Factories, farms, garden sheds or industrial units in which whiskey is manufactured.
They come in all shapes & sizes.
And they are as attractive to whiskey fans as bees are to honey.
To see them, feel them, touch them & smell them.
To experience the characters & the stories that lie behind them.
And to engage with them in their natural environment whether it be surrounded by fields of barley swaying in the wind, salt laden breezes on the wild Atlantic coast or gently rolling green countryside. The environment that ultimately shapes & molds the whiskey into the wonderful array of tastes & smells of the spirit in your favourite glass.
To this end I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to try and put together a trip encapsulating all the new, planned & existing whiskey distilleries in Ireland in one big tour.
Logistically & timescale wise this proved to be a bit of a whiskey marathon spaced out over a week – so a game of 2 halves was suggested.
Hit The North is the inaugural first half covering the Irish distilleries north of an arbitrary line from Dublin to Galway.
Look out for my future posts covering how the trip went!
Every now and then a whiskey comes along that kind of takes you by the hand & leads you in to a taste sensation that just enraptures you.
Powers 1817 Release is one of those whiskeys.
On the nose it’s wonderfully rich yet smooth.
Gorgeously rich in depth on tasting with the characteristic Powers pot still spice toned down to a delightful tingle.
With a finish that just goes on and on and on.
At only 10 years old & matured solely in bourbon casks, there must be some much older single pot still malts in here to give the whiskey such gravitas.
Powers 1817 Release is a special bottling for the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) to mark their 200th Bicentenary. The LVA are the trade association representing Dublin pubs.
If you want to sample Powers 1817 you’ll have to visit one of those Dublin pubs – like I was fortunately able to do for a tasting with the highly informative Powers Ambassador Michael Carr at The Brian Boru in Phibsborough.
Michael expertly guided us through the lovely Powers Gold Label blend – a mixture of single pot still & grain whiskey giving a lovely spice kick on the finish – which I must admit to being my ‘go-to’ blend.
The superb Powers John’s Lane Release – a bourbon matured & sherry finished single pot still 12 year old which I thought couldn’t be surpassed.
Until I tasted the 1817 release.
My thanks to Michael for the tasting & Rebecca for arranging the event.
Now in it’s 5th year, the numbers attending are still growing. This reflects the increasing awareness and appreciation of craft beer, food and distilled spirits among the discerning drinking public.
Being my 3rd visit, I’m always amazed at the growing number of Irish Craft Beer breweries, cider makers & distilleries producing a bewildering array of fine tasting alcoholic beverage.
The other reason for attending the show this year was an opportunity to interview the Head Distiller of Dublin’s soon to be opened Pearse Lyons Distillery in the historic Liberties area.
Dr. Gearóid Cahill.
Whiskey Nut (WN) Is the timetable for the distillery opening going according to plan?
Gearóid Cahill (GC) We’re fairly confident in the proposed July opening. But we’re already a full year behind our original plans. At the start of the project the former St James’s Church wasn’t a listed building. A Protected Structure was subsequently applied to the site which we were happy to comply with but this understandably slowed down our schedule. Being a former church surrounded by a graveyard also meant that everytime we wanted to dig a trench for cabling or pipework human remains were unearthed. These had to be treated with respect. All of them were carefully catalogued, analysed for historical data and then reinterred at the graveyard. We have cooperated with the relevant authorities over these and many other issues which have arisen during the construction and done our utmost to comply with all the conditions.
WN Will there be a visitors centre?
GC There will be a visitors centre adjacent to the church inside which the actual distillery is situated. We want to take visitors into the working distillery to feel the heat, experience the noise and smell the aromas of a working distillery, as well as showing them the entire whiskey making process from grain to glass.
WN What style of Irish whiskey are you intending to produce?
GC Dr. Pearse Lyons, the Founder & President of Alltech has a vision and passion to produce a malted barley Irish whiskey in his home town of Dublin. I’m thrilled and equally passionate to be charged with making sure that vision becomes a reality.
