One of the joys about entering the An Pucan bar – just off Galway’s Eyre Square in the West of Ireland – is the wide array of whiskey available. Not only do they stock a marvelous selection of Irish – there is a healthy amount of other countries output too.
Italy is one of those countries. They also happen to be one of the Six Nations rugby teams that do battle every year – and as An Pucan is a sports bar – they show the game – as well as having the whiskey!
Puni is the first whisky distillery in Italy – and I was keen to sample one of their expressions.
This Puni Alba release is one of their earlier incarnations. An Pucan’s bottle is the original design – a very attractive & distinctive rectangular bottle at that. Later editions come in a more traditional – yet still very stylish – round shape which is used across the whole range. For me however – it’s the contents that count – so a glass was duly poured.
The nose came over with a rather unique profile. Soft & sweet with a lovely floral touch – yet slightly citric all at the same time. Very intriguing.
The taste started off suitably mellow, followed by a lovely growing heat with a little spicy kick. The floral sweetness developed into a cornucopia of flavour sensations that rolled around in the palate.
The finish was rather short – but left me wanting more!
Why had it taken me so long to try this gorgeous whisky?
On the side of the bottle some interesting information – which became clearer when enlarged – explained why I loved this expression so much.
Turns out it’s triple distilled using a mash of barley, wheat and – my pet love – rye! So that’s where the delightful spice comes from. The combination of these grains works extremely well in producing a phalanx of beautiful flavours which just exploded in my mouth.
Heaven in a bottle!
Much like Linea 77 singing about La nuova musica Italiana – I want more nuova whisky Italiana!
It should go without saying this original bottling came non chill filtered with no added caramel – which raises the freshness, clarity & strength of the engaging flavours within.
Living in the Heart of Ireland next door to the Bog of Allen – the largest peat bog in Ireland covering 950 square kms across 9 counties – I just had to try out this Irish Single Malt from Berry Bros & Rudd.
It celebrates the rich cultural & historical ties Ireland has with these boglands on my doorstep. During the seasons I can smell the burning turf from chimneys on my street, I can see the sods of turf drying in ricks from the motorway as well as a steady stream of tractors & trailers bringing it back home from the bog before the winter sets in.
There are 2 peat – or turf as it is called in Ireland – fired power stations within an hour of my house. A local politician was elected to office on the back of a Turf Cutter’s Association protest over restrictions to bog cutting.
Bogs are the very DNA of Midlands Ireland.
There were 2 whiskey distilleries in Athlone. 2 each in Tullamore, Kilbeggan and Banagher. Birr had up to 4 working distilleries. All within a 30 mile radius and all surrounding the bog with it’s readily available fuel source.
Turf would have been used in the whiskey making process – either to directly fire the stills and/ or to dry the malted barley – thus influencing the character & taste profile of that whiskey.
By the mid 20th century – all of those distilleries closed. Only one kept it’s licence – Kilbeggan – and is now back in production after John Teeling & others started the Cooley Distillery back in 1987.
Cooley Distillery reintroduced peat into the Irish whiskey scene with it’s own Connemara range – as well as many third party bottlings.
Sadly by that time – there were no maltsters producing Irish turf dried barley – nor used Irish turf barrels at hand. All who previously did so were long gone. Such raw materials had to be imported from abroad – usually Scotland.
Craoi na Mona is one such reintroduction.
On the nose there is only a slight welcome waft of smoke on the soft sweet & fruity barley malt.
It’s on tasting a warm roaring turf fire becomes apparent, perfectly balanced by softer fresh fruity notes which start off slightly oily before drifting into a prickly dry sensation.
The smoke lingered like a softly glowing fire at home after an evenings entertainment.
This is a delightfully fresh & almost youthful expression that pleased me no end. I could have stayed all day to embrace it’s charms.
It’s a pity it takes an outside independent bottler to salute the history & tradition of turf cutting in Ireland – but it’s one I’m glad to see.
I just can’t wait for a bottle of Irish whiskey made using Irish turf. Due to the different species of plant that make up that turf – the resultant taste profile will not be the same as Scottish peat – nor Tasmanian peat for that matter – as I found out when I visited that wonderful island here. It’s what’s called ‘terroir’ – and has sadly been missing for a while. Thankfully Nephin Whiskey in Mayo are planning to malt Irish barley with Irish peat as their inaugural release.
Craoi na Mona has been out for a number of years in various expressions. It’s not commonly encountered. But if you do come across it – go for it!
