American Single Malt Whiskey is a growing category.
I thought a back to back with one of the new breed of American Distillery’s releases against a more established Bourbon producer was in order.
Rúa American Single Malt, 46%
Distilled at the Great Wagon Road Distillery in North Carolina & claiming Irish heritage with the Rúa name is this non chill filtered , natural colour organic, non GMO barley offering.
A lovely richness to the nose. Mild & mellow on the palate. Slowly builds developing into a very attractive & enjoyable array of flavours which dance merrily away.
A very well presented single malt.
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, 45%
Hailing from the long established & popular Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky is this Small Batch release. A blend of different bourbon mash-bills with varying degrees of rye content.
I immediately get a warm dry nose – indicative of the high rye content Four Roses is known for. A satisfying mouthfeel where the dry spiciness of the rye interplays with the smooth sweet corn influence. Leaves with that signature prickly spice.
Nice & easy.
I enjoyed both of these!
Trying to pick a winner is a bit tricky.
Do I go for the subtle yet engaging flavours of the newcomer single malt?
Or stick with the bolder rye spices of the established player?
Four Roses are relatively easy to encounter – but I do think Rúa is worth seeking out.
It’s constantly seeking new experiences that engage me on this spirit journey – so Rúa it is!
There has been a profusion of barrel aged beers on the market lately.
I welcome this development.
It adds a new flavour profile to both the beer industry – as well as the returning beer barrels being used to flavour new whiskeys.
The Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale wouldn’t be the best example according to my tastes.
The bourbon effect is somewhat muted – perhaps not long enough in the barrel? – and the fizz is more suitable for a lager rather than the heavy ale style I enjoy.
There is no mention of who collaborated to bring about this ale.
Alltech are the importers into Europe and although they posses both breweries and distilleries in Kentucky – they haven’t put their name on the product. Yet a trip to their website here does show it as one of their own.
I happened to be in Dublin myself that day – but as I (and a few other whiskey heads too) were busily judging the blended whiskey category for the upcoming Irish Whiskey Awards in another part of town – the alcohol took it’s toll on me and I was in no fit state for any distillery visit.
Luckily for me the next week provided a further opportunity in the single grain, single pot still & cask strength category judging at which I paced myself rather better with adequate water & food intake.
So by 4pm I happily had the chance to be shown round the week old distillery by the friendly & informative guide – sorry – storyteller – Bernard.
The distillery is highly unusual in that it is housed in an old church – complete with graveyard dating from the 1100’s!
Bernard himself did a sterling job exploring some of the many stories that make up both the past, present and future of the current whiskey distillery.
The stories continued inside the distillery building that had the wonderfully gleaming copper pot stills placed in the old alter area surrounded with stunning stained glass windows.
The pot stills themselves are a rather unusual design for Irish whiskey. To begin with there are only 2. Mighty Molly – the larger wash still and Little Lizzie – the spirit still – which along with the familiar bulbous pot also has a rectifying column on top.
Both were manufactured by Vendome in Louisville, Kentucky, where Pearse Lyons has his Town Branch Distillery. Interestingly, these stills were previously used in County Carlow to produce some of the whiskey that ended up in Pearse Whiskey blends – which we got to taste later in the all important sampling – where all good distillery tours finish – in tasting the actual produce.
Pearse Irish Whiskey comes in 4 styles & flavours – all presented at 42%
There are 3 blends. Blends are whiskeys that contain both grain whiskey and malt whiskey. 2 of the Pearse blends contain malt that has been made using the stills now situated in the former church.
The Original started off our introduction to the Pearse family whiskeys.
Aged in bourbon barrels for 3 to 5 years this light whiskey came across crisp & clear to me – very enjoyable & approachable – even after the single pot stills I’d enjoyed earlier in the day.
The Distiller’s Choice is also a blend using slightly older malt & grain components with final maturation in sherry casks. This gives the whiskey a slightly sweeter taste which I must admit didn’t wow me as much as The Original.
The final offering was the Founder’s Choice. A 12 year old single malt from an un-named source. This also had the fairly soft, light & approachable character of an Irish bourbon cask matured single malt.
By now I was chatting with fellow distillery tourists to find out which expressions they enjoyed. We did ask about the last bottle – the Cooper’s Select – and despite being on sale in the distillery – it wasn’t offered for tasting.
A plan was hatched. My new whiskey buddies – a young American & an English couple would meet there after our distillery purchases.
Now McCann’s is currently hidden behind scaffolding & hoardings as the whole block is undergoing renovation as part of the Pearse Lyons Distillery project – I can’t wait to see the final result of the refurbishment to this fine old bar,
Inside were a large crowd of regulars enjoying the craic & watching the late afternoon sport on the telly. My new american friend was already enjoying a Guinness – well the brewery is just next door! – but I insisted on ordering some Cooper’s Choice.
Cooper’s Choice is an aged blend matured in bourbon barrels with final maturation in sherry casks. It’s also a sourced whiskey while Pearse Lyons own distillate is quietly resting in wooden barrels.
I really enjoyed this one. As did my friend who was now joined by the English couple.
Spotting the bar also stocked the output from Pearse’s Town Branch Distillery I couldn’t resist the Town Branch Rye.
At 50% it delivers that powerful peppery spice kick on both the nose & mouth that I simply can’t get enough of – big, bad, beautiful & bold. Lovely!
Meanwhile one of the chatty locals insisted we had some traditional Irish whiskey – so a glass of Paddy’s it was.
