It’s that time of year again when preparations for the Irish Whiskey Awards – to be held in Dingle Distillery on October 17th 2019 – begin with an invitation to members of the Celtic Whiskey Club & Irish Whiskey Society along with other industry representatives to attend a series of blind tasting sessions to select the winners for the evening.
Having taken part for a number of years these sessions give a wonderful insight into the current Irish Whiskey scene – provide a chance to meet up with fellow whiskey fans – and test your palate to find the whiskey that suits!
2018’s entrants were both varied, enjoyable & to my palate at least – great quality.
Breaking with previous protocol – no categories were given – so you could only guess if you were having a single grain or single pot still simply by what your palate told you – and I often guessed wrong!
The following are the results of my 2018 blind tasting.
Irish Blends Under €60
This is usually one of the most hotly contested categories with the largest entrants – and biggest sales!
My scores (out of 100) were rather tight – ranging from the low 70’s to mid 80’s. Out of 25 blends – average scores were 77. I only gave 4 marks of 80 and above.
Joint 2nd winners were; Hyde 8 Year Old Single Grain Cask Strength & Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength.
Again a small field of only 4 with a varied selection of entrants. The low average of 77 reflects a certain ‘works in progress’ as to the quality – and age? – of product coming exclusively from the newest whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye & Pearse Lyons Distillery Reserve Cask Strength came in joint 2nd.
I find it reassuring to note some of the same names keep cropping up in my winning choices; Teeling, Hyde & Dingle for example. And it should come as no surprise I enjoy a dash of peat – along with a good bourbon cask matured whiskey. Although if a finish is required port & sherry seem to do well!
I raise a toast to congratulate all my winners – and the actual winners on the evening here.
Looking forward to see what 2019 brings!
Many thanks to all at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for organising the tasting sessions as well as the awards ceremony itself & the bottle images above.
Standing outside the Whiskey Live Dublin event after the first session – shooting the breeze with a few fellow attendees – a gentleman passed by whistling away to himself. Only when he stopped to chat did we realise it was none other than Pat Cooney, founding father of the Boann Distillery in Drogheda, County Meath, and after whom their sourced range of single malt whiskeys are named!
It reminded me I never actually got round to sampling the 2 miniature malts I was given as part of my very enjoyable & informative tour of the distillery last summer!
At the time of my visit the Green Engineering stills were in situ and made a very impressive sight contrasting with the glass & wood of the statement building.
The pipework meanwhile hadn’t been connected – although I now believe it has – and I’m certainly looking forward to the start – or should that be re-start? – of distillation in Drogheda.
In the meantime – to bridge the gap – the current unnamed sourced range comprises of the 7 & 10 year old – my 2 samples – as well as a cask strength 7 year old. There are other expressions outside of Ireland too.
All are non chill filtered & presented naturally coloured at 46% – or a powerful 59% for the cask strength which certainly packs a punch.
The 7 year old – otherwise known as The Blue Note – comes over very subtle on the nose for me. A hit of alcohol faded to reveal gentle vanilla followed by a dry metallic sherry influence.
The 10 year old – otherwise known as How The Years Whistle By – provided a softer, smoother & more woody influence with it’s extra 3 years maturation.
The tasting continued in this vein. Both were crisp & clear expressions with orchard fruit notes merging into that dry prickly sensation I enjoy. Again the 10yo exhibited more warming vanilla & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation which elevated the flavours – cue for a song.
Both had suitably long finishes with enjoyable heat.
I found them rather safe standard bearers of bourbon cask matured, sherry finished Irish single malts exhibiting that delightful orchard fruit feeling with subtle sherry notes intertwined. A lot of people like them – awards have been won too – but I must admit to preferring something a bit more bolder & stronger flavoured. The softer sublime & more subtle – perhaps even more balanced notes – are a little lost on me.
What isn’t lost on me however is the quiet determination & hard work all the Cooney family have put into the Boann Distillery site. Behind the gleaming copper, glass & wood of the actual distillery is a large working brewery which produces some tasty beers & ciders under the Boyne Brewhouse & Cooney’s Irish Cider brand names.
There is also a very large modern bottling facility which was hard at work on the day I visited.
I also cannot fault the hospitality & warmth of the Cooney family members. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them on a number of occasions. They all display a well deserved sense of pride & passion in what they are trying to achieve & build with this combined distillery & brewery project just off the main M1 motorway north of Dublin.
