Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all Irish Pubs are closed for St Patrick’s Day!
That didn’t stop a gathering of Irish Whiskey Fans over on the #SundayNightSup twitter site from gathering online to partake of the world’s first seaweed charred whiskey!
Yes – you heard that right – seaweed!
Irish Atlantic Kombu Kelp is a natural resource harvested, dried & then used to char virgin oak casks at the West Cork Distillers premises. Their triple distilled single malt is then finished in these casks for three months.
The results are simply fantastic!
The nose had an intriguing earthy, almost savoury appeal.
The palate started off soft & malty smooth – very approachable – as those meaty umami flavours grew to coat the mouth in a creamy silkiness.
A drying white peppery spice added a final flourish to this fabulously engaging whiskey.
Congratulations to all the team at both West Cork Distillers and Origin Spirits for putting this highly innovative Irish Whiskey together.
There are now 16 working distilleries that have matured stocks of spirit old enough to be called whiskey.
All of them contributed to create this special limited edition 21C blend unveiled at Whiskey Live Dublin 2019.
Luckily I managed a taster.
A fabulously rich & complex nose. Full bodied on the palate. A long lasting satisfying finish.
From my recollections of 21C 1st Edition – blog here – this was a vast improvement. Perhaps reflecting the growing maturity of Irish Whiskey in general – a better blend of ingredients – older stocks added – or a combination of all factors.
Whatever – it made a great whiskey.
The new additional distilleries to have matured whiskey are below – taken in left to right, top to bottom order as printed on the back label.
Shortcross Distillery have yet to release their 1st whiskey – a single pot still by all accounts – but have built up a strong following with their Shortcross Gins.
Connacht Distillery are also waiting for their own whiskey to age further before release. In the meantime they have some tasty & innovative sourced whiskey under the Spade & Bushel, Ballyhoo & Brothership labels.
Waterford Distillery are following the above 2 in waiting for their own stock to age before committing to market. Unlike the others – they have not sourced any whiskey prior to that release.
Royal Oak Distillery in County Carlow have not released their own whiskey. Previously called Walsh Distillery – a split with the 2 companies involved means Irishman & Writer’s Tears will remain as sourced brands.
In addition to last years 21C – some distilleries have recently entered the market with their own stock.
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.
Whiskey Live Dublin always throws up a surprise or two.
This years was the safely guarded release of Whiskey 21C.
This is a unique historical bottling of all the Irish Whiskey Distilleries that currently have stocks of matured whiskey in their possession.
The Celtic Whiskey Shop – not content with being the hard working organisers behind Whiskey Live Dublin – contacted all the distilleries with matured whiskey – asked for a donation of some of that precious liquid – proceeded to blend it – bottle it – sell it at the show on a strictly limited never to be repeated release – all for the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity!
Now that WAS a surprise indeed!
The 12 Irish Whiskey Distilleries who kindly donated to this project are – in the order they appear on the back label;
Bushmills Distillery – Producers of the Bushmills range + other brands.
Cooley Distillery – Producers of the Tyrconnell, Connemara, Locke’s & Kilbeggan ranges – as well as numerous other brands.
Echlinville Distillery – All current releases under the Dunvilles brand are sourced – yet Echlinville are sitting on 5 year old whiskey of their own making which has not yet been deemed ready for it’s public debut.
Kilbeggan Distillery – Producers of Kilbeggan Rye – the 1st Irish Whiskey containing rye for many a year and the 1st whiskey to be wholly produced at Kilbeggan since the micro distillery was commissioned there in 2010.
Pearse Lyons Distillery – Producers of Pearse 5 Year Old Single Malt. Some of the Pearse blends also contain malt made on the stills sited at the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin.
Teeling Whiskey Co – Producers of Teeling Single Pot Still. All other current releases are sourced.
The Shed Distillery – Producers of Gunpowder Gin & Sausage Tree Vodka – yet clearly have whiskey waiting to be released.
Tullamore DEW – All current Tullamore DEW is sourced – yet they are obviously sitting on whiskey which has been produced at the new Tullamore Distillery.
West Cork Distillers – Producers of the Glengarriff range. Some of the WCD range is sourced + they supply other brands too.
Camera Shy Cork Distillery – The only whiskey producer not mentioned is Midleton. Could this be them?
A small sample of Whiskey 21C was also offered to Whiskey Live Dublin attendees!
I found it a young, fresh & fruity blend. Approachable & easy despite it’s 54.2% strength. There was no mention if it was either a blended malt or a malt & grain mix – nor the percentages of the distilleries involved in the project. I was just extremely pleased to get a chance to taste the future of Irish Whiskey!
A big thank you to all the hard work of the team behind Whiskey Live Dublin AND Whiskey 21C.