Yes it was smooth & easy – but it lacked the full blown character & hit of the rye we just tried previously.
I could have stayed longer – but I had a train to catch – so made my way to the station with just enough time to grab an Iarnród Éireann cup of tea & sandwich to sober up.
Whiskey for me is a journey of discovery.
I discovered a lovely new Irish whiskey distillery along with some beautiful new expressions – and hopefully led others to discover more too.
Now in it’s 5th year, the numbers attending are still growing. This reflects the increasing awareness and appreciation of craft beer, food and distilled spirits among the discerning drinking public.
Being my 3rd visit, I’m always amazed at the growing number of Irish Craft Beer breweries, cider makers & distilleries producing a bewildering array of fine tasting alcoholic beverage.
The other reason for attending the show this year was an opportunity to interview the Head Distiller of Dublin’s soon to be opened Pearse Lyons Distillery in the historic Liberties area.
Dr. Gearóid Cahill.
Whiskey Nut (WN) Is the timetable for the distillery opening going according to plan?
Gearóid Cahill (GC) We’re fairly confident in the proposed July opening. But we’re already a full year behind our original plans. At the start of the project the former St James’s Church wasn’t a listed building. A Protected Structure was subsequently applied to the site which we were happy to comply with but this understandably slowed down our schedule. Being a former church surrounded by a graveyard also meant that everytime we wanted to dig a trench for cabling or pipework human remains were unearthed. These had to be treated with respect. All of them were carefully catalogued, analysed for historical data and then reinterred at the graveyard. We have cooperated with the relevant authorities over these and many other issues which have arisen during the construction and done our utmost to comply with all the conditions.
WN Will there be a visitors centre?
GC There will be a visitors centre adjacent to the church inside which the actual distillery is situated. We want to take visitors into the working distillery to feel the heat, experience the noise and smell the aromas of a working distillery, as well as showing them the entire whiskey making process from grain to glass.
WN What style of Irish whiskey are you intending to produce?
GC Dr. Pearse Lyons, the Founder & President of Alltech has a vision and passion to produce a malted barley Irish whiskey in his home town of Dublin. I’m thrilled and equally passionate to be charged with making sure that vision becomes a reality.
WN I’m very excited by the return of rye as an ingredient in Irish whiskey manufacture. There is already a rye cask finished Irish whiskey on the market. Midleton have planted fields of rye near Enniscorthy and Kilbeggan/Cooley are currently maturing a rye single pot. Are there any plans for this style of whiskey at St James’s?
GC The design of the distillery and the dynamism of Alltech allow for a high degree of flexibility & innovation. We can produce beer at the distillery, over and above that required for distillation. We can access any type of grain we require through the Alltech agricultural division and we will be using the best casks from our Lexington distillery in Kentucky. Together with the relatively small size of the, what you can call a boutique distillery we are about to open, we can respond & react to any change in style or vision we wish in the coming years.
WN You come with a very impressive career both academically and practically mainly founded on brewing. Has distilling always been a dream for you?
GC I’ve worked for many years in the brewing industry and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I love working for Alltech as the passion and enthusiasm Dr Pearse Lyons has for brewing & distilling is something I share. It’s that enthusiasm that drives our team to hold the Alltech Craft Brews And Food Fair every year to showcase the growing rise of craft beer, cider and spirit making in Ireland. A lot of our staff give freely of their time to help organise & run the event and we see it as showcasing the best that is out there. There is also a growing blurring of lines in the types & styles of beer now available. Just when does a heavily hopped dark porter stop being a porter & become an IPA? It’s a question I often have to adjudicate on being a judge at the show. Those blurred lines are also entering the whiskey market with stout aged whiskey, IPA aged whisky and other variations. This also feeds back into the growth of barrel aged beers. These are exciting times.
I’m very confident and comfortable in the field of brewing which is the first step in whiskey production. I’m also very comfortable with the science and technique of distilling. The whole process of maturation in wood is a much less understood area and still a bit of a mystery – although I’m getting much valuable advice & experience from the team over in Lexington.
WN There are some who say up to 70% of the flavour in a whiskey comes from the influence of wood maturation. Would you agree with that?
GC I wouldn’t go that high.It’s true wood plays a yet not totally understood role in the final flavour profile – but the spirit you put into the barrel in the first instance has to be of good quality. No matter how long you age a bad distillate it simply won’t become a stunning whiskey. Understanding the variables of wood maturation, temperature fluctuations, types of wood, charring levels and previous contents all play their part in the final whiskey. They will all become a major part of my – and my teams work – over the next few years.
WN When you get time to relax at home,
and at this a wry smile suggested this wasn’t a common experience
What would be your drink of choice?
GC Erm, well when I get the time, I like to sit down with a good bourbon, usually over ice. I enjoy a malted Irish too but I wouldn’t be a fan of a heavily peated Scotch.
At this point I finished my interview by thanking Gearóid for giving me the time out from his busy schedule for the talk and fired off a couple of photos for the blog.
During the small talk I discovered he’s originally from Collinstown in Westmeath!
Westmeath gains another notch in the wonderful world of whiskey!
And talking about Westmeath, why not finish with another of Westmeath’s finest – Joe Dolan – here singing a song titled Sister Mary. Chosen by me for Gearóid Cahill building the Pearse Lyons Distillery in a former church!
I wish all the team at Alltech future success with the Pearse Lyons Distillery – and eagerly await the opening.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can worship at the shrine of whiskey and celebrate the mystery of wood.