I recently had the pleasure of revisiting Clonakilty Distillery.
Unlike the building site of my previous visit – Feb 2018 blog here – this time the gleaming copper pot stills were in full working order & the rich smells of distillation were ever present during the highly informative & enjoyable tour.
Clonakilty Minke Gin is already available – but it will be a while for their own whiskey to mature.
In the meantime a varied range of sourced whiskeys – with added maturation & finishing at Clonakilty Distillery’s own warehouses on the Wild Atlantic Way – are available at the distillery shop.
I bought a couple of miniatures – part of their core range – as well as taking away some extra samples – I was driving – to enjoy later.
Clonakilty, Single Grain, Bordeaux Cask, 43.6%
A clean, sweet & delicate fruity little number that lulls you in with gentle flavours before delivering a healthy spirity kick by way of entertainment leaving a soft fruit finish on the rear.
Clonakilty, Small Batch, Double Oak, 43.6%
Warming, more malt biscuity. There’s a fruity sweetness from the recharred ex-wine casks which give this blend a juiciness followed with a dry prickly spice from the virgin oak casks too.
Clonakilty, Cognac Cask, 43,6%
A limited edition at the distillery.
Rich warm dark fruits with a touch of nuttiness to boot. Dries out towards the finish with a pleasant spiciness.
Clonakilty, Single Malt, Single Cask, Distillery Exclusive, 43.6%
If you ever need an excuse to visit a distillery – the chance to sample an exclusive bottling is always a bonus.
Warming vanilla enticed me in. A gentle rich maltiness tinged with dry tannic spice caressed my palate. A wonderfully balanced & elegant bourbon cask matured malt.
Clonakilty, Single Pot Still New Make, unknown ABV.
A rare treat indeed!
Using the traditional – as in malted & unmalted barley only mash bill – that signature oily & slightly sour new make nose was evident. A clean & fresh feel was enjoyed before the high ABV kicked in leaving a prickly heat with a touch of spice on the finish.
A well crafted spirit for the wood to work it’s magic on.
Interestingly this new make has already won awards.
All bodes well for Clonakilty Distillery.
The stunning signature building, the lovely cafe, the enjoyable tour and the increasing use of barley from their own farm in future distillations yet to come.
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.
Their sourced 12 Year Old Single Malt – ahead of their own distillate maturing – captured me with it’s bold yet clean design & cool bottle.
The liquid inside didn’t disappoint either.
A warm smooth & inviting start with a slight smoky hint of charred casks developed into a silky mouthfeel which slowly morphed into a gorgeously dry finish.
A great start to the show.
Their Spiced Irish Rum also tempted me.
The Guatemalan sugar cane mollasses are imported into Ireland, fermented, distilled & matured by Black’s to produce an Irish Rum.
Now rum isn’t my speciality – but this had an invitingly pungent nose of earthiness, smokiness, sweetness & spice. The taste followed in this style & was a far more entertaining tipple than I expected.
Thumbs up all round for Black’s entry into the distilled spirits market.
Rye River Brewing happened to be nearby with their ever enthusiastic beer ambassador Simon. Now we happen to know each other prior to his latest rise to beer fame & he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me sampling a Rye River special brewed for the show.
It also wasn’t difficult to go on a slightly wavering tour of the festival – perhaps taking in more than we would have done individually – but having a great time nonetheless.
A newcomer into the market for Ireland this historic and extremely popular Chinese spirit often catagorised as ‘baijiu‘ is an area I’ve yet to venture into.
Gorgeously garishly attractive – both the bottle, stall design and uniformed – as well as informed – staff had me trying to get my head round the sorghum & wheat base, 9 distillation production technique and new taste sensations.
It has the nose & appearance of a poitin – yet the taste was something else. At 53% it was warm, inviting, softly sweet yet earthy & unusual. I’d have been tempted to buy a bottle to explore further – but on hearing the price – this is a premium product with a premium price tag I was informed – I made do with another sample that still had me yearning for more! One to watch as they say.