They have a range of miniature bottles labelled up in county colours covering the entire Island of Ireland.
Meanwhile, I happened to be in Mullingar recently & picked up their Westmeath Irish Whiskey in the surprisingly well stocked off-licence of The Old Stand on Dominick Street – just round the corner from the railway station.
Not being one to leave a bottle unopened – I poured a glass.
There is no indication as to the source of the whiskey. Kilbeggan Distillery does produce malt in the county of Westmeath – mainly for inclusion in blends – but it didn’t strike me as one of theirs -although this young lad is definitely from Mullingar.
The colour was reassuringly straw like – even if added caramel is predominant in entry level blends.
The nose was rather spirity at first – but calmed down on subsequent tastings to reveal some standard vanilla & caramel notes.
A mild tasting with subtle fruits & more of that bourbon cask influence made it’s presence felt after a rather alcohol forward mouthfeel.
There was a bit of a burn at the end – but nothing too unpleasant. Just a straight forward no-nonsense entry level whiskey.
More novelty than nuanced.
My thanks to TOMODERA for posting his thoughts on other county whiskeys here.
One of the highlights of my whiskey year is being able to participate in the annual Irish Whiskey Awards blind tasting sessions.
There are no labels, no brands and no preconceived ideas of what particular expressions you like. Just row upon row of identical bottles filled with varying colours of the brown stuff for you to sample & score.
The only markings are the codes to donate which category the whiskey is in and it’s number.
I managed to make 2 out of the 3 judging sessions that were held in Dublin back in late August, early September. Only after the Awards Ceremony itself in October are the names of the actual expressions revealed – and it has thrown up some interesting results!
Confession No 1. I’m not a trained whiskey taster.
Simply by being a member of the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society you get an invite to the sessions. By taking part you very quickly learn to spot which expressions you enjoy – or those that you enjoy less – and mark them accordingly.
Whiskey tasting for me is very subjective. It’s about what I like and enjoy. I’m not judging to spot a winner or to stock a bar – it’s just down to me and my palate.
Now the only ‘control’ at the session is a gentleman who happens to score diametrically opposite to me – his top scorers are my bottom markers, and vice versa. This pattern has remained consistent for the last 3 years. Which is reassuring.
The first days judging consisted of Irish Blended Whiskey under 60 euro and blends 60 euro plus. It proved to be a very packed field.
Confession No 2. Despite only sipping a small sample, using the spittoon & drinking copious water in-between – I got rather tipsy towards the end.
The session ended up being a bit of a ‘speed tasting’ event simply to get through all of the whiskey! I did recover after however with a hearty meal & a calming cup of tea.
I had a clear winner in the blends under 60 – Hyde No. 6 Special Reserve.
Now I know there has been a bit of controversy with this brand as to whether they are simply bottlers or a distillery – but they currently source their spirit from a third party and from my experience in trying out a few of their expressions – they do a good job in finishing the product.
There were a further 7 expressions up to 2 points behind this top scorer & interestingly for me – all of them were from new entrants into the Irish whiskey scene. Whether they be actual distilleries or bottlers, the careful selection of casks to mature the whiskey in combined with skilled blending clearly appealed to my tastes.
Obviously my tastes are a little bit leftfield as the actual winner on the night – Jameson Black Barrel – didn’t grab me.
In the blends 60 and over I had a tie situation with 2 clear winners. Now usually I would re-evaluate the scores with a head-to-head tasting but,
Confession No 3. I just didn’t have the capacity for anymore whiskey!
The winners were JJ Corry The Gael,
and Pearse Coopers Select.
Again I picked out the next generation of Irish whiskey entrants and was not in line with the winner on the night – although JJ Corry did get a Gold Award.
The second judging session found me in better form. I had a meal during the tasting which meant I had the capacity to re-appraise any tie situation – which happened to occur in the first Irish Single Grain category.
My eventual winner in this enlarged field over previous years was Hyde 1916 Single Grain.
I’m not surprised by this choice – this whiskey grabbed me on first tasting it soon after it was released.
The whiskey that just missed out happened to be the recently re-recipied Kilbeggan Single Grain. And it goes without saying I didn’t pick the actual winner – Glendalough Triple Barrel.
Now the 14 entrants into the Irish Single Pot Still category represent to many the creme de la creme of Irish distilling. Midleton distillery dominates this field with their Redbreast, Powers, Spots & Midleton releases.
So what did I pick as my winner?
Dingle Single Pot Still. The only non Midleton product in the field – & I pick it out.
My only tasting notes are a brief ‘different’.
And that to me is the excitement of what the new Irish whiskey companies are bringing to the market – difference.
