I got fierce excited at last years Whiskey Live Dublin over the opportunity to sample an Irish rye whiskey that was still maturing in Kilbeggan Distillery.
The bottle was filled straight from the cask at over 60% ABV & presented non chill filtered without added caramel.
It was powerful – yet the mashbill of malted & unmalted barley together with a high rye content displayed that wonderful peppery rye spiciness with a smooth & creamy barley influence.
Almost a year on the production bottle has been released in time for Whiskey Live Dublin 2018 – as well as picking up a Gold Medal at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards.
As a self confessed rye fan I picked up a bottle in the distillery on my return from the highly enjoyable awards evening at Slane Castle.
Now the bottle design is rather muted & understated. There are some lovely tasting notes on the back label – an unexplained handshake logo on the neck – and a nod to the historical inclusion of rye in Irish whiskey making from times past.
I fully welcome the return of rye to the modern Irish whiskey scene.
On the nose it’s very soft, slightly sweet with just a hint of peppery spice that signifies the rye content.
The palate is also very silky & smooth. The barley content dominates the initial experience before that black pepper spiciness – which I love – kicks in to leave a wonderfully drying mouthfeel at the end which slowly fades away.
At 43% & with added caramel – which is found throughout the Kilbeggan range of whiskeys – I couldn’t help feeling some of the spark & vitality of that original cask sample had been lost a little in this more tame offering.
I just had to compare it with the Arbikie Highland Rye released late 2017 in Scotland.
Now this is also a barley/rye mix – but there’s no unmalted barley – and the rye content is higher at 52%. It’s also younger at only 2 years old & has no added caramel or chill filtering. It’s bottled at 46%.
There is more pronounced rye on the nose.
The smoothness & creaminess of the barley belies it’s young age before a joyfully massively drying peppery spice explodes on the palate leaving a fabulously prickly finish.
I’m afraid to say – when it comes to rye – Scotland do it better.
At least that’s the situation when it comes to the race for rye.
Despite Kilbeggan sitting on a wonderful 6 year old pot still rye – as tasted at Whiskey Live Dublin here – Arbikie have released a 2 year old Highland Rye.
Being relative newcomers – Arbikie are not bound by ‘tradition’, ‘custom’ or ‘expectation’. This Highland Rye exists outside of the box that is Scottish Whisky Regulations – time for a musical interlude!
As such there is no mention of ‘whisky’ on the label.
Yet rye has always been an integral part of the whisky scene both in Scotland – as well as Ireland – and what Arbikie have done is simply to re-interpret a ‘tradition’ that has been neglected for over a century.
As a self confessed ‘rye head’ I couldn’t pass this up. A bottle was duly ordered.
It’s a bit pricey for 500ml – but the proceeds of the first 100 bottles go to a Motor Neurone charity here.
I like the simplistic clarity of the no nonsense label – including the large Arbikie logo common throughout their Gin & Vodka range.
I like that Arbikie are a ‘single estate distillery’ using ingredients grown on the estate farm & fields.
And I like the additional information shown on the attractive label; grain variety, field grown in, cask type. Shades of Mark Reynier at Waterford’s terroir here.
But most of all – I simply love the whole drinking experience of this rye.
4 of us variously sampled this first Scottish rye for over 100 years – so the following is an amalgamation of our findings.
A wonderful floral bouquet on the nose, hints of varnish, a soft to medium classic white peppery rye spice, warming vanilla & caramel notes from the charred American oak casks.
The taste was suitably smooth, the youthful rye punch delightfully muted by the barley content which added a gentle malt & slight oily influence to the drying rye spices in the well balanced mix.
The finish coated my mouth in that invigorating warm yet dry prickly feel I so enjoy after a great dram.
If you only drink one rye this year – make it Arbikie Highland Rye.
Not only does it encapsulate all the classic rye attributes I love – it also adds a unique Scottish mix with the homegrown rye & barley.