Knowing my predilection for darker, heavier beers Simon guided me to Clifden based Bridewell Brewery. Along with their core range a limited edition duo commemorating the historic first flight across the Atlantic by Alcock & Brown resulted in highly enjoyable & very satisfying Navigator Transatlantic Brown. The Pilot Amber Ale of Alcock wasn’t too bad either!
Yes, yes and yes! – is all I can say. Suits me sir!
A few other beers were had – some enjoyable – others not so – before Simon went back to work – and I back to whiskey – Pearse Lyons Whiskey to be precise.
Now I thought I had a reasonable handle on the fast moving Irish Whiskey Scene – obviously not when confronted by three age statemented Pearse Lyons offerings!
Turns out the original core range of 4 has been revamped, rerecipied & rebranded!
Gone are the non age statements, chunky bottles & keyhole like labels – in is a sleeker, leaner shared brand identity with a slightly higher 43% ABV. Also gone is the Cooper’s Select – grab it while you can!
The names & colours remain the same – with Original now a 5yo & Distiller’s Choice a 7yo. Founder’s Reserve was already a 12yo.
Short of a back to back comparison with the old 42% versions I couldn’t discern what changes have taken place. It was admitted the Original had lost a little of it’s smoky character from the former Alltech Lexington Brewery & Distillery barrels. It also looks as if that facilities output has also had a rebrand – but I failed to make the Town Branch stall this time.
The newly rebranded Pearse Lyons trio all still taste very appealing & are attractively priced – yet I was somewhat surprised by the revamp – so much so I needed a break – and a pie – to recompose myself!
Pieman continue to be a favourite festival pie provider of mine. A roast chicken & sausage stuffing pie sated my hunger & calmed me down for the final push. It also allowed some entertaining chats & discussions with fellow attendees on the shared table spaces dotted around the hall. Hats off to the Tempted ciderist who won Best In Show for their gorgeously dry & balanced Tempted Strawberry Cider & explained the intricacies of the trade to me over our meal.
Conscious that time was limited to make the last train home – I found another barrel aged beer to sample at the Clocked Out stall.
Brett yeast seems to be a growing trend in craft brewing but I’m still not sure of the sour & funky taste even with this fine barrel aged stout. I did manage a quick catch up with the ever energetic Mr Guilfoyle whose rise in beer has been a pleasure to witness.
Scottish punk drink empire’s BrewDog stand earned a final visit. I knew they had a sourced whisky lurking under the counter waiting to celebrate Scotland’s win over England in the Six Nations which ultimately went to a draw.
Uncle Duke’s is a Cameron Bridge sourced single grain with American virgin oak maturation, no chill filtration & natural colour. Rich, warm & inviting with a lovely dry spiciness showing through the soft & smooth delivery.
A proud testament to the enduring legacy of Irishman Aeneas Coffey whose continuous still was adopted by Cameron Bridge back in the 1830’s – and is still going strong today – in a larger modern version – with wonderful results like this.
And with that it was all over for me – despite the growing crowds still entering to enjoy the evenings entertainment.
All I was looking forward to now was that hot cup of tea on the train home!
Writing a blog about the future of Irish Whiskey with a headline photo of a trio of Scottish Single Malts released by the supermarket chain Lidl may seem a little askew – but it highlights an issue pertinent to the current Irish Whiskey industry.
Imagine I’m a supermarket chain of similar standing.
I want some Irish Whiskey.
Perhaps a single pot still, a single malt & a single grain to show off what Ireland has to offer.
I have the branding ready to go.
I have the bottling plant primed.
I have the customers.
Can Irish Whiskey deliver – like yesterday – to capitalise on the Scottish release?
Brian Nation‘s speech at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards 2016 held in the fabulous surroundings of the Old Bonded Warehouse in Tullamore certainly piqued my interest.
A number of points were raised that particularly caught my attention.
The first was the spectacular rise of Irish Whiskey in the global market and how everyone associated with ‘BRAND’ Irish Whiskey – from producers to publicans, distributors to bloggers – had a duty of care to promote and protect the integrity of that brand.
Was my first thought.
I’ve just been branded myself!