WN I’m very excited by the return of rye as an ingredient in Irish whiskey manufacture. There is already a rye cask finished Irish whiskey on the market. Midleton have planted fields of rye near Enniscorthy and Kilbeggan/Cooley are currently maturing a rye single pot. Are there any plans for this style of whiskey at St James’s?
GC The design of the distillery and the dynamism of Alltech allow for a high degree of flexibility & innovation. We can produce beer at the distillery, over and above that required for distillation. We can access any type of grain we require through the Alltech agricultural division and we will be using the best casks from our Lexington distillery in Kentucky. Together with the relatively small size of the, what you can call a boutique distillery we are about to open, we can respond & react to any change in style or vision we wish in the coming years.
WN You come with a very impressive career both academically and practically mainly founded on brewing. Has distilling always been a dream for you?
GC I’ve worked for many years in the brewing industry and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I love working for Alltech as the passion and enthusiasm Dr Pearse Lyons has for brewing & distilling is something I share. It’s that enthusiasm that drives our team to hold the Alltech Craft Brews And Food Fair every year to showcase the growing rise of craft beer, cider and spirit making in Ireland. A lot of our staff give freely of their time to help organise & run the event and we see it as showcasing the best that is out there. There is also a growing blurring of lines in the types & styles of beer now available. Just when does a heavily hopped dark porter stop being a porter & become an IPA? It’s a question I often have to adjudicate on being a judge at the show. Those blurred lines are also entering the whiskey market with stout aged whiskey, IPA aged whisky and other variations. This also feeds back into the growth of barrel aged beers. These are exciting times.
I’m very confident and comfortable in the field of brewing which is the first step in whiskey production. I’m also very comfortable with the science and technique of distilling. The whole process of maturation in wood is a much less understood area and still a bit of a mystery – although I’m getting much valuable advice & experience from the team over in Lexington.
WN There are some who say up to 70% of the flavour in a whiskey comes from the influence of wood maturation. Would you agree with that?
GC I wouldn’t go that high.It’s true wood plays a yet not totally understood role in the final flavour profile – but the spirit you put into the barrel in the first instance has to be of good quality. No matter how long you age a bad distillate it simply won’t become a stunning whiskey. Understanding the variables of wood maturation, temperature fluctuations, types of wood, charring levels and previous contents all play their part in the final whiskey. They will all become a major part of my – and my teams work – over the next few years.
WN When you get time to relax at home,
and at this a wry smile suggested this wasn’t a common experience
What would be your drink of choice?
GC Erm, well when I get the time, I like to sit down with a good bourbon, usually over ice. I enjoy a malted Irish too but I wouldn’t be a fan of a heavily peated Scotch.
At this point I finished my interview by thanking Gearóid for giving me the time out from his busy schedule for the talk and fired off a couple of photos for the blog.
During the small talk I discovered he’s originally from Collinstown in Westmeath!
Westmeath gains another notch in the wonderful world of whiskey!
And talking about Westmeath, why not finish with another of Westmeath’s finest – Joe Dolan – here singing a song titled Sister Mary. Chosen by me for Gearóid Cahill building the Pearse Lyons Distillery in a former church!
I wish all the team at Alltech future success with the Pearse Lyons Distillery – and eagerly await the opening.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can worship at the shrine of whiskey and celebrate the mystery of wood.
Dublin Whiskey Tours offer a variety of guided pub walks highlighting the history, culture and sampling the present day flavours of Irish whiskey expressions. Depending on which type of tour you choose, there are also some tasty food pairings too!
I happened to be the lucky winner of a prize draw from the excellent Irish Whiskey Magazine when I took out an annual subscription at last years Whiskey Live Dublin event. This gave myself & a fellow friend a day out in Dublin to sample some amazing Irish whiskey.
