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.
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.
It’s always a delight to encounter a new Irish Whiskey brand on the shelves of my local SuperValu.
Wrapped in an attractive tin proudly displaying a period portrayal of O’Connell Street in Dublin, including the General Post Office from where the original proclamation was read, starting the founding of the Irish State in 1916.
Proclamation Irish Whiskey certainly stood out among the other brands sharing it’s keen price point.
‘Matured in bourbon casks & blended with a touch of sherry finished malt.’ is the information given – along with extensive tasting notes on the back – as to the contents of this bottle.
A light golden brown colour complete with viscous legs.
Aromas of soft warm caramel, a touch of sherry sweetness & a hint of nuttiness to add some depth & complexity.
Suitably smooth on the palate – but entertainingly so.
The nuttiness follows through into a softly drying sweetness with an added flourish of some oaky spice too.
The finish was rather brief – but Proclamation certainly lifted my spirits!
A very pleasant easy going sipper with a touch of character – and a long pedigree.
Even before Teeling Whiskey Distillery opened in 2015, I eagerly attended a guided tour of the nascent facility by none other than master distiller & blender Alex Chasko himself.
I’ve been avidly watching the rebuilding of Irish Whiskey – especially the role Teeling plays in that growth – ever since.
Teeling’s 5th Anniversary took place during COVID – and like many events – moved online.
So instead of a lavish party inside the fabulous distillery itself – it was me, my computer & 5 samples of Teeling Whiskey made in that very distillery.
Alex Chasko was again present – along with brand ambassador Robert Caldwell – to regale us with tales of those 5 years. From a dream to reality, a building site to a fully functioning whiskey distillery and from brewing beer in Oregon to distilling whiskey in Dublin.
To date most of the Teeling bottles on the shelves are sourced product – and very good they are too!
Alex is responsible for maturing that stock, choosing the casks, finishing, blending and releasing a wide variety of styles & flavours.
Now before me are 5 differing samples drawn from casks distilled at Teeling’s Distillery in Dublin itself.
This is the dawning of a new age in Irish Whiskey.
So what does it taste like?
A trio of Single Pot Stills started the show. All triple distilled using a 50/50 malted/unmalted mashbill presented at 46%, non chill filtered & natural colour.
SPS Bourbon Cask
The combination of rich vanillas, bourbon sweetness with a joyful youthfulness followed by an attractive prickly spice just won me over.
SPS Virgin Cask
A more tannic, sawdusty element with a sharper spice came through. Still enjoyable – if less balanced.
SPS Sherry Cask
Milder, mellower & more subtle & sweeter than the other 2. Not my favourite.
The 3 casks demonstrate the influence wood has on the whiskey. They also show the building blocks Alex uses to blend together to achieve a relatively consistent product for the Single Pot Still release which can iron out any excesses within the individual components.
A wonderful insight into the world of the blender.
Next came a duo of single malts – Crystal & Peated – which demonstrate the role raw ingredients play in developing flavour.
Crystal Single Malt
Crystal malt is commonly used in craft beer circles to boost flavour, depth & colour. A throwback to Alex’s brewing days.
Crystal malt has been roasted for longer – allowing richer, darker flavours to come through.
I found a farmhousey saison type of nose, rich vanilla on the palate with a gorgeous spice on the finish.
Peated Single Malt
Well anything with peat in it is a winner for me – and Teeling’s didn’t disappoint!
Very well balanced from start to finish.
A sheer delight!
A wonderful way to celebrate Teeling’s 5th Anniversary with such delicious whiskeys.
Having followed their growth along every step of the way it reassures me no end – the quality & diversity of whiskey being produced at Newmarket is a joy to experience.
Hats off to Teeling Whiskey – and all the team involved – Happy 5th Anniversary!
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!
A bright sunny Monday morning had me waiting outside Dublin’s newest whiskey distillery – Dublin Liberties Distillery – eagerly looking forward to being one of the first customers within it’s doors.
The building has been transformed since my last visit. Gone are the whitewashed walls, black doors and empty industrial space inside. Now it’s showing off the original stone walls, immaculately varnished wooden doors and a modern yet comfy cafe combined with an extremely well stocked distillery shop displaying it’s attractive wares.