But what is Brand Irish Whiskey and who defines it?
Before I could process those thoughts another key word leapt out at me.
There certainly has been some wonderful innovation in the Irish Whiskey scene lately.
The new entrants into the market have been at the forefront of this in my opinion.
The multi award winning Teeling Whiskey Company use rum casks to finish their Small Batch blend and Californian wine casks to add flavour to their Single Grain. Neither casks being commonly used. Single Grain is also unusual. Before Teeling Single Grain was released Greenore – now renamed Kilbeggan Single Grain – was the sole representative in this category.
Both these Teeling expressions won Best in class awards on the evening with Kilbeggan Single Grain winning Gold.
West Cork Distillers are also new entrants and have been making spirits often under the radar of the mainstream.
The bold design of their Pogues bottle together with the brand association attached to the famous/infamous group – depending on your preference – was certainly innovative.
Criticism has often been attached to the quality of the liquid inside West Cork produced offerings yet winning a Gold Award for the Galway Bay Irish Whiskey release certainly raises their game and puts them in the spotlight.
Midleton themselves -the brand owners of Irish Whiskey during the years they were the only players in the field – haven’t been caught napping.
Using whiskey casks that have previously held beer for the growing Irish Craft Beer scene to mature Jameson Caskmates has certainly been a hit that is now being expanded into other markets.
The new Makers Series offer some innovative stories to the spirit although I did find the liquid rather ‘safe’. Nonetheless 2 of the releases won Gold Awards.
The most exciting innovation of the evening however almost made me re-enact that famous scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’
MIDDLETON ARE GROWING RYE IN IRELAND!
Now it won’t be harvested until early spring 2017 and a further minimum of 3 years at least before any spirit can be released – but as a confirmed lover of rye – I can’t wait!
Luckily for me I didn’t have to.
A couple of kind gentlemen from across the pond had informed me beforehand they had brought over something special.
Whilst the Corsair Triple Smoke blew me over it could be categorised as an ‘extreme’ whiskey. I did love it however.
The Emerald release from Ransom Spirits of Oregon was far more approachable however and much more pertinent to the Irish Whiskey brand.
Made using barley, oats and rye to an 1865 Irish Whiskey recipe uncovered by some research this stunning whiskey is satisfyingly smooth yet rich in mouthfeel coupled with a delightfully long rye spice finish.
Emerald to me have captured the PAST of Irish Whiskey in a bottle of the PRESENT.
When you know Brian Nation and his colleagues are poring over old Jameson recipes from the early 1800’s that included rye and oats – as well as currently growing rye in the fields around Enniscorthy – then couldn’t this be a representation of the FUTURE of Irish Whiskey?
Whilst he may know his IPA’s from his top fermenting ales – it seems his knowledge of single pot still whiskey and triple distillation were a little lacking.
That was until he attended a special Whiskey Tasting Class at Flanagan’s On The Lake hosted by Dan Miller – who bears an uncanny resemblance to whisky guru Charles MacLean – of the local whiskey club who meet regularly in Flanagan’s.
Absentmindedly listening to the radio one afternoon my ears pricked up at the mention of whiskey. Rick and his co-host Cormac were broadcasting from Flanagan’s On The Lake and I duly made a mental note to visit soon.
My opportunity arose the next day when my better half suggested we go out to take advantage of the sunshine which had just appeared after 3 days of rain!
Situated in the stunning twin towns of Ballina, Co Tipperary and Killaloe, Co Clare. Flanked by the majestic Slieve Bernagh hills to the West and the Arra Mountains to the East. Nestled at the foot of Lough Derg. Flanagan’s On The Lake sits on the banks of the mighty River Shannon overlooking the 18th Century stone bridge which joins the two sides at this point.
Before we had even reached Flanagan’s herself insisted on stopping to take some pictures and promptly sent them to friends in London just to make them jealous of the majestical scenery.
The restaurant/bar itself sits on the Ballina side of the Shannon. We could have cruised down in our motorboat and berthed at the adjoining moorings beside Flanagan’s beer garden from our base in Athlone. Perhaps even spotting some White-tailed Sea Eagles that nest in Lough Derg on the way. That’s if we actually had a boat!
