I recently had the pleasure of revisiting Clonakilty Distillery.
Unlike the building site of my previous visit – Feb 2018 blog here – this time the gleaming copper pot stills were in full working order & the rich smells of distillation were ever present during the highly informative & enjoyable tour.
Clonakilty Minke Gin is already available – but it will be a while for their own whiskey to mature.
In the meantime a varied range of sourced whiskeys – with added maturation & finishing at Clonakilty Distillery’s own warehouses on the Wild Atlantic Way – are available at the distillery shop.
I bought a couple of miniatures – part of their core range – as well as taking away some extra samples – I was driving – to enjoy later.
Clonakilty, Single Grain, Bordeaux Cask, 43.6%
A clean, sweet & delicate fruity little number that lulls you in with gentle flavours before delivering a healthy spirity kick by way of entertainment leaving a soft fruit finish on the rear.
Clonakilty, Small Batch, Double Oak, 43.6%
Warming, more malt biscuity. There’s a fruity sweetness from the recharred ex-wine casks which give this blend a juiciness followed with a dry prickly spice from the virgin oak casks too.
Clonakilty, Cognac Cask, 43,6%
A limited edition at the distillery.
Rich warm dark fruits with a touch of nuttiness to boot. Dries out towards the finish with a pleasant spiciness.
Clonakilty, Single Malt, Single Cask, Distillery Exclusive, 43.6%
If you ever need an excuse to visit a distillery – the chance to sample an exclusive bottling is always a bonus.
Warming vanilla enticed me in. A gentle rich maltiness tinged with dry tannic spice caressed my palate. A wonderfully balanced & elegant bourbon cask matured malt.
Clonakilty, Single Pot Still New Make, unknown ABV.
A rare treat indeed!
Using the traditional – as in malted & unmalted barley only mash bill – that signature oily & slightly sour new make nose was evident. A clean & fresh feel was enjoyed before the high ABV kicked in leaving a prickly heat with a touch of spice on the finish.
A well crafted spirit for the wood to work it’s magic on.
Interestingly this new make has already won awards.
All bodes well for Clonakilty Distillery.
The stunning signature building, the lovely cafe, the enjoyable tour and the increasing use of barley from their own farm in future distillations yet to come.
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.
What excites me about entering a bar for the first time is discovering the whiskey selection on their shelves.
What excites me even more is discovering a few new whiskeys to try out!
The Blackbird Bar in Ballycotton happened to be that bar – and 100 Pipers was the first new discovery.
This big volume Scottish blend has been around since the late 60’s. Now part of the Pernod Ricard empire – the bottle still displays Seagram’s on it from the original brand owners.
A rather dark blend – added caramel is expected for this category – there is that sweet vanilla & caramel going on. Towards the end a pleasing touch of peat smoke gives 100 Pipers a bit of character. An easy going softly smoked blend.
Next up was a Japanese Single Malt – Hakushu Distillers Reserve.
My drinking buddy ordered the Dingle Single Malt Batch 2 at the same time to compare & contrast.
I found the Hakushu clean & fresh. A lovely deep vanilla from bourbon cask maturation which then slowly morphed into a gorgeously drying soft ashy peaty spice which danced off the palate.
Really enjoyed this one.
The Dingle Single Malt Batch 2 was more rich with dark fruitiness from the added Oloroso & PX cask maturation – and made for an interesting taste comparison.
The bar recommended the final offering – Auchentoshan 12.
Now Auchentoshan are an anomaly in Scottish Whisky – they triple distill!
This bourbon & Oloroso cask matured Single Malt was a fine example of that style.
Smooth delivery, good depth of flavours with a touch of oakiness too – and an enjoyably long finish.
The Blackbird Bar also stock an extensive array of Midleton Distillery output – as befits a bar less than half an hour away from the distillery itself.
Having had them all before – I chose to go for a delightful trio of new acquaintances.
Out of the 3 – Hakushu would come out on top.
The combination of a clean, almost herbal yet fruity start growing into a drying soft spicy peat hit definitely had me hooked.
Just like the warm hospitality & great whiskey selection of the Blackbird Bar reeled me in.
Big shout out to Mossie & all the crew – a fabulous spot.
You’ve gotta hand it to Irish Distillers – the largest producer of whiskey on the island of Ireland – for constantly coming up with new & innovative expressions for our delight & delectation.
The very successful Jameson Original blend is by far and away the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world – but to be brutally honest – I find it rather bland & characterless.
The surprise hit of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition gave the Original blend a welcome dose of character by it’s final maturation resting in casks that previously held stout from the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.
This has led to further collaboration with craft brewers around the world with limited releases of Jameson Caskmates in various regions to add more flavour & depth to the Original blend.
The latest incarnation of the Caskmates series takes it’s lead from the hirsute hipster’s darling drink of the craft beer scene – IPA.
You could say it’s bigger than Hip Hop!
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give it the original title – is a style of beer characterised by the varying degrees of bitterness provided by the inclusion of hops in the recipe. It currently fuels the growing interest in craft beer with an explosion of new tastes, new flavours & new styles.
Jameson has taken a leaf out of the craft beer scene to age their latest Caskmate in IPA casks – also from the nearby Franciscan Well Brewery – to provide new tastes, new flavours & new styles to the whiskey world.
So does it work?
Well – the back story and the flavours in the Stout Edition had me hooked so on hearing O’Briens had a limited run of 2000 for a trial period – I was first in line for a bottle!
But what does it taste like?
The dark colour struck me first – perhaps I was taking the IPA influence a bit too much in expecting a pale yellow offering!