Dublin Whiskey Tours have a visually attractive & informative website through which up to 3 different types of whiskey tour can be easily booked and paid for.
My prize turned out to be the top level Deluxe Tour which includes tasting 5 premium Irish whiskeys accompanied with carefully selected food pairings in 2 of Dublin’s finest whiskey bars.
The starting point of our trip was the wonderful Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau St. I’ve happily selected a number of tasty whiskey treats from the extensive & varied range they proudly display in the groovy curved window on several occasions, so it’s charms are very welcome.
You,ll have to indulge me here, but everytime I mention Nassau St, a song pops into my head!
Our tour guide Justine shortly joined the 2 of us to begin the proceedings.
We were expecting a few others but as the festive season had just finished business was quiet. Tours are normally limited to 6 or 7 during busy periods to allow guests to chat, contribute & openly share their whiskey experiences
It wasn’t long before our first whiskey appeared before us.
Starting with one of the historical single pot still survivors of a time when whiskey distilleries didn’t bottle their own produce but instead sold it off in bulk to grocers & bonders to mature & bottle. Mitchell & Sons are the original creators of both Yellow Spot & Green Spot whiskey and are still going strong today! Sadly they are no longer able to store & mature their whiskey in the heart of Dublin so Irish Distillers – who supplied the original spirit – now do that at the Midleton Distillery carefully adhering to Mitchell & Son’s requirements.
The malted & unmalted barely used for a single pot still whiskey imparts a richer, oilier mouthfeel which is evident in Yellow Spot. A rich fruity taste from the sherry casks and ex-bourbon cask maturation definitely make this expression a flag bearer for Irish whiskey and sets a high standard for the rest of our tasting tour!
Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old arrived shortly after. This is also a sherry finished ex-bourbon cask matured whisky but in this instance a single malt. Justine informed us it is distilled in Bushmills Distillery for Castle Brands – an American based drinks company whose founding father owned the actual Knappogue Castle near Quinn in Co Mayo.
Using only malted barley this single malt had a lighter cleaner feel than the Yellow Spot. I found it also lacked a bit of punch by the 40% chill-filtered presentation. We did have a little chat with the friendly bar staff who informed us despite experimenting with 46% non-chilled filtered expressions regular Knappogue Castle drinkers were somewhat put off by the cloudy appearance of fatty acids when water or ice is added to the drink.
This is not a problem I encounter as I generally take my whiskey neat, but would have preferred a higher strength variant for the added flavour & punch I felt was lacking.
Our time at Dingle Whiskey Bar concluded so still chatting away, we walked through the now busy Dublin streets a short distance to The Rag Trader on Drury St. The bar’s name comes from the historical importance of the textile trade to this area of Dublin and remnants of that industry are found in some of the fixtures & fittings within the bar.
Only opened in 2016, The Rag Trader was new to both myself and my whiskey companion who lives in Dublin.
On entering we were greeted by a quaint old fashioned fireplace complete with glowing fire – a gas fed faux fire to comply with clean air laws – which immediately had us remembering the old 1950’s style living rooms of our grandparents. I’ve used it as the heading photo at the top of the blog. A whiskey and a fire – luxury!
Our next whisky also had some fire!
Well not really fire. Beautifully pungent peat smoke on the nose follows through to a softly mellow balanced quiet ambers of a peat fire on tasting. Connemara whiskey from the Kilbeggan Distilling Co breaks all the mythical rules of Irish whiskey.
It’s very much peated.
It’s double distilled and
It’s very drinkable indeed!
It certainly holds it’s own when compared to the peated trio of Talisker, Laphroaig and Jura I enjoyed on a visit to Derry the previous weekend.
A welcome tasting tray of Irish crackers, Irish cheese from nearby Sheridans & some chocolates from Cocoa Atelier accompanied Bushmills flagship malt – the 21 Year Old. Full of complex flavours from the long maturation in a combination of ex bourbon, sherry & wine casks I initially found the 40% offering a little watery to begin with before the elegant finely balanced & delicate taste came through. Maybe the finely balanced soft flavours are just not my style as many a more extreme yet younger whiskey often grabs me.