Pikesville was a small neighbourhood in Maryland USA. It is now consumed into Baltimore County and happens to be where some of my in-laws live.
Despite visiting last year – I never did get the chance to try the locally named brand.
Pikesville – as well as Maryland in general – had a thriving rye whiskey business before prohibition. Only now is there a bit of a resurgence of that proud history with new distilleries entering the market.
This bottle in the meantime is made in Kentucky at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown – and when I spotted it on the shelves in Garavan’s – I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Now ‘straight’ in American terms means aged for at least 2 years. ‘Rye’ means at least 51% rye is used in the all important mash bill – the other 49% can be commonly made up of corn, wheat or barley. Added caramel is not permitted.
Rye is a style of whiskey I love.
I like the hit of spicy cinnamon & nutmeg followed through by a rich peppery dryness combined with some softer warming vanilla & caramel notes.
Pikesville Supreme only just had that rye kick. I found it very much muted by the other ingredients – which I suspected as being corn. This resulted in a warm vanilla led nose & taste with only a tingling of rye at the end.
An easy drinking approachable rye yes – but not what I’m craving.
My suspicions on the corn content were confirmed later by an internet search. The mash bill makes all the difference to the taste. In this instance Pikesville appears to have a mix of rye 51%, corn 37%, and barley 12% – which explains why it didn’t light up my life.
That’s not to say it’s a bad rye. In fact many are lamenting the loss of this particular bottling which has been replaced by a 6 year old 110 proof – 55% ABV – expression that might be more up my street. The Washington Post even covered the story here!
So if you’re missing a taste of Maryland – head for Garavan’s in Galway!
Only the other day I was remarking there would be an increase in bars releasing their own label whiskey when;
Out of the hat pops the Dead Rabbit whiskey.
Shortly followed by a Garavan’s 10yo single malt!
I get as excited as a kid at Christmas with every new Irish whiskey release. In this instance it was a lot easier to visit a pub only an hour down the road – rather than a trans-atlantic flight across the pond – for me to sample one of these bottles!
Garavan’s is a gem of a whiskey bar. One of the 12 venues on the Galway Whiskey Trail. It has warm wooden snugs & paneling, loads of whiskey coupled with friendly welcoming & informed staff. What more could a whiskey fan ask for?
I ordered up my Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey – neat as is my way – & awaited the joys that were within.
The nose opened up with some playful fruity notes – this whiskey isn’t shy about coming forward – with some rich vanilla & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation.
The taste was a delight. No holding back here either. Clear, crisp & fresh. More of that warming bourbon influence with a soft prickly spice too.
The finish was suitably long & mellow – yet left a satisfying lingering heat. Time for a tune for the recently departed.
I liked the no nonsense label too. It harks back to bygone days when brown paper bags were the norm – deliveries were done on a bone shaker & each grocer had their own whiskey – from sourced distilleries!
There is no mention on the bottle as to the origin of the spirit within. Under both Irish and Scottish whiskey rules there is no legal requirement to do so – and I’m happy with that.
I don’t judge a whiskey by the cover.
I judge by the contents.
And the contents taste lovely!
Only when I blew up the photos – I’m of an age when all of a sudden the small print has become a bit of a blur – did I see some of the reasons why.
46% in whiskey terms is a magic number. It usually denotes non chill filtration. On my palate at least that means bigger & bolder flavours – more taste sensation & more warming heat. All of which Garavan’s Grocer’s Choice possesses in spades.
There is no mention of added caramel – but the bold clarity of the flavours suggests not.
There are plans to release the whiskey for retail – but in the meantime it’s only available at Garavan’s bar. For me – it’s the best place to experience this fabulous new Irish whiskey – having the craic & sharing the friendly banter with both regular customers and welcoming bar staff.
I received an invitation to ‘Go West’ recently – so I did.
‘Go West – Lots of open air,
Go West – Where the skies are blue’
ran the lyrics to a popular song.
By the time I got there on a dark, rainy & windswept November evening there was lots of open air for sure, but it was turning my skin blue with the wintry showers!
Thankfully there was a warm welcome and an even warmer open fire in the cosy heart of Sonny Molloy’s Whiskey Bar in Galway.
The event happened to be the Connacht launch of the very highly esteemed Midleton Very Rare 2017 release hosted by none other than wine guru John Wilson who introduced us to Irish Distillers Head Distiller Brian Nation . Brian – in turn – welcomed the gathered crowd into the world of Midleton VR.
