Whiskey Live Dublin always throws up a surprise or two.
This years was the safely guarded release of Whiskey 21C.
This is a unique historical bottling of all the Irish Whiskey Distilleries that currently have stocks of matured whiskey in their possession.
The Celtic Whiskey Shop – not content with being the hard working organisers behind Whiskey Live Dublin – contacted all the distilleries with matured whiskey – asked for a donation of some of that precious liquid – proceeded to blend it – bottle it – sell it at the show on a strictly limited never to be repeated release – all for the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity!
Now that WAS a surprise indeed!
The 12 Irish Whiskey Distilleries who kindly donated to this project are – in the order they appear on the back label;
Bushmills Distillery – Producers of the Bushmills range + other brands.
Cooley Distillery – Producers of the Tyrconnell, Connemara, Locke’s & Kilbeggan ranges – as well as numerous other brands.
Echlinville Distillery – All current releases under the Dunvilles brand are sourced – yet Echlinville are sitting on 5 year old whiskey of their own making which has not yet been deemed ready for it’s public debut.
Kilbeggan Distillery – Producers of Kilbeggan Rye – the 1st Irish Whiskey containing rye for many a year and the 1st whiskey to be wholly produced at Kilbeggan since the micro distillery was commissioned there in 2010.
Pearse Lyons Distillery – Producers of Pearse 5 Year Old Single Malt. Some of the Pearse blends also contain malt made on the stills sited at the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin.
Teeling Whiskey Co – Producers of Teeling Single Pot Still. All other current releases are sourced.
The Shed Distillery – Producers of Gunpowder Gin & Sausage Tree Vodka – yet clearly have whiskey waiting to be released.
Tullamore DEW – All current Tullamore DEW is sourced – yet they are obviously sitting on whiskey which has been produced at the new Tullamore Distillery.
West Cork Distillers – Producers of the Glengarriff range. Some of the WCD range is sourced + they supply other brands too.
Camera Shy Cork Distillery – The only whiskey producer not mentioned is Midleton. Could this be them?
A small sample of Whiskey 21C was also offered to Whiskey Live Dublin attendees!
I found it a young, fresh & fruity blend. Approachable & easy despite it’s 54.2% strength. There was no mention if it was either a blended malt or a malt & grain mix – nor the percentages of the distilleries involved in the project. I was just extremely pleased to get a chance to taste the future of Irish Whiskey!
A big thank you to all the hard work of the team behind Whiskey Live Dublin AND Whiskey 21C.
Transparency is a bit of a buzz word in whiskey circles these days.
Everyone says they are in favour of it.
I’m not convinced.
It makes no difference what is or isn’t written on the label – it’s the contents that count.
You can have a whiskey that tells you everything you’d like to know; who made it, how it was distilled, barley variety used, cut points and so on – yet it just might not suit your palate.
Conversely you can have a bottle that simply states ‘Whiskey’ – and tastes fabulous.
Obviously knowing why one whiskey tastes better than the other can only be determined by some of the information given in the first example – but if it’s not provided – does that colour your tasting experience?
However – there is a different style of transparency raising it’s head now. It’s called the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – in Ireland anyway – which is currently being discussed in the Dáil. Read more here.
What it effectively means is clear and unambiguous labelling outlining the health dangers of alcohol consumption on every bottle.
If this blog is deemed as ‘advertising’ then it too will also have to carry a health warning.
That’s pretty clear and transparent isn’t it?
Having said that – the great tasting whiskey you had last week will still be great – whatever has to be printed on the label.
I wonder which type of transparency has most chance of making it into law?
The fastest growing whisky making countries in the world do not include Scotland.
They do include Ireland, Japan and Canada.
So Scotch Whisky chooses to attack these countries in a series of articles and posts across various media platforms.
The common thread in all these articles revolves around the fact these countries manufacture and market their own whiskies in a manner not compliant with Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) rules.
Now I don’t know about you – but I must have missed the meeting when it was decided SWA rules applied worldwide. It shows a complete lack of respect for those countries indigenous rules, customs and practices.
The fact customers are seeking out those countries whisky products obviously means it has nothing to do with the rules – it must be something else.
Whisky from it’s very inception has never been about the rules.
Whisky has a long tradition and rich historical vein of tales involving illicit poitin & moonshine distillation, smugglers avoiding the gaugers on Highland trails and bootlegging during prohibition to name a few. It’s in the very DNA of what whisky is and has shaped the development of the spirit to this day.
Perhaps it’s about the taste?
Perhaps Scotch’s strict adherence to the rules comes at the expense of new and exciting tastes?
Perhaps those customers boosting non-Scotch making expression sales are seeking out those new tastes and the rules are not as important as they are made out to be?
I don’t believe 95% of what is on the label, and I don’t care much about the 5% I do believe. How does it taste and how much does it cost…those two questions make up the simple matrix that is my buying/drinking decision process.