We saved the chocolates for the final tasting.
And boy what a tasting it was!
The Redbreast 21 Year Old combination of a richer, bolder spirit as found in the single pot still production along with the 46% strength bottling ensured more pronounced notes of fresh fruits combined with a gentle spice finish which delightfully tingled on the tongue. The soft slight bitterness of the chocolates only enhanced this experience.
This effectively rounded up our Dublin Whiskey Tour on a high point – which after starting with the stunning Yellow Spot I didn’t think was possible.
We spent a very enjoyable & informative time with our host Justine. Exchanged whiskey tales from her time at Jameson Bow St Experience – along with many other non-whiskey anecdotes. Been talked through some excellent Irish whiskey expressions paired with lovely artisan food pairings as well as being introduced to the wonderful surroundings of 2 warm & friendly whiskey bars.
Despite this tour being a freebie, I think it’s good value if I’d paid.
The joy of whiskey is as much about the personal experience of drinking it as it is about sharing that joy with fellow drinkers in convivial discussion and a friendly & warm setting.
Dublin Whiskey Tours certainly provide the tasty whiskey,
The enjoyable company,
And the fabulous surroundings.
What more could you ask for?
My thanks to Irish Whiskey Magazine for picking me out of the hat in the prize draw, and to Dublin Whiskey Tours for my day out in Dublin.
One of the joys of attending a masterclass at Whiskey Live Dublin is gaining access to some of the movers & shakers and characters of the Irish Whiskey scene.
Darryl McNally – master distiller at the Dublin Whiskey Company – is certainly an engaging as well as entertaining character who led a highly enjoyable talk about his new Irish whiskey adventure.
Darryl regaled us with stories from his time at Bushmills. Originally with Irish Distillers, then Diageo and now Jose Cuervo before he decided to go his own way with the Quintessential Brands owned Dublin Whiskey Company.
Being a new player in the market doesn’t mean bringing a lack of knowledge or experience to the table. Darryl has an abundance of those qualities – as well as a knack of casually throwing in some whiskey stories from his many years in the industry.
In his early days at Bushmills he was intrigued by a tap marked 2D and 3D. Eventually plucking up the courage to ask someone, it turned out to be a flow valve for double distilled or triple distilled spirit. The distillery could – and probably still does – have the ability to produce either.
During the Diageo owned days the 2D was switched off to concentrate on the production of 3D spirit to fit in with the marketing strategy at the time.
The 2D stock that had accumulated beforehand no longer fitted the ‘core brand story’ and was subsequently off loaded.
Jack Teeling happened to have some ready cash from the Cooley sale to Beam and – as the story goes – 10 million worth of 2D stock now forms the bulk of current Teeling whiskey expressions having been selected and finished to Alex Chasko’s exacting standards.
Ironically the site chosen for the soon to be developed Dublin Whiskey Distillery is Mill Street in the Liberties area of Dublin – right behind the award winning Teeling Distillery!
The Liberties is once again gaining it’s former glory – or notoriety – of being the major whiskey production area of Ireland with the Pearse Lyons Distillery in nearby James’s Street almost complete.
The Dublin Liberties Irish Whiskey also happens to be the family brand name for a range of attractively designed expressions that cleverly combine the rich historical heritage of the Liberties area with a modern image and story.
My eye was immediately drawn to the bottle of Oak Devil I encountered last year in the lovely Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau Street. A glass duly sat in front of me for my pleasure – and it certainly was pleasing.
It had a rich malty, almost woody note to begin with followed by some lovely spices and a warming finish. It struck me as being a little bit different to the standard offerings of other blends out there and it struck a chord with me – just like the old Cult classic tune did as I quietly hummed it to myself whilst savouring the whiskey.
