I was on errands in Dublin but managed a little break in the recently refurbished Distilled premises to catch up with what’s new in Irish Whiskey.
The former Porterhouse Bar has been given a fresh face-lift & re-named Tapped whilst their Whiskey Bar remains reassuringly the same inside.
With such a plethora of new Irish Whiskey on the market I was a little dumbstruck as what to choose from their overflowing shelves. In the end I went for a new Donegal distillery in the shape of Crolly Distillery – or Croithlí if you wish to use Irish.
Croithlí have three Single Malt bottles on the market. None of them are actually distilled at the site – it’s far too young a project for that yet – but they have finished the sourced single malts in a variety of virgin oak casks to accentuate the differing flavours each wood-finish brings to the table.
Given a choice of Irish, European or American Oak – I went for Irish.
Labelled as Sessile Single Malt this bottle shares the same ex-bourbon matured malt as the others before being finished in virgin Quercus Petraea Oak barrels – otherwise known as Irish Oak – which in this instance has been sourced from Slovenia!
A rather soft nose greeted me.
Lovely oaky tannins with a heaviness reminiscent of Midleton’s Dair Ghaelach series were evident on the palate.
Opened up more on the finish where the woody influence shone through.
An entertaining experience would be to try all three wood influences on a back-to-back tasting to tease out the different flavours each displays.
Sadly I wasn’t in a position to do that on the day – perhaps for later.
A wonderful way to showcase the distillery in advance of their own distillate being ready.
At the 2016 Irish Whiskey Awards Brian Nation – then Master Distiller for Midleton – announced rye had been planted in County Wexford to be used for whiskey distillation.
This gave me great cheers as rye historically was an integral ingredient in the mash-bill of Irish Whiskey.
Conveniently at that event a bottle of Ransom The Emerald – an American made whiskey using a mixed mash-bill based on an Irish Whiskey recipe containing rye – did the rounds.
What a delight it was to taste!
A few years ago the only rye influence available in Irish Whiskey came from the use of ex-rye casks.
PrizeFight Whiskey were one of the first & used this method to great effect.
Other Irish Whiskey like the wonderful Bart’s from Lough Ree, Foxes Bow & Blackwater’s Velvet Cap followed & all benefited – to my palate at least – from the additional flavour profile rye brings to the mix.
It’s only in the last year or so actual rye grain has made the mash-bill of a couple of Irish Whiskey.
I always find it fascinating looking back into the history of Irish Whiskey.
This 1983 publication on Old Bushmills catalogues the rich tapestry of the distillery through it’s folklore, scenery, politics, changing fortunes, characters & calamities.
The book clearly displays there’s a lot more to simply enjoying the glass of whiskey in front of you – there’s always a whole back story.
Illustrated with many photographs & tales of the people involved – both from the boardroom as well as the distillery floor – Spirit Of The Age is a testament to the longevity of Irish Whiskey.
At the time of publication Old Bushmills was owned by Irish Distillers – but history is ongoing & Tequila makers Jose Cuervo are now in control.
Ironically one of Bushmills biggest sellers no longer bares it’s name – Proper Twelve has now overtaken the lead sales position Bushmills used to enjoy – and marks yet another chapter in the changing faces of Irish Whiskey.
I found this highly informative & entertaining publication through Libraries Ireland – well worth reading.
Long may Old Bushmills continue producing Irish Whiskey!
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.
It may seem an incongruous pair of whiskeys to compare – but in my opinion – the two offerings above represent the growing maturity, complexity and coming of age of Irish Whiskey.
On the one hand you have ChapelGate’s ultra premium exquisitely packaged and presented Chosen,
On the other, McGregor’s mass market blend Proper Twelve.
Both have delivered a product that satisfies the demands of their specific target audiences,
And both are excelling within their respective categories.
My blog welcoming the arrival of Proper Twelve to the market stated;
‘Irish Whiskey will never be the same again’
Has certainly been proven true.
For a newly released brand to be seriously challenging the dominance of Jameson – as in an Irish Times article – is truly outstanding. Despite the recent deplorable antics – perhaps even because of? – there seems to be no slowing down of Proper Twelve’s growth trajectory.
It is opening the market to a new generation of Irish Whiskey drinkers around the world and recently expanded into Poland & South Africa.
ChapelGate’s Chosen is also taking Irish Whiskey into new – and to many unthinkable – territory, the ultra premium luxury market. I highly commend founder Louise McGuane for her courage in doing so.
