Well I – and a host of others – eagerly awaited the Irish launch of this much anticipated whiskey in the fine surroundings of The Rag Trader bar in Dublin’s fair city.
The actual Dead Rabbit bar is in New York. It’s the creation of founders Sean & Jack from Northern Ireland. Despite being only a stones throw from the mighty Hudson River, when you enter, it’s like being transported back to a local watering hole by the banks of the River Shannon.
Awards have been won, there are queues to get in, there is some slick & clever marketing & it’s a very enjoyable experience drinking and dining inside the friendly establishment.
And then there’s the rabbit.
To celebrate their 5 years in business the Dead Rabbit have launched their own whiskey. Not surprisingly it’s a 5 year old sourced blend. This follows a long tradition of pubs & grocers releasing their own distinctive whiskeys which are a mixture of spirits from a variety of sources blended to their own requirements.
So does it match the hype?
In one word – yes!
Now there were plenty of cocktails around – but I’m an old fashioned – ahem – kind of guy – so neat Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey it was for me.
A lovely woody nose enticed me in. The virgin oak finish had worked it’s charms.
The palate began softly. Gentle fruity notes developed into more robust woody tannins with a lovely rich spice which tingled on the tongue as it slowly faded away.
Suitably robust yet soft & spicy all at the same time.
The Dead Rabbit’s done good.
Many thanks to Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey for the invite & use of the Rabbit image for the blog.
Flying in from a town whose tallest building is the 12 story Sheraton Hotel – staying in a 9th floor hotel room held a certain appeal.
Sadly the views I expected were obscured by even larger skyscrapers that we couldn’t see the tops of despite craning our necks through the permanently closed bedroom window.
Welcome to New York!
I still harboured high hopes for the hotel’s 14th floor roof top bar – Vu Bar – quietly enjoying a few drinks with a panoramic view of downtown NY below.
A cold blustery windswept veranda overlooked by even taller buildings was the reality. Well – it was March – and the building that dominated all – including our bedroom window vista – was in fact the Empire State Building!
The bar had a lovely collection of whiskey to sample however & a friendly bartender in Emilio.
I started with Maker’s Mark 46. It’s a mainly corn based bourbon with some wheat & barley in the mash bill which imparts a relatively soft, smooth & sweet overall experience to the taste despite it’s 47% strength. It goes down very easily – but didn’t really do anything for me & my penchant for bolder flavours. It definitely is a better dram than the standard Maker’s Mark which I tasted earlier on in the day though.
The darker colouring & slight dry spice on the nose indicated a high rye content in this 50% bourbon which was much more agreeable to my tastes.
Emilio mentioned a sister bar on the opposite side of the street – so the next evening after a busy day sightseeing & an enjoyable tasty meal washed down by the amusingly named Kloud lager – which had a lovely malty flavour – in a local Korean restaurant – we headed up to the 17th floor Cloud Social bar.
The views were far more impressive from up here. It would certainly make for a cool place to hang out on a warm summers day – but with temperatures below zero & a light dusting of snow it was back into the bar area for some warming whiskeys after a few snaps.
Again I was pleasantly surprised by the array of whiskeys before me. One that took my eye was Lot 40.
Now I’d heard great things about this Canadian Rye so on spotting a bottle I just had to try it.
Soft ,sweet, hardly any spice. A very smooth easy drinking bourbon style of whiskey.
Not what I was expecting at all from this 43% rye. What I experienced bore no resemblance to the reviews I read before or after – so I just don’t know.
To counteract my disappointment I went for a Knob Creek Rye.
The full on rich dry peppery spice bowled me over after my previous drink. In fact it was almost overwhelming after the soft sweetness of Lot 40 as my palate struggled to come to terms with that lovely rye punch I crave in this full on 50% whiskey.
If anything – I think the Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon – with it’s initial rich vanilla & caramel notes flowing through to a lovely balanced rye spice – came out tops for the 4 whiskeys I tried out up in the clouds of New York’s rooftop bars!
Walking into the downstairs bar of The Dead Rabbit in New York was like stepping back across the Atlantic and entering a well stocked Irish whiskey bar on the Emerald Isle itself.
In fact there was so much Irish whiskey lining the shelves it would put many a respectable bar in Ireland to shame!
The wall hangings, drinks mirrors & assorted jumble of paraphernalia together with the dark wood finish were also a very familiar attribute in many an Irish bar – along with no food!
As Mrs Whiskey & myself had come in for a spot of grub we were directed up stairs to the middle bar which does serve food – only to find it temporarily closed being midway between the lunchtime menu & evening service – and so ended up on the top floor via a narrow staircase.
The bar here was a slightly smaller affair – yet still well stocked – with a comfortable bench along the back wall complete with high tables & chairs for casual diners & imbibers to sit back and enjoy the fair.
Being an Irish bar – I had to go for an Irish whiskey. Now Dead Rabbit do a selection of whiskey flights – but not including the specific whiskeys I was looking for – so I settled for a glass of Kinahan’s 10 year old single malt along with a burger & chips.