In the masterclass this 46% non-chill filtered blend was paired with some lovely salmon sushi from Yamamori – did I mention we were provided with some lovely food to compliment the tasty whiskey? – and Oak Devil only reaffirmed my enjoyable original tasting experience.
Copper Alley is the new release. Also at 46% non-chill filtered but this time a 10 year old single malt finished in 30 year old sherry casks. It’s a more refined smooth tasting whiskey than Oak Devil which despite the sherry influence still retains the lovely maltiness and spice I like. Lovely.
The Dubliner brand is also part of the portfolio and will make up the bulk of the Dublin Whiskey Company core sales.
The Dubliner Blend at 40% chill filtered proved to be a pretty decent standard entry expression with just enough spice to keep it entertaining. But I was blown away by the extremely tasty food pairing of a chocolate donut infused with Dubliner whiskey!
Still munching on the donut the Dubliner 10 year old single malt at 42% chill filtered matured in bourbon casks also went down very well. This release was paired with some beautiful tariyaki beef strips and concluded the session.
Asked for a favourite – I was about to shout out ‘The donut’ when Darryl joked that anyone who did so would be ejected from the show!
Oak Devil still won me over however with that blend of malt, spice and grain combined in a cool bottle wrapped up with a pleasing story.
I just can’t wait for the distillery in Mill St to be up and running so I can enjoy more donuts – sorry, whiskey! – whilst relaxing in the proposed visitors lounge overlooking the still room floor where all the action is.
My second visit to the Teeling Whiskey Distillery happened to take place on Valentine’s Day.
Herself had decided we’d stay with old friends in Dublin and all 4 of us would go out for a joint meal together on the 13th. It was further decreed the ‘ladies’ would visit the National Botanical Gardens on the 14th – allowing the ‘men’ to visit the now fully opened award winning distillery located in Newmarket Square in the historic Liberties area of Dublin.
Now my first visit to this fine establishment included a guided tour by none other than the master distiller Alex Chasko who exuded much glee at soon being able to produce the first distillate for many a year within the city confines.
As the building wasn’t yet complete the dress of choice was hi-vis vests and hard hats – complete with the sounds of powered tools and much shouting.
As a paying customer this time round – it would be very interesting to compare my experiences.
Gone were the scaffolding – cranes -hoardings and ant like workers busily adding the final touches.
In was a nice clean facade aided by the cycle park outside the main entrance which enhanced the view. Instead of dirty workers there was a gathering of visitors who were as much excited by the short heavy hail shower that greeted our arrival as the golden liquid inside.
Instead of Alex – Conor – one of the friendly and helpful Teeling branded staff was to be our guide today.
The ground floor contained a large cafe area serving delicious hot and cold foods along with teas – coffees and soft drinks for the kids. There were sofas and chairs to lounge in with large windows looking out into the square where many folks came to visit the neighbouring farmers market and food stalls which are a regular event.
Having been tagged at reception for the type of tasting experience you wished at the end of the tour – guests then entered a photographic display area along with whiskey memorabilia and associated artefacts whilst waiting for the tour to begin.
As is customary – a short video introduces the visitor to Irish Whiskey and Teeling Whiskey Distillery in particular before we are led into the main event – the working distillery itself!
The first thing that struck me upon entering the working distillery was the strong smell – and heat – of the malt in the mash tun. Such a warming and welcoming entrance to the building site I previously enjoyed.
The attention to detail was evident with the inclusion of a strategically based light above the inspection window to allow visitors – and staff – to see inside the large vessel.
The trio of copper stills had been cleaned up and were not only shining – but had been given names too!
And most importantly of all – the spirit safe had a steady flow of new spirit during the entire duration of our visit.
Conor gently informed us of the whole whiskey making process – from the delivery of malted and unmalted barley – to the mash tun and copper stills – to the spirit safe and on to the maturation period.