The dedication, careful selection of stock and variety of quality casks at her bonded warehouse in County Clare was outstanding. I chanced a visit over two and a half years ago – even before her first release – which you can read about here.
To chart the growing success of ChapelGate since then – as well as tasting JJ Corry’s fabulous whiskey releases – has been a wonderful journey.
The reaction to Chosen and Proper Twelve has been immense – and divisive.
Both have taken Irish Whiskey out of the narrowly defined one dimensional stereotypes of the past.
They represent a multi dimensional & complex Irish Whiskey scene that can be double distilled, peated, flavourful, rough round the edges, brash & youthful, aged & nuanced all at the same time.
Both dreamed big and played far beyond the boundaries.
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 .
Dropping the better half off at the airport the other week allowed me to explore the landside bar I knew existed but hadn’t actually visited.
As a musical accompaniment to the blog what else could I choose but…
Handily situated at the far end of the ground concourse below the Ryanair check-in desks – I was a little taken aback to see the name ‘The Angel’s Share‘ emblazoned above the wide entrance – together with a glass cabinet full of rare or hard to find Irish whiskeys.
For those that may not be aware – ‘the angel’s share’ is a whiskey term handily explained by reference to one of the bar walls inside this bright and airy establishment.
It’s also the title of an uplifting tragicomic movie by none other than Ken Loach which I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to see.
Now I know that the ‘piece de resistance’ in Dublin Airport is the magnificent Loop whiskey emporium on the airside duty free area – but for those not flying – or with a little time to spare – The Angel’s Share is a lovely spot to enjoy a glass of your favourite Irish Whiskey perhaps accompanied by a tasty meal or snack too.
Jameson’s fine Black Barrel release was ‘Whiskey Of The Month’ when I called – but as usual I was on the lookout for something I hadn’t had before. Sadly the rare cabinet whiskeys seemed to be for display only as a member of staff couldn’t recall them ever being opened!
The Angel’s Share had a good selection of Midleton expressions – Jameson – Powers – Spots and Paddy together with some Teeling and Hyde. Bourbons and Canadian Club also featured. What tickled my fancy however was a somewhat neglected Midleton release – Dunphys.
Dunphys Irish Whiskey was originally created in the 1950’s mainly for the American market. It became popular as a mixer – particularly in an Irish Coffee – but it’s star has now waned. Midleton’s sales force don’t seem to be pushing it either as many a pub I go into has a ‘Premium Whiskey Selection’ menu featuring only their own releases – in which I’ve yet to see Dunphys included.
Truth be told I wasn’t expecting much being treated as the black sheep of the Midleton family – but Dunphys proved to be a fairly rich tasting malty standard blend. At the price point it’s sold at it compares very favourably indeed. I suppose it has an old fashioned taste – if you can define old fashioned. I certainly enjoyed it and even wondered why it had been left out in the cold – Irish Coffee anyone?
Discovering this little haven of calm in a busy airport left me with a smile on my face.
Other customers were tucking into hot meals – their first or last decent pint of the black stuff depending on travel plans – or just enjoying a wee dram collecting or dropping off friends and family. Just be careful not to relax too much if you are flying however!
Whatever the reason – The Angel’s Share will certainly brighten up my visits to the airport.
After visiting a few self proclaimed Whiskey Bars in my time – especially on the Galway Whiskey Trail – I did ponder what exactly makes a Whiskey Bar – as opposed to simply a bar that sells whiskey?
I’ve distilled my thoughts down to 3 easy to digest items.
Bars that don’t attain these items are not in my book Whiskey Bars – but they can still be thoroughly enjoyable places to visit and even have interesting whiskeys to drink!
So what elevates a bar into a Whiskey Bar?
Simply put – there has to be at least 50 expressions on offer.
Irish Whiskey releases available right now easily reach above 100. Add in a few discontinued or rare bottles and 150+ is possible.
Throw some Scotch and Bourbon into the mix and you’re into the 200+ territory. And I’ve not even started on India – Australia – New Zealand – Germany -France……
So yes – 50 is the bare minimum.
2 A Whiskey Menu
Bars can be crowded places. It may be difficult just getting served – let alone scanning the shelves for that prized Single Malt you’ve never tried before. A Whiskey Menu means you can browse the pages salivating at the tasty drams on offer knowing a glass of liquid gold will soon be yours.
Middleton has stolen a lead here.
It offers pubs a whiskey menu only featuring their releases.