Kinahan’s are one of those sourced brands that are generally not available in Ireland. Mainly found in the American market – they were on my radar to try out. Coming in a blend and a 10 year old single malt they have a back story which you may choose to believe – or not – I found it entertaining.
The soft, smooth, charred ex-bourbon cask maturation taste sat well with my previous drinks yet developed into a clearer, more finely tuned fruity note together with a faint spice on the finish. A pretty fine example of an Irish barley single malt in contrast to the mixed corn, wheat, barley & rye american bourbon mash bills. It perfectly accompanied my rather large burger.
For afters I decided to go native.
A very attractively designed bottle of Angels Envy took my eye.
Hailing from Louisville Distilling in Kentucky with a corn, barley & rye mash bill – the expression I had is aged for up to 6 years & unusually – for American bourbon anyway – finished in ruby port casks.
The rye spice I love was very subdued by both the rich port influence as well as the high corn with added barley mixed mash. It did have depth & a complex nuance – but not that instant POW I was looking for. One to savour over I think.
Suitably sated – we ventured out for the South Ferry subway. Dead Rabbit is only a short walk from the very attractive Battery Park area where clear views of The Statue Of Liberty & Ellis Island can be enjoyed – along with the obligatory boat trips. As the temperatures were plummeting below zero we left the chance to embrace ourselves in the cultural & historic tales of Irish emigration for another day.
Dead Rabbit may not have been around when those early immigrants first arrived in America – but it’s a very welcome bolthole for the modern day traveller. Just be sure to get there early. We easily got a table when we arrived around 4ish – but later patrons had to wait for a while as the venue was packed out by the time we left.
At Brooklyn I booked myself into one of Kings County Distillery tours in the grand old Paymaster Building inside the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Located only a short walk from either the York St subway or the iconic Brooklyn Bridge itself – it’s easily accessible for anyone staying in New York.
Dave – our tour guide on the day – entertainingly took us through a potted history of whiskey distillation in Brooklyn taking in topics such as civil war, taxes, legal & illegal production, alcohol consumption, Irish immigration, prohibition as well as many other related – or not – subjects & then tied the whole lot up together with the founding of Kings County Distilling itself in 2010.
I’ll repeat that year again.
Because that makes Kings County Distillery the 1st legal whiskey distillery in New York City since prohibition.
History has long tentacles.
We were shown the whole whiskey making process from the mashing of the grains in open fermenters,
To the distillation in copper pot stills,
To the maturation of the spirit in virgin american oak casks in the upstairs warehouse.
Kings County Distillery have chosen to go down a a fairly traditional route in that they produce a predominately high corn mash bill bourbon with only a small amount of barely from Scotland.
The use of small casks allows a shorter maturation period – generally less than 2 years – before it is deemed suitable for release. Some larger casks have also been laid down for future expressions & I couldn’t help noticing the ‘rye’ mark on some casks indicating a welcome addition to the current range at some date.
Tasting the actual product of all this hard work and silent development in the wood is obviously the highlight of any tour.
Kings County Distillery treated us to 4 expressions from their current range.
Starting with the Moonshine release at 40%.
The nose was the classic oily & slightly rotten fruit smell I associate with an unaged spirit. The taste followed through as expected with no real surprises. A perfectly fine & smooth example of this style of spirit which is often released by new distilleries as a showcase and money maker whilst the real bourbon or whiskey slowly matures.
The Bourbon release came next.
At 45% ABV this high corn bourbon with added barely, aged for 2 summers, gave a classic caramel sweet bourbon nose & taste together with a little bite. Another perfectly fine example of it’s style which hasn’t gone unnoticed by discerning drinkers as well as whiskey judges by the the amount of awards won.
The Winter Spice Whiskey at 40% had me a little confused. It’s basically the standard bourbon release above infused with a mix of baking spices normally associated with Xmas – cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves along with others – but yet it doesn’t have that sweet honey mix of many a liqueur nor can it be a whiskey with the non conventional additives. There is a market for this type of flavoured whiskey however. I couldn’t say it would be my cup of tea though.
A choice of Chocolate Whiskey or Peated Bourbon was offered for the last sample.
It should be obvious which one I went for.
I found the Peated Bourbon the most interesting and satisfying expression at Kings County Distilling.
At 45% the addition of peated barley from Scotland gave a welcome waft of smoke to the sweet bourbon caramel which raised the resultant spirit to a more entertaining yet vaguely familiar flavour profile.
Of the 3 Brooklyn distilleries I visited, Kings County Distilling seem to be the most established outfit producing a fairly traditional style of bourbon which is gaining many admirers. They also do a cracking distillery tour which certainly engages you with the whole whiskey making process.
I can’t say they set my palate alight – but I do wish them future success – they are a welcome addition to the whiskey distilling world.
One thing is for sure – I eagerly await any future rye expression they intend to produce from the casks I spotted on the maturation floor!