On the nose it was relatively soft with a hint of citrus, quiet nice actually.
The taste came over crisp & dry. The bourbon maturation notes faded quickly to leave a pleasant dry lemony tart finish.
Novel & intriguingly enticing.
The overall experience was of a well balanced blend with subtle flavours throughout – perhaps just a bit too subtle for me.
But the hint of hops at the end together with a sprinkling of spice won me over.
The Irish Craft Beer Fest of 27th to 29th August at the RDS in Dublin continues to be the centrepiece of the growing Irish Craft Beer scene. Brewers amaze with their ever expanding range of styles, flavours and tastes while new entrants pop up all over the country with yet more fine ales.
The atmosphere is always very relaxed and friendly with loads of seating areas where casual conversations with strangers quickly enter into the finer qualities of the beverage being consumed.
Cider is also a growing scene – with one of our party braving the massive 15% ABVTawny from Stonewell Cider!
Meanwhile the whiskey element seems to have been dropped from the logo – despite this 4 worthy distilleries displayed their wares at the show.
Midleton actually had 2 stalls. The first showcased their collaboration with Franciscan Wells Brewery of Cork and Jameson Whiskey using beer barrels to age whiskey in – and whiskey barrels to age beer in. Now I’ve tried a few beers of this type – Ola Dubh from Harvieston is one of the best – and found them generally agreeable – rising to fabulous – but I’ve yet to try the whiskey!
The second Midleton stall was the marvelously wooded Single Pot Still stand offering the highly acclaimed as well as highly enjoyable range of expressions from this esteemed distillery.
The remaining stalls were both from the new kids on the block – no – not the dodgy boyband – but the new generation of Irish distillers.
Dingle Distillery of Kerry were showcasing their Gin and Vodka expressions only which judging by the long queues were going down very well indeed. Their whiskey however has not matured for long enough to be released yet – but should be out by the end of the year.
The last spirit offering came from Cork in the shape of the unknown – at least to me – St Patrick’s Distillery. Despite telling myself I’d stick to sampling the myriad of beers on offer – I was drawn to this new expression – one of very few new releases not connected to the established distilleries.
I got talking to Cyril Walsh about their whiskey release – St Patrick’s Irish Whiskey. Turns out their spirit is a blend made from 3 year old grain from the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen and a 21 year old malt from an undisclosed source – probably Midleton – also in Cork. The distillation, maturing, blending and bottling is all done in the Rebel County. St Patrick’s Distillery aren’t a distillery at all – they just get someone else to make it for them – then market it.
Now before anyone jumps on their high horse – this is a very tried and tested method of whiskey production. After all Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants bonded, blended and sold whiskey under their own brand names – Green Spot and Yellow Spot to name two – which originated from the then Jameson Distillery in Dublin.
Having said that – St Patrick’s Irish Whiskey is not in the Spot class – it is however a very smooth spicy tasting blend which I enjoyed very much. There is a passing resemblance to some Powers releases in my mind – I’d certainly like to try the 21 year old malt that gives this blend it’s lovely flavour! They weren’t selling bottles at the show – a pity as I’d have snapped one up on the strength of the sample I drank.
After having this lovely tipple – despite being at the beer fest – our table started a whiskey fest and an excellent Yellow Spot arrived. This is a smoother 12 year old companion to the equally fine Green Spot. Not to be outdone I offered the Powers John’s Lane Release which also has a rich smoothness complimented by a spiciness which gives it just that extra little kick I love – despite The Cramps who are still looking for it.
As time was getting on – we retired to a friends house where the fine whiskeys kept on coming courtesy of the drinks cabinet.
There was a predominance of Scotch whisky on offer with a few Irish expressions too.
The first off the blocks caused a rumpus. Now I know Speyside malts have an almost cult like status in the whisky world – much like IPA has amongst the craft beer fraternity – and Gordon & McPhail are renowned blenders and bottlers of good repute who have been tantalising the tastebuds of whisky aficionados for over 120 years – but their Speymalt Macallan much like Shania says – didn’t impress me much!
There you go – said it – I’ve completely dismissed the holy trinity of alcoholic beverages – Scotch whisky – specifically from Speyside – Gordon & McPhail and IPA – the beer style that launched the current craft beer revival – dissed by a slice of cheesy 90’s pop!
But isn’t drinking all about personal taste? Not about what we are told to like by popularity polls or slick advertising?
After my host almost choked on his dram – a bottle of Springbank 10 yo proved to be far more aligned with my tastes. I have to admit here that I have had issues with peat in the past – but this finely balanced expression allows other flavours to come through in the mouth whilst the peat element gives an extra oomph to the experience.
The Irish contingent were not to be outdone with a very fine smooth glass of the excellent Jack Ryan 12 yo Single followed by an equally smooth Celtic Casks Ocht release which is one of the expressions made in conjunction with the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I did prefer their Knappogue Castle Marsala release – but I think it’s all sold out now!
The final offering also split the table. Whilst the host waxed lyrical about how cask strength is a pure form of the distillers art undiluted by ingredients like water – others mused it blew your head off and as mere drinkers we had to guess how much water to add – too much killed the taste – too little numbed the palate – we felt safer if the expert distiller had done this for us.
At a massive 58% ABV the Glengoyne Cask Strength hits the palate with a BOOM – but within that there were discernible tastes and flavours. Mmmmm! Must explore this distillery further.
By now the discussions became more rambling and mellow! Teas, coffees and a slice of toast rounded of the very enjoyable evening tasting.
From the premier Irish Beer Fest to a very fine private whiskey fest – what more could you ask for?