Architecturally the building was rather ‘Celtic Tigeresque‘ to me. It’s actually an old railway freight depot that’s been extensively remodeled in 2007. I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of all that was put up during those years – but the location is simply stupendous.
Inside was a hive of activity. The afternoon sun had brought out families and friends – all of whom were enjoying the diner service at Flanagan’s. Before I could even browse the extensive range of whiskeys displayed behind the bar we were ushered to our table. The view outside was a little curtailed and Flanagan’s could have been improved by the floor to ceiling glass walls that adorn our local Ritz Gastropub which allow you to feel part of the scenery beyond. I did think of suggesting we sit outside in the large beer garden – but as the rain had started again – I kept quiet.
Herself had a whole Sea Bass from the A La Carte menu whilst I plumped for the traditional Fish and Chips. Two large plates of tasty food soon arrived along with some wine from the funky looking glass wine-store. We shared a dessert too before retiring to the more relaxed and congenial surroundings of the Whiskey Tower area.
Sat in the luxurious leather seats a whiskey suitable for the setting was deemed necessary from the 140 plus expressions on offer. Luckily I’d spotted just the one I wanted when I entered.
Hibernia Distiller’s Hyde No.3 1916 Single Grain release is the latest whiskey from the award winning company. The No. 1 Single Malt Presidential Cask’s subtle sherry influence has grown on me whilst the No. 2 Rum Finished offering struck me immediately with it’s powerful nose.
Now I know single grain doesn’t have the same kudos as a single malt. Grain is usually seen as a lighter more sweeter spirit commonly used in blended whiskey and caused consternation among more traditional single pot still distillers when the Coffey Still first appeared in the 1830’s. Not being put off by such tattle and in the name of variety I eagerly seek out the exceptions and have found a trio of tasty Irish single grains to tempt the palate.
From the very first nosing of 1916 – I knew this was something special. A rich sweet bourbon influenced aroma greeted me emanating from the first re-fill Jack Daniel barrels used for maturation. A warm unexpectededly heavy mouthfeel excited me followed through by a slight spice on the long finish. Such a robust feeling whiskey was not quiet what I thought a single grain tasted like but nonetheless the Hyde 1916 release seems to have just done that. Bottled at 46% and un-chill filtered I would be so rash to say that for all the Hyde whiskeys – as in the Hot Chocolate hit – Every Ones A Winner
Flanagan’s On The Lake conduct whiskey tasting classes in the sumptuous upstairs snug of The Whiskey Tower. There are even more mouth-watering varieties of whiskey housed in glass cabinets including a fine array of bourbons – some rye – a bit of Japaneses, Canadian and of course Scottish. Somebody else will be the driver on my next visit!
Flanagan’s On The Lake is a winner too.
The whiskeys, the food and above all the absolutely stunning scenery.
Do yourselves a favour and give them a visit.
Preferably when the sun is shining so you can sit outside drinking a fine whiskey as well as drinking in the views.
Who would have thought that an invitation to taste – sample and rate some of the best whiskeys that Ireland has to offer for the Irish Whiskey Awards 2015 ceremony to be held on October 15th in Dublin could end up being such an arduous task?
As Faith No More sang – We Care A Lot.
I maybe should have taken a leaf out of former President Clinton’s advice when it came to hard drugs – “I didn’t inhale”. Well I sniffed whiskey and swallowed. Pretty dam good it was too – but after about a 30 sample score for the day – it had the potential to be messy – which thankfully it wasn’t.
I would however recommend – both for my future health as well as anyone else who cares to indulge in these events – the correct use of the spittoon.
Sniff – Slurp – Swirl – Spit – Score.
For an informative and entertaining blog on attending whiskey events click here.
The particular event I attended was hosted by the Celtic Whiskey Shop who advised on the scoring method to be used.
Sniff the whiskey – score out of 25 for aroma..
Slurp the whiskey – swirl round the mouth for taste – score out of 25.