There is an outpouring of new Irish Whiskey releases marking the growing interest in the category both by consumers – as well as companies trying to enter the market.
Egan’s are slightly unusual in that they are a company re-entering the market after a long absence.
Back in the mid 1800’s – when Irish Whiskey would have been the world’s most popular – P & H Egan built up a sizeable business in their home town of Tullamore importing wines, maturing & bottling whiskey, malting & general groceries – which you can read about here.
Former generations of the present day Egan family – who have released this bottle in question – were a well respected & prosperous company in the Midlands of Ireland. They added to the architecture of the town by building the fine Bridge House Hotel as their head office. The building now proudly adorns their latest offerings.
Whilst many of Tullamore’s bars proudly display Egan’s products of the past.
Following on in the family tradition, the 21st Century Egans also do not distill their own whiskey – they source it from third parties – but they do wrap it in a visually attractive label that proudly displays their heritage & connections to Tullamore.
This Vintage Grain offering is a single grain presented at a powerful 46% with no chill filtering. Always a bonus in my book.
Now single grain may need a bit of an explanation. ‘Single’ implies it comes from one distillery. Not as many assume made from one type of grain. Different types of grain may be used – usually barley, corn, wheat or rye – but they all must be distilled in a continuous, or commonly called, Coffey Still.
The resultant distillate is usually of a higher strength with less taste & flavour of the batch distilled malt whiskey and consequently spends more time in wooden barrels to impart those lovely aromas that are released upon nosing & tasting the whiskey.
Vintage Grain is matured in ex-bourbon barrels for between 6 to 8 years to impart those lovely vanilla & soft caramel notes associated with this type of ageing.
Both the nose and initial tasting is fresh, clean & clear, which suggests no added caramel to my palate – another bonus for me.
The smooth vanilla notes slowly morph into a soft peppery spice which gently fades to a wonderfully warm finish.
This is a worthy addition to the growing Irish single grain category which definitely benefits from it’s higher strength and more natural presentation.
Couple that taste with the wonderfully rich historical back story of the Egan family and you have a winning combination.
I certainly raise a glass to the present day Egan family and wish them future success in re-establishing their name in the proud annuls of Irish Whiskey’s ongoing story.
I’d like to thank Killian & Jonathan Egan for the generous sample provided for the purposes of this review.
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.
Produced by West Cork Distillers for a 3rd party – this whiskey is a blend of Irish single malts & grain whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, NH.
An American rye whiskey made with predominately american rye grain in charred virgin oak barrels by the FEW Distillery, Evanstown, Chicago.
I like to see a variation in the colour of the whiskeys I drink. It foretells of the different smells, flavours & overall drinking experiences to be enjoyed.
FEW came out the darkest – reflecting the use of charred virgin oak casks. There was a jump down then to the paler duo of PrizeFight & Brothership with Sunken Still coming in with an almost pale yellowy hue.
Brothership kicks off with a soft barley sweetness before developing muted rye spice. PrizeFight comes across with a more fresher, clearer nose & an equally enjoyable spice. Sunken Still has a wonderfully aromatic floral bouquet whilst FEW delivers a classic peppery rye punch.
The soft smooth delivery of Brothership quickly develops into a lovely rich dry spice. PrizeFight has a cleaner palate with a slightly less intense rye spice.
Meanwhile the Sunken Still’s fragrant bouquet flows through into a wonderful cornucopia of taste on the tongue with a rich dry spice that is simply divine. Beautiful.
The FEW doesn’t disappoint either. To start there is that caramel/vanilla bourbon like feel followed by an almost classic rich peppery spice that tingles & teases as it drys the palate.
PrizeFight’s lovely spice fades slowly, only marginally beaten by the warmer, drier spice of Brothership. FEW lasts the longest whilst Sunken Still manages that dry floral spice right to the end.
What stands out to me is that whilst having no rye grain in the original mix – the rich dry spicy notes of a decent rye whiskey still come through in the PrizeFight whiskey simply by it’s time in the ex-rye casks. It may lack the overall dry mouthfeel of a true rye – but it certainly makes a worthy addition to the rye cannon.
Brothership benefits by the addition of a real rye whiskey in the mix which heightens the rich dry rye spiciness on both the taste & finish which is not initially apparent on the sweet barely nose.
The FEW could almost set the benchmark of what a good rye whiskey should be. A straight forward crisp peppery spice with a marvelously long dry finish. Superb.
Sunken Still adds something extra to that dry spice by giving it a floral display of flavours.
For taking rye whiskey the extra mile – Sunken Still from Belgium comes out tops in this taste-off.
FEW from America comes in a close second
The Irish-American hybrid that is Brothership follows closely behind – leaving Ireland’s PrizeFight bringing up the rear.
I would commend PrizeFight for being able to hold it’s own among such worthy competition in that they all contain rye in their original mix.
It just goes to prove the powerful influence the maturation in wood has to the overall taste.
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!