When Powerscourt Distillery originally released their core range of Irish Whiskey much of the commentary made a big play of the fact Head Distiller – Noel Sweeney – had overseen the distilling of the liquid whilst at Cooley Distillery & then latterly supervised the blending of the casks at Powerscourt.
Now Mr Sweeney has left Powerscourt – does this lessen the ‘story’ of the whiskeys?
If you rate whiskey by the personality of key players involved in bringing it to market – then perhaps yes?
On the other hand, if you appraise a whiskey based on the taste & flavour of the liquid in the glass before you – it doesn’t matter.
Most whiskey has been produced by a large team of mainly un-named people who all contribute – in one way or another – to making & marketing the final product.
That product – especially if it’s a core release like this Fercullen Falls blend – can be presented to the public as a consistent expression regardless of the potential changing personnel who participate in its existence.
As it is, Fercullen Falls is a non-age statement blend of whiskeys both from outside sources and Powerscourt Distillery itself.
I like the name.
Fercullen Falls themselves are an impressive spectacle set in Powerscourt Estate grounds – and well worth a visit they are too!
So, onto the whiskey!
Pale straw in colour. No mention of added caramel or chill filtering.
A very easy, pleasant soft aroma of vanilla & caramel.
Smooth palate with a touch of honeyed maltiness on the body.
Livens up on the finish with a lovely prickly sensation & decent depth of flavours which fade slowly.
A very well-presented easy drinking blend with no rough edges, fine heritage & an entertaining flourish on the finale.
I thought a ‘warm up’ tasting of this posse of poitín before the inaugural Dublin based event would ease me in.
I knew nothing about Hackler before purchasing this sample from Tiny Tipple. Turns out it was a late 1990’s launch by Diageo – distilled by Cooley – to build the Poitín market. On failing to meet ‘targets’ it was unceremonially dropped.
A rather shy nose, sweet & sour. Easy on the palate. A sweet warming spice on the finish.
A very pleasant easily quaffable poitín – if a tad too artificially sweet for my liking. Smacks as a bit of a crowd pleaser – not sure why it didn’t catch on?
Straw Boys, 46%
Connacht Distillery’s venture into Poitín is presented in a very attractive bottle.
Richly pungent, offering that sour new make nose I associate with poitín. Gently oily palate. Noticeable bite on the finish, leaves with a strong tingling sensation.
A classic poitín drinking experience.
The Big Field, 46%
Distilled using barley grown on Tipperary Distillery’s own ‘big field’ using a 50/50 mix of malted/unmalted barley it’s taken me a little while to sample this one.
A softly muted nose. Wonderfully oily palate. The finish bites with a healthy dose of spiciness.
An extremely varied tasting experience from this trio!
Can’t help thinking Hackler is a toned down poitín to appeal to the masses. Certainly makes for a very easy drinker. Pity it never caught on. Perhaps Diageo were ahead of the curve?
Both Straw Boys & Big Field are a bit more challenging yet offer- to me at least – a grounded authenticity.
With the former you have malted barley alone – while the later has that malted/unmalted mix giving added spice & an enhanced appeal.
It’s hard to pick one out from this diverse & very well delivered variety of poitín styles – but for me Straw Boys does it!
Pale straw colour, gorgeous expressive nose of gentle peat coming through, the palate displays more soft Irish notes before the embers of a peat fire warms up the finish.
An entertaining soft peater.
Both of these whiskeys had great potential.
The pugilist inspired John L Sullivan pre-dated the global success of Proper Twelve & there’s been subsequent Irish/American Whiskey/Bourbon collaborations on the market since.
Cross nation blends have been a staple earning for both Scotch & Irish distilleries over the years – mainly for the lower end of the market. Perhaps this high profile open & transparent offering was just too much for the SWA?
Whatever the reasons – controversy is not a tasting note I encountered in either of these blends.
You’d be forgiven for never hearing of Concannon Irish Whiskey before if you live in Ireland – as it’s mainly sold in the USA!
Concannon is a popular seller over the pond making it into the Top 10 of the biggest brands – appearing above Powers & Black Bush – so when an opportunity arose to purchase a miniature from the Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder’s new sample service – Drams Delivered – my curiosity was piqued.
Interestingly this whiskey is finished in Petite Sirah casks from the Concannon Vineyard in California – which might partly explain it’s impressive sales!
The colour was reassuringly pale for a wine cask finish.
Sweet, fruity & honeyed on the nose. Gently inviting.
Quite a light palate with an attractive freshness.
Juicy sweet grain appears before a pleasing fruitiness topped off with a touch of prickliness gently fades away.
A very pleasant easy drinker with enough depth of flavour to keep it entertaining.
This revealing book by James Morrissey focuses on the remarkable turn of events culminating in the Pernod-Ricard takeover of Irish Distillers.
The most sobering chapters however expose the dismal performance & inability of Irish Distillers to drive the category forward – the very reasons a speculative takeover war started.
Irish Whiskey was a monopoly in 1987.
Irish Distillers owned all the distilleries – 2, Midleton & Bushmills – & all the brands – 15 – & was losing sales.
Cooley Distillery in County Louth was just being founded & had yet to mature any whiskey.
