One aspect of the growth of Irish Whiskey is the proliferation of new brands hitting the shelves of American liquor stores.
Many will be familiar to drinkers in Ireland – Jameson, Bushmills & Kilbeggan – to name a few.
Others not – Kavanagh, Kilbrin & Wolfhound – for example.
Generally the 2nd list are non distillery producers selecting sourced Irish Whiskey then labelling & marketing it under their own brand names.
For the last few years this has been a growing business.
The number of Irish Whiskeys seeking approval from the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has risen from 120 in the 2016-17 period to 204 in the 2019-20 time frame. Data courtesy TTB Online search page available here.
Clearly this reflects an increased appreciation of Irish Whiskey – as well as a ready supply of Irish Whiskey Distilleries willing to cater for this demand.
It’s marvelous to witness the growing marketability of Irish Whiskey.
I welcome each and every one of these new brands into the ever increasing & more diversified Irish Whiskey category.
There is however still a long way to go.
Scottish Whisky registered 1188 labels in the same 2019-20 period.
In what felt like the ‘last hurrah’ before impending restrictions increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Sonny Molloy’s Bar in Galway held an impressive evening celebrating the launch of the highly esteemed Redbreast Whiskey range’s latest addition – the 27 Year Old.
The numbers attending were slightly reduced from previous events – and a certain awkwardness regards hand shaking & social distancing were always in the background – yet the company, the whiskey and the gorgeous food won out!
There were 3 whiskeys on offer. All introduced by the Irish Distillers Brand Ambassador – Ger Garland.
The first one was a bit of a mystery.
Very sweet on the nose – almost liqueur territory here – quite light on the palate – someone suggested cream soda – before the cask strength made it’s presence felt – leaving the pleasant softer flavours dancing away on the finish.
I was very pleased to hear it was an oat whiskey!
Oats were formerly a common ingredient in Irish Whiskey and it’s marvelous to see it’s return into offerings such as Kilbeggan SPS, Drumshanbo Inaugural – as well as experimentation at Killowen Distillery – and quite clearly at Midleton too!
Just how the results of this experimentation will end up in an actual final product are yet to be decided – but clearly exciting times indeed!
The second offering – also at cask strength – was a much more contemporary affair.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach, Knockrath Wood, Tree 3, 56.6%.
The use of virgin Irish Oak casks – as well as ex-bourbon casks – had accentuated the dry tannic spiciness over and above the initial rich warming vanilla notes to the front capped off by a prickly tingling from the high ABV.
I really enjoyed this one.
The grand finalé?
Redbreast 27 Year Old, 54.6%.
Unlike other Redbreasts – the 27 has seen maturation in ruby port casks.
This has given it a darker, even richer fruitiness. I’m thinking plums, figs & raisins here. The high ABV kicked in at this point & I’d need the addition of water to calm things down a touch.
To be honest – I wasn’t bowled over.
I didn’t find it an easy whiskey to appreciate – and I’m not just talking about it’s €495 price tag. I found it a bit of a challenge.
Redbreast 27 – not for me.
I’d like to thank all at Sonny Molloy’s for the warm hospitality on the evening.
When your country estate already pulls in a substantial amount of visitors to the stunningly ornate gardens with magnificent views of Sugarloaf Mountain behind.
When a 5 Star hotel graces your grounds along with 2 championship designed golf courses laid out in the beautiful Wicklow scenery.
Not to mention the history, tales and adventures contained within the walls of the grand 18th Century mansion of Powerscourt House itself.
What exactly would be the icing on the cake?
Well a single estate whiskey distillery wouldn’t go amiss now would it?
Discreetly built onto the old estate sawmill, Powerscourt Distillery is fully operational busily laying down casks of single malt Irish Whiskey to mature in it’s nearby warehouse.
The 3 resplendent copper pot stills – made by Forsyths – sit majestically in a modern clean & bright open plan space allowing visitors a close up look, feel & smell of the whole grain to glass process of whiskey making.
Noel Sweeney has brought his many distinguished years of knowledge as Master Distiller to Powerscourt overseeing the production of both single malt – as well as single pot still distillate – to this exciting distillery.
It will be a few years before Powerscourt Distillery’s own spirit is fully mature – but in the meantime a trio of whiskeys released under the Fercullen label – the old name for the lands Powersourt Estate sits on – are available.
Unusually in this instance Noel probably had a hand in distilling these sourced whiskeys from his days at Cooley & Kilbeggan Distilleries under a number of different owners.
Tours include a tasting of all 3 whiskeys in one of Powerscourt Distillery’s sumptuously laid out rooms.
The 10 Year Old Fercullen Single Grain Whiskey was offered first.
