The growth of Irish Whiskey doesn’t just restrict itself to exciting new brands, bottles & distilleries – it also spins off into a growing library of books on the subject.
One of the most delightful books I happened to read recently was Whiskey Burn by Ben Birdsall.
It combines a travelogue of his adventures round Ireland on a vintage Vespa visiting as many whiskey distilleries as possible – along with an entertaining & informative description of those distilleries themselves – as well as the people, places & characters that shape those distilleries – and perhaps the resultant taste of the whiskey too!
Packed full of fabulous photography, amusing anecdotes and a quirky sense of humour, Ben manages to capture the essence of Irish Whiskey on his circumnavigation of the Emerald Isle.
Published in 2018, Whiskey Burn is already out of date due to the fast moving explosion of Irish Whiskey.
Distilleries that were mere building sites or planning diagrams at the time are now fully functional & accepting visitors like Powerscourt Distillery, Dublin Liberties Distillery and Roe & Co.
Others have sadly failed to find adequate backers for their dreams like Quiet Man Distillery.
But as an apt quote in the book says,
” by the time they come out, all whiskey books are out of date”
This however doesn’t detract from the core enthusiasm displayed within Ben’s prose – nor the commitment of the characters encountered.
It’s not very often you get to attend the launch of a whiskey in the Council Chambers of a local Town Hall.
But then this is no ordinary whiskey.
It’s a whiskey steeped with history, heritage & family.
A whiskey commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passing of Henry Egan.
Descendants of Henry gathered together outside his former house – now Tullamore Town Hall – not only to remember him – but also to revive the family tradition – Irish Whiskey.
The well respected Midland’s business of P&H Egan loomed large in Tullamore from the 1850’s right up to the 1960’s. Alongside whiskey blending, many other businesses were engaged in by generations of the family. A walk round the town showed the extent of the family’s influence with the current Bridge House Hotel being originally built as the main shop & head office for the Egan’s operations.
Offaly History do a blog detailing much information on the Egan family history in Tullamore here.
During the walk a bottle of Egan’s Whiskey was given to the owners of barge 42B. The very same barge P&H Egan’s had owned back in the day to transport goods to and from Dublin via the Grand Canal – the motorway of it’s day.
The highlight of the proceedings was undoubtedly the unveiling of Egan’s Centenary Irish Whiskey in the Brewery Tap Bar – also previously owned by P&H Egan’s as a brewery for their Ales.
The complete collection of Egan’s Whiskeys were laid out for an eager gathering of family & friends at the bar.
To start off the tasting, Egan’s Vintage Grain.
A gorgeously warm single grain presented at 46% & non chill filtered – as all Egan’s Whiskeys are – full of vanillas & caramel from the ex-bourbon cask maturation.
Egan’s Fortitude Single Malt.
Fully matured in PX Sherry casks this non age statement – NAS – offering didn’t excite my palate as much. There were more dark fruits present – and a lovely soft spicy dryness at the end – but it just missed the mark for me.
Egan’s 10 Year Old Single Malt.
Everyone at my table enjoyed this one!
Boasting a 47% ABV this single malt was easy on the palate yet bursting with fruity juiciness & gentle spices at the end.
Egan’s 15 Year Old Legacy Reserve.
A rare treat to encounter this lovely rich whiskey again. I particularly enjoyed the depth of character with dry oaky tannins, leathery & tobacco notes from the long maturation. It didn’t suit everyone though – as I found out by chatting to my fellow imbibers. A few of them happened to be Egan descendants themselves! Although not involved with the whiskey venturing Egan’s of the present day.
And then the glorious finale!
Egan’s Centenary Irish Whiskey – poured individually out of the first bottle ever to be opened by the Intrepid Spirits founder himself – with the elegantly displayed packaging showcased by the Egan’s First Lady of Whiskey too!
The nose was initially softer, cleaner almost – before the gentle subtleness of dark fruits opened up.
The taste was attractively warming. A smooth velvety mouthfeel with dark cherry fruitiness from the ex-cognac casks used to finish this blend.
A flourish of spice rounded off this fabulous whiskey.
A fitting whiskey to commemorate one of the founding Egan family members who built a successful business empire in the past.
A fitting whiskey to be enjoyed in the present.
And a fitting whiskey to toast future generations of Egan’s a long & prosperous involvement in the spirits trade.
Miniature gift sets make ideal gifts – they also make for an enjoyable tasting session.
Back to back comparisons very soon show up the range & diversity of flavours, styles & tastes from any whiskey distillery’s output – and the drinker will very quickly discern the particular flavour profile suitable for their individual palate.
I recently picked up the revamped Kilbeggan Distilling Co Irish Whiskey Collection at my local Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath – flag bearer to the Beam/Suntory owned sister Cooley Distillery in Louth where the bulk of the whiskey is made.
I got things rolling with ‘The Complex One’ – the Kilbeggan Single Grain.
Showing its new livery – along with the other featured brands – and a boosted 43% ABV with additional maturation in sherry & wine casks – this softly sweet Single Grain displayed a pleasingly varied range of flavours, a little prickly spice & warming heat on the satisfyingly long finish.
A great introductory single grain whiskey.
The ‘Sweet One’ came next. Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey – or a blended whiskey to you and me.
Now I must admit to having a soft spot for this blend. On blind tastings it always comes out vying for top spot within the category.
Easy, approachable, but with enough maltiness & depth of flavour to keep it interesting – this is an entry level blend that never disappoints.
The ‘Fruity One’ came in at 100 to 1 – or at least the famous horse the Tyrconnell Single Malt is named after did.
This is the non aged statement (NAS) version of a brand that has many cask finished & age statemented brothers & sisters to explore.
Ex bourbon barrel maturation only allows a warm fruitiness to shine through with a crisper, cleaner taste experience for my palate at least. Very nice.
The final offering is ‘The Smoky One’ – the Connemara Single Malt.
The Connemara range is sadly reduced to just this NAS – and the 12 year old. Gone for the time being are the fabulous 22 year old and Turf Mór expressions. Which is a pity – as peated Irish whiskey is an underrepresented flavour profile within the market.
The smoke in this single malt is rather dry & ashy, complimented by some gentle sweetness. There isn’t much complexity, but its a style I love – and I go out of my way to seek its pleasures.
There isn’t a bad whiskey in this range.
Just 4 differing styles & types of Irish Whiskey.
You have the single grain, the single malt & the blend combining both – along with that rare commodity in Irish Whiskey – peat.
I’d have to give my top pick to the smoky Connemara – even if the Tyrconnell has more complexity within its softer & subtler flavours.
Choosing between the Kilbeggan Single Grain or Blend is also a tough call – but I’d plump for the Single Grain. Simply because the wonderful flavours within showcase what a wonderful whisky a decent single grain can be.
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.