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!
Back in 2007 Kilbeggan released a 15 Year Old Finest Irish Whiskey complete with stylish bottle & packaging to commemorate 250 years of distilling history at the Kilbeggan Distillery in County Westmeath.
It was very well received at the time & went on to win many awards.
Being a rather limited release it attracted a lot of buyers who stored it for intended resale, for a special occasion or just collecting.
Luckily I knew someone who’d actually opened it to enjoy the delights within.
Very generously – I managed a sample!
Now there are always dangers when storing whiskey – and this became evident on the nose with a slight fustiness going on among an otherwise attractive nuttiness.
The palate was soft, smooth & easy with a touch of woody spice going on in the rear.
A gorgeous juiciness finished up the proceedings.
A lovely little drop indeed – although that slight fusty note on the nose suggests it’s not ageing well.
If you enjoy your whiskey – perhaps drinking it soon after purchase is recommended.
One of the last bars I entered before the COVID19 shutdown was Garavan’s in Galway.
There on the shelves was an old acquaintance of mine – Michael Collins Whiskey.
Michael Collins is an iconic figure in Irish history. To name a whiskey brand after him celebrates that history.
When having a glass I not only enjoy the whiskey – I also wonder at the momentous changes Michael Collins witnessed – and eagerly participated in – a hundred years ago. There is a similarity to the current changes we are living through with the pandemic.
I ponder at the beauty and longevity of a brand too.
It can outlive changes in distilleries that supply the spirit.
It can overcome changes in ownership.
It can constantly change & adapt to the availability of casks – altering the blending ratios accordingly to produce the finished product.
Yet it’s still remains the same brand.
The Single Malt version before me was the old ‘baseball bat’ shaped bottle originally commissioned by Sidney Frank Importing Co. There is no age statement with this one.
It had a smooth honeyed maltiness to begin with. A characterful bite followed by a touch of dryness on the finish – perhaps reflecting a smidge of smokiness – which is more evident in the 10 Year Old Single Malt offering.
W.D. O’Connell are part of the next generation of Irish Whiskey brands/bottlers/bonders and distillers that have exploded onto the scene.
Labelling themselves as ‘Whiskey Merchants’, W.D. O’Connell source their spirit from existing distilleries – and have it finished to their own requirements.
Showcased for the first time at Whiskey Live Dublin 2019– where I had a quick sample – as well as a tweet tasting I missed – I did get a couple of sample bottles for my tasting pleasure.
Bill Phil, Peated Series, 47.5%
Peat – or turf in Ireland – is a flavour profile that has been absent in Irish Whiskey for too long. It’s a style I enjoy & I celebrate with open arms any newcomer’s reinterpretation of this distinctive character.
That lovely warm smokiness just captivated me straight away. Clear, crisp & slightly meaty. A joy to behold.
Delightfully young & fresh on the palate. The ashy peat smoke develops into an all embracing toastiness that wraps you heartily like a turf fueled fire.
A frisson of nutmegy spice dances merrily on the finish.
A stunner of a malt.
17 Year Old PX Series, 46%
A much more ‘traditional’ Irish style.
Cooley malt matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in Pedro Ximenez barrels for 6 months.
A dark cherry sweetness on the nose.
Lucious fruitiness on the palate – more stone fruits than orchard apples – with a gentle spiciness to enliven the whiskey – finished off by a softly drying prickliness.
Classic stuff indeed – and very well done.
Without a doubt – Bill Phil.
It’s young, it’s fresh, it’s exciting.
It marks the welcome return of peat to the Irish Whiskey cannon.
W.D. O’Connell sourced this one from the Great Northern Distillery. Hopefully it will be the first of many interpretations using peated malt from this distillery.
What would make it even more outstanding was if Irish turf was used to dry the barley.
Continuing my exploration of the constant development of whiskey brands are a pair of Kilbeggan Single Grains.
Now Kilbeggan Single Grain didn’t start out with that name. It first appeared – at least in my world – as Greenore Single Grain.
Greenore is a port on the Carlingford Peninsular in County Louth not far from the Cooley Distillery where these spirits are distilled. The original name far more accurately represented the geographical source of the whiskey.
Greenore Single Grain came in a range of age statements. All with the same bottle design as the relabeled Kilbeggan Single Grain miniature before me. The new name brought in a commonality across the range reflecting the showcase distillery at Kilbeggan itself.
It also tasted exactly the same – if my memory serves me right.
Matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels the 8 year old single grain has a light nose – as expected – but a welcome amount of flavour on the palate. Soft vanillas & caramel dominate with a teasing soft spice to round off this very easy drinking offering.
The latest incarnation sports a freshly redesigned label, a new bottle design, a boosted 43% ABV and a bit of a recipe change too!
The nose is richer!
Which reflects both the extra strength along with some sherry finishing too.
I must admit to enjoying this new offering – even if the age statement has been dropped.
It’s still quite a light whiskey – yet the sherry casks add a degree of depth & flavour to the experience without losing the core character of the single grain. The sweet vanillas & caramel have been augmented by fruity elements giving a more rounded & complex feel.
Single grains are often overlooked – which is a pity.
These are both very enjoyable easy going exemplars of this style of whiskey.