Now there aren’t that many single grains on the market – which is a pity – as this one shows up the light yet delicately balanced sweet & fruity flavours within a great single grain. Far from being silent there were notes of honey, citrus and a gentle woody spice too.
Very approachable & easy on the palate.
The attractively priced Fercullen Blend was a bit of a pleaser too.
It displayed a complex set of notes from soft fruitiness to darker oaky tannins within an extremely well balanced mix.
A blend you can happily sit back & savour.
The pride of place meanwhile went to the Fercullen 14 Year Old Single Malt.
Packing extra ABV at 46% – as opposed to the 40% of it’s siblings – the 14 Year Old had added depth & boosted character from the exclusively ex-bourbon cask maturation used in all 3 offerings.
When many a distillery relies on additional finishes to give the spirit a lift – Fercullen demonstrates the beauty of what to many is a simple standard of Irish Whiskey.
A very impressive range of whiskeys for a very impressive distillery.
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.
It breaks with conventional wisdom as to what an Irish Whiskey should be.
To begin with it’s double distilled.
There never was – isn’t – and hopefully never will be – a rule that states all Irish Whiskey must be triple distilled.
And it’s peated.
Again – no rules to say it can’t be.
Considering Locke’s Distillery – which is the former name of Kilbeggan Distillery – has been making whiskey in the Irish Midlands town of Kilbeggan from 1757. A town that happens to sit beside the Bog Of Allen – the biggest bogland in Ireland – and a ready source of turf – or peat. It’s inconceivable some of that fuel on-the-doorstep wasn’t used in the whiskey making process in times past.
The addition of a small percentage of peat malted barley – around 10% – lifts the spirit in the bottle with extra flavours & complexity.
There’s a slight whiff of smoke on the nose.
The smooth fruity palate has added bite & depth from the peat element.
Whilst a bit of spicy dryness at the end is most welcome.
Locke’s 8 Year Old Single Malt is always one of those standard easy drinking malts I’m pleased to see.
It also happens to be on special offer in Aldi right now. (November 2018.)
So if you haven’t had the pleasure of encountering this one before – now’s your chance!
At least that’s the situation when it comes to the race for rye.
Despite Kilbeggan sitting on a wonderful 6 year old pot still rye – as tasted at Whiskey Live Dublin here – Arbikie have released a 2 year old Highland Rye.
Being relative newcomers – Arbikie are not bound by ‘tradition’, ‘custom’ or ‘expectation’. This Highland Rye exists outside of the box that is Scottish Whisky Regulations – time for a musical interlude!
As such there is no mention of ‘whisky’ on the label.
Yet rye has always been an integral part of the whisky scene both in Scotland – as well as Ireland – and what Arbikie have done is simply to re-interpret a ‘tradition’ that has been neglected for over a century.
As a self confessed ‘rye head’ I couldn’t pass this up. A bottle was duly ordered.
It’s a bit pricey for 500ml – but the proceeds of the first 100 bottles go to a Motor Neurone charity here.
I like the simplistic clarity of the no nonsense label – including the large Arbikie logo common throughout their Gin & Vodka range.
I like that Arbikie are a ‘single estate distillery’ using ingredients grown on the estate farm & fields.
And I like the additional information shown on the attractive label; grain variety, field grown in, cask type. Shades of Mark Reynier at Waterford’s terroir here.
But most of all – I simply love the whole drinking experience of this rye.
4 of us sampled this first Scottish rye for over 100 years – so the following is an amalgamation of our findings.
A wonderful floral bouquet on the nose, hints of varnish, a soft to medium classic white peppery rye spice, warming vanilla & caramel notes from the charred American oak casks.
The taste was suitably smooth, the youthful rye punch delightfully muted by the barley content which added a gentle malt & slight oily influence to the drying rye spices in the well balanced mix.
The finish coated my mouth in that invigorating warm yet dry prickly feel I so enjoy after a great dram.
If you only drink one rye this year – make it Arbikie Highland Rye.
Not only does it encapsulate all the classic rye attributes I love – it also adds a unique Scottish mix with the homegrown rye & barley.
Tullamore DEW is another one of those iconic Irish Whiskey Brands that are well represented across the globe. On my last trip to Germany it was everywhere – and from sampling some German whisky I can see why the light, smooth triple distilled dram goes down well there. It is a pleasantly approachable blend appreciated neat – or mixed – according to your taste.
Formerly made in the Irish Midland town of Tullamore – where there was a booming whiskey industry in the 19th Century. The 1837 Ordnance Survey map lists no fewer than 2 distilleries along with 3 breweries – as well as the associated maltings. However – by the 1950’s only Tullamore DEW survived – and it too succumbed to economic pressure to close – along with many others in the Midlands by 1954.