Whilst this can often be a step up – I was very pleased when my local Radisson Hotel and Ritz Gastropub in Athlone first introduced this menu as the whiskeys on offer shot up to about 20 varieties – but really!
A decent Whiskey Bar will print up their own menu including a wide variety of brands – styles and countries together with tasting notes and possibly a brief history of Irish Whiskey for the icing on the cake.
3 Tasting Trays
A Whiskey Bar should offer a tasting tray of 3 or 4 small servings of whiskey for the customer to sample.
These can be a Single Grain – Single Malt and a blend for example.
Or a peated malt – a sherry finish and a rum finish.
The permutations are endless.
They can be from the same distillery – different distilleries or even different countries.
Whatever combination – the idea is to introduce the customer to the styles – tastes and variety of whiskeys out there. After they have sampled the tray they might have a better idea of which expression suits their palate and order up a standard serving to enjoy.
Whiskey can be a minefield for the uninitiated.
Tasting trays help both new and old aficionados develop their own understanding of the myriad of flavours found in a glass of uisce beatha.
So that’s my basic 3.
Anything less than the above is just a bar selling whiskey.
However many Whiskey Bars offer more.
4 Whiskey Glasses
When I was in Belgium recently I loved the way each beer came in it’s own style of glass. It may not have added anything to the flavour – but it did add to the occasion.
I think drinking whiskey is an occasion that also requires decent glassware.
To swirl the liquid around and release the aroma a circular shaped glass is a must. It can be stemmed like a copita glass – or without like a Glencairn. There are loads of styles about.
Sadly – a square tumbler just won’t do.
5 Whiskey Tasting Evenings
Whiskey tasting evenings are great fun. You don’t even have to be a Whiskey Bar to hold them. I’ve had a few very successful tastings in my house. But having one in a Whiskey Bar is even better.
And the ultimate crowning glory?
6 Own Brand Whiskey
Jack Ryan’s – The Palace Bar and An Pucan are a few bars that have raised the level of what it is to be a Whiskey Bar to the maximum.
They all have a whiskey expression exclusively made for them.
Where do you go from there?
I know where I’d go.
To the bar and order up a glass!
If you have a favourite whiskey bar that complies with the above criteria – tell me about it.
Whiskey Live Dublin was held in the lovely premises of Dublin Castle Printworks. Whisky Live events are organised throughout the major cities of the world and bill themselves as;
The World’s Premier Whisky Tasting Show
After attending the Dublin show for the first time – I’d certainly recommend any budding whiskey fans to get down to a show wherever you are in the world. The amount of whiskey stands on display – let alone the range of expressions available – and many of the movers and shakers within the industry – are all there to sample – chat and entertain – it’s an event not to be missed.
I’d defy anyone to get round all the stands in one of the sessions allocated to guests – so much so that I met a few people who had booked for both the afternoon as well as evening session simply to ensure they visited every exhibitor!
After having read Whisky And Wisdom’s excellent blog to surviving a whiskey show – I felt ready to handle what Whiskey Live Dublin had to throw at me.
I had my target list,
I had my bottle of water,
I had my notebook – pen and camera and –
I had a suitable pre-event feed in a nearby cafe.
My plan was to walk round the displays without visiting any of them so I could ascertain where the ones I wanted to visit were – as well as seeing if there were any surprises I’d missed on the pre-publicity information.
This went well until I rounded the Celtic Whiskey Shop stand where one of the friendly staff that had been at the judging event of last month welcomed me over for a chat and before I could refuse – offered me a taster of a whisky that wasn’t even on my hit list! What else could I do?
Now Campbeltown whiskies are renowned for their peat – and as I’m not a massive peat fan I prefer a more balanced approach so the Longrow on offer was gently rebuffed. Springbank I’ve tried before and enjoyed – which left the Kilkerran Sherry Wood to duly sniff and slurp.
This proved to be a perfectly balanced mildly peated single malt of some distinction. My goodness – if his was an indication of quality of whisky at the show then it was very high indeed.
Heading on after gathering more info regards the history of Kilkerran I stumbled upon one of the food pairing stands. L Mulligan Grocers tempted me with a tasty morsel twinned with a smooth Glenmorangie. Lovely. But here I was 2 whiskies down and I’d not even started on my list!
Time to get a grip! Oh! What time is it? Time I was in that Powers Masterclass I’d booked for!
