The long anticipated release of Irish Whiskey from the Royal Oak Distillery in Co Carlow finally seems to be over.
Bottle & label designs have been approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in America.
The Busker range appears to consist of a Single Grain, 44.3%.
Single Malt, 44.3%.
Single Pot Still, 44.3%,
and a Blend, 40%.
As yet the only information available is from these labels – which may differ from the actual releases in various regions.
I find the bold design quite refreshingly striking – and can’t wait to have the actual bottle in my hands.
Especially as it will allow me to taste the all important Irish Whiskey inside!
After the parting of waves between Walsh Distillery founders Bernard & Rosemary Walsh and Royal Oak owners Illva Saronno– it appears the division was between a ‘premiumisation’ strategy versus a more mass market approach.
This is played out in the Irish Whiskey community too.
In an expanding & more diverse Irish Whiskey market both strategies are possible.
I’m certainly looking forward to sampling the fruits of Royal Oak’s labours – at a hopefully palatable price!
It may seem an incongruous pair of whiskeys to compare – but in my opinion – the two offerings above represent the growing maturity, complexity and coming of age of Irish Whiskey.
On the one hand you have ChapelGate’s ultra premium exquisitely packaged and presented Chosen,
On the other, McGregor’s mass market blend Proper Twelve.
Both have delivered a product that satisfies the demands of their specific target audiences,
And both are excelling within their respective categories.
My blog welcoming the arrival of Proper Twelve to the market stated;
‘Irish Whiskey will never be the same again’
Has certainly been proven true.
For a newly released brand to be seriously challenging the dominance of Jameson – as in an Irish Times article – is truly outstanding. Despite the recent deplorable antics – perhaps even because of? – there seems to be no slowing down of Proper Twelve’s growth trajectory.
It is opening the market to a new generation of Irish Whiskey drinkers around the world and recently expanded into Poland & South Africa.
ChapelGate’s Chosen is also taking Irish Whiskey into new – and to many unthinkable – territory, the ultra premium luxury market. I highly commend founder Louise McGuane for her courage in doing so.
The dedication, careful selection of stock and variety of quality casks at her bonded warehouse in County Clare was outstanding. I chanced a visit over two and a half years ago – even before her first release – which you can read about here.
To chart the growing success of ChapelGate since then – as well as tasting JJ Corry’s fabulous whiskey releases – has been a wonderful journey.
The reaction to Chosen and Proper Twelve has been immense – and divisive.
Both have taken Irish Whiskey out of the narrowly defined one dimensional stereotypes of the past.
They represent a multi dimensional & complex Irish Whiskey scene that can be double distilled, peated, flavourful, rough round the edges, brash & youthful, aged & nuanced all at the same time.
Both dreamed big and played far beyond the boundaries.
The label on this miniature bottle had me confused.
I always associated Grant’s with being a big selling Speyside blend with a distinctive triangular shaped bottle which hadn’t exactly set my palate alight.
Yet here was a round Glen Grant bottle proclaiming to be from the Highlands.
Turns out there were 2 or 3 Mr Grants who set up whisky distilleries in the 1800’s.
In the 1840’s brothers John & James Grant founded the Glen Grant Distillery. It has gone through many changes of ownership and is now in the hands of the Campari Group – which immediately takes me back to an old advert!
Later on a certain William Grant laid the stones for the Glenfiddich Distillery back in 1886. The company is still with the same family today and has gone on to great success. It is responsible for the Grant’s range of blended whiskies – as well as notable single malts and built the new Tullamore Distillery in Ireland.
So that’s one issue sorted.
Highland Malt when quite clearly it’s a Speyside distillery?
Well not so fast bucko.
Scottish Whisky Regions are actually a fairly recent construct and in my opinion more tied in with clever marketing & branding rather than anything intrinsically connecting whiskies made in these regions. An internet search found an enjoyable explanation here.
Since my miniature seems to be an old bottling – the closest I could identify is offered on Whisky Exchange here – which pre-dates current Scotch Whiskey Region rules.
But I only found all this out after tasting Glen Grant Highland Malt – as I fairly enjoyed it.
There was a slight funkiness on the nose – not overpowering & actually quite characterful – which I’d possibly allow as deterioration from the old bottling – yet otherwise fresh & light.
