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!
The 2nd pub of my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure was only a short walk up Forster Street to the garishly coloured An Pucan bar.
As you can see from the photo above I actually got there before opening time – the train arrived about 10 past – so I took a few snaps before entering.
Before you ask – and I quote here;
“An Púcán” is actually a boat. It is a smaller version of the famous Galway Hooker or Bád Mór. It is about 30 feet in length and was used for fishing and hauling turf around Galway Bay, although they were probably used in other places as well. Nowadays they are pretty much pleasure boats and you can usually see some at the “Cruinniu na m Bad’ a local boat festival in Kinvara Co. Galway. I’ve heard it pronounced “un pookawn”.
A large roomy and spacious area greets you – along with the friendly staff – upon going through the yellow doors. The sheer amount of whiskey showing both behind the bar and in glass display cabinets along the whole of the opposite wall is overwhelming. An Pucan pride themselves in having over 200 expressions on offer.
Luckily I’d heard word through the interweb that the mysterious Craic & Divilment Irish Whiskey was in the house. My eagle eyes scanned the shelves and sure enough – there was the bottle – proudly showing the billy goat sitting quietly on the bar counter.
A glass was soon poured – and not just any glass either – a Glencairn glass I’ll have you know. An Pucan definitely take their whiskey seriously!
Some photos were taken of the golden liquid together with more questions which the staff helpfully answered before I ambled off to sit at a chair – fashioned out of used barrels no less – to enjoy the whiskey. Lovely. For a full review check out a previous blog here.
A further enquiry to the staff about whether I could take more pictures led to much cheerful banter and advice.
‘We have some expensive whiskeys you know – only 10,000 euro a bottle’
‘Ah’ I gulped ‘A bit beyond my price range I think’
Indeed it was WAY beyond anything I could afford – but if you’re in the market – it’s a Midleton VR 30th Anniversery Pearl Edition if you want it.
‘But you’d better hurry’
as Badfinger sang,
”cause it’s going fast’
could equally be applied to the smooth Craic & Divilment Whiskey too as it’s only a limited release.
Rare – discontinued – exclusive bottlings – Japanese – French – American – Welsh and even a pre-whisky whisky from the Puni Distillery in Italy could have enticed me to stay here all day.
Even although it was just after 11am – a few customers were chatting away. A woman over from the Aran Islands – the shuttle buses for the ferry must use the nearby depot -reminisced about when she used to come to the pub for all the dancing with the bands. The staff assured her there was still plenty of dancing and still plenty of live bands playing too.
‘Probably more suited to my daughter’s tastes who’s up here at college herself now. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her the stories of all the great times I had in here dancing’
‘Maybe yer daughter has already been in here enjoying the dancing as well’
‘I hope tis only the dancing she’s been enjoying’ came the reply coupled with a wicked smile and crackling laughter.
On 16th January 1920 the 18th amendment came into law bringing about 13 years of drought as prohibition of alcohol started in America.
On 16th January 2016 I loitered outside Garvey’s in Eyre Square, Galway on a cold damp Saturday morning waiting for the doors to open so I could down a warming whiskey as part of my Galway Whiskey Trail tour.
The plan was to have a glass of the uisce beatha in each of the 10 pubs on the trail – with the added bonus of each being a new whiskey for me! This proved to be a relatively easy exercise in terms of new expressions – but more problematic in terms of total alcohol consumption!
There was only one Galway Girl – like Steve Earl – I had eyes for however on that morning,
and it wasn’t Grainne – however much very nice she is. I had my eyes set on some Craic & Divilment – a new fun expression labelled as Buckfast Barrel Finnished Irish Whiskey.
The second pub I entered – An Pucan just round the corner on Forster Street – had just the bottle I was looking for and a dram was duly served in a Glencairn glass to boot!
Now I’m not one for doing a review – but for this I think I’ll make an exception.
The clouds that sweep in off the Atlantic deposit their rain on the Twelve Bens of Connemara. Percolating down through the quartzite rock and bogs the water makes it’s way into magical Lough Corrib before entering the sea in Galway City. Below Persse‘s Old Distillery the River Corrib foams and churns in the narrow rapids.
This is the Colour of Craic & Divilment.
Remnants of heather clinging to the rugged landscape. Salmon swimming in the Corrib. Vanilla from the bourbon casks also brought across the Atlantic. Sweet almost sticky notes from the tonic wine along with the monk’s damp habits from Buckfast Abbey.
This is the Nose of Craic & Divilment.
Rich, smooth, sweet and warming.
A whiskey finished in an additional barrel for extra flavour and taste can be ‘undercooked’ if by not having spent enough time imbuing the aromas in the wood the results are too subtle or weak to be detected.
An ‘overcooked’ finish can unbalance the whiskey drowning out and overwhelming the original spirit character. This is ‘Overkill’ and whilst the sadly departed Lemmy did a marvelous job of it below
Craic & Divilment did not go down this route and instead produced a finely tuned marriage of whiskey and buckfast tonic adding that je ne sais quoi to the dram.
As Dr Spock used to say; ” It’s whiskey Jim, But not as we know it” and he wasn’t referring to Jim Murray either.
This is the Taste of Craic & Divilment.
The long lingering finish allows you to close your eyes to follow the journey the rain makes across the Atlantic – down the Connemara mountains and bogs, into Lough Corrib and out into Galway Bay.
This is the Finish of Craic & Divilment.
But who said anything about finishing? Sure isn’t the bottle only just opened? Grab another chair there and get a few glasses. We’ll have a grand old time getting to know this delightful little beauty. Let’s get it started!