Having said that – this was also a tied category which required a head-to-head duel. The one that just missed out happened to be the Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest release. Now that’s another whiskey showing something different by being matured in Irish Oak barrels.
So would the final Cask Strength category give me a full house of winners from the new breed of up and coming Irish whiskey companies?
Now this release is also a single cask – but I don’t know which one I tasted. It’s also a sourced whiskey for John Teeling’s new venture in Dundalk – the Great Northern Distillery – whilst his own new make spirit matures.
So there you have it.
I may not be able to pick out the actual winners on the evening.
But I have an uncanny knack of picking out what’s new & exciting in the Irish whiskey scene!
Interestingly all of my winners are non chill filtered, all produced for or by new Irish whiskey companies and as far as I can ascertain – none have added caramel.
In a blind tasting situation all you are going on is ultimately the taste.
I believe I tasted the future of Irish Whiskey.
My thanks to all the staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for organising the judging sessions as well as the Awards night itself.
My thanks also to all the entrants who gave freely of their whiskey for the judging.
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!
It’s that time of year when the great and good of the Irish whiskey world gather together in a celebration of distillation. This years event takes place in Tullamore with a visit to the new Tullamore Distillery and an awards evening in the Old Bonded Warehouse on October 20th.
As part of the process to pick the winners – members of the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Irish Whiskey Society were invited to a blind tasting of the competing expressions.
I made my way up to Dublin for the day to add my scores to the collective pot and found myself in a basement hotel room carefully laid out with 38 identical whiskey bottles – along with a half dozen barrel aged beers – to rate.
The bottles were arranged in their respective categories;
Irish Blends up to 60.
Irish Blends over 60.
Irish Single Pot Stills.
Irish Single Casks
Irish Barrel Aged Beer
The only way of differentiating them was the bottle code for scoring, the colour and the very subjective taste preferences of the judges.
All entrants have to be commercially available in Ireland in October. Other than providing the required sample bottles to The Celtic Whiskey Shop by the allocated date there is no entry fee and ticket sales for the evening are forwarded to charity.
I started with the entry level blends.
What struck me straight away was the uniformity of colour on display.This saddened me. The variety and differences in blended whiskey are what excite me – both visually and taste wise – yet presented here to all intensive purposes were 15 bottles of identical dark golden brown liquid.
My fears of added caramel were confirmed as in one expression after another the dominant – and at times overwhelming – note encountered was sweet. My poor scores reflected this disappointment. A few did have some pleasant fruit notes coming through together with a welcome spice. Some were rough – most were smooth – but there wasn’t much that excited me.
I expected a noticeable increase in flavour and quality in the blends above 60 category as experienced last year. Despite the average scores being slightly higher at 66 as to the former’s 63, that all important “more bang for your bucks” wasn’t forthcoming. At least the colour variation was more pronounced.
Oh dear! Perhaps my 3 weeks in Australia tasting some knockout single malts, ryes, bourbons and wheat whiskies had jaded my palate.
I moved onto the barrel aged beers.
Now I must admit to a benchmark brew in this style which all others are judged on. Trouble is – it’s not Irish! There was one dark beer that came out close however. It had a noticeable whiskey nose together with less carbonation giving it a more heavy feel – much to my liking.
I should point out my method here. Out of an average 3ml sample I possibly tasted and swallowed half. The other half ended up in the spittoon after having been swirled round the mouth for further evaluation. In between each sample a full measure of water was consumed to cleanse the palate and rinse the glass. I must have drank about 2 litres of uisce during the process. A hearty lunch and some hot tea also split the session in two and aided to my relative sobriety at the end of the day.
It was after that lunch I attempted la creme de la creme of Irish whiskey – the Single Pot Stills.
Using a combination of malted barley and unmalted barley in the mash, I was looking for – and happily found – the signature soft spice together with some rich fruity notes. The variety was much more pronounced in terms of colour, flavour profile as well as strength. I distinctly thought one entrant was simply a watered down version of another! The average scores rose to 73 for the packed field of 13 entrants.
Only in the big reveal on awards night will all my hunches be either confirmed – or more likely dashed. The new Redbreast Lustau release was rumoured to be in the mix somewhere. Was it one of my winners?
For me however – the best was yet to come.
The Single Casks had only 5 entrants. All scored highly with a 77 average and one stood out.
Fuller of flavour and richer in style, I dispensed with the spittoon to immerse myself in their beauty. My winning dram on the day happened to be the smokiest entrant and I fear I’m turning into a peathead!
A further sample of this expression went down equally delightfully as the first – well – I did have to re-check my initial scores!
The craic agus ceol was mighty during the session. Judges came and went but all added their penny’s worth to the growing banter and collective scores.
If you haven’t already joined either the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society – isn’t it about time you did?