The palate was signature Speyside – soft, subtle fruits & easy sweet biscuity malt with a hint of spice towards the finish.
If anything the 43% presentation had boosted the flavours within & given an enhanced appeal to my palate.
Not bad at all.
It enticed me to unearth the information above – all from a mixed bag auction lot purchase.
Their sourced 12 Year Old Single Malt – ahead of their own distillate maturing – captured me with it’s bold yet clean design & cool bottle.
The liquid inside didn’t disappoint either.
A warm smooth & inviting start with a slight smoky hint of charred casks developed into a silky mouthfeel which slowly morphed into a gorgeously dry finish.
A great start to the show.
Their Spiced Irish Rum also tempted me.
The Guatemalan sugar cane mollasses are imported into Ireland, fermented, distilled & matured by Black’s to produce an Irish Rum.
Now rum isn’t my speciality – but this had an invitingly pungent nose of earthiness, smokiness, sweetness & spice. The taste followed in this style & was a far more entertaining tipple than I expected.
Thumbs up all round for Black’s entry into the distilled spirits market.
Rye River Brewing happened to be nearby with their ever enthusiastic beer ambassador Simon. Now we happen to know each other prior to his latest rise to beer fame & he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me sampling a Rye River special brewed for the show.
It also wasn’t difficult to go on a slightly wavering tour of the festival – perhaps taking in more than we would have done individually – but having a great time nonetheless.
A newcomer into the market for Ireland this historic and extremely popular Chinese spirit often catagorised as ‘baijiu‘ is an area I’ve yet to venture into.
Gorgeously garishly attractive – both the bottle, stall design and uniformed – as well as informed – staff had me trying to get my head round the sorghum & wheat base, 9 distillation production technique and new taste sensations.
It has the nose & appearance of a poitin – yet the taste was something else. At 53% it was warm, inviting, softly sweet yet earthy & unusual. I’d have been tempted to buy a bottle to explore further – but on hearing the price – this is a premium product with a premium price tag I was informed – I made do with another sample that still had me yearning for more! One to watch as they say.
Knowing my predilection for darker, heavier beers Simon guided me to Clifden based Bridewell Brewery. Along with their core range a limited edition duo commemorating the historic first flight across the Atlantic by Alcock & Brown resulted in highly enjoyable & very satisfying Navigator Transatlantic Brown. The Pilot Amber Ale of Alcock wasn’t too bad either!
Yes, yes and yes! – is all I can say. Suits me sir!
A few other beers were had – some enjoyable – others not so – before Simon went back to work – and I back to whiskey – Pearse Lyons Whiskey to be precise.
Now I thought I had a reasonable handle on the fast moving Irish Whiskey Scene – obviously not when confronted by three age statemented Pearse Lyons offerings!
Turns out the original core range of 4 has been revamped, rerecipied & rebranded!
Gone are the non age statements, chunky bottles & keyhole like labels – in is a sleeker, leaner shared brand identity with a slightly higher 43% ABV. Also gone is the Cooper’s Select – grab it while you can!
The names & colours remain the same – with Original now a 5yo & Distiller’s Choice a 7yo. Founder’s Reserve was already a 12yo.
Short of a back to back comparison with the old 42% versions I couldn’t discern what changes have taken place. It was admitted the Original had lost a little of it’s smoky character from the former Alltech Lexington Brewery & Distillery barrels. It also looks as if that facilities output has also had a rebrand – but I failed to make the Town Branch stall this time.
The newly rebranded Pearse Lyons trio all still taste very appealing & are attractively priced – yet I was somewhat surprised by the revamp – so much so I needed a break – and a pie – to recompose myself!
Pieman continue to be a favourite festival pie provider of mine. A roast chicken & sausage stuffing pie sated my hunger & calmed me down for the final push. It also allowed some entertaining chats & discussions with fellow attendees on the shared table spaces dotted around the hall. Hats off to the Tempted ciderist who won Best In Show for their gorgeously dry & balanced Tempted Strawberry Cider & explained the intricacies of the trade to me over our meal.
Conscious that time was limited to make the last train home – I found another barrel aged beer to sample at the Clocked Out stall.