For those that are not familiar with Midleton VR – a brief introduction.
Midleton VR is a 40% non age statement blend of the finest aged single pot still & single grain casks Midleton Distillery has in stock at the time of blending the annual release. Normally matured in bourbon casks the whiskey to many is the finest Irish whiskey blend there is. Being an annual limited release the series – started in 1984 – automatically becomes sought after by whiskey collectors.
So glasses were poured – and a very attractive MVR logoed glass too – as Brian led us through a communal sampling of the delights of this 2017 bottling.
Now at this juncture I must admit to trying a few Midleton VRs in my time. None of them overwhelmed me nor grabbed me as many a whiskey does. They are usually very well crafted & finely balanced with a complex marrying of subtle notes & flavours so that no one element dominates. Perhaps just a bit too subtle & well balanced for my palate?
But on the first nosing of this 2017 release the rich warm aromas associated with bourbon cask maturation drew me in. A combination of a 32 year old single grain with single pot stills up to 26 years old certainly worked their charms.
On tasting the lovely oily mouthfeel which coated the palate together with that signature single pot still spice combined to further entrance me.
A hint of orchard fruits emerged too & the whole flurry of flavours danced on the tongue during the very long finish.
I think I’ve just been won over by this one.
To up the stakes Brian produced an unmarked bottle. He proceeded to tell us we were the first audience to sample the 2nd generation of Midleton Dair Ghaelach whiskey finished in virgin Irish oak casks from a forest in Ireland he couldn’t reveal!
Being a cask strength release around the 58% mark this single pot still was a far punchier whiskey. Lovely rich oaky tannins over and above the vanillas & caramel from the bourbon cask maturation pleased me very much. A meatier whiskey than the finely tuned VR.
If that wasn’t enough Brian revealed a final tasting.
Midleton have recently announced the Very Rare Cask Circle Club where for varying degrees of money you can select your own casks & maturation times before Middleton will bottle the cask for your pleasure.
We would be tasting from one of those casks offered for sale.
Originally barreled in a bourbon cask in 2004 & re-casked into a Malaga hogshead in 2009 this 13 year old single pot still could be yours for somewhere in the region of 230 to 250,000 euro!
Erm, Could I have a sample before I buy?
Again at cask strength this is a powerful whiskey packed with flavour. The Malaga influence has toned down some of the fire & introduced more sweet yet heavier fruity notes to the rich vanilla bourbon undertones. It would make any prospective buyer very happy indeed. I’m just not sure my budget can stretch that far at present!
Brian then presented Shane McMahon – General Manager at Sonny Molloy’s – with a bottle of Midleton VR 2017. Shane scaled a ladder to place this latest release among the complete collection of Midleton VR bottles dating back to 1984 which is housed in a glass cabinet in the bar itself.
An astounding collection, an astounding evening & an astounding whiskey!
I would like to thank all the staff & teams at Sonny Molloys & Irish Distillers for the warm hospitality & generous tastings on the evening.
1 – Caribou, a four legged animal prone to herding during annual migrations across it’s North American range. Mainly eats lichens.
2 – Caribou, a recently opened bar in the Wood Quay area of Galway that stocks an amazing array of craft beers, gins & whiskeys.
Pick your poison.
a) Craft Beer as in Commotion Lotion.
A delightfully fruity easy summer drinking lager from the Wexford based Yellow Belly Beer in collaboration with pop punksters King Kong Company.
b) Whisky as in Scapa Skiren.
A sweet, smooth honey laden single malt from the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland.
Throw in a hard working yet friendly & informative bar crew.
Fill with an eclectic mix of;
i – Herds of bearded hipsters gathering – like the aforementioned Caribou – to graze on the amber nectar of craft beers along with their tattooed love birds.
ii – Whiskey geeks discussing the merits of non-chilled filtration & the de-merits of added caramel whilst sniffing, nosing & actually getting round to drinking the expressions before them!
iii – Music fans chilling out to the funky tunes played on the sound system contrasting the perfectly professional yet perfunctory performance of Radiohead at Glastonbury with the wild youthful exuberance of Otherkin at Slane.
Finish with a solid wooden bar filled with craft beer taps, comfortable tables, chairs & the odd sofa to relax in, board games to play with & a lovely floral display outside.
I choose Caribou – the bar.
I choose to sample both poisons – and more from an excellent range.
I choose to go back after my first visit on the ‘Hit The North‘ whiskey distillery tour.
