There’s been an explosion of Irish Whiskeys finished in a growing variety of Irish Beer Casks.
I welcome the diversity & exploration of flavours emanating from these collaborations – especially when the beers in question tend to be locally produced craft beers such as the Cotton Ball Stout used in this new Hyde #8 release.
Now I usually like to taste the donor beer – but in this instance the closest I got was this lágar from Cotton Ball Brewing.
Rather than picking up the bitter or slightly burnt notes often found in a stout – Hyde #8 has a noticeable sweet caramel nose together with a smooth & rich honeyed palate rounded up with a darker & heavier biscuity malt feel.
I won this lovely bottle of whiskey courtesy of the Celtic Whiskey Club and Walsh Whiskey themselves – very much appreciated.
Celtic Whiskey Club is an open invite whiskey club organised by the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin. You can follow the link to their website.
Whiskey samples are sent out regularly – both Ireland & abroad – to members who are then invited to participate in tweet tastings. Drinking whiskey with others – even at the end of the internet – is far more entertaining.
On this particular occasion – a double bill Writers’ Tears release from Walsh Whiskey – 2 participants won a bottle each. I happily obtained the Double Oak – my preferred choice.
So how was it?
A gorgeously warm ‘Bear Hug’ of a whiskey with dark sweet cherry notes contrasting with gentle prickly oaky spiceiness. Cue video!
Double Oak is a blend of single pot still & single malt whiskeys finished in a combination of ex bourbon & ex cognac casks to give it that deep dark sweet character with plenty of warmth & added spice.
Along with other Writers’ Tears releases Double Oak is presented at 46% with non chill filtering allowing the full flavours to shine.
Another fabulously tasty release from Walsh Whiskey.
It’s not everyday you get a whisky sample sent through the post – especially one as outstanding as Highland Rye Single Grain Whisky from Arbikie Distillery in Arbroath, Scotland.
To begin with, this is a farm to bottle operation.
The grains used – barley, rye & wheat in this instance – are grown in the fields around the distillery.
There is also no chill filtration nor added colouring to mute the fabulous flavours within.
And it’s a rye.
The first for many a year Scotland has produced.
Rye at one stage was a common grain used in a mixed mashbill distillation by both Scottish and Irish distillers as testified by a certain Mr Jameson at the 1909 ‘What is Whisky’ enquiry.
It happens to be a grain I’m very attracted to.
It adds a bit of bite, a dash of dry peppery spice, a certain boldness, a touch of character and a degree of complexity to any whiskey.
Rye has no legal definition in either Scotland nor Ireland. Yet in America – often seen as the home of rye – it must have a mashbill content of at least 51% rye to gain the title – which this Highland Rye does.
So what’s it like to drink?
The nose captures the classic dry peppery spice augmented by elements of cherry sweetness from the PX cask finish.
The barley & wheat bring a silky smoothness to begin with, coating the palate in a warm snug of dark fruitiness before the rye makes itself known.
The palate gradually dries off into a wonderfully prickly peppery spice with hints of cherries dancing around on the enjoyably long finish.
The PX finish adds another layer of depth & complexity to this rye.
On a back to back tasting with its 2 year old sibling – which I purchased on first hearing Scotland had produced a rye – the youthful exuberance & freshness resulted in a cleaner, more classic peppery spice experience balanced with a barley smoothness.
The PX finish of the 3 year old – which is still a relatively unusual style of rye even in America – boosts that joyful youthfulness with richer, darker elements.
Arbroath – more famous for stovies & smokies – can now add rye to the culinary & quaffable delights on offer.
My thanks to all at Arbikie for the opportunity to taste this gorgeous rye whisky.
A.D. Rattray are an independent bottler of fine standing in Scotland.
They happen to have a lovely Whisky Shop on the main access route – A77 – to & from the Irish ferry terminals at Stranraer & Cairnryan that I often use to cross the water.
Oddly enough on my last trip – January 2018 – it was the first time in well over a decade using this route I encountered armed police, a passport check, a personal check as well as a vehicle check – all for an internal crossing?
Brexit changes indeed.
The Whisky Shop itself is a treasure trove of whisky, some gins & local beers too. Predominately Scotch it has to be said – although there is a sprinkling of world whisky. There are also tasting classes, rare single casks to be had, a small museum and more to attract you in and delay your journey.
But as I was driving – I made do with an elegantly packaged & well presented 5 pack A.D. Rattray miniature selection.
Nearly a year later I eventually managed to sample them if only to mark Rabbie Burns Night – who happened to live nearby.
The standard Bank Note 5 Year Old Blend at 43% struck me as just being that – standard. Pleasant enough with it – but no stand out qualities to pull me in. I do like the label however.
Next up was the Stronachie Highland Single Malt 10 Year Old – also at 43%. With this A.D. Rattray branded malt you actually get the distillery of origin – Benrinnes in this case – unlike the blended offering.
Now 10 year old malts these days are often considered entry level – and I’m afraid my tasting experience only concurred with this hypothesis.