Irish Distillers main sales in 1987 were the domestic market followed by bulk sales to places like Japan – whose blending practices have a long history of using non-Japanese stock.
Sales in the lucrative American market dwindled down to a low of around 250,000 cases – about the same as Conor MacGregor’s Proper Twelve sold alone in 2021 – yet Irish Distillers marketing strategies were effectively underfunded & ineffective.
Without the takeover of Pernod-Ricard & increased competition from Cooley who knows where Irish Whiskey would have ended up.
Irish Whiskey today is in a far more healthier situation.
New brands, new bottles & new distilleries are being announced on an almost weekly basis.
I welcome each and every single one of them as they collectively strive to rebuild Irish Whiskey.
A read of Hot Whiskey sobers you up as to how grim things were a mere 35 years ago.
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.
Hopefully by the end of 2021 we’ll be able to freely walk into bars & enjoy ourselves without any worries – as I miss the unexpected encounters within.
Back in summer ’19 herself requested a trip to the seaside on a hot sunny day in contrast to the flat Midland’s bogs we normally frequent.
Afterwards, a spot of light refreshment at Keelings Bar in Donabate rounded off the day.
The whiskey shelves were scanned for a suitable selection & Shanahans Original stood out for me.
Being a commissioned malt from the Cooley Distillery for the famous Dublin based steakhouse – this was in the days before the Beam/Suntory takeover turned off the taps to 3rd parties – Shanahans is a slice of Irish Whiskey’s recent history I was keen to sample.
That lovely fresh citrusy & fruity malt aroma greeted me.
A delightfully light & easy whiskey with a touch of malty character – as well as an entertaining back story – to enjoy on a warms summers day in the beer garden of Keelings.
Oh to be able to experience those simple & unexpected pleasures again!
L.Mulligan Whiskey Shop – along with other establishments – offer a variety of virtual whiskey tastings over the internet.
I’d highly recommend them.
The opportunity to try a flight of whiskeys – some possibly beyond your budget – with an introduction by the brand ambassador or owner & interactions from fellow whiskey fans.
What’s not to like?
Well – 2 things.
The vagaries of a courier system overwhelmed with demand due to COVID resulted in some folks not getting their physical tasting packs in time.
Your computer skills – or lack off – or outdated software – may need an update.
Thankfully it all came together on the evening as I sat down to enjoy 6 samples of Gelston’s Whiskey.
Samuel Gelston first began a whisky merchants business back in an 1830’s Belfast. Later joined by HJ Neill, the company successfully bonded, blended & bottled the whisky of the day. The current Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey has been founded by direct family descendents who wish to revitalise the family tradition.
Gelston’s Single PotStill, 40%
Being independent bottlers, Gelston’s source their spirit from a number of sources – in this instance West Cork Distillers (WCD) using a 50/50 malted/unmalted barley mix. Displaying some nutty notes, oily mouthfeel & an enjoyable spice on the finish – this is a very easy going, accessible & engagingly pleasant introduction to the Single Pot Still category.
Gelston’s 5 Year Old, Single Malt, 41.2%
Again WCD supply the base malt – a combination of sherry cask & bourbon cask matured barrels that have been married together to produce this characterful 5yo which exhibits a fine degree of richness & depth for it’s young age. Very satisfying.
Gelston’s 10 Year Old, Single Malt, 40%
A very fruity & fresh exbourbon cask matured malt signified a marked doubling in age – along with a change of supply – a triple distilled Cooley. It was also stressed acquiring these barrels can often happen at very short notice with little prospect of future supply to guarantee a core & consistent product. Makes it all the more enjoyable to taste such an engaging whiskey!
Gelston’s 15 Year Old Single Malt, 43%
The higher up the years we go – the flavours were enhanced – the price escalated & the availability of barrels decreases – Bushmills malt sourced via John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery (GND). I found a rather quiet nose belied the delights within completed with a gorgeous flourish on the finish. A beauty of a malt.
Gelston’s 26 Year Old, Single Malt, 54.2%
I was enveloped in the warm embrace of a joyously returning old acquaintance on tasting this one! Again – GND sourced Bushmills malt. This is probably my 3rd or 4th encounter with these venerable old barrels. Various independent blenders, bonders & bottlers have a cask or 2. Simply stunning!
Gelston’s Single Pot Still, Pinot Noir Finish, 40%
How do you top a beautiful, rare & superb single malt? How about a soon to be released SPS finished in Pinot Noir casks supplied by the Gelston/Neill family descendents vineyard? Rich dark fruits on the nose, great depth & complexity & a lovely long luscious finish. The Pinot Noir casks had added so much more to the original WCD SPS we started with at the beginning – and rather being an unicorn bottling – this one is set to become part of the core range! Fabulous!
Gelston’s Irish Whiskey
Gelston’s Whiskey are a wonderful example of the fine art of independent bottlers.
Sourcing from all and sundry – blending where needed – finishing in self sourced casks – releasing limited stock that might be deemed too small to market by the big companies.
May the current generation Gelston/Neill family be every bit as successful in the Irish Whiskey scene of today as their relatives were in the past.
A highly enjoyable & enlightening whiskey tasting!