One thing I hadn’t previously thought about was that after the 1875 Liberties Whiskey Fire – the maturation of whiskey was banned from within the city and so to this day – all whiskey – including that made in Teeling’s – has to be transported out of Dublin to complete the minimum 3 years in a barrel before being able to call itself whiskey.
Teeling matures many of it’s expressions for a lot longer than that minimum requirement.
In fact at present – with the exception of Teeling Poitin – all Teeling expressions were distilled at the Cooley Distillery but have been matured to their own style by the master blender Alex Chasko.
We had the opportunity to taste some of these marvellous creations at the Bang Bang Bar after our tour.
I’d opted for the Teeling Master Class tasting – sure why else would you visit the distillery than to try out the best they had to offer?
My trio consisted of;
Teeling Single Malt
Part of the standard Teeling Trinity made up of the Small Batch and Single Grain releases – Single Malt is a lovely smooth yet sweet offering which belies it’s 46% non chill filtered strength.
Teeling 15 Year Old Revival
A recent offering matured and finished in rum casks. A far more fuller bodied expression with a hefty dose of rum throughout the nose and taste. I thoroughly enjoyed this dram.
Teeling 23 Year Old Sherry Cask
A beautifully dark liquid with distinctive sherry nose. The whiskey slips down so smoothly you’re unaware of it’s 52.5% ABV until a rich – softly spicy tingle reminds you of it’s true strength on the long and satisfying finish. A masterpiece!
This dram is definitely Louder – cue Kid Karate! An equally new – as Teeling – young upcoming band from Dublin.
This superb 23 yo expression is only available at the distillery which features the novel and exciting experience of bottling your own whiskey.
I was mindful the ‘ladies’ would be meeting us shortly in the cafe downstairs so a purchase of this magnitude for myself probably would’t be wise given the day that’s in it. An 11 yo crystal malt sherry cask is also offered for filling which is again a distillery exclusive.
Along with the usual array of branded clothes – glasses and bottles available to purchase in the roomy shop area there were a fine collection of books pertaining to both whiskey and Dublin too. I spotted Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible and after all the fuss made about his winning dram – I couldn’t resist buying a copy.
It pleased me very much that to date – Jim hadn’t yet rated the fabulous 23 yo Teeling – nor for that matter the fabulous Eschenbrenner Spessart Amber I’d purchased in Berlin!
I may be short of the 4000 plus samples he’s tasted but at least I’ve had a few he hasn’t!
I don’t know if Jim has visited Teeling’s yet. He won’t be disappointed when he does – and neither will you.
The staff are very friendly and informative. The food is great. The building has modern clean lines and the whiskeys are divine!
A working distillery in the heart of Dublin. There hasn’t been one for over 40 years.
Who would have thought that an invitation to taste – sample and rate some of the best whiskeys that Ireland has to offer for the Irish Whiskey Awards 2015 ceremony to be held on October 15th in Dublin could end up being such an arduous task?
As Faith No More sang – We Care A Lot.
I maybe should have taken a leaf out of former President Clinton’s advice when it came to hard drugs – “I didn’t inhale”. Well I sniffed whiskey and swallowed. Pretty dam good it was too – but after about a 30 sample score for the day – it had the potential to be messy – which thankfully it wasn’t.
I would however recommend – both for my future health as well as anyone else who cares to indulge in these events – the correct use of the spittoon.
Sniff – Slurp – Swirl – Spit – Score.
For an informative and entertaining blog on attending whiskey events click here.
The particular event I attended was hosted by the Celtic Whiskey Shop who advised on the scoring method to be used.
Sniff the whiskey – score out of 25 for aroma..
Slurp the whiskey – swirl round the mouth for taste – score out of 25.
Spit the whiskey out into the spittoon – score out of 25 for the finish.
Finally give another score out of 25 for overall impressions and balance.
Giving a total score out of 100 for each whiskey tasted.
