W.D. O’Connell are part of the next generation of Irish Whiskey brands/bottlers/bonders and distillers that have exploded onto the scene.
Labelling themselves as ‘Whiskey Merchants’, W.D. O’Connell source their spirit from existing distilleries – and have it finished to their own requirements.
Showcased for the first time at Whiskey Live Dublin 2019– where I had a quick sample – as well as a tweet tasting I missed – I did get a couple of sample bottles for my tasting pleasure.
Bill Phil, Peated Series, 47.5%
Peat – or turf in Ireland – is a flavour profile that has been absent in Irish Whiskey for too long. It’s a style I enjoy & I celebrate with open arms any newcomer’s reinterpretation of this distinctive character.
That lovely warm smokiness just captivated me straight away. Clear, crisp & slightly meaty. A joy to behold.
Delightfully young & fresh on the palate. The ashy peat smoke develops into an all embracing toastiness that wraps you heartily like a turf fueled fire.
A frisson of nutmegy spice dances merrily on the finish.
A stunner of a malt.
17 Year Old PX Series, 46%
A much more ‘traditional’ Irish style.
Cooley malt matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in Pedro Ximenez barrels for 6 months.
A dark cherry sweetness on the nose.
Lucious fruitiness on the palate – more stone fruits than orchard apples – with a gentle spiciness to enliven the whiskey – finished off by a softly drying prickliness.
Classic stuff indeed – and very well done.
Without a doubt – Bill Phil.
It’s young, it’s fresh, it’s exciting.
It marks the welcome return of peat to the Irish Whiskey cannon.
W.D. O’Connell sourced this one from the Great Northern Distillery. Hopefully it will be the first of many interpretations using peated malt from this distillery.
What would make it even more outstanding was if Irish turf was used to dry the barley.
Suitably impressed by the presentation – I wasted no time in cracking it open.
The nose displays a joyfully youthful & fresh grain combined with softly sweet malts giving a lovely warmth & gentle spice.
The smooth delivery lulled me in before a gently drying spiciness laden with dark cherries gave added character & depth to the proceedings.
A suitably long finish had an unexpected fruity juiciness appearing at the end just as that gorgeous dryness I enjoy slowly faded.
The contents complimented the tales of Grace O’Malley’s exploits with a characterful mouthfeel, lovely depth of flavour and good complexity too.
The price point is a bit on the high side for a blend – even allowing for the wonderful presentation and mature malt content- but I’m pleased to read the owners will be releasing more attractively costed bottles too here.
Grace O’Malley Whiskey is one of the first third party releases using spirit sourced from the Great Northern Distillery – I look forward to many more.
I wish all connected with the brand a safe journey as they set sail into the brave new world of Irish Whiskey.
If you manage to build your distillery the next issue is warehouses to store the new make distillate for the required 3 years until it becomes whiskey. Great Northern Distillery are still on the hunt for storage after their plans were knocked back in County Louth.
Teeling looks outside Louth for €20m whiskey warehouse
If you manage to overcome these hurdles – yet more await.
What are you going to call your whiskey?
A certain well known Dublin personality had hoped to call his whiskey ‘Notorious’ – but there happened to be a beer already on the market with that name.
What else could I do but pop down to my local O’Briens to purchase a few for tasting?
O’Hara’s are one of the original craft beer makers in Ireland. Founded in 1996 they were ahead of the pack and have grown with the times. Now a major player in the craft beer market they produce a varied range of porters, lagers, ales & IPA’s – as well as opening a bar in Kilkenny.
Their Notorious Red IPA is an amalgam of 2 popular styles of beer.
Red Ale is a relatively light ale usually showing a reddish hue. Notes of malt, soft caramel with a gentle smoke from the roasted malts often used coming through too.
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give the original definition – is the hot ticket in the craft beer world. The high hop content displays varying degrees of bitterness ranging from fresh citrussy summer notes to deeper almost woody pine flavours.
I must admit my palate is not a fan of IPA – the bitterness puts me off – but I do enjoy a Red Ale now and then.
So with that caveat in mind – how did I find the Notorious Red IPA?
A decent Red Ale ruined by the hoppy bitterness.
I did reach out to a self declared IPA fan – in the interests of balance – to get a view from the other side.
There can be the bargain basement headline grabbing Glen Marnochs & Ben Brackens.
There can be the annually anticipated Lidl/Aldi Xmas Specials which can be of high age statement, low cost and surprisingly great quality to boot.
And then there is Marks & Spencer’s Single Malt.
M&S always go the extra mile.
To begin with they name the distillery that produced the malt – Cooley – even although it’s not a legal requirement. They also inform the discerning drinker caramel colouring is added – also not a legal requirement. And they package the liquid in a very attractive bottle providing a piece of prose about the rich folk lore contained within the local area the whiskey is from – as well as a clever back label that evokes the mountainous landscape of the region.
