Well I – and a host of others – eagerly awaited the Irish launch of this much anticipated whiskey in the fine surroundings of The Rag Trader bar in Dublin’s fair city.
The actual Dead Rabbit bar is in New York. It’s the creation of founders Sean & Jack from Northern Ireland. Despite being only a stones throw from the mighty Hudson River, when you enter, it’s like being transported back to a local watering hole by the banks of the River Shannon.
Awards have been won, there are queues to get in, there is some slick & clever marketing & it’s a very enjoyable experience drinking and dining inside the friendly establishment.
And then there’s the rabbit.
To celebrate their 5 years in business the Dead Rabbit have launched their own whiskey. Not surprisingly it’s a 5 year old sourced blend. This follows a long tradition of pubs & grocers releasing their own distinctive whiskeys which are a mixture of spirits from a variety of sources blended to their own requirements.
So does it match the hype?
In one word – yes!
Now there were plenty of cocktails around – but I’m an old fashioned – ahem – kind of guy – so neat Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey it was for me.
A lovely woody nose enticed me in. The virgin oak finish had worked it’s charms.
The palate began softly. Gentle fruity notes developed into more robust woody tannins with a lovely rich spice which tingled on the tongue as it slowly faded away.
Suitably robust yet soft & spicy all at the same time.
The Dead Rabbit’s done good.
Many thanks to Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey for the invite & use of the Rabbit image for the blog.
Not only in the physical distance it has to travel to reach outside markets – but also in terms of taste, flavour and style.
Fortunately for me an invitation to a wedding in Melbourne (a Tullamore lad & a Melbourne lassie no less) allowed me the opportunity to sample a few of these marvelous malts.
The option of bringing home some of these usually quite expensive bottlings wasn’t really on the cards – so a venue that had a large selection of the local distillate was in order.
Bad Frankie – off Smith St in the bohemian suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne – was recommended to me by the very helpful Pilgrim Bar. It didn’t disappoint.
The 86 tram does pass by – but another young couple kindly drove us there. A Melbourne lad & an Athlonian lassie who happened to be a next door neighbour & whose wedding we had attended back in Ireland. It’s a small world!
Bad Frankie is a popular spot. On the night we visited we only just managed to get a table. The atmosphere was very friendly & inviting. Bad Frankie specializes in Australian food, Australian Gin & the main reason it attracted me – Australian Whisky. Lots of it!
Handily for me they did a tasting platter of any 5 whiskies of your choice for 40 dollars. (Prices in July 2016) Seb – the owner – & his staff were very attentive and allowed me to pick the ones I wanted.
I narrowed it down to 7 bottles initially. Despite doing my homework before I came to Oz there were still distilleries I hadn’t heard off! Yet here they were – all tempting me.
The final 5 that won my attention on the night were brought to my table. The samples poured and the back story to each bottle in terms of style, flavour, distillery & even the distillation method were explained by the knowledgeable staff.
A varied round of Bad Frankie jaffles were also served up. I went for the ‘Bangers & Mash’. Basically it’s a sealed toasted sandwich filled with a fabulous concoction of tasty fillings. It certainly made a great whisky food pairing!
With a name like Limeburners I couldn’t let this one pass me by. Western Australia’s first single malt whisky distillery had me hooked! A lovely rich fruity number that only confirmed my prediliction to port finishes.
Yes – that’s right – peated rye. The world’s first. Not only that. It uses rye grown on the distiller’s – Peter Bignell – farm as well as Tasmanian peat to give a truly unique taste. There is a gorgeous soft smoke with the merest hint of rye spice too. Fabulous!
I must admit the above selection truly stunned me. The quality & diversity of Australian whisky is simply amazing. I love it – just like these Aussie rockers!
I should also point out that these bottles were available when I visited. Many Australian distilleries release small batches or single runs in limited numbers. What is available now is probably very different. One thing that will not be different is the fabulous taste offered by the new releases – whether they are new expressions from the above distilleries or new expressions from new distilleries that hadn’t appeared when I was down under.
As is true in many countries – the range of whiskies available in the home market is usually far larger than that on sale outside that country.
If you really want to taste Australian whisky – you have to go there.
And Bad Frankie for me at least – is the prime spot to do that tasting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the joys about entering the An Pucan bar – just off Galway’s Eyre Square in the West of Ireland – is the wide array of whiskey available. Not only do they stock a marvelous selection of Irish – there is a healthy amount of other countries output too.
Italy is one of those countries. They also happen to be one of the Six Nations rugby teams that do battle every year – and as An Pucan is a sports bar – they show the game – as well as having the whiskey!
Puni is the first whisky distillery in Italy – and I was keen to sample one of their expressions.
This Puni Alba release is one of their earlier incarnations. An Pucan’s bottle is the original design – a very attractive & distinctive rectangular bottle at that. Later editions come in a more traditional – yet still very stylish – round shape which is used across the whole range. For me however – it’s the contents that count – so a glass was duly poured.
The nose came over with a rather unique profile. Soft & sweet with a lovely floral touch – yet slightly citric all at the same time. Very intriguing.
The taste started off suitably mellow, followed by a lovely growing heat with a little spicy kick. The floral sweetness developed into a cornucopia of flavour sensations that rolled around in the palate.
The finish was rather short – but left me wanting more!
Why had it taken me so long to try this gorgeous whisky?
On the side of the bottle some interesting information – which became clearer when enlarged – explained why I loved this expression so much.
Turns out it’s triple distilled using a mash of barley, wheat and – my pet love – rye! So that’s where the delightful spice comes from. The combination of these grains works extremely well in producing a phalanx of beautiful flavours which just exploded in my mouth.