Brett yeast seems to be a growing trend in craft brewing but I’m still not sure of the sour & funky taste even with this fine barrel aged stout. I did manage a quick catch up with the ever energetic Mr Guilfoyle whose rise in beer has been a pleasure to witness.
Scottish punk drink empire’s BrewDog stand earned a final visit. I knew they had a sourced whisky lurking under the counter waiting to celebrate Scotland’s win over England in the Six Nations which ultimately went to a draw.
Uncle Duke’s is a Cameron Bridge sourced single grain with American virgin oak maturation, no chill filtration & natural colour. Rich, warm & inviting with a lovely dry spiciness showing through the soft & smooth delivery.
A proud testament to the enduring legacy of Irishman Aeneas Coffey whose continuous still was adopted by Cameron Bridge back in the 1830’s – and is still going strong today – in a larger modern version – with wonderful results like this.
And with that it was all over for me – despite the growing crowds still entering to enjoy the evenings entertainment.
All I was looking forward to now was that hot cup of tea on the train home!
A bright sunny Monday morning had me waiting outside Dublin’s newest whiskey distillery – Dublin Liberties Distillery – eagerly looking forward to being one of the first customers within it’s doors.
The building has been transformed since my last visit. Gone are the whitewashed walls, black doors and empty industrial space inside. Now it’s showing off the original stone walls, immaculately varnished wooden doors and a modern yet comfy cafe combined with an extremely well stocked distillery shop displaying it’s attractive wares.
The staff were warm & friendly – if a little apprehensive at the start of their new roles as whiskey ambassadors for a bright shiny recently opened distillery.
The Liberties location is featured heavily in the opening story – a story of rebels, rascals and raconteurs.
Being beyond the city walls the area had certain freedoms – liberties – that weren’t available within. Business & industry grew up here – especially the brewing & distilling industry with it’s associated trades. As well as a reputation for entertainment & thrills – which the freshly redesigned & elaborate whiskeys of the Dublin Liberties Distillery range reflect.
The Dubliner Honeycomb Whiskey Liqueur at 30% is offered at the start of the tour as an easy starter into the brand.
Rich sweet honey up front gently morphs into a smooth warming whiskey heat that slowly fades on the palate.
A lovely little liqueur to lure you in!
Despite honouring the past – this is a modern distillery.
The washback & fermenter room is full of gleaming stainless steel tanks, pipe work & monitoring gauges.
The grain mill is enclosed beyond protective glass to prevent potential fire risk – as well as saving the guides shouting over it’s noisy operation!
The highlight of the tour – apart from the tastings obviously – are the shinning copper pot stills themselves – which have to be photographed outside of the still room – with just a peek of the up-to-date control room above.
Interestingly the first still – usually called the wash still – already exhibited a darker shinier copper hue than the others. Simply as more production cycles have been put through. The rest will no doubt follow in due course.
The all important tasting room – resplendent in wooden beams, benches & tables, as well as comfy seats & a modern bar – had the obligatory samples waiting to enjoy.
The Dubliner Irish Whiskey at 40% was first up. A young, fresh easy going pleasant blend showing delicate honey sweetness with a lovely warming malty heat.
The Oak Devil 5 Year Old at 46% – which I enjoyed very much in it’s original non aged statement (NAS) guise here – and preferred over the Dubliner blend – still retained that rich vanilla & caramel warming notes brought out by the charred ex-bourbon casks maturation. Quite what the 5yo age statement adds to the blend will have to wait for a back to back tasting.
It’s a pity the distillery exclusive Tannery Edition blend at 40% wasn’t offered as part of the tasting – but I rectified that by having a glass at the bar.
Honeycomb sweetness combined with a soft maltiness & grain heat. A decent gentle warming made this a very easy going winning blend in my book. Nothing too fancy – not too expensive – yet different enough to warrant a purchase – after all – it is a distillery exclusive!
Being the only person at the bar, I took full advantage of the bartender’s attention and went for a double bill of the new 13 Year Old Murder Lane & 16 Year Old Keeper’s Coin Single Malts.
Now I should state all the current offerings are sourced product from an unnamed Irish Distillery – or distilleries for the blends – until Dublin Liberties Distillery distillate is fully matured. Even then the grain element will continue to be sourced as only single malt will be made at the site.