I choose to be that whiskey geek accompanied by the music maestro enjoying the best Caribou has to offer.
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!
Micil. A proper noun. (mick-ill) A person’s name. Specifically one who hails from the gaeltacht area of Galway and was employed in illicit alcohol production.
Poitin. A noun. (po-cheen) A formerly illegal distilled spirit. Usually clear in appearance. In this instance made by the above person – but now turned into a legal enterprise by his great, great, great grandson.
I encountered Micil Poitin whilst waiting for the start of my Dublin Whiskey Tour in the welcoming Dingle Whiskey Bar.
Surprisingly smooth on the palate with the familiar oiliness & hints of rotten fruit associated with what is essentially unaged raw whiskey.
The added locally foraged bogbean gave a few other soft notes contributing to a degree of terroir.
Micil Poitin is the taste of tradition.
A worthy addition to the growing Irish Poitin market.
We were gently awoken from our slumbers by the gurgling waters of the River Corrib that once powered the machinery of Persse Distillery on Nun’s Island. This long closed Galway distillery inspired the members of The Galway Whiskey Trail to successfully launch The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey at last evenings extravaganza.
If our hotel room had been around about 100 years ago we could have inhaled the rich malt aromas hovering in the air as the distillery was only a stones throw across the river.
As it happened it was the enticing smell of a freshly cooked breakfast that eventually got us out of the bed to face the day ahead.
Apart from a few drunkenly made arrangements to meet up with some of the launch party crew – which always seem a bit ambitious in the cold light of day – our time was free. Herself however had plans to purchase a new rig out for an upcoming wedding so out shopping it was. Luckily after a few boutiques I made my excuses and headed to another kind of shop more suitable for my tastes – McCambridges.
Being a member of The Galway Whiskey Trail – which I’d previously visited in January – I knew they had an extensive range of whiskeys in their off-licence department. Also knowing The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey hailed from West Cork Distillers – I was curious to find out what their own label West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt tasted like in comparison.
McCambridges had plenty of Galway Bay in stock but had sold out of West Cork. Luckily there was still some spirit left in the sample bottle so a small taster soon appeared before me.
Now a 10 year old aged in ex-bourbon casks is going to be a bit vanilla sweet – but this was way too sweet.
A look at the small print on the back confirmed my suspicions – E150 – or added caramel to you and me.
I’ve read that added caramel is a tried and tested practice mainly used to darken light coloured blends to give a uniform colour across many barrels and vats.
I’ve read that in small quantities you can’t taste it.
I’m afraid to say – as Heather Greene implies in her highly informative book “Whisk(e)y Distilled” – that as you’re palate develops you can.
There’s just too much added caramel in this single malt for my liking which gives it an unbalanced taste experience. It may have been a perfectly fine whiskey without E150 so why add it?
West Cork Distillers seem to quite like using caramel. They are not alone.
Just the other day I bought a bottle of budget price Scotch by the name of Glen Orchy from a German Supermarket. On tasting some I immediately thought it had the flavour profile of a Richard ‘The Nose‘ Paterson blend all over it. Soft, mellow and caramel sweetness. On doing some research into it’s origins I found it shared the common Glasgow postcode with many other whisky brands – G2 5RG. Suffice to say the headquarters of Whyte & Mackay are based here too – along with Dalmore, Jura and 30 others.
I’m sure there is caramel in Galway Bay – but the port finish gives it a much more balanced result.
1 nil to Galway Bay.
Satisfaction piqued – I met up with Mrs Whiskey. A tentative suggestion of drinks and a snack in the warm sunshine outside one of the Galway Whiskey Trail venues was accepted so Tigh Neachtain‘s won out in this instance.
A white wine for the lady was duly ordered along with the appealingly named Bogman Irish Craft Ale I hadn’t encountered before.
Bogman turned out to be very enjoyable indeed. Not too strong at 4.9% ABV with a satisfying malty flavour. Good work from those at Spiddal River Brewery. Herself enjoyed her wine too!
We wondered if anyone else would bother to turn up from the night before – and then one appeared – followed shortly by another!
There were warm greetings all round with banter about the Galway Bay launch where we had all met followed by yet more drinks – and a tasty lunchtime meal.
I had another whiskey this time. Te Bheag is an entry level peated Scottish blend from Skye which I’d previously encountered at Whiskey Live Dublin. My palate has obviously developed as unlike my previous tasting – I got a dose of added caramel sweetness this time round.