The staff were warm & friendly – if a little apprehensive at the start of their new roles as whiskey ambassadors for a bright shiny recently opened distillery.
The Liberties location is featured heavily in the opening story – a story of rebels, rascals and raconteurs.
Being beyond the city walls the area had certain freedoms – liberties – that weren’t available within. Business & industry grew up here – especially the brewing & distilling industry with it’s associated trades. As well as a reputation for entertainment & thrills – which the freshly redesigned & elaborate whiskeys of the Dublin Liberties Distillery range reflect.
The Dubliner Honeycomb Whiskey Liqueur at 30% is offered at the start of the tour as an easy starter into the brand.
Rich sweet honey up front gently morphs into a smooth warming whiskey heat that slowly fades on the palate.
A lovely little liqueur to lure you in!
Despite honouring the past – this is a modern distillery.
The washback & fermenter room is full of gleaming stainless steel tanks, pipe work & monitoring gauges.
The grain mill is enclosed beyond protective glass to prevent potential fire risk – as well as saving the guides shouting over it’s noisy operation!
The highlight of the tour – apart from the tastings obviously – are the shinning copper pot stills themselves – which have to be photographed outside of the still room – with just a peek of the up-to-date control room above.
Interestingly the first still – usually called the wash still – already exhibited a darker shinier copper hue than the others. Simply as more production cycles have been put through. The rest will no doubt follow in due course.
The all important tasting room – resplendent in wooden beams, benches & tables, as well as comfy seats & a modern bar – had the obligatory samples waiting to enjoy.
The Dubliner Irish Whiskey at 40% was first up. A young, fresh easy going pleasant blend showing delicate honey sweetness with a lovely warming malty heat.
The Oak Devil 5 Year Old at 46% – which I enjoyed very much in it’s original non aged statement (NAS) guise here – and preferred over the Dubliner blend – still retained that rich vanilla & caramel warming notes brought out by the charred ex-bourbon casks maturation. Quite what the 5yo age statement adds to the blend will have to wait for a back to back tasting.
It’s a pity the distillery exclusive Tannery Edition blend at 40% wasn’t offered as part of the tasting – but I rectified that by having a glass at the bar.
Honeycomb sweetness combined with a soft maltiness & grain heat. A decent gentle warming made this a very easy going winning blend in my book. Nothing too fancy – not too expensive – yet different enough to warrant a purchase – after all – it is a distillery exclusive!
Being the only person at the bar, I took full advantage of the bartender’s attention and went for a double bill of the new 13 Year Old Murder Lane & 16 Year Old Keeper’s Coin Single Malts.
Now I should state all the current offerings are sourced product from an unnamed Irish Distillery – or distilleries for the blends – until Dublin Liberties Distillery distillate is fully matured. Even then the grain element will continue to be sourced as only single malt will be made at the site.
That’s not to diminish the current offerings – all resplendent in elaborately designed artwork & presentation boxes.
The 13 Year Old Murder Lane at 46% is matured in ex bourbon casks with a finish in Tokaj Wine casks.
I’d not heard of Tokaj before – but it’s an area in Hungary famous for it’s wines – which kind of makes this a rather unique Irish Whiskey offering!
Warming vanilla, slight spice with richness & depth to boot. Smooth on tasting. Growing peppery spice with sweet dark fruits coming through. Long finish with a sweet spicy appeal.
The 16 Year Old Keeper’s Coin at 46% is also ex bourbon matured but with a PX cask finish.
Rich dark sweetness with plenty of depth. Smooth, soft, the dark PX sweetness coming in with a lovely drying prickly spice. Long lasting loveliness.
There is another even older offering – the 27 Year Old King Of Hell – but at 2700 euro – and not available by the glass – I declined the opportunity.
The Dublin Liberties Distillery is fully open for tastings, tours, shopping & relaxing in the cafe. It’s a wonderful addition to the ever expanding Irish Whiskey scene both within the Liberties area of Dublin as well as the country as a whole.
They have very attractive & tasty offerings to suit all tastes – as well as budgets – and I wish all connected with the distillery a hearty toast to their future success.