For a long time Irish Whiskey was defined more by what it couldn’t be rather than by what it could.
When the whisky market was clearly shifting to blended whisky in the late 1800’s, Messrs J Jameson, W Jameson, J Power & G Roe brought out the ‘Truths About Whisky’ pamphlet which railed against this new confounded ‘silent spirit’ & thereby shunned the opportunities available.
Celebrity endorsed brands are making big waves across the globe right now – yet within the Irish Whiskey community there is almost universal rejection of Conor McGregor’s Proper Twelve Whiskey – despite it leaping to become the 4th most popular Irish Whiskey in the world.
Many also adhere to the myth that Irish Whiskey can’t be peated.
Which is a pity.
Peated whiskey displays a gorgeous smoky flavour which many customers seek out – customers like myself.
So when Kilbeggan Distillery recently added the Kilbeggan Black Lightly Peated Irish Whiskey to their range – I couldn’t wait to try it out.
The double distilled blend of malt & grain whiskey from Cooley Distillery in County Louth is presented in a no nonsense screwcap bottle at 40% ABV with added colouring.
It’s clearly positioned at the mass market peated blend category previously dominated by Scorch – and I fully welcome Irish Whiskey’s entry into this arena.
A subtle kiss of smoke rises from the honeyed blend.
Soft & easy palate.
Gently drying smokiness envelops the finish in a warm tingly embrace.
Now that the pubs are slowly opening after a long COVID shutdown – it’ll be great to reach for a lightly peated Irish Whiskey.
The iconic ‘Striding Man’ logo gracing bottles of Johnnie Walker Whisky is an apt inspiration for the title of this very highly researched & entertaining book by Nicholas Morgan.
Boldly striding across the centuries Johnnie Walker has witnessed many ups & downs as well as twists & turns within the whisky industry.
Originating in 1820 from a Kilmarnock grocers shop specializing in blending tea, Johnnie Walker went on to take full advantage of the Coffey Still to blend whisky.
By 1878 the business was expanding massively to cater for demand while both the Highland Malt & the big 4 Dublin Whisky Distilleries mounted a campaign to prevent ‘silent spirit’ being labelled as whisky.
By 1890 Scotch was outselling Irish – up until then the biggest & most reputable whisky sold worldwide – and has done so ever since.
The book chronicles that period of growth for Scotch – blended whisky in particular – as well as many other escapades the Striding Man encountered along the way
A Long Stride is a wonderful read for anyone wishing to grasp the historical complexities & choices made by previous generations that currently shape the whisky industry today.
It certainly makes me ponder how decisions being made now – often echoing those of the past – will shape the future.
Whatever tomorrow brings the Striding Man – & latterly Striding Woman – will certainly be found playing a key role.
Writing a blog about a book charting the rise of container shipping from a small, local idea, into the global phenomena it is today might prompt you to ask;
“What has it to do with whiskey?”
A lot as it happens.
There was tonnes of well researched data, information, anecdotes & analysis in this highly readable publication. Having spent a lifetime in transportation – familiar places, ports, methods of movement & company names inhabited every chapter.
Whiskey didn’t actually feature until page 165 – but what a nugget!
Establishing the first fully containerised shipping routes in 1966 between the US & Europe – a certain commodity was carried.
“Among Sea-Land’s first ports of call was Grangemouth, in Scotland, where it picked up Scotch Whisky.”
That one sentence crytalises the divergent paths Scotch & Irish took.
The container box was a disruptive technology – if you can call a rectangular steel box technology.
In the whiskey world a certain copper column was the disruptor – the Coffey Still.
The Scot’s ran with the new technology & with it built the capacity & sales to export in bulk – globally.
The Irish didn’t – & by 1966 were struggling.
It wasn’t until 1975 with the opening of New Midleton Distillery – and it’s Coffey Stills – that Irish Whiskey began to turn a corner.
Despite the 1000 Years title – Malachy believes the term Whiskey was coined by King Henry II’s soldiers who invaded Ireland in the 12th Century – the 1st half of the book deals with a rather troubling invention – the Coffey Still – that continues to influence Irish Whiskey today.
The big question of how a world leading industry in it’s prime lost it’s title is answered very succinctly in this 1980 publication – blending.
The dominant 4 whiskey houses of Dublin – J Jameson, Wm Jameson, J Powers & G Roe – rejected the efficient distilling equipment of A Coffey with his patent still.
They also rejected the growing art of blending whereby a large amount of ‘silent spirit’ produced in those Coffey Stills are mixed with more flavoursome spirit obtained from traditional pot stills.
In doing so Irish Whiskey stagnated & collapsed for over 100 years.
When Malachy wrote his book there was only 1 surviving Irish Whiskey company – Irish Distillers – operating out of 2 distilleries – New Midleton & Old Bushmills.
What changed the demise was the final embracement of the Coffey Still in revising & marketing the Jameson, Powers & Paddy brands as blends to the world.
The category has gone from strength to strength ever since.
There are now up to 63 aspiring & established whiskey distilleries looking to invest, plan, build & market their own Irish Whiskey – creating a much more broad & diverse category.
It’s a fabulous time to witness the rebirth of Irish Whiskey – and give a nod of appreciation to A Coffey & his world changing still.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) recently relaxed the rules as to what kind of oak barrels can be used to mature or finish Scotch Whisky in.