1) This is the first spirit to be released from a new Dublin whiskey distillery for over a century.
That in itself makes this recently released poitin worthy of a punt – which is exactly what I did. But on tasting the spirit – I got a lovely surprise.
2) Spirit Of Dublin is a single pot still Poitin.
Once I worked my way through that initial oily, slightly rotten fruit smell of new make whiskey – I experienced a very welcome single pot still signature spice warming up my palate and making me smile.
Made with a mix of malted barley and unmalted barley – this is a uniquely Irish style originating from an early tax avoidance scheme where unmalted barely attracted no duty.
The unexpected result is a fabulous soft spice together with a slightly richer mouthfeel on tasting – which Spirit Of Dublin clearly possesses.
If it taste this good straight from the stills – what will it be like straight from the barrel after it’s matured for long enough to be called a whiskey?
Perhaps I’ll have to book another flight a few years hence to find out!
After disembarking at Galway Docks from successfully launching The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey the entertainment continued into the wee small hours. We were whisked away to one of the founding members of The Galway Whiskey Trail‘s bars – Sonny Molloy’s.
Drinks soon flowed – wines for the non-whiskey drinking brigade – cocktails for the more youthful contingent – and yet more whiskey for myself.
Being in Sonny’s surrounded by a stunning display of whiskeys allowed me to further explore the wonderful world of peated Irish whiskey.
Peated Irish whiskey.
It’s not a category everyone seems to be aware of – let alone be familiar with.
Connemara is the most well known example of this style. A Beam/Suntory brand from the Cooley Distillery in County Louth. It’s a fairly light tasting peated whiskey in its original non-age statement (NAS) single malt bottling but is also available as a 12 year old, a stunning 22 year old, a cask strength and if you look for it – a Turf Mor expression too.
A few years ago I tasted the 22 year old at it’s launch during the 2014 Irish Whiskey Awards held in Kilbeggan Distillery. I’m afraid to say peat wasn’t my strong point at that time so it was lost on me – but I have since developed a palate for peat and should go back to re-taste it again.
Contrary to Iain Banks eminently enjoyable whisky book ‘Raw Spirit’ who likens peated whisky to Marmite in that you either love it – or hate it – I think the charms of peat have slowly grown on me.
Sonny’s also stock some lovely discontinued peated Irish whiskey.
Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single Malt is a lighty peated expression also from Cooley before the Beam takeover in 2011. Originally destined for the American market by Sidney Frank Importing Company lawsuits ensued after the loss of supply but luckily this brand may re-surface as part of the Sazerac portfolio. I certainly await it’s return – although I can still enjoy the odd dram now and then of the original in decent whiskey bars around Ireland.
The peated Irish whiskey that really tantalises my tastebuds however is Inishowen. It’s your standard entry level blend of young grain spirit mixed with peaty malt bottled at 40%. Cooley are responsible again for this delightfully smooth youthful yet fully peated whiskey.
I’d go so far to say this whiskey out performs the big Scottish guns of Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse, Haig and Teachers et al – no sharp edges here with Inishowen. Just a wonderful aroma and taste of peat together with a lovely sweet refreshing grain finish. Pity it’s discontinued – as I love it’s simple charms – much like the youthful exuberance of my musical interlude.
In my merry state – I laid down 2 challenges.
1 – If any standard Scottish blend can match Inishowen I’d love to try it – I haven’t come across one yet.
2 – When will an Irish distillery release a blend to match Inishowen?
Now I know Teeling are already laying down peated distillate and Nephin Whiskey are planning a peated single malt – so I may not have to wait too long – but a plain ordinary everyday peated blend is what I’m looking for – not a premium product.
With my challenge set – I cheerily left what was developing into an Irish bloggers lovefest – rejoined Mrs Whiskey who had bonded with the wine drinking fraternity – and bid our farewells for the evening before things got messy.
I raise a glass of The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey as a toast of appreciation for the wonderful launch party