And what a stunning region it is too.
Slieve Foy Whiskey is named after the majestic mountain of the same name that dominates the landscape of the Carlingford Peninsular. Despite Cooley Distillery not having a visitors centre – that is the role of the pretty Kilbeggan Distillery of the Beam/Suntory group that owns both facilities – a trip to this fabulous part of the country is highly recommended.
A hearty arduous ascent of Slieve Foy itself is rewarded by jaw dropping views of the clear blue waters of Carlingford Lough below – as well as the rounded tops of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland in the distance.
You can replenish your energy afterwards by dining out in one of Carlingford towns many bars – not forgetting a drop of the hard stuff!
So what is the whiskey like?
Well – unlike the rugged countryside – Slieve Foy exhibits a soft, sweet malty nose.
A gentle introduction to a very easy approachable – slips down smoothly – bourbon cask matured single malt.
It’s well balanced – the added caramel doesn’t dominate like other offerings – and there are no rough edges to this very pleasant malt.
The whiskey leaves a warm glow at the end – along with a soft spice – much like the open fire in a suitable Carlingford town bar after a strenuous day on the hills.
Cooley built it’s reputation and business producing 3rd party bottlings. Slieve Foy 8 Year Old is a fine representation of that business.
I look forward to many more representations emanating from the Great Northern Distillery – the successor to Cooley after the sale to Beam – as well as West Cork Distillers – who are both in the business of supplying the supermarkets with malt for the masses.
After weeks – nay months – spent pored over maps, contacting distilleries & working out routes & times – the day finally arrived when it all came together – to borrow a Beatles track.
With a fresh set of – rented – wheels the inaugural Irish Whiskey Distilleries Tour finally hit the road – North!
Using Dublin as the start & finish point – a small party of dedicated whiskey fans took the short trip up the M1 motorway to our first port of call – Boann Distillery in Drogheda.
Boann is one of those new breed of whiskey distilleries that are currently still being built. Tours are not yet officially permitted but we were kindly shown round this wonderful looking site by Peter Cooney – one of the family members who own this growing drinks business.
When fully complete – a 2018 timescale – Boann will be producing single malt, single pot still & blended whiskeys – along with a tasty award winning range of craft beers already being brewed from it’s neighbouring brewery – and all complimented by a very attractive copper pot stills hall overlooking a field of barley – well, what else could it be?
The Whistler is Boann’s range of award winning single malts from a sourced distillery that are on the market in advance of their own stock. They comprise of a 7 & 10 Year old Single Malt and a 7 Year Old Cask Strength. We kindly had a tasting in the boardroom where Peter pulled out a new 5 Year Old Double Oaked bottle. It’s not yet released – but tastes lovely.
Slane Distillery is the dream of Alex & Henry Conyngham who along with Brown-Forman – owners of the Jack Daniels bourbon brand – will soon open this magnificent distillery set in the Slane Castle grounds on the banks of the Boyne River.
Sadly construction works were still in progress on the day we arrived so a quick photo of the ongoing works sufficed. For a review of the lovely sourced Slane Irish Whiskey blend read a previous blog of mine here.
Great Northern Distillery (GND) in Dundalk is the new powerhouse of John Teeling who ploughed back in the money made from the sale of his Cooley/Kilbeggan business to Beam in 2011. The GND operation can produce grain, single malt and single pot still whiskey & will mainly sell that whiskey to 3rd parties – although a limited release own brand Burke’s Single Malt has just been marketed.
Handily the nearby Kennedy’s Bar happened to have a bottle to sample over our lunch stop. Burke’s is a reassuringly strong bourbon cask matured single malt which coats your mouth & leaves a long warm tingling.
At present GND has no visitors centre – that may change in the future – but the former Harp Lager Brewery is an impressively large facility that will be able to produce a phenomenal amount of Irish whiskey in the years to come.
Cooley Distillery nestled on the picturesque Cooley Peninsular is also not open to visitors. This distillery was originally opened by John Teeling back in 1987 & kick-started the revival of Irish whiskey which continues to this day. Now owned by the Beam/Suntory group who use their sister Kilbeggan Distillery as the visitors centre. Another quick photo stop sufficed in the now rainy weather.
Our last port of call was the only distillery open & actually accepting tours – Echlinville Distillery on the picturesque Ards Peninsular. Sadly there wasn’t anyone available to show us round at the time we passed by on our way up to Belfast.
We did however call in on the wonderful whiskey emporium that is the Bittles Bar who stock the Echlinville range of whiskeys. At present these are also sourced spirits – but the finishes they add to Dunville VR single malt, Three Crowns blend & Bán Poitin certainly make this distillery one to look out for in the future.
The Duke of York provided our last dram of the evening. Another fabulous whiskey bar in the heart of Belfast.
Our dram of the day?