I congratulate their present achievements and wish them continued future success.
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.
Unlike The Brewery Tap – I’ve actually visited Kelly’s before for a few drinks – but as it was in my pre-whiskey days – I can’t remember what I was on.
The ‘piece de resistance’ in Kelly’s Bar is the wall of whiskey – well all 2 of them really!
The first is a very impressive wooden shelf display behind the bar showcasing a fine range of whiskeys for sale – whilst the other is a room divider proudly emblazoned Uisce Beata with barrel tops highlighting various Irish Distilleries both past and present.
I’m afraid to say that despite the wide choice on offer – I partook of nothing stronger than a hot cup of tea during my visit to this welcoming and homely establishment as I was on driving duty. But I did scan my photos later and spotted a few tasty drams I wouldn’t mind trying out!
As is almost a default position – and my cue for a musical interlude –
Any self respecting bar in Tullamore cannot get by without a large selection of DEW expressions. Kelly’s certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department. The obligatory Egan’s also featured along with Kilbeggan from the nearby distillery of the same name. Just a short trip up the N52 if you want to visit. Midleton – Bushmill and Irishman releases were available too along with a decent array of Scotch and bourbon – although I didn’t spot any rye – my preferred option from the USA
All this was wrapped up in a friendly bar adorned with whiskey paraphernalia – old photographs, mirrors, empty cartons and bottles in the public bar – as well as hundreds of beer tankards attached to the ceiling beams in the lounge area.
Talking about beer – I was pleased to see a trio of craft beers from the Boyne Valley Brewery on show. Aine O’Hara is not only the head brewer at this new facility – she is also the master distiller too! I’ll look forward to tasting some Boann Distillery Whiskey in the next few years!
Kelly’s Bar is situated beside the Grand Canal only a short walk from the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre. The canal aided the whiskey distilling trade in 1820’s Tullamore when barley, peat and coal was shipped in to the 2 working distilleries – with the whiskey produced going out to Dublin or Limerick for onward distribution.
The canal makes a very pleasant walk in fine weather. Perhaps best undertook before you indulge a little in Kelly’s!
Whiskey Live Dublin was held in the lovely premises of Dublin Castle Printworks. Whisky Live events are organised throughout the major cities of the world and bill themselves as;
The World’s Premier Whisky Tasting Show
After attending the Dublin show for the first time – I’d certainly recommend any budding whiskey fans to get down to a show wherever you are in the world. The amount of whiskey stands on display – let alone the range of expressions available – and many of the movers and shakers within the industry – are all there to sample – chat and entertain – it’s an event not to be missed.
I’d defy anyone to get round all the stands in one of the sessions allocated to guests – so much so that I met a few people who had booked for both the afternoon as well as evening session simply to ensure they visited every exhibitor!
After having read Whisky And Wisdom’s excellent blog to surviving a whiskey show – I felt ready to handle what Whiskey Live Dublin had to throw at me.
I had my target list,
I had my bottle of water,
I had my notebook – pen and camera and –
I had a suitable pre-event feed in a nearby cafe.
My plan was to walk round the displays without visiting any of them so I could ascertain where the ones I wanted to visit were – as well as seeing if there were any surprises I’d missed on the pre-publicity information.
This went well until I rounded the Celtic Whiskey Shop stand where one of the friendly staff that had been at the judging event of last month welcomed me over for a chat and before I could refuse – offered me a taster of a whisky that wasn’t even on my hit list! What else could I do?
Now Campbeltown whiskies are renowned for their peat – and as I’m not a massive peat fan I prefer a more balanced approach so the Longrow on offer was gently rebuffed. Springbank I’ve tried before and enjoyed – which left the Kilkerran Sherry Wood to duly sniff and slurp.
This proved to be a perfectly balanced mildly peated single malt of some distinction. My goodness – if his was an indication of quality of whisky at the show then it was very high indeed.
Heading on after gathering more info regards the history of Kilkerran I stumbled upon one of the food pairing stands. L Mulligan Grocers tempted me with a tasty morsel twinned with a smooth Glenmorangie. Lovely. But here I was 2 whiskies down and I’d not even started on my list!
Time to get a grip! Oh! What time is it? Time I was in that Powers Masterclass I’d booked for!
