L.Mulligan Whiskey Shop – along with other establishments – offer a variety of virtual whiskey tastings over the internet.
I’d highly recommend them.
The opportunity to try a flight of whiskeys – some possibly beyond your budget – with an introduction by the brand ambassador or owner & interactions from fellow whiskey fans.
What’s not to like?
Well – 2 things.
The vagaries of a courier system overwhelmed with demand due to COVID resulted in some folks not getting their physical tasting packs in time.
Your computer skills – or lack off – or outdated software – may need an update.
Thankfully it all came together on the evening as I sat down to enjoy 6 samples of Gelston’s Whiskey.
Samuel Gelston first began a whisky merchants business back in an 1830’s Belfast. Later joined by HJ Neill, the company successfully bonded, blended & bottled the whisky of the day. The current Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey has been founded by direct family descendents who wish to revitalise the family tradition.
Gelston’s Single PotStill, 40%
Being independent bottlers, Gelston’s source their spirit from a number of sources – in this instance West Cork Distillers (WCD) using a 50/50 malted/unmalted barley mix. Displaying some nutty notes, oily mouthfeel & an enjoyable spice on the finish – this is a very easy going, accessible & engagingly pleasant introduction to the Single Pot Still category.
Gelston’s 5 Year Old, Single Malt, 41.2%
Again WCD supply the base malt – a combination of sherry cask & bourbon cask matured barrels that have been married together to produce this characterful 5yo which exhibits a fine degree of richness & depth for it’s young age. Very satisfying.
Gelston’s 10 Year Old, Single Malt, 40%
A very fruity & fresh exbourbon cask matured malt signified a marked doubling in age – along with a change of supply – a triple distilled Cooley. It was also stressed acquiring these barrels can often happen at very short notice with little prospect of future supply to guarantee a core & consistent product. Makes it all the more enjoyable to taste such an engaging whiskey!
Gelston’s 15 Year Old Single Malt, 43%
The higher up the years we go – the flavours were enhanced – the price escalated & the availability of barrels decreases – Bushmills malt sourced via John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery (GND). I found a rather quiet nose belied the delights within completed with a gorgeous flourish on the finish. A beauty of a malt.
Gelston’s 26 Year Old, Single Malt, 54.2%
I was enveloped in the warm embrace of a joyously returning old acquaintance on tasting this one! Again – GND sourced Bushmills malt. This is probably my 3rd or 4th encounter with these venerable old barrels. Various independent blenders, bonders & bottlers have a cask or 2. Simply stunning!
Gelston’s Single Pot Still, Pinot Noir Finish, 40%
How do you top a beautiful, rare & superb single malt? How about a soon to be released SPS finished in Pinot Noir casks supplied by the Gelston/Neill family descendents vineyard? Rich dark fruits on the nose, great depth & complexity & a lovely long luscious finish. The Pinot Noir casks had added so much more to the original WCD SPS we started with at the beginning – and rather being an unicorn bottling – this one is set to become part of the core range! Fabulous!
Gelston’s Irish Whiskey
Gelston’s Whiskey are a wonderful example of the fine art of independent bottlers.
Sourcing from all and sundry – blending where needed – finishing in self sourced casks – releasing limited stock that might be deemed too small to market by the big companies.
May the current generation Gelston/Neill family be every bit as successful in the Irish Whiskey scene of today as their relatives were in the past.
A highly enjoyable & enlightening whiskey tasting!
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.
Packaged in a very attractively designed bottle with a marvelous mission statement and some straight talking advertising – The Knot is certainly appealing.
Falling somewhere between the rich honey thickness of Drambuie and the lovely warm Xmas spiciness of Flaming Pig – The Knot has a smooth rich caramel beginning followed through with some well balanced spice before the warming heat of the 100 proof whiskey makes it’s presence felt.
Made in Bailieborough – sold in Boston – it came into my hands via a contact in Belfast.
Prior to the Beam/Suntory takeover of the Kilbeggan/Cooley distillery, it was the only independently owned distillery in Ireland. (This situation has altered again due to the many new entrants into the market). A number of brand names were dropped from the portfolio during the changing process which has led to exciting developments in the Irish Whiskey industry.
The 1st notable omission from the current line-up is Locke’s Single Malt.This is a fine example of a smooth tasting pot still Irish whiskey. The fact that the Locke’s family ran the Kilbeggan distillery for over 100 years through the ups and downs of the whiskey trade and that there name was synonymous with a good dram – it seems a startling miss out. For further reading there is a very informative book – “Locke’s Distillery, A History.” by Andrew Bielenberg, produced for the 250th anniversary of the distillery. Well worth getting hold off. I got my copy at the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society shop in Tullamore.
The main beneficiaries of the sale to Beam were the Teeling family. Brothers Jack and Stephen wasted no time reinvesting their share in building the 1st new distillery to be opened in Dublin for 125 years. I’ve been lucky to have visited it already. It’s a grand building and will produce some very fine whiskeys indeed judging by the Teeling releases currently out there which are all presently spirit made at Kilbeggan/Cooley. There is a must see documentary called “The Whiskey Business” soon to be screened on Irish TV on June 5th which follows the boys making their dreams come true.
Father John is also building a grain distillery at Dundalk – no doubt to supply his sons (and others) with one of the main ingredients for blended whiskey.
There are a number of other clients who previously sourced their spirit at Kilbeggan/Cooley who have gone on to develop their own distilleries.
Lottery winner Peter Lavery previously released the Titanic and Danny Boy whiskey brands. He is now behind the release of McConnell’s Irish Whiskey prior to the development of Crumlin Gaol in Belfast as a whiskey distillery.
Meanwhile – a whiskey I have tasted and enjoyed – Michael Collins – is taking a rather different approach. The Sidney Frank Importing Co is suing Beam for the cessation of it’s whiskey stocks!
There is also the rather unknown quantity of “own label” brands – supermarket chains for example -that would have got their spirit from Kilbeggan/Cooley. This is a major business – but often hard to get information on. The requirement is only to state which country produced the whiskey – not the distillery – but Kilbeggan/Cooley under Teeling supplied this lucrative market.
One example is O’Reilly’s Irish Whiskey which is available in Tesco’s. It has the Cooley Business address on the back. It is still on the shelves at present so whether stocks have been secured post Beam – or pre Beam – I don’t know. I’ve aslo not tasted it. But it is an example of the many different labels a distilleries output can end up in!
The above are only a small sample of whiskeys manufactured at Kilbeggan/Cooley during the time John Teeling was at the helm – 1987 to 2012. Many are no more – but some may survive. I certainly enjoy hunting them down and experiencing the differing tastes and styles on display – marvelling that they were all produced at the same distillery!