Smooth, easy drinking, well balanced butterscotch, honey & vanilla – just not enough character or oomph for my tastes.
Meanwhile the Stronachie 18 – also Benrinnes sourced but with a slightly higher 46% ABV – gained some lovely dry woody tannins from the extra years in maturation. I was pulled in with it’s suitably more complex , characterful & to my palate anyway – a much more appealing dram.
The next bottle – at least from the label – promised something special.
A single grain whisky from a closed distillery – Cambus – matured for no less than 26 years & presented at 59.9% with no chill filtering nor added colouring. – kind of suggests the other bottlings perhaps had added e150 or chill filtering as it wasn’t stated on their labels?
Part of the A.D. Rattray Cask Collection – which changes regularly – I was very happy to try this single grain.
It’s a category of whisky many people dismiss – which is fine – all the more for me to enjoy!
It’s fresh, it’s lively, it’s full of flavour, it’s got character, it’s got strength, it’s got lucious drying tannins & velvety vanilla which just explode in the mouth.
A wonderful whisky.
The final miniature was Cask Islay – an non aged statement (NAS) non disclosed distillery single malt presented at 46%.
Now normally an Islay influenced dram floats my boat – but not this sweet peat. I think I prefer dry ashiness myself.
Perhaps the cask strength offering of earlier had influenced my findings. But I had cleansed my palate after each sample, left a gap in-between & then re-sampled later. All to no avail.
The Single Grain Cambus 26 Year Old is clearly my top of the pile – a stunning drop.
I remember visiting the building site that became the Teeling Whiskey Distillery here.
I remember my first visit to the working distillery here.
And I remember drinking their new make Poitin – distilled in Dublin – here.
So it’s a great treat to eventually getting round to tasting their first official whiskey.
All previous Teeling releases are sourced. I’ve enjoyed a fair few of them over the years so this young Single Pot Still has a very high bar to follow – some might say an impossible task – so does it make the grade?
Well – it Smells Like Teen Spirit!
The idea that a just-over-3yr-old Single Pot Still can match the complexity & depth of flavour of malts matured in a variety of barrels for at least 5 years or more – much more in many cases – is frankly ridiculous.
This Single Pot Still is fresh, lively & exuberant.
There’s plenty of sweet fresh fruit on the nose with just a hint of sour new make in the background.
Initially a smooth fruity mouthfeel develops into a dry peppery spice with a good deal of prickly heat.
The dry spices fade leaving a clean tropical fruit finish.
I actually really enjoy it – but it’s hardly an easy smooth tannic laden whiskey of hidden depth & character. It’s a little rough around the edges – nothing a few more years wouldn’t sort out.
But then this whiskey was never meant to be the finished item.
It’s a work in progress to highlight the maturing process – to keep the adoring fans happy – to keep Teeling in the limelight and to earn a bit of return too.
It’s a historical bottling with a release of 6,000 at an affordable price.
It’s presented at 46% – and like all Teeling releases – there is no chill filtering nor added caramel.
A nice touch is the light blue label which mirrors the Dublin GAA colours.
There are a plethora of new players attracted to the market buoyed by the confidence of future growth.
From Conor McGregor’s Proper No Twelve at one end of the scale – to An Fear Grinn – a single malt, single cask offering from private bottler Whiskey Factor at the other end.
I welcome them all.
It would be a far more worrying state of affairs if there weren’t any newcomers investing in Irish Whiskey.
What unites both of the above releases is they are both representations of spirit distilled at existing distilleries. Until the new crop of distilleries have matured stocks of whiskey at hand – most new entrants have no alternatives.
Whilst Proper No Twelve is a decent enough standard blend banking on it’s celebrity owner’s popularity – or infamy as the case may be – An Fear Grinn is a single cask bottling from an unnamed Irish Distillery. It showcases a liquid not usually available to the public. A liquid that is normally vatted & watered down as a core range single malt – or even potentially used – in small quantities – to give added flavour to a standard blend – like the one above.
I very fortuitously obtained a generous sample from the Whiskey Factor for evaluation & enjoyment.
Now the first thing you notice is the colour.
It’s very pale.
This is a 16 year old single malt matured exclusively in a single ex-bourbon cask.
It represents it’s natural colour.
Without the use of added caramel – it’s what most of our whiskey should look like.
The simple act of pouring a measure into the Túath glass revealed a pleasing waft of warm vanilla.
Clearly no chill filtering either.
At 57% you’d expect a bit of a punch – yet the nose is very fresh & fruity with a hint of tannic woodiness in the background.
Surprisingly smooth on the palate. The rich tannins make their presence felt before the warm vanilla & citrusy fruits shine through.
It’s only on the finish the cask strength of this bottling makes itself known. An explosion of alcohol mixed in with fabulous flavours dances around in a prickly heat before slowly subduing into an oaky spiciness & fruit finale.
An Fear Grinn is only available via Whiskey Factor here.