I’m a bit apprehensive about scoring my whiskeys as such. I find tasting such a subjective and personal experience rather than the objective and clinical approach that judging should be. It takes a lot of the whiskey tasting fun out of the equation – but nonetheless I was here to judge so that is what I did – and it soon became fun too!
For the sake of uniformity all judges were given a NEAT glass each with which to sample the whiskeys. Now I’ve not encountered this glass before – I tend to use a smaller version of the classic tulip shaped Glencairn glass – whereas the NEAT has a more flat thistle shape to it – handy for printing a logo on the bottom? – NEAT claim it enhances the aromas as well as delivering a controlled sample across the tongue – I’d agree with the latter but uncertain on the former.
I should also say that all the whiskeys were sampled blind. They were presented in identical clear bottles with only the colour variation to differentiate them before tasting and an alphabetical/numerical code to match the score sheet.
My first category to try was the Irish Single Grains. As there were only 3 competitors in this field it probably isn’t difficult to guess which expressions they are. My scores reflected my previous encounters with these lovely smooth whiskeys and only a point separated the top two – but are my tastebuds up to guessing which particular expressions they were? All will be revealed on awards night!
My downfall occurred during the very large Irish Blended Whiskey under 60 euro with 17 entrants. I started here as it’s probably the most likely category I’ll buy regularly.
To begin with I eschewed the spittoon wishing to sample as many fine whiskeys as possible. It quickly became apparent that not all the blends were actually fine – some were – some weren’t – and I’d end up exceedingly drunk if I swallowed the whole taster. So never before have I thrown away so much whiskey. I should have brought along an empty bottle to decant the remains into – but I didn’t – and by the time I thought of it I was mildly intoxicated and couldn’t be bothered.
Anyway I soldiered on. My scores ranged from a poorly 64 up to a nice 83 with most being in the 70’s bracket which I would call grand – in the Irish meaning way. I can’t wait to find out who I gave my top mark to!
A hearty lunch was called for to soak up the alcohol together with a large glass of water. I ventured forth into Dublin city centre which was basking in the brilliant sunshine that had eluded Ireland all summer. Pity I was sequestered in a hotel basement tasting whiskey – hence the title of this blog!
Suitably refreshed I returned for more categories. The 3 entrant slate for the Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Beer lot started the afternoon proceedings gently followed by Irish Single Casks again with 3 offerings and then the Irish Blends over 60 euro.
There were also a few more judges about and discussion soon started comparing our experiences. I was reassured when 2 other judges also chose the same top scorer as myself for the Single Casks and in an interesting turnaround – my top scores were another judge’s bottom scores across 3 separate categories! At least there was consistency in our differing tastes and remarkably – our ratio of top to bottom scoring was also consistent! Perhaps there is something in an objective approach to scoring whiskey! I do think it has to be blind though as seeing the expression comes loaded with a whole set of previous assumptions and experiences of the brand.
Time was marching on however and aware I had a train to catch I resisted the large Irish Single Pot Stills category to go for another small field in the Irish Cask Strength Whiskeys.
Now I know I’ve expressed difficulty with cask strength before – how much or how little water to put in – but I had been encouraged by others that the entrants were very palatable and showed off their colours when tasted neat and I must state -neat, neat, neat is how I like my whiskey – cue another video.
Indeed loud music was how I was feeling with so much fine whiskey consummed – but after a dash for the train all I had on offer was my trusty ipod and some repetitive dance tracks to accompany my journey west. I felt devastated finding out there was no trolley service to quench my whiskey buzz. By the time I got home it was like the famous scene from Ice Cold In Alex – except it was the tea I was after!
So there you go. A day out judging Irish Whiskey. I’ll have to wait for the big event on the 15th October to find out not only which expressions I tasted – but which ones came out top in their class. Not only will it be a great showcase for the best in Irish distilling – but a test of my judging abilities.
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?