Ger Garland – Ambassador for Powers whiskey – guided us whiskey geeks through a history of Powers whiskey from it’s days in Dublin to the current location in Midleton. This led to a tasting of the 3 single pot still releases available under the newly repackaged Powers label namely – Three Swallow – Signature and John’s Lane releases.Sitting there being guided through the taste profiles of these fine whiskeys by Ger whilst gazing across to Dublin Castle outside the room certainly mellowed my initial rush so that I savoured the nuances of the expressions.
Suitably refocused I emerged from the masterclass to head for one of the new Irish distilleries opening up in Drogheda. Boann Distillery’s stills are enroute from Italy as I write this. I assumed they would be from Frilli but no – they hail from Green Engineering – a new name for me.Regardless of who manufactured the stills – as a taster of things to come they have The Whistler.
A rather unusual named blend from Boann but distilled elsewhere – this rather rich and heavy blend pleased me very much and I certainly wish all at Boann well with their venture. I for one will be eager to visit the combined distillery – brewery – eatery and visitors centre when it opens!
Mossfield Organic Cheese had a stall closeby and being a fan of their Slieve Bloom Cheddar I Paid them a visit to be rewarded by a sample of their tasty cheese paired with an equally tasty Machrie Moor Single Malt from the lovely Arran Distillery in Scotland.
Echlinville Distillery on the Ards Peninsula are currently laying down their own spirit for maturation and I was lucky to get a taster of a 2 yo new fill cask which despite it’s youth had some lovely flavours which will only grow with further ageing. Graeme Millar proved to be a very passionate distiller and ambassador for Echlinville as he guided me through the lovely award winning Dunville’s PX 10 yo Single malt – the surprisingly good Feckin Irish Whiskey blend and the unusual Feckin Spiced liqueur. I certainly think this is a distillery to look out for in the future given that passion combined with great tasting expressions!
Now the Hyde 10 yo single malt Oloroso release I bought when it first came out and I have to admit – it didn’t light my fire – unlike The Doors track – but I was intrigued to taste their No. 2 release finished in Rum casks.
I mentioned this to the rep and he proffered me a sample of both the releases. The first remained exactly as how I remembered it – lacking something – but the second made up for that with a healthy rum aroma and taste which to my mind gives the spirit a fuller – richer body with a more rounded – mellow – if sweeter taste. Much more to my liking! Perhaps I should have saved my cash for this expression!
Now I was on a roll!
I stopped at Jack Ryan’s stand for a brief chat to congratulate him on his excellent whiskey then moved over to The Palace Bar who also have a whiskey available at their premises – much like how all pubs would do in times gone by. The sample I had was simply – there is no other way to describe it – gorgeous!
John Teeling was engaged by a small crowd at his Great Northern Distillery stand so I got talking to a very informed engineer who had helped design and install all the pipework at the Dundalk plant. There were samples of clear white new spirit to try but at 80% proof and above I decided to let it mature a bit more before I’ll give it a go – at least for another 3 years!
Dingle Distillery will shortly be releasing their first whiskey expression. Exclusivity is the buzzword here. If you want a bottle – give them your details. They contact you and offer you a bottle from the first cask for 350 euro. They also offer personalised barrel options too. I think I’ll have to wait a bit before I can get a taster of this expression.
Nomad however were freely dispensing their lovey sherry cask finished blend created by the collaborative efforts of Richard Patterson and Gonzales Byass. It’s distilled in Scotland then shipped to Jerez for ageing so falls to be called a Scotch by the rules of definition.Breaking the rules never tasted so good in my book!
As the afternoon session was coming close to it’s finale – I tried Makers Mark from the Beam/Suntory range as I’d been informed this was a classic bourbon. Having yet to develop a taste for bourbon I thought I’d give this one a go. Sadly it didn’t do much for me.
A quick venison hot pot from Koh with another Dunville’s PX were my penultimate tasty pairing followed by an amiable chat with the Gaelic Whisky crew over the teaching methods of both Scotland and Ireland’s native language – led me to a taster of their rather fine Te Bheag blend.
I have a soft spot for Skye – where this tasty dram comes from – having cycled across the island back in the late 90’s. My grandfather also earned his living in a boat not dis-similar to the one used as a logo by the distillery. So sampling this fine blend and chatting to the lovely people behind it only warmed my affections even more.
So there you go.
What a lovely way to end my day at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Congratulations to Al Higgins and all the staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for arranging – promoting and organising this wonderful event. I’ll definitely be back next year!
Oh – I managed to get the train home OK and even bought my cup of tea with a snack before boarding to ensure I arrived home in a fit state – not parched dry like my last visit to Dublin!