I got chatting with some American tourists – as you do – and they asked a pertinent question.
‘If you’ve heard a lot of good news regarding a whiskey – does that raise your expectations?’
‘Certainly’ I replied ‘But the proof is in the drinking.’
So I gave Three Ships a good nosing – and beamed a broad smile.
There was a richness & depth to this whisky that captivated me.
Notes of dark cherries – a juicy fruitiness – the warmth from years in wood and a touch of oaky spice. It reminded me of a good port finish – yet this was a South African Pinotage Wine cask. Works for my palate!
Those dark – almost heavy notes – followed through into the taste. My mouth burst with flavours before a pleasing punchy alcohol kick set them alight.
The finish had those flavours gently falling back into orbit with a gorgeous warm oaky spice tinged with prickly juiciness.
I was so impressed I insisted my American friends took a swig.
They likened the punchy quality to a good rye – no bad thing in my book – although the luscious fruit juiciness of Three Ships was in contradiction to the dry peppery spice of a rye.
Even after tasting the Irish Whiskey Awards winners – this Three Ships 15yo certainly won me over!
Many thanks to the kindly American tourists for sharing their time & displaying the whisky for my snaps. Hope you had a great time in Ireland.
I got fierce excited at last years Whiskey Live Dublin over the opportunity to sample an Irish rye whiskey that was still maturing in Kilbeggan Distillery.
The bottle was filled straight from the cask at over 60% ABV & presented non chill filtered without added caramel.
It was powerful – yet the mashbill of malted & unmalted barley together with a high rye content displayed that wonderful peppery rye spiciness with a smooth & creamy barley influence.
Almost a year on the production bottle has been released in time for Whiskey Live Dublin 2018 – as well as picking up a Gold Medal at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards.
As a self confessed rye fan I picked up a bottle in the distillery on my return from the highly enjoyable awards evening at Slane Castle.
Now the bottle design is rather muted & understated. There are some lovely tasting notes on the back label – an unexplained handshake logo on the neck – and a nod to the historical inclusion of rye in Irish whiskey making from times past.
I fully welcome the return of rye to the modern Irish whiskey scene.
On the nose it’s very soft, slightly sweet with just a hint of peppery spice that signifies the rye content.
The palate is also very silky & smooth. The barley content dominates the initial experience before that black pepper spiciness – which I love – kicks in to leave a wonderfully drying mouthfeel at the end which slowly fades away.
At 43% & with added caramel – which is found throughout the Kilbeggan range of whiskeys – I couldn’t help feeling some of the spark & vitality of that original cask sample had been lost a little in this more tame offering.
I just had to compare it with the Arbikie Highland Rye released late 2017 in Scotland.
Now this is also a barley/rye mix – but there’s no unmalted barley – and the rye content is higher at 52%. It’s also younger at only 2 years old & has no added caramel or chill filtering. It’s bottled at 46%.
There is more pronounced rye on the nose.
The smoothness & creaminess of the barley belies it’s young age before a joyfully massively drying peppery spice explodes on the palate leaving a fabulously prickly finish.
I’m afraid to say – when it comes to rye – Scotland do it better.
A collaborative team from the 11 venues of The Galway Whiskey Trail selected this Gold Medal winning 10 year old single malt made at West Cork Distillers to be sold on the trail. I thoroughly enjoyed my day on the trail during an otherwise dull January day.
The launch night itself in May aboard the Aran Islands ferry on the stunning Galway Bay with wonderful company & beautiful scenery certainly deserves a Whiskey Nut Award for the best new whiskey launch of the year!
I’m definitely looking forward to a growing list of whiskey trails around Ireland. Especially as the Irish Whiskey Association aims to be a world leader in whiskey tourism.
And perhaps some new whiskeys specific to each trail?
Brian Nation’s speech at the Irish Whiskey Awards in Tullamore highlighted innovation within the industry.
I had tears of joy when he mentioned Irish Distillers are currently growing 140ha of rye near Enniscorthy for potential use in recreating old John Jameson recipes uncovered by the archive department that included rye in the mix.
Later in the evening some whiskey friends from America were sharing a bottle of Emerald American Whiskey.
Well I say American Whiskey as that’s where it was produced and matured.