Boann’s The Whistler 5 Year Old Double Oaked. A lovely rich sherry on the nose follows through on tasting combined with sweet bourbon cask maturation notes into a long finish.
Trying to track down which actual distillery they are eluding to proved a little more difficult. Contenders are The Phoenix Park Distillery which some have opening in 1900, but others in 1878, and The Dublin City Distillery of Great Brunswick Street which was formed in 1890, but it’s unclear if the distillery was situated at this spot or elsewhere, as the company was allied to a failing Banagher Distillery and the venture collapsed by 1905.
1890 wasn’t a great time to invest in whiskey as the boom years of the 1860’s to 1880’s were showing signs of faltering. The growing rise of blended whiskey, world war, independence, civil war, prohibition and economic isolation all led to the collapse of Irish Whiskey from being the Worlds Finest, to a mere footnote. By 1966 only 2 distilleries remained in Dublin, Powers and Jameson but with the formation of Irish Distillers and the merging of production to Midleton by the 1970’s there were none – Dublin ceased to be the Whiskey Capital of the World.
The Teeling Whiskey Distillery (TWD) opening is therefore an historic and monumental occasion signifying the growing rebirth in Irish Whiskey.
I’m going to add a piece of music at this point – borrowed from a Teeling promo video – you can listen as you read. Everything about Teeling is Louder – Louder aroma – Louder taste and I’ll sing their praises – Louder!
TWD is situated in the former whiskey heartland of the Liberties and it’s not hard to miss the scaffolding, cranes, hard hats and hi-vis vests that currently (April 2014) obscure the view of the Kilkenny Marble and zinc sheeting facade that will be the visitors centre and pot still manufacturing distillery for Teeling.
Alex Chasko kindly took time out to show a bunch of Celtic Whiskey Club fans around his prized new facility. The front half of the building will hold the reception area, cafe, shop, tasting area and bars spread over 2 spacious floors.
The back part of the building houses the business end – the actual distillery – where the basic ingredients of barley, water and heat are combined in such a way to produce the raw spirit that is then aged in a variety of barrels to give us the marvelous drink that is whiskey.
A mezzanine walkway guides the visitor round an impressive array of wooden washbacks, shiny copper pot stills, complicated stainless steel pipework all infused with lovely aromas. The passion Alex has for his craft of distilling clearly shone through as he emphasised the finely controlled pot still heating system installed, the extra feints collector added to improve total control of the finished product – all experience gained whilst working at Cooley. In fact – most of Teelings main players learned their trade at Cooley so this distillery already has many years of knowledge that is being put to good use in the design of this facility.
Normally – visitors would proceed to the tasting area – crafted to look like the inside of a whiskey barrel at TWD – but as the workmen were still busily adding the finishing touches Alex led up to a balcony and out to the welcoming sunshine for a very informative Q&A session helped along with a superb rum finished single bottled in 1999 and a 2004 burgundy finished single. Alex is going to be a very busy man indeed for the next few years. Not only does he have to oversee the opening, running and operation of the new distillery, he has to manage the old stocks secured from Cooley as well as marrying the new stock from TWD to continue the excellent range currently on offer and produce some new exciting expressions from the Dublin plant. I think he can’t wait to get stuck in! The innovative culture that Cooley created in launching new styles of Irish Whiskey to the market clearly forms a large part of the Teeling ethos.Based on their track record so far – and where they intend to go – the future of Irish Whiskey is very bright indeed with Teeling!
So – onto the current range.
Teeling Small BatchA blended whiskey using grain (there will be no grain spirit produced at TWD – it’s envisaged that element will come from John Teeling’s new grain distillery venture The Great Northern Distillery at Dundalk) and malt, finished in rum casks to produce a full bodied taste. As far as I can tell – this is the 1st rum finished blend of Irish Whiskey on the market and very nice it is too. B+
Teeling Single GrainSingle Grainis a relatively rare beast for both Ireland and Scotland, but Teeling have pulled off a superb example of this style by finishing this expression in wine casks. It adds a lovely smooth and creamy taste to the dram. There’s no surprise this whiskey has won awards. B+
Teeling Single MaltWow! I never got round to actually tasting this before as I just assumed (correctly) all Teeling expressions were great – but I didn’t realise just how great! Again – finishing in a variety of barrels adds so much aroma, taste and flavours to this dram it’s simply stunning! A+
These are the standard expressions – I haven’t tried the premium range of 21, 26 and 30 year olds – nor the Poitin – but I’m pretty sure they’ll all be stunning too.
Here’s hoping that Alex – and all the crew at TWD – continue to uphold the excellent releases mainly based on spirit laid down at Cooley/Kilbeggan. I certainly feel confident they will add yet more new and exciting releases to their portfolio when the spirit from Dublin matures.
If you haven’t tried a Teeling yet – now is the time – they are all a cut above the rest.
The future of Irish Whiskey is clear, the future is Teeling.