Ger Garland – Ambassador for Powers whiskey – guided us whiskey geeks through a history of Powers whiskey from it’s days in Dublin to the current location in Midleton. This led to a tasting of the 3 single pot still releases available under the newly repackaged Powers label namely – Three Swallow – Signature and John’s Lane releases.Sitting there being guided through the taste profiles of these fine whiskeys by Ger whilst gazing across to Dublin Castle outside the room certainly mellowed my initial rush so that I savoured the nuances of the expressions.
Suitably refocused I emerged from the masterclass to head for one of the new Irish distilleries opening up in Drogheda. Boann Distillery’s stills are enroute from Italy as I write this. I assumed they would be from Frilli but no – they hail from Green Engineering – a new name for me.Regardless of who manufactured the stills – as a taster of things to come they have The Whistler.
A rather unusual named blend from Boann but distilled elsewhere – this rather rich and heavy blend pleased me very much and I certainly wish all at Boann well with their venture. I for one will be eager to visit the combined distillery – brewery – eatery and visitors centre when it opens!
Mossfield Organic Cheese had a stall closeby and being a fan of their Slieve Bloom Cheddar I Paid them a visit to be rewarded by a sample of their tasty cheese paired with an equally tasty Machrie Moor Single Malt from the lovely Arran Distillery in Scotland.
Echlinville Distillery on the Ards Peninsula are currently laying down their own spirit for maturation and I was lucky to get a taster of a 2 yo new fill cask which despite it’s youth had some lovely flavours which will only grow with further ageing. Graeme Millar proved to be a very passionate distiller and ambassador for Echlinville as he guided me through the lovely award winning Dunville’s PX 10 yo Single malt – the surprisingly good Feckin Irish Whiskey blend and the unusual Feckin Spiced liqueur. I certainly think this is a distillery to look out for in the future given that passion combined with great tasting expressions!
Now the Hyde 10 yo single malt Oloroso release I bought when it first came out and I have to admit – it didn’t light my fire – unlike The Doors track – but I was intrigued to taste their No. 2 release finished in Rum casks.
I mentioned this to the rep and he proffered me a sample of both the releases. The first remained exactly as how I remembered it – lacking something – but the second made up for that with a healthy rum aroma and taste which to my mind gives the spirit a fuller – richer body with a more rounded – mellow – if sweeter taste. Much more to my liking! Perhaps I should have saved my cash for this expression!
Now I was on a roll!
I stopped at Jack Ryan’s stand for a brief chat to congratulate him on his excellent whiskey then moved over to The Palace Bar who also have a whiskey available at their premises – much like how all pubs would do in times gone by. The sample I had was simply – there is no other way to describe it – gorgeous!
John Teeling was engaged by a small crowd at his Great Northern Distillery stand so I got talking to a very informed engineer who had helped design and install all the pipework at the Dundalk plant. There were samples of clear white new spirit to try but at 80% proof and above I decided to let it mature a bit more before I’ll give it a go – at least for another 3 years!
Dingle Distillery will shortly be releasing their first whiskey expression. Exclusivity is the buzzword here. If you want a bottle – give them your details. They contact you and offer you a bottle from the first cask for 350 euro. They also offer personalised barrel options too. I think I’ll have to wait a bit before I can get a taster of this expression.
Nomad however were freely dispensing their lovey sherry cask finished blend created by the collaborative efforts of Richard Patterson and Gonzales Byass. It’s distilled in Scotland then shipped to Jerez for ageing so falls to be called a Scotch by the rules of definition.Breaking the rules never tasted so good in my book!
As the afternoon session was coming close to it’s finale – I tried Makers Mark from the Beam/Suntory range as I’d been informed this was a classic bourbon. Having yet to develop a taste for bourbon I thought I’d give this one a go. Sadly it didn’t do much for me.
A quick venison hot pot from Koh with another Dunville’s PX were my penultimate tasty pairing followed by an amiable chat with the Gaelic Whisky crew over the teaching methods of both Scotland and Ireland’s native language – led me to a taster of their rather fine Te Bheag blend.
I have a soft spot for Skye – where this tasty dram comes from – having cycled across the island back in the late 90’s. My grandfather also earned his living in a boat not dis-similar to the one used as a logo by the distillery. So sampling this fine blend and chatting to the lovely people behind it only warmed my affections even more.
So there you go.
What a lovely way to end my day at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Congratulations to Al Higgins and all the staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for arranging – promoting and organising this wonderful event. I’ll definitely be back next year!
Oh – I managed to get the train home OK and even bought my cup of tea with a snack before boarding to ensure I arrived home in a fit state – not parched dry like my last visit to Dublin!