But the recipe is based on an 1865 Irish Whiskey recorded for posterity by a British excise agent and includes both malted and unmalted barley along with some oats & rye.
It tasted divine.
Not long after that I came across Prize Fight Irish Whiskey at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Another West Cork Distillers produced whiskey that has been finished in ex-rye barrels from Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the dry mouthfeel and rich spicy punch associated with a rye whiskey came through in this delightful blend. Wonderful!
To top it off Fionnan O’Connor wrote an excellent piece in the inaugural Irish Whiskey Magazine which delved in to the history of mash bills commonly used in Irish whisky production in the 1800’s and what do you know? Rye featured quite a bit to the extent that a certain Andrew Jameson went to the trouble of importing the grain as Irish sources were hard to come by .
My mouth is already watering in anticipation of future Irish rye releases.
My Australian adventure was ostensibly for a wedding but I used it to sample & taste as much Aussie whisky as I could come across on my travels.
The variety of styles, tastes & flavours had me enthralled.
Tasmania was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It’s home to a growing number of whiskey distilleries including Lark, Overeem, Hellyers Road and the wonderful Belgrove Distillery which produces some astounding rye whisky – well – what else would you expect? – combined with fabulous scenery, wildlife & fine dining.
The trend of countries not normally associated with whiskey production will continue as witnessed by Italy’s highly praised Puni Whisky.
My future holiday plans will always try and seek out new and exciting whiskey in whatever destination I end up in.
Despite there being another judging session for the upcoming Irish Whiskey Awards going on in Dublin, it had been decided a trip down south to visit friends for the weekend was in order.
Accepting the revised schedule I checked out what was on.
My luck was in!
The Midleton Food & Drink Festival just happened to be on celebrating the rich diversity of food & drink grown or made in the East Cork region. Midleton Distillery plays a large role in this festival and fortuitously had two events which I cold attend.
The Art Of Making Barrels by none other than Master Cooper Ger Buckley was being held in the Old Distillery whilst David McCabe – Head of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey Academy – was introducing 3 new super premium Jameson whiskeys as part of a talk & taste session.
I couldn’t let this opportunity pass and duly booked tickets for myself.
The drive down the M8 heightened our enjoyment as the sun shone down on the fields and stunning mountains of the Galtys to our right and the Knockmealdowns on the left on whose lower slopes the Tipperary Boutique Distillery farm gathers the water for their lovely Watershed and Knockmealdown releases.
Arriving at our destination we caught up with our friends and chatted over tea & biscuits. Forgetting all about time in the convivial company I left it too late to make Ger’s cooperage display. Chastising myself I endeavoured to make it in time for David McCabe’s talk.
The Old Midleton Distillery was originally built in 1825 on the banks of the Dungourney River and produced whiskey in the heart of Midleton up to the mid 1970’s when the New Midleton Distillery was built behind the original site to produce all the brands of the combined Irish Distillers Group – Powers, Jameson and Paddy being the most popular. The old site now houses the visitors centre where tours, tastings, dining and shopping for whiskey fans from all around the world flock to enjoy the delights within.
Arriving early I had a little time to wander around and explore before the talk. I was pleased to see you can bottle your own cask strength black barrel whiskey on site. I always like a distillery exclusive!
Ushered into a former warehouse, now a plush auditorium. David McCabe introduced himself and eloquently guided us through an informative history of both Midleton Distillery as well as the art of making whiskey. I picked up a few whiskey facts I’d not known off before.
Did you know Midleton only uses non-GM (genetically modified) barley and maize for it’s mash bill?
Did you know all the barley – both malted and unmalted – is grown locally?
Did you know the maize element for the grain spirit is grown in France?
I didn’t – but was pleased to hear of the non-GM stance even if I couldn’t taste the difference. As for the french maize – it seems there is just not enough sunshine in Ireland to grow maize of suitable quality for whiskey making.
David then introduced us to the 3 new premium Makers Series blended whiskeys. Each expression was chosen to highlight a particular attribute integral to the art of making whiskey.
Distiller’s Safe is the locked copper and glass construction where Head Distiller Brian Nation decides which cut of the raw spirit straight from the still will be used in the final blend. A combination of single pot still whiskey with light grain whiskey matured in ex-bourbon barrels gives a fairly delicate nose followed through by vanilla taste combined with a little spice from the single pot still element.