Spit the whiskey out into the spittoon – score out of 25 for the finish.
Finally give another score out of 25 for overall impressions and balance.
Giving a total score out of 100 for each whiskey tasted.
I’m a bit apprehensive about scoring my whiskeys as such. I find tasting such a subjective and personal experience rather than the objective and clinical approach that judging should be. It takes a lot of the whiskey tasting fun out of the equation – but nonetheless I was here to judge so that is what I did – and it soon became fun too!
For the sake of uniformity all judges were given a NEAT glass each with which to sample the whiskeys. Now I’ve not encountered this glass before – I tend to use a smaller version of the classic tulip shaped Glencairn glass – whereas the NEAT has a more flat thistle shape to it – handy for printing a logo on the bottom? – NEAT claim it enhances the aromas as well as delivering a controlled sample across the tongue – I’d agree with the latter but uncertain on the former.
I should also say that all the whiskeys were sampled blind. They were presented in identical clear bottles with only the colour variation to differentiate them before tasting and an alphabetical/numerical code to match the score sheet.
My first category to try was the Irish Single Grains. As there were only 3 competitors in this field it probably isn’t difficult to guess which expressions they are. My scores reflected my previous encounters with these lovely smooth whiskeys and only a point separated the top two – but are my tastebuds up to guessing which particular expressions they were? All will be revealed on awards night!
My downfall occurred during the very large Irish Blended Whiskey under 60 euro with 17 entrants. I started here as it’s probably the most likely category I’ll buy regularly.
To begin with I eschewed the spittoon wishing to sample as many fine whiskeys as possible. It quickly became apparent that not all the blends were actually fine – some were – some weren’t – and I’d end up exceedingly drunk if I swallowed the whole taster. So never before have I thrown away so much whiskey. I should have brought along an empty bottle to decant the remains into – but I didn’t – and by the time I thought of it I was mildly intoxicated and couldn’t be bothered.
Anyway I soldiered on. My scores ranged from a poorly 64 up to a nice 83 with most being in the 70’s bracket which I would call grand – in the Irish meaning way. I can’t wait to find out who I gave my top mark to!
A hearty lunch was called for to soak up the alcohol together with a large glass of water. I ventured forth into Dublin city centre which was basking in the brilliant sunshine that had eluded Ireland all summer. Pity I was sequestered in a hotel basement tasting whiskey – hence the title of this blog!
Suitably refreshed I returned for more categories. The 3 entrant slate for the Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Beer lot started the afternoon proceedings gently followed by Irish Single Casks again with 3 offerings and then the Irish Blends over 60 euro.
There were also a few more judges about and discussion soon started comparing our experiences. I was reassured when 2 other judges also chose the same top scorer as myself for the Single Casks and in an interesting turnaround – my top scores were another judge’s bottom scores across 3 separate categories! At least there was consistency in our differing tastes and remarkably – our ratio of top to bottom scoring was also consistent! Perhaps there is something in an objective approach to scoring whiskey! I do think it has to be blind though as seeing the expression comes loaded with a whole set of previous assumptions and experiences of the brand.
Time was marching on however and aware I had a train to catch I resisted the large Irish Single Pot Stills category to go for another small field in the Irish Cask Strength Whiskeys.
Now I know I’ve expressed difficulty with cask strength before – how much or how little water to put in – but I had been encouraged by others that the entrants were very palatable and showed off their colours when tasted neat and I must state -neat, neat, neat is how I like my whiskey – cue another video.
Indeed loud music was how I was feeling with so much fine whiskey consummed – but after a dash for the train all I had on offer was my trusty ipod and some repetitive dance tracks to accompany my journey west. I felt devastated finding out there was no trolley service to quench my whiskey buzz. By the time I got home it was like the famous scene from Ice Cold In Alex – except it was the tea I was after!
So there you go. A day out judging Irish Whiskey. I’ll have to wait for the big event on the 15th October to find out not only which expressions I tasted – but which ones came out top in their class. Not only will it be a great showcase for the best in Irish distilling – but a test of my judging abilities.