Heaven in a bottle!
Much like Linea 77 singing about La nuova musica Italiana – I want more nuova whisky Italiana!
It should go without saying this original bottling came non chill filtered with no added caramel – which raises the freshness, clarity & strength of the engaging flavours within.
Pikesville was a small neighbourhood in Maryland USA. It is now consumed into Baltimore County and happens to be where some of my in-laws live.
Despite visiting last year – I never did get the chance to try the locally named brand.
Pikesville – as well as Maryland in general – had a thriving rye whiskey business before prohibition. Only now is there a bit of a resurgence of that proud history with new distilleries entering the market.
This bottle in the meantime is made in Kentucky at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown – and when I spotted it on the shelves in Garavan’s – I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Now ‘straight’ in American terms means aged for at least 2 years. ‘Rye’ means at least 51% rye is used in the all important mash bill – the other 49% can be commonly made up of corn, wheat or barley. Added caramel is not permitted.
Rye is a style of whiskey I love.
I like the hit of spicy cinnamon & nutmeg followed through by a rich peppery dryness combined with some softer warming vanilla & caramel notes.
Pikesville Supreme only just had that rye kick. I found it very much muted by the other ingredients – which I suspected as being corn. This resulted in a warm vanilla led nose & taste with only a tingling of rye at the end.
An easy drinking approachable rye yes – but not what I’m craving.
My suspicions on the corn content were confirmed later by an internet search. The mash bill makes all the difference to the taste. In this instance Pikesville appears to have a mix of rye 51%, corn 37%, and barley 12% – which explains why it didn’t light up my life.
That’s not to say it’s a bad rye. In fact many are lamenting the loss of this particular bottling which has been replaced by a 6 year old 110 proof – 55% ABV – expression that might be more up my street. The Washington Post even covered the story here!
So if you’re missing a taste of Maryland – head for Garavan’s in Galway!
Only the other day I was remarking there would be an increase in bars releasing their own label whiskey when;
Out of the hat pops the Dead Rabbit whiskey.
Shortly followed by a Garavan’s 10yo single malt!
I get as excited as a kid at Christmas with every new Irish whiskey release. In this instance it was a lot easier to visit a pub only an hour down the road – rather than a trans-atlantic flight across the pond – for me to sample one of these bottles!
Garavan’s is a gem of a whiskey bar. One of the 12 venues on the Galway Whiskey Trail. It has warm wooden snugs & paneling, loads of whiskey coupled with friendly welcoming & informed staff. What more could a whiskey fan ask for?
I ordered up my Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey – neat as is my way – & awaited the joys that were within.
The nose opened up with some playful fruity notes – this whiskey isn’t shy about coming forward – with some rich vanilla & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation.
The taste was a delight. No holding back here either. Clear, crisp & fresh. More of that warming bourbon influence with a soft prickly spice too.
The finish was suitably long & mellow – yet left a satisfying lingering heat. Time for a tune for the recently departed.
I liked the no nonsense label too. It harks back to bygone days when brown paper bags were the norm – deliveries were done on a bone shaker & each grocer had their own whiskey – from sourced distilleries!
There is no mention on the bottle as to the origin of the spirit within. Under both Irish and Scottish whiskey rules there is no legal requirement to do so – and I’m happy with that.
I don’t judge a whiskey by the cover.
I judge by the contents.
And the contents taste lovely!
Only when I blew up the photos – I’m of an age when all of a sudden the small print has become a bit of a blur – did I see some of the reasons why.
46% in whiskey terms is a magic number. It usually denotes non chill filtration. On my palate at least that means bigger & bolder flavours – more taste sensation & more warming heat. All of which Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice possesses in spades.
There is no mention of added caramel – but the bold clarity of the flavours suggests not.
There are plans to release the whiskey for retail – but in the meantime it’s only available at Garavan’s bar. For me – it’s the best place to experience this fabulous new Irish whiskey – having the craic & sharing the friendly banter with both regular customers and welcoming bar staff.
There has been an explosion of new Irish whiskeys in recent years. A trend that is likely to increase as the next generation of Irish whiskey distilleries begin to release their own produce.
Another phenomenon of the re-birth of the Irish whiskey scene is the growing number of whiskey bars releasing their own bottlings.
Local to myself in the Midlands, Hugh Lynch’s Bar in Tullamore & Sean’s Bar in Athlone have both released approachable & enjoyable blended Irish whiskey offerings under their own label – both produced for them by West Cork Distillers.
Generally these releases are only available in their bar of origin. Which makes a good excuse for a journey to sample them in their natural habitat – in the pub full of ceol agus craic. Always a bonus in my book!
However when passing through Dublin Airport a while ago I did notice a quartet of whiskeys under the Temple Bar logo.
Not content with releasing the obligatory blended offering – Temple Bar have taken it a step further and are offering a trio of age statement single malts at 10, 12 & 15 years old.
I didn’t ascertain where they were sourced from – there are only a few choices at this age – but they were all what I’d call standard bourbon matured Irish whiskeys.
That’s not to say they weren’t good – all of them are far better than the blend offering a richer, smoother & more flavoursome experience for the discerning drinker.
There were subtle differences between all 3 – but for me the 12 year old proved to be the sweet spot.
The combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes from the bourbon cask combined with some woody tannin notes from the oak barrel won me over.
Having a taster in the airport lounge before a long flight wouldn’t be the ideal spot to really savour these malts. That will have to wait for a visit to the actual Temple Bar in Dublin where a flight of all 4 whiskeys in the comfortable lounge area can be truly appreciated.
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.