My recent travels through Dublin Airport happily coincided with the much heralded release of the Pearse 5 Year Old Cask Strength bottling.
It’s much heralded as it’s the first release from any of the new young bucks of Irish Whiskey Distilleries to hold such an age statement & to have been distilled by their own pot stills – even if in this case the pot stills were originally fired up in County Carlow before being moved into the marvelous surroundings of the magnificent Pearse Lyons Distillery in St James Church, Dublin.
That’s right – a church.
All praise be to whiskey.
The 12th Century church & graveyard was closed for worshipers in 1963 and subsequently fell into decay. It has been wonderfully & painstakingly restored by the Peasre Lyons Distillery team and you can read all about it here.
But back to the whiskey.
Despite being early in the morning – I accepted the sample proffered by the ambassador.
A big hit of cask strength whiskey to blow the old cobwebs away!
Plenty of spirit in this one – but not much going on in the flavour department for me.
Definitely one to be watered down a touch.
Thankfully on my return there was a little package waiting for me.
Many thanks to all at Pearse Lyons for the pretty sample bottle of Pearse 5 Year Old Single Malt at 46%.
Suitably pale in colour – there is no added caramel nor chill filtering in this ex-bourbon cask matured whiskey.
The nose is light, citrusy & fresh. I’d go so far to say a hint of lemon in here.
Soft malty freshness continued in the taste department with a slight spiciness & long mellow finish bringing up the finish.
This isn’t a whiskey that slaps you around the cheeks on first tasting. It’s a gentle, quieter introduction that smooths & caresses as it goes down.
You could say the subtlety and freshness is it’s strength.
Pity it’s a bit lost on me – I’m more a fan of big, bad & bold flavours.
If subtlety is your thing – there are only 1000 bottles of the Cask Strength & 4000 of the Single Malt out there. The Cask Strength is an Airport Exclusive – but happily the Single Malt is already available in the SuperValu chain of stores around the country.
Welcome to their Dha Chasca Single Malt – exclusively released for the Musgrave Group of groceries.
It’s a sherry cask matured single malt finished in heavily charred bourbon casks – and it’s all West Cork Distillers liquid.
Originally founded in Union Hall & now based in Skibbereen – it should come as no surprise that a couple of the original West Cork team came from a fishing background. There is an emblem of a trawler proudly displayed on the simple yet attractively designed bottle labels to denote this.
Fishermen are a hardy lot. They have to be resourceful, adaptable & highly self-reliant on the open seas.
Couple those skills with a friend grounded in food research & development and you have the kernel of West Cork Distillers.
There was no fancy Frilli stills from Italy for these lads – nor a lengthy order time for Forsyth’s finest from Scotland.
These lads largely built their own kit! It may not be pretty – but it is effective.
West Cork Distillers have been quietly and industriously honing their distilling skills over the last few years. They have also invented & fabricated their own barrel burner to char the casks to their own specifications. And if you want to see it in action read the Whiskey Experts excellent blog on West Cork here.
Dha Chasca is one of a few recent expressions that only contain their own distillate – which attests to the journey they have taken in becoming a fully fledged Irish whiskey distillery.
There is a strong sherry note on the first sniff – mellowed by sweet bourbony notes of vanilla & caramel from the charring.
On tasting the warm notes of vanilla dominate to begin with. The dry sherry slowly makes it’s presence felt before a welcome hint of spiciness.
The bourbony notes fade to quite a dry mouthfeel with the spices tantalising & teasing the tongue as it slowly fades.
Unlike some of their earlier releases, Dha Chasca has no added caramel. This seems to mirrored in later West Cork expressions and could almost be a defining feature of the new generation of Irish distillers & bottlers. Teeling, Hyde, Pearse Lyons & JJ Corry have all eschewed the common practice of putting e150 in their offerings – unlike most of the multi-nationally owned established distillers.
Whether this trend will be the start of something more seismic – like the introduction of the Coffey Still in establishing blended whiskey – remains to be seen. It’s a move I’d be pleased to see growing & I welcome West Cork Distillers embrace it.
Despite what the industry says – I believe you can taste the difference.
The Dha Chasca is clean, crisp & fresh.
I suggest you get down to your local SuperValu or Centra to try it out for yourself.
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.