This caused a few murmurings on the internet with some in favour – and others against – but it had me pondering on innovation & change in the wider whisky world.
Back in the 1830’s there was a major shift in how whisky was distilled. It centred round the patented design of Irishman Aeneas Coffey’s new still – the Coffey Still – that continues to be the mainstay of whisky production today.
The major whisky producing nation of the time – Ireland – refused to have anything to do with this new fangled machinery.
As the internet wasn’t around then – a book was written to say no to the Coffey Still.
Irish Whiskey was producing the market leading ‘traditional’ great tasting single pot still whisky at the time – why bother to change?
Meanwhile in Scotland, a growing band of mainly non distillery producers were experimenting with this innovative new ‘silent spirit’ to release a product called blended whisky.
Slowly but surely this ‘non traditional’ blended whisky caught on.
A combination of affordability, accessibility, easy tasting and clever marketing brought about a revolution in whisky fortunes and turned the underdog into the new master.
Blended whisky is the major player in worldwide whisky production today making up to 80% of sales.
Currently Irish Whiskey is one of the fastest growing segments in the whisky community. Relatively unhindered by tight regulations it is innovating like mad and releasing fabulous tasting whiskey.
Failure to innovate nearly 200 years ago almost brought Irish Whiskey to it’s knees. All the more marvelous to witness the phoenix like rebirth & stunning growth happening now.
The ever pragmatic SWA will have noticed this – and are responding accordingly.
Header photo Athrú Whiskey – athrú meaning change in Irish.
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!
There’s been a lot of interest in the new design for Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.
Sazerac have recently taken ownership of the brand from Pernod Ricard – it is still made in the New Midleton Distillery in Ireland – and are injecting some money & life into the marketing & labeling of this historic whiskey.
Die hard fans are not exactly enamoured by the rebrand.
The additional ‘s in Paddy, the additional ‘e’ in whiskey, the altered image of Paddy himself with bowler hat, clover and smile has all caused a degree of ire.
I see it as the onward development & change inherent within the whiskey industry.
Spotting some bottles in my local Dunnes store when out shopping – also with the extra ‘e’ – I thought it opportune to revisit this blend.
The nose has that sweet caramelly aroma common to many an entry level blend. It’s relatively grainy neutral otherwise.
The taste is soft & sweet, but develops into a noticeable heat with warming vanilla & caramel dominating.
It’s a robust little dram with a short finish & uncomplicated appeal.
What Paddy Flaherty was dishing out in his legendary sales adventures is in all probability nothing like today’s offering.
To begin with it wouldn’t have been chill filtered. That practice didn’t become common until after the 1940’s or 50’s.
The barley and/or corn raw ingredients were probably organic – as were all grains in a pre-petro chemical agri business environment.
The whiskey Paddy was plying would likely have been a pot still whiskey – a mix of malted & unmalted barley – and not a blend at all. Irish distillers were reluctant to embrace the new technology of the Coffey Still which kick started the modern whisky industry.
It also wasn’t until the 1920’s or 30’s that bottling Irish whiskey became the norm. Usually it was sold in barrels to pubs, bars & hotels who dispensed it straight from the cask – a large variation in quality could then ensue.
Even if Carol Quinn – Archivist at Irish Distillers – is sitting on an original Paddy Whisky recipe – it would be difficult to recreate.
The soils would be different, the water would be different, the air would be different, the processes have been altered, the wood for maturation would be different – all factors that in a myriad of ways would alter the taste, texture and flavour of the resulting whiskey.
But we can sit down today and enjoy a glass of Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.
I raise a toast to his memory and the fabulous tales therein of the original brand ambassador.
It also happens to be one of the most sought after whiskies in the world with prices going through the roof & distilleries cancelling sales of age statement malts to conserve stocks.
Which is all a bit of a conundrum for sticklers of whisky rules and regulations – as Japan has none.
Doesn’t seem to have damaged their reputation for making fine malts by my reckoning.
Anyway – I’m in this bar – The Rag Trader in Dublin if you need to know – and I’m looking for a whisky I’ve not tried before. Nikka All Malt – in a rather unusually designed bottle – catches my eye – so a glass is duly ordered.
Now the All Malt is a blend of 3 types of malt from the Nikka empire.
Miyagikyou distillery malt, Yoichi distillery malt – which tends to be peated, and Coffey malt – that is barley malt which has been distilled in a Coffey still. Makes for a lovely combination in my book.
I’ve had some Yoichi Single Malt in the past and enjoyed the smoky peat flavours. Coffey Malt also impressed me. Partly because of it’s unusual manufacture – but I found the taste quite appealing. So I was looking forward to this one.
Now at 40% it’s probably chill filtered and colouring has been added.
It starts quite slowly. Soft, rich toffees & smooth. Some fruity notes appear before a lovely malt biscuity peat takes over. It’s not over powering – just very pleasant ashy smoke that raises the enjoyment of this lovely little All Malt for me. On the finish there are some more fruity notes to round things off.
A pleasingly pleasant easy sipper.
If you haven’t tried Japanese whisky before this is a relatively affordable expression to start with. It may not have that ‘wow’ factor – but there is enough flavour satisfaction to keep it interesting and certainly for me – very enjoyable.
Which translates as Kanpai – or Sláinte in Japanese.