That’s not to diminish the current offerings – all resplendent in elaborately designed artwork & presentation boxes.
The 13 Year Old Murder Lane at 46% is matured in ex bourbon casks with a finish in Tokaj Wine casks.
I’d not heard of Tokaj before – but it’s an area in Hungary famous for it’s wines – which kind of makes this a rather unique Irish Whiskey offering!
Warming vanilla, slight spice with richness & depth to boot. Smooth on tasting. Growing peppery spice with sweet dark fruits coming through. Long finish with a sweet spicy appeal.
The 16 Year Old Keeper’s Coin at 46% is also ex bourbon matured but with a PX cask finish.
Rich dark sweetness with plenty of depth. Smooth, soft, the dark PX sweetness coming in with a lovely drying prickly spice. Long lasting loveliness.
There is another even older offering – the 27 Year Old King Of Hell – but at 2700 euro – and not available by the glass – I declined the opportunity.
The Dublin Liberties Distillery is fully open for tastings, tours, shopping & relaxing in the cafe. It’s a wonderful addition to the ever expanding Irish Whiskey scene both within the Liberties area of Dublin as well as the country as a whole.
They have very attractive & tasty offerings to suit all tastes – as well as budgets – and I wish all connected with the distillery a hearty toast to their future success.
A.D. Rattray are an independent bottler of fine standing in Scotland.
They happen to have a lovely Whisky Shop on the main access route – A77 – to & from the Irish ferry terminals at Stranraer & Cairnryan that I often use to cross the water.
Oddly enough on my last trip – January 2018 – it was the first time in well over a decade using this route I encountered armed police, a passport check, a personal check as well as a vehicle check – all for an internal crossing?
Brexit changes indeed.
The Whisky Shop itself is a treasure trove of whisky, some gins & local beers too. Predominately Scotch it has to be said – although there is a sprinkling of world whisky. There are also tasting classes, rare single casks to be had, a small museum and more to attract you in and delay your journey.
But as I was driving – I made do with an elegantly packaged & well presented 5 pack A.D. Rattray miniature selection.
Nearly a year later I eventually managed to sample them if only to mark Rabbie Burns Night – who happened to live nearby.
The standard Bank Note 5 Year Old Blend at 43% struck me as just being that – standard. Pleasant enough with it – but no stand out qualities to pull me in. I do like the label however.
Next up was the Stronachie Highland Single Malt 10 Year Old – also at 43%. With this A.D. Rattray branded malt you actually get the distillery of origin – Benrinnes in this case – unlike the blended offering.
Now 10 year old malts these days are often considered entry level – and I’m afraid my tasting experience only concurred with this hypothesis.
Smooth, easy drinking, well balanced butterscotch, honey & vanilla – just not enough character or oomph for my tastes.
Meanwhile the Stronachie 18 – also Benrinnes sourced but with a slightly higher 46% ABV – gained some lovely dry woody tannins from the extra years in maturation. I was pulled in with it’s suitably more complex , characterful & to my palate anyway – a much more appealing dram.
The next bottle – at least from the label – promised something special.
A single grain whisky from a closed distillery – Cambus – matured for no less than 26 years & presented at 59.9% with no chill filtering nor added colouring. – kind of suggests the other bottlings perhaps had added e150 or chill filtering as it wasn’t stated on their labels?
Part of the A.D. Rattray Cask Collection – which changes regularly – I was very happy to try this single grain.
It’s a category of whisky many people dismiss – which is fine – all the more for me to enjoy!
It’s fresh, it’s lively, it’s full of flavour, it’s got character, it’s got strength, it’s got lucious drying tannins & velvety vanilla which just explode in the mouth.
A wonderful whisky.
The final miniature was Cask Islay – an non aged statement (NAS) non disclosed distillery single malt presented at 46%.
Now normally an Islay influenced dram floats my boat – but not this sweet peat. I think I prefer dry ashiness myself.
Perhaps the cask strength offering of earlier had influenced my findings. But I had cleansed my palate after each sample, left a gap in-between & then re-sampled later. All to no avail.
The Single Grain Cambus 26 Year Old is clearly my top of the pile – a stunning drop.