The Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey Trinity pack is one of the most attractive & innovative designs I’ve come across in the whiskey world.
The three separate expressions that make up the complete Trinity come in individually designed bottles that fit into one another to give the impression of one complete bottle.
Neat! Or should that be Neat Neat Neat?
Clontarf Irish Whiskey – or 1014 to commemorate the Battle of Clontarf – is one of the brands developed by Castle Brands Inc. They are an NDP (Non Distillery Producer). Like many others – at home and abroad – they source their whiskey from an Irish distillery and add their own signature to the expression.
I’ve come across Clontarf before. Mainly in Aldi – at least in Ireland – but this Trinity pack I picked up in Mullingar’s Old Stand off licence. I did notice they have made a reappearance at the Loop Dublin Airport too when I last flew out.
So what is actually inside the attractive packaging?
There are 3 expressions.
The Clontarf Classic Blend.
The Clontarf Reserve and
The Clontarf Single Malt.
All are presented at 40%. Probably chill filtered with added caramel.
I’ve had the Classic Blend before. It’s the entry level blend. I found it a rather robust straight forward bourbon cask matured malt & grain blend with a decent nose, taste & a healthy bite to it. No nonsense stuff with a bit of character. It is what it is and I found it rather appealing for that.
The Reserve comes over a bit softer & smooth. More subtle and cultured yet lacking the attractive bite of it’s sibling. There is no age statement on any of the Trinity bottles – although I have come across a 10 Year Old Signature Reserve before. It had much the same taste experience.
The flagship of the Clontarf Trinity is the Single Malt. At least that’s what you’d expect.
What I found was a soft, even muted nose. A very approachable mellow malt with a smooth delivery together with a gently warming finish. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just found it lacking in character.
Rather oddly for this trio of whiskeys – my favourite would have to be the full tasting full on robust entry level Classic Blend. The vibrancy & honest character of this blend appealed to me over and above it’s more balanced & smoother siblings.
On leaving The Dail Bar in my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure – I’d popped across the road from the pub and into another famous Galway institution – Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop.
Charlie’s is a cornacopia of culture and literature. Over the years I’ve picked up a few titles related to my poison of choice. One of them being the famous – or infamous depending on your point of view – Jim Murray’s ‘A Taste Of Irish Whiskey’ which has given me lots of source information regarding distilleries and brands – particularly the old Cooley brands I’ve been enjoying today.
Going into a book shop half cut probably has it’s risks – but on seeing ‘How To Cure A Hangover’ by Andrew Irving in the drinks section I couldn’t resist buying it considering I could be experiencing one next morning!
Back to the trail.
Tigh Neachtain’s occupies a prominent corner spot made all the more striking by the deep blue colour scheme and attractive murals outside. Inside it’s a warren of wooden nooks and crannies where you can loose yourself in conversation and craic. Most of the snugs were busily occupied by cheery customers when I visited so once more I happily found a spot by the bar.
Suitably situated to spy on the whiskey shelves I quickly spotted the Titanic. NOT the doomed ocean liner now – NOR the DiCaprio-Winslet love story either – but another discontinued Cooley expression for the Belfast Distilling Company.
But wait a minute – what’s that?
A rather tatty & worn whiskey bottle was retrieved from the shelves and placed on the counter for me to inspect. Bailey’s The Whiskey – I didn’t even realise they’d done a whiskey!
‘Don’t know much about it.’ proffered the bar tender,
‘Bailey’s did make a whiskey but pulled it at the last moment before the launch for some reason. There’s not much of it about now, but we have a bottle or two.’
Despite the higher price incurred by the rarity – and visions of a sickly sweet and creamy whiskey like a Bailey’s Original liqueur – I just had to give it a go.
Well yes it is sweet – but not overpoweringly so – and well within the taste experience of other whiskeys I’ve had. It’s also very smooth with a very satisfying whiskey rush.
Why Bailey’s binned this lovely tipple is beyond me. I did an internet search when I got home and found very little. The best I could find from the Irish Whiskey Society chat site is the following;
‘In 1997, the innovation team at Grand Metropolitan’s spirits division International Distillers and Vintners were about to extend the franchise of the “Baileys” Irish cream liqueur brand. The idea was to turn Baileys – a cream base containing among other things Irish whiskey – into an Irish whiskey base containing cream, chocolate, vanilla etc. The concept was revealed “exclusively” in the “Irish Independent” newspaper on 12th November 1977. A follow-up piece on 12th March 1988 confirmed that the product – now named as “Baileys. The Whiskey” was to be tested in the Dublin market prior to a wider rollout in Ireland and the UK. Before it could go much further however, “Baileys. The Whiskey” ran into a major obstacle in the shape of the Scotch Whisky Association and the European regulations on spirits drinks. The production method used to create “Baileys. The Whiskey” involved finishing the spirit in casks that had been infused with the key flavouring elements from the “Baileys Cream Liqueur” product. This technique was marginal in terms of its adherence to the EU regulations and while in normal times, the management of IDV would have fought its case these were not normal times. IDV’s parent Grand Met had just merged with Guinness PLC to create Diageo in December 1997 and IDV Managing Director John McGrath was in the Chairman’s seat at the SWA. When it became apparent to the wider business that Baileys were engaged in a whisky project that would push the legal boundaries of the EU whisky definition, there were some rapid and terse discussions. The industry was still absorbing the formation of a formidable new lead player in the shape of Diageo and any row with the SWA over what the Association would regard as a non-compliant product would embarrass John McGrath and potentially tarnish his SWA Chairmanship. The decision was taken quickly and effectively. “Baileys. The Whiskey” would be withdrawn with immediate effect. News of the brand’s demise does not appear to have entered the public domain and in the continuing turmoil that marked the integration of the Guinness and Grand Met businesses within Diageo, the project was quickly consigned to history. It is not certain how many bottles ever made it into the Irish licensed trade but it is likely that this is one of only a handful of bottles still in existence. The distinctive bottle departed from the “Baileys Liqueur” pack although the front label retained a family look with a bronzed landscape. In gold beneath this label is a specially composed ode to the spirit.’
Compass Box may not be the only whisky company to arouse the SWA rule book!
Unless anyone has any other theories as to the disappearance of Bailey’s The Whiskey – the above premise is all I can go on. Another site did suggest the team that put the whiskey together went on to form Castle Brands Clontarf brand.
Whatever the truth – this is a great dram.
I enjoyed it so much I ended up walking out of the pub without paying!
What else can I say? All apologies.
‘Down with this sort of thing!’ as Father Ted used to say.
Even in my inebriated state there is no excuse for such bad behaviour!
I’m glad to say Tigh Neachtain were very understanding when they contacted me.
After settling my debt I’ll even be allowed back in again!