Having the craic and shooting the breeze couldn’t have been more enjoyable. During the course of our stay on this busy pedestrian intersection many people came and went. An immaculately groomed – both male and female – wedding party stopped by for a pint and some photos. I had a chance to chat with the barman after walking out without paying on my last visit! We met one of The Galway Hooker skippers from the whiskey launch lastnight and to crown it all – a stunningly blue eyed musician serenaded one of our party after a throw away comment.
Turns out Thomas Wesley Stern are a travelling band from the Pine Barrens region of New Jeresy who had only arrived in town from Sligo and were heading to Lisdoonvarna later.
They soon had a small crowd of admirers outside Tigh Neachtain’s and garnished much applause – along with a pint for their troubles. Here they are singing a whiskey related song.
Alas a short downpour interrupted the proceedings and broke the spell.
Thoughts of returning to the real world with it’s attended chores clouded the mind and goodbyes with promises to stay in touch were exchanged.
The Galway Whiskey Trail certainly lives up to it’s description in providing an experience you cannot buy.
Together with the fabulous launch of The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey it had been an absolutely stunningly entertaining weekend.
The combination of festivities, friendliness and fun are what it’s all about.
When will you visit the trail to capture the craic for yourself?
It’s not very often you get an invitation to the launch of a new whiskey.
So I wasted no time in replying to the RSVP of a ‘Sail With Us On Galway Bay’ for the official launch of The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey.
Mrs Whiskey – whilst not an imbiber of the uisce beatha herself has a very finely tuned nose in these matters – even asked if she could come along too!
So it came to pass that both of us high-tailed it West down the M6 motorway on a gloriously sunny Friday evening in the whiskey mobile to be at Galway Docks by the appointed time.
Now The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey is the brainchild of The Galway Whiskey Trail collective of 10 whiskey bars and 1 off-licence. They have forged an alliance to promote not only themselves – but the history and experience of Irish Whiskey within Galway City.
During the course of the evening it became apparent in talking to various members of The Galway Whiskey Trail that the passion and enthusiasm this collective has is driving the whiskey experience in Galway to a higher level.
We boarded the Aran Islands Ferry ‘Glor na Farraige’ – ‘Voice of the Sea’ – to begin our voyage escorted out of the docks by the iconic sails of several Galway Hookers. A glorious sight in the evening sunshine.
Padraig Breathnach was our engaging raconteur for the evening to introduce us to the hospitality, great festivals and poetry of Galway – all aided by the addition of a good whiskey!
Talented musicians in the shape of Sean Keane and Mairtin O’Connor also accompanied us. Together with some sean nos dancers which further added to the festival feel aboard ship.
Sailing out into Galway Bay itself flanked by Connemara on one side and the majestic limestone hills of The Burren on the other, we marvelled in the splendid scenery and even more splendid sunshine that embraced us.
Moored off Black Head Lighthouse the main event of the evening – the official launch of The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey – commenced with an introduction by Cyril Briscoe.
The whiskey itself is a 10 year old single malt from West Cork Distillers matured in port casks for a period of time and bottled at 43%. Cyril explained a nosing of grapes, apricots and bananas. A taste of toasted orange, toffee and cinnamon with a lingering finish of butterscotch sweetness.
Invited to raise a glass for ourselves – I got a rich nosing. A satisfying mouthfeel with only a hint of the port finish together with a pleasantly warming finish. Not bad at all!
Available only at The Galway Whiskey Trail outlets this expression is the proud achievement of the hard work and dedication all the venues have put into the project. It’s a worthy whiskey to take that passion into a shared experience by those who go on the trail and sample it’s delights.
Whilst many of us went on board the ferry as strangers. We were warmly greeted by the hosts and encouraged by a shared enjoyment of the stunning landscapes, warm sunshine, convivial company, entertaining music, fine food and excellent whiskey into a family of friends by the time we disembarked.
To me it encapsulates what whiskey drinking is all about – and what I felt on The Galway Whiskey Trail back on a cold dreary January day earlier this year.
It’s not just about the whiskey.
It’s about the people you share that whiskey with.
The craic and divilment that flows from drinking the whiskey.
The places and characters you meet along the way.
Whiskey is a journey.
I’m glad I made that journey on Galway Bay.
And I’m glad the people behind The Famous Galway Bay Irish Whiskey made it all possible for me to share that journey with them.
My thanks to all the wonderful people who made the whole event a beautiful evening.