From Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, Bangor to Ballincollig whiskey fans went on a chase to find their prey. The chat sites lit up with where the whiskey was found. Success stories abounded & commiserations given to failed hunts.
Having previously commentated in a blog entitled ‘Irish Whiskey – Which Way Forward?‘ regarding the Irish Whiskey Industry essentially leaving this area of the marketplace free for Scotch – my question was firmly & positively answered in the affirmative.
Not only that.
When the reviews came in, many rated the Irish offering better than the 29yo Scotch.
There are so many new expressions bursting forth from the renaissance of Irish whiskey it’s hard to keep up.
Popping down to my local SuperValu store to do a bit of essentials shopping – milk & bread in my case – I always scan the spirits shelves to see whats new.
The Dingle Single Malt has arrived!
I chat to the off-licence manager who informs me it’s a SuperValu exclusive. Each shop has had their allocation & there won’t be any more coming. I seem to remember she said this store received 7 bottles – and a couple have gone already.
Mmmm….. Decision time.
Now Dingle Distillery is seen as the cream of the crop of the new Irish whiskey scene. It’s releases are always highly sought after & well received. Before their first release you were invited to put your name into a draw to be chosen for an opportunity to purchase their 3 year old single malt for a three figure sum. Lots of people did.
I chose not to.
I saw it as plain marketeering to inflate the price & generate an air of exclusivity & premiumisation – which is all the rage right now.
Those same bottles sold out and are now collectables fetching even higher prices.
I’m not into whiskey for investment options or to build a collection. I’m in it to drink it – and when I got round to tasting some of those first editions at 46% and cask strength – I found them rather spirity & fiery – as would befit a young malt – but not possessed of any characteristics that would stand out in the crowd.
I’m glad I resisted.
But at a recent blind tasting a certain Single Pot Still got my top marks for being ‘different’ – such was the sum totality of my tasting notes as it became a ‘speed tasting’ exercise. You sniff, sample, score & move on. First impression count. This particular single pot still happened to be from Dingle Distillery & happened to have been double casked in bourbon and Pedro Ximenez barrels.
My thought processes were churning.
Now this Dingle Single Malt also happens to be double casked. Bourbon and Port it says on the label. So that immediately appeals to my palate – if I don’t purchase it now it will all be gone & I’ll never get to taste it – the wife is in Brazil so she’ll not have a go at me for buying yet more whiskey – and on and on.
I also like the fact it’s available in your local SuperValu store – much more egalitarian – although on a first come first served basis – and even if the price is a bit steep at 78 euro for a young single malt – sod it – buy it!
I wasn’t disappointed.
The liquid inside the very attractively designed chunky bottle is almost ruby red.
The nose is quite soft & infused with the rich aromas of the port cask – gone is the fiery element of solo bourbon cask maturation.
The taste – at least for an Irish single malt – is unusual & different – both qualities I like. The port influence seems to dominate giving a biscuity dryness to the proceedings.
That lovely dryness further develops in the mouth – not dis-similar to a good rye – which leaves some subtle spiciness & long lasting tingles on the finish.
Now this is very much my initial reaction. I will have time to allow this bottle to grow on me – as well as some friend – over the next few months – but this Dingle certainly ticks all the right boxes for me!
There has been an explosion of new Irish whiskeys in recent years. A trend that is likely to increase as the next generation of Irish whiskey distilleries begin to release their own produce.
Another phenomenon of the re-birth of the Irish whiskey scene is the growing number of whiskey bars releasing their own bottlings.
Local to myself in the Midlands, Hugh Lynch’s Bar in Tullamore & Sean’s Bar in Athlone have both released approachable & enjoyable blended Irish whiskey offerings under their own label – both produced for them by West Cork Distillers.
Generally these releases are only available in their bar of origin. Which makes a good excuse for a journey to sample them in their natural habitat – in the pub full of ceol agus craic. Always a bonus in my book!
However when passing through Dublin Airport a while ago I did notice a quartet of whiskeys under the Temple Bar logo.
Not content with releasing the obligatory blended offering – Temple Bar have taken it a step further and are offering a trio of age statement single malts at 10, 12 & 15 years old.
I didn’t ascertain where they were sourced from – there are only a few choices at this age – but they were all what I’d call standard bourbon matured Irish whiskeys.
That’s not to say they weren’t good – all of them are far better than the blend offering a richer, smoother & more flavoursome experience for the discerning drinker.
There were subtle differences between all 3 – but for me the 12 year old proved to be the sweet spot.
The combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes from the bourbon cask combined with some woody tannin notes from the oak barrel won me over.
Having a taster in the airport lounge before a long flight wouldn’t be the ideal spot to really savour these malts. That will have to wait for a visit to the actual Temple Bar in Dublin where a flight of all 4 whiskeys in the comfortable lounge area can be truly appreciated.
Driving into the grounds of Walsh Whiskey Distillery you half expect the butler from Downton Abbey to