Blender’s Dog is a tool used by Head Distiller Billy Leighton to sample the spirit as it matures. This is a relatively young blend of single pot still whiskey with a soft light grain whiskey to highlight the complex art of blending.
Cooper’s Croze is a tool Head Cooper Ger Buckley uses to cut a groove in barrel for the ‘head’ to sit in. The blend celebrates the use of wood in maturation and uses 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrels as well as virgin oak and sherry barrels in a satisfying complex blend.
All of the whiskeys I found quiet light & delicate. Not really my taste preference. However they are a step up from the standard Jameson Original though and are probably exactly what Jameson intends them to be.
Offered at 43% ABV and non-chill filtered for the flat price of 70 euro each, the Makers Series would be a lovely collection of the different influences of the distillate, the wood and the blend in each expression.
Meanwhile my tastes would take me to the unblended single pot still offerings of Green Spot or John’s Lane Release which offer much more bolder and spicier flavours at roughly the same price level. I did also wonder if the Makers Series was entered into my judging panel of the previous week which I didn’t rate too highly?
David McCabe did a super premium talk to introduce the Makers Series.
The narrative behind all 3 expressions is also super premium down to the fingerprints on the label.
It’s just a pity my individual palate didn’t appreciate the actual premium whiskey .
O’Connell’s on Eyre Square is handily situated a stones throw from the railway station and my train home.
The outside of the premises looks like an old shop with the large open window at the front allowing a view into the bar inside.
Indeed O’Connell’s used to be a grocers – operating alongside the pub – which is still a feature of many a more traditional Irish bar. The grocery is long gone now – but a lovely patterned tiled floor remains to remind you of former times.
I’m surprised I could still hold the camera steady enough to capture a snap after all the great whiskey I’d had during my day on the Galway Whiskey Trail – and seeing as this was my last venue – I threw caution to the wind and went for 2 expressions from the fine array of bottles perched on wooden shelves behind the bar.
A Titanic was very quickly spotted with the friendly and informative staff giving me a brief lowdown on the heritage of this Cooley made discontinued brand.
As I’d previously met Peter Lavery – the brands owner – at the 2014 Irish Whiskey Awards – and turned down the Titanic in favour of Baileys Whiskey in Tigh Neachtain’s earlier – I loved the opportunity to plug the gap in my whiskey tasting experience.
Glass duly in hand I sat down below the front window on a long bench beside the growing number of customers to enjoy the lovely mellow and sweet – smooth tasting tipple from the Belfast Distillery Company. Such a delight. Pity it’s no longer around.
At times like this I do ponder if the mood and general wellbeing of the taster- as well as the ambience of the premises and conviviality of fellow drinkers – influences the resulting ratings given to any particular dram.
It wasn’t just the whiskey warming me to this lovely pub. The conversation was flowing too – and the heat was definitely on with warm air being pumped into the large bar area from under the bench.
You’ll have to excuse the musical interlude to commerorate the passing of yet another musical icon – Glen Frey.
O’Connell’s also boasts a more traditional lounge area at the back – along with a beer garden to compliment the rather unique setting of the front bar. I certainly enjoyed it. So much so that when I chatted to the staff and spotted a bottle of Crown Royal – I couldn’t pass it by.
Crown Royal Deluxe is the entry level blend from the now famous Canadian distiller whose Northern Rye expression is the Best Whisky In The World 2016 – according to Jim Murray. I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.
From the initial sweet aroma of the rye – the smooth creamy mouthfeel and complex taste together with the lovely warm finish – this is certainly a different flavour profile to the Irish whiskeys sampled before. I can see why Jim rates this brand and I’m sure I’ll seek out other opportunities to try it. I wasn’t disappointed!
A glance at the time roused me from my revelry. With less than 5 minutes before the last train home I hurriedly made my way to the station.
The ticket collector was already shouting out the imminent departure as I – and a few other stragglers – ran along the platform. I’d only got round to taking my jacket off before the train started rolling. Talk about cutting it fine!
At only half seven in the evening – I’d be having an early night – but considering my first whiskey was at half ten that morning – it would be welcome.
My Galway Whiskey Trail adventure was a wonderful experience.
So many pubs.
So many new expressions sampled and plenty more yet to taste.
So much help and advice from the friendly staff and so much craic from the customers.