The Irish Whiskey industry is experiencing an unprecedented rise in sales.
Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing spirits sector in the World – prompting a rush of new entrants, new distilleries, new players and above all else – new Irish Whiskey bottles & brands to sample.
Things have never been so good.
Yet reading an article entitled ‘The Trouble With Irish Whiskey’ here – it would seem the author is in a parallel universe.
Within the first few paragraphs he suggests Irish Whiskey adopt wholesale Scotch Whiskey Rules.
ARE YOU COMPLETELY BONKERS!!!!!!!!!!!
The whole point of Irish Whiskey is that it is NOT SCOTCH!
But no – this writer would throw away the rich creamy delights of single pot still Irish Whiskey with it’s delightful spicy notes as in the marvelous Dingle Single Pot Still.
Down the drain would go the earthy savouriness & rich history of poitins such as Galway’s Micil Poitin.
And the wonderful reintroduction of Irish Rye as experienced by lucky drinkers at the vibrant Whiskey Live Dublin who managed to sample the stunning single cask 6 year old rye pot still that Kilbeggan Distillery happened to have ‘under the counter’ would never see the light of day.
Because all these superb whiskeys are not allowed under Scotch rules!
The joy of whiskey – for me at least – is experiencing new tastes, new flavours and new styles. I’d also suggest a growing number of consumers deliberately seek out Irish Whiskey for that same reason – because it is NOT SCOTCH.
But the biggest clanger of the whole article is down to one statement.
‘accurately and clearly naming the distillery on bottles of Irish Single Malt Whiskey. Like they have to in Scotland.‘
Now for a piece that has headlines stating;
‘Creating an honest sector‘ and ‘Misinformation and inaccuracies‘
this is simply breath taking.
THERE IS NO SUCH RULE!!!!!!
Section 9 of the Scottish Whiskey Rules here deals with ‘Names of distilleries and distillers etc.’
I must have read it a dozen times looking for the ‘you must name the distillery’ rule – but to no avail.
I wrote to the Scottish Whiskey Association on the subject and got the following reply.
‘ Scotch Whisky Rules do not require the distillery name to be stated on labelling.’
Lecturing the Irish Whiskey industry on it’s misdemeanors based on a lie – or rather ‘Misinformation and inaccuracies‘ isn’t exactly a great start now is it?
There is an Irish word for such occasions which my father in law often used.
Look it up.
Because when you are experiencing the biggest boom Irish whiskey has witnessed for decades, creating an exhilarating buzz AND producing absolutely stunning new whiskey releases – the trouble with Irish Whiskey is letting such omadhauns have a platform in the first place.
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.
On Wednesday 11th October SuperValu – an Irish owned retail store, part of the Musgrave Group with 223 shops nationwide – officially launch their new Premium Irish Whiskey range at an event in Dublin.
Being unable to attend – I did pop down to my two local SuperValu stores to see what all the fuss was about.
I must say I got quite excited about the breadth & depth of the range of Irish Whiskey on offer. Especially as it encompasses many of the new entrants into the resurging Irish Whiskey scene – as well as a couple of exclusives.
All the big 3 distilleries – Bushmills, Cooley & Midleton – are well represented with their familiar flagship brands.
A clutch of new entrants offerings are also on display – Dubliner, Glendalough, Hyde, Teeling & Writers Tears whiskeys. All of which are currently sourced from the big 3 distilleries above – until the distillate from their own stills is old enough to be called whiskey.
The exciting dimension comes into play with the inclusion of three new distilleries who are actually old enough to produce & market their own whiskey.
Pearse Lyons Distillery only opened the doors to their marvelous facility in the former St James Church in August 2017. But prior to that their current stills – Mighty Mollie & Little Lizzie – had been fired up in County Carlow laying down single malt distillate which is now included in the two blended offerings of Pearse Original & Pearse Distiller’s Choice Whiskey – both included in the SuperValu range.
West Cork Distillers have had a somewhat rocky relationship with the whiskeyratti – but have been busily laying down distillate, releasing a slew of tasty own label expressions as well as innovative 3rd party brands too. They are actually old enough to release their own whiskey – but have never shouted about it if they are. The 10 year old single malt would be too old to be their own stock – but the new West Cork Dhá Chasca – a non age statement double barreled single malt just could be.
It’s also a SuperValu exclusive.
How cool is that!
So I bought a bottle for later evaluation.
What is even cooler is the poster child for the resurgence of Irish Whiskey – Dingle Distillery – have also released a SuperValu exclusive.
Dingle single malt whiskey matured in both port casks & bourbon barrels has been married together to produce this limited edition release.
Sadly it wasn’t in either of the shops when I visited – but wouldn’t it be great to pick up the cream of new Irish whiskey whilst doing your weekly shopping?