Unlike it’s close neighbour Kilbeggan – which was turned into a piggery after it closed at one stage but now holds one of the original pot stills used at Tullamore – the Tullamore DEW brand continued to be produced at other distilleries – mainly the Midleton New Distillery. The brand changed hands a few times – eventually ending up being bought by the Scottish William Grant & Sons in 2010.
Grants – one of a few family owned drinks business in Scotland and worthy of a blog all of their own – brought about the rebirth of distilling in Tullamore by investing over 35 million in building a new plant on the N52 bypass so after a 60 year hiatus – whiskey can now flow again in Tullamore.
Interestingly – in Dundalk – at the northern extremity of the N52 – John Teeling is currently building his Great Northern Distillery!
Anyway – a trip to the Tullamore Visitors Centre on Bury Quay is a marvelous experience. Built in the former bonded warehouse it now contains a fabulous restaurant – worthy of a meal regardless whether you do the tour or not – the ubiquitous shop – as well as many original artefacts, photos and whiskey material collected from the rich history of distilling in the Midlands.
For those that want to delve into that history a little more need only to walk up the attractive canal a few steps to the Offaly Historical Society shop where many an article, book or pamphlet has been written on the whiskey trade – as well many other subjects relating to County Offaly and the Midlands.
Tullamore town literally drips with whiskey heritage. If the former distillery head office on Patrick Street – derelict maltings at the back of the Bridge Shopping Centre at Water Lane – Distillery Lane itself leave you thirsty – then call in at The Brewery Tap pub which graces the “Give every man his DEW” sign outside and Tullamore’s finest whiskey expressions inside – where you can relax with a dram browsing a whiskey book bought from the nearby Midlands Books.
And talking of a dram – at the end of the informative tour in the visitors centre a dram – or 3 in this case – is exactly what you get!
On the day of my visit my fellow guests and I were guided through the following expressions;
The flag bearing Tullamore DEW Original blend. A light, smooth blend which sets the benchmark for other Irish blends.
The Tullamore DEW Phoenix. The name can be both attributed to the rise in fortunes of whiskey in Tullamore due to the new distillery building – or – according to some sources – the 1st aviation disaster in the world occurring in the town in 1785! The whiskey packs a punch at 55% ABV so a little water may be required.
The Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse was my favourite. Smooth fine tasting with a nice body to it. The fact that it can only be acquired at the visitors centre is also a draw – so I got 2 – one for myself and the other for my Dad on Father’s Day!
There are other releases; a 10 year old Single Malt, a 12 year old Special Reserve are listed on the website – but the 12 year old sherry finish single malt is not – despite being sold at the visitors centre as well as Dublin Airport. Is it because it was made at Bushmills? – and therefore not part of the “in crowd”. It seems to be popular in Germany – so I’ll let Horst tell you all about it as I’ve just got back from a whisky trip there.
The new expression yet to prove it’s mettle is the Tullamore Dew Cider Cask. Only available at Dublin Airport for a limited period I have yet to sample a dram. It isn’t currently on sale at the visitors centre. Said to be the 1st whiskey aged in cider casks in Ireland – this is a bold experiment in taste, style and content – I certainly admire Tullamore for releasing it. Whether it’s any good or not will have to wait and see – but the feedback I’m getting is positive.
Grants – the new Tullamore owners – have been innovative and bold distillers in their time. Cider Cask may have something to do with the new owners. It isn’t as yet spirit from the New Distillery – that will be a few years yet – but could be “premiumisation” of Midleton stocks secured in the sales deal – or simply keeping the brand in the market.
Whatever the reason – Tullamore DEW whiskey has a bright future.
The expressions are good.
The Visitors centre is great and as we say in Ireland,
All journeys start from home and Westmeath is home to both this humble scribe and The Kilbeggan Distilling Company. 1757 is when this distillery first (legally) made and sold whiskey. From that date on, it has witnessed the ups and downs of Irish Whiskey, weathered the tough years and played it’s part in the current rise of whiskey. Kilbeggan Distillery encapsulates the history of Irish Whiskey within it’s four walls. Her story mirrors that of other distilleries that are now silent, as well as burgeoning the new ones that are beginning to find their voice.
Why the World?
It’s the only place we humans currently live – as yet – and it’s where Irish Whiskey is made, exported and enjoyed. Ireland used to be the Number 1 whiskey producer in the world. That position is now firmly in Scottish hands. However whisky is currently produced in over 25 countries around the world from Belguim to Bhutan,Taiwan and a lovely distillery in Wales.
As a relatively new convert to the world of whiskey, I’m inviting you to join me on a shared journey in taste, style and aroma by sampling the wide range of whiskey products that are out there.
I’m no expert, but hopefully I will enliven your taste buds and excite your palate with tempting tipples