was happily sat in a bar in Manhattan near the banks of the Hudson River itself.
This too proved to be a heavy youthful rye hitter which was refreshing – but a bit of me preferred the surprising spice from their Baby Bourbon expression mixed with that rich bourbon mouthfeel. Something I’ll have to explore in more detail later.
Thankfully it was only a short walk a few blocks away to our hotel on W 32nd St.
American Whiskey was certainly loud – but the whiskey & food inside definitely made it an enjoyable experience.
I wish I could say ‘I’ll be back.’ – but as it’s about 25 years from my last US visit – somehow I doubt it.
I got a little tip-off there was a new kid in town.
The town is Tullamore.
The new kid is the Tanyard Lane bar on William Street.
Housed in the old Wolftrap building, Carrig Brewing Company have moved into running licensed premises in addition to craft beer brewing from their Leitrim base.
Mrs Whiskey and myself had an opportunity to call in on a Sunday evening for a night-cap.
The premises are large and roomy & spread out over 3 main areas.
A smallish snug area on the front left, a large lounge bar with dining area on the right with an attractive walled bar at the rear.
There is an extensive food menu, a large outside smoking area behind the snug, all equipped with a modern sound system & large sports screens which were thankfully turned down low when we visited.
Carrig craft beers were obviously to the fore. but a decent array of other beer brands featured too, along with an impressive display of gins, wines and over 40 whiskeys to choose from.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to walk into a bar & find a whiskey I’ve not tasted before. Tanyard Lane had a couple of Knappogue Castles to tempt me – but I settled on an Ardbeg 10 year old for a base-line Islay peat hit.
At 46% & non chill filtered – as most Ardbeg releases are these days – I found the familiar satisfying peat hit to be the only show in town. Maybe I was expecting more from this award winning dram? In contrast, my earlier experience of the non age statement Uigeadail release sang to me on many levels & had a longer finish. It left the 10 year old rather one dimensional in my book.
The bar staff were very friendly & helpful and I got chatting with the bar manager Con who was keen to expand on his whiskey selection – which was music to my ears.
The walls were well adorned with pictures of old Tullamore, whiskey mirrors and old drinks adverts.
Kinahan’s made an appearance, along with a Three Swallow ad for Powers and a blatantly sexist ad from Old Dublin Whiskey which you’ll have to visit to see as I refuse to reprint it here.
Whiskey drinking is for both men and women.
Thankfully both were well representing drinking & eating at Tanyard Lane.