And if you’re really lucky – like I was – you might also bag some of the remaining stock of classic whiskey from the recent past!
If that doesn’t make you excited – you’re not excited by whiskey!
Lowry’s bar is an attractively fronted warm and friendly pub situated in the heart of the equally attractive town of Clifden in the West of Ireland.
Clifden itself is picturesquely situated at the foot of The Twelve Bens of Connemara on one side – with the wide Atlantic Ocean on the other.
About 100 years ago Clifden was at he cutting edge of technology as Marconi had the first commercial wireless station sending transmissions to America close to the town as well as Alcock & Brown touching down in a nearby bog after completing the first transatlantic flight. The internet and jumbo jets have both grown from these feats – or rather the Connemara bog nearby!
Smack bang in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way which stretches from Cork down South to Donegal up North – what better place to take some time out and enjoy the uisce beatha.
That’s exactly what I did after indulging in one of my other passions – hill walking.
With over 100 expressions on offer it’s sometimes difficult to pick one out I haven’t tried before – but my eyes soon settled on a bottle of Dingle Gold from the recently established Dingle Distillery in Kerry – also on the Wild Atlantic Way.
A tuna melt toastie from the bar menu accompanied the whiskey as I settled my weary legs for a little pick-me-up.
Now Dingle Gold wasn’t actually made in Dingle. The distillery is too new to have matured it’s own stock yet. It’s a 3rd party offering whilst Dingle Distillery’s hotly anticipated and selling out fast exclusive first barrel release is just coming to market.
Dingle Gold is a blend of malt and grain spirits bottled at 46%.
There wasn’t much going on in the nose for me – but after a day being blasted by the wind and heather on the Connemara hills perhaps my senses had been dulled.
The taste was sweet and smooth with a slight bite that belied it’s 46% strength which followed through to a satisfyingly long finish.
A decent dram from the West – which leads me to my musical interlude of ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld’ by Theatre Of Hate.
I certainly do based on the delights of Lowry’s Bar.
In amongst the large array of Irish Whiskeys a trio of Connemara peated releases were prominently displayed which is only appropriate given the location. A good selection of Scotch and Bourbon was also available along with some tasty Swedish Mackmyra‘s and Japanese offerings too.
Damien – the helpful bartender informed me that whiskey tasting evenings were being arranged – so follow Lowry’s Bar social media for further information. They promise to be good nights!
In addition to the whiskey – there was also a selection of Irish Craft Beers too – a pleasant bonus not always found in a whiskey bar.
The cosy lounge area walls were festooned with whiskey mirrors – memorabilia and bottles arranged on shelves.
Lowry’s Bar would certainly be a wonderful place to spend the evening tasting some of the many whiskeys on offer.
Whiskey Live Dublin was held in the lovely premises of Dublin Castle Printworks. Whisky Live events are organised throughout the major cities of the world and bill themselves as;
The World’s Premier Whisky Tasting Show
After attending the Dublin show for the first time – I’d certainly recommend any budding whiskey fans to get down to a show wherever you are in the world. The amount of whiskey stands on display – let alone the range of expressions available – and many of the movers and shakers within the industry – are all there to sample – chat and entertain – it’s an event not to be missed.
I’d defy anyone to get round all the stands in one of the sessions allocated to guests – so much so that I met a few people who had booked for both the afternoon as well as evening session simply to ensure they visited every exhibitor!
After having read Whisky And Wisdom’s excellent blog to surviving a whiskey show – I felt ready to handle what Whiskey Live Dublin had to throw at me.
I had my target list,
I had my bottle of water,
I had my notebook – pen and camera and –
I had a suitable pre-event feed in a nearby cafe.
My plan was to walk round the displays without visiting any of them so I could ascertain where the ones I wanted to visit were – as well as seeing if there were any surprises I’d missed on the pre-publicity information.
This went well until I rounded the Celtic Whiskey Shop stand where one of the friendly staff that had been at the judging event of last month welcomed me over for a chat and before I could refuse – offered me a taster of a whisky that wasn’t even on my hit list! What else could I do?
Now Campbeltown whiskies are renowned for their peat – and as I’m not a massive peat fan I prefer a more balanced approach so the Longrow on offer was gently rebuffed. Springbank I’ve tried before and enjoyed – which left the Kilkerran Sherry Wood to duly sniff and slurp.
This proved to be a perfectly balanced mildly peated single malt of some distinction. My goodness – if his was an indication of quality of whisky at the show then it was very high indeed.
Heading on after gathering more info regards the history of Kilkerran I stumbled upon one of the food pairing stands. L Mulligan Grocers tempted me with a tasty morsel twinned with a smooth Glenmorangie. Lovely. But here I was 2 whiskies down and I’d not even started on my list!
Time to get a grip! Oh! What time is it? Time I was in that Powers Masterclass I’d booked for!
Ger Garland – Ambassador for Powers whiskey – guided us whiskey geeks through a history of Powers whiskey from it’s days in Dublin to the current location in Midleton. This led to a tasting of the 3 single pot still releases available under the newly repackaged Powers label namely – Three Swallow – Signature and John’s Lane releases.Sitting there being guided through the taste profiles of these fine whiskeys by Ger whilst gazing across to Dublin Castle outside the room certainly mellowed my initial rush so that I savoured the nuances of the expressions.
Suitably refocused I emerged from the masterclass to head for one of the new Irish distilleries opening up in Drogheda. Boann Distillery’s stills are enroute from Italy as I write this. I assumed they would be from Frilli but no – they hail from Green Engineering – a new name for me.Regardless of who manufactured the stills – as a taster of things to come they have The Whistler.
A rather unusual named blend from Boann but distilled elsewhere – this rather rich and heavy blend pleased me very much and I certainly wish all at Boann well with their venture. I for one will be eager to visit the combined distillery – brewery – eatery and visitors centre when it opens!
Mossfield Organic Cheese had a stall closeby and being a fan of their Slieve Bloom Cheddar I Paid them a visit to be rewarded by a sample of their tasty cheese paired with an equally tasty Machrie Moor Single Malt from the lovely Arran Distillery in Scotland.
Echlinville Distillery on the Ards Peninsula are currently laying down their own spirit for maturation and I was lucky to get a taster of a 2 yo new fill cask which despite it’s youth had some lovely flavours which will only grow with further ageing. Graeme Millar proved to be a very passionate distiller and ambassador for Echlinville as he guided me through the lovely award winning Dunville’s PX 10 yo Single malt – the surprisingly good Feckin Irish Whiskey blend and the unusual Feckin Spiced liqueur. I certainly think this is a distillery to look out for in the future given that passion combined with great tasting expressions!
Now the Hyde 10 yo single malt Oloroso release I bought when it first came out and I have to admit – it didn’t light my fire – unlike The Doors track – but I was intrigued to taste their No. 2 release finished in Rum casks.
I mentioned this to the rep and he proffered me a sample of both the releases. The first remained exactly as how I remembered it – lacking something – but the second made up for that with a healthy rum aroma and taste which to my mind gives the spirit a fuller – richer body with a more rounded – mellow – if sweeter taste. Much more to my liking! Perhaps I should have saved my cash for this expression!
Now I was on a roll!
I stopped at Jack Ryan’s stand for a brief chat to congratulate him on his excellent whiskey then moved over to The Palace Bar who also have a whiskey available at their premises – much like how all pubs would do in times gone by. The sample I had was simply – there is no other way to describe it – gorgeous!
John Teeling was engaged by a small crowd at his Great Northern Distillery stand so I got talking to a very informed engineer who had helped design and install all the pipework at the Dundalk plant. There were samples of clear white new spirit to try but at 80% proof and above I decided to let it mature a bit more before I’ll give it a go – at least for another 3 years!
Dingle Distillery will shortly be releasing their first whiskey expression. Exclusivity is the buzzword here. If you want a bottle – give them your details. They contact you and offer you a bottle from the first cask for 350 euro. They also offer personalised barrel options too. I think I’ll have to wait a bit before I can get a taster of this expression.
Nomad however were freely dispensing their lovey sherry cask finished blend created by the collaborative efforts of Richard Patterson and Gonzales Byass. It’s distilled in Scotland then shipped to Jerez for ageing so falls to be called a Scotch by the rules of definition.Breaking the rules never tasted so good in my book!
As the afternoon session was coming close to it’s finale – I tried Makers Mark from the Beam/Suntory range as I’d been informed this was a classic bourbon. Having yet to develop a taste for bourbon I thought I’d give this one a go. Sadly it didn’t do much for me.
A quick venison hot pot from Koh with another Dunville’s PX were my penultimate tasty pairing followed by an amiable chat with the Gaelic Whisky crew over the teaching methods of both Scotland and Ireland’s native language – led me to a taster of their rather fine Te Bheag blend.
I have a soft spot for Skye – where this tasty dram comes from – having cycled across the island back in the late 90’s. My grandfather also earned his living in a boat not dis-similar to the one used as a logo by the distillery. So sampling this fine blend and chatting to the lovely people behind it only warmed my affections even more.
So there you go.
What a lovely way to end my day at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Congratulations to Al Higgins and all the staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for arranging – promoting and organising this wonderful event. I’ll definitely be back next year!
Oh – I managed to get the train home OK and even bought my cup of tea with a snack before boarding to ensure I arrived home in a fit state – not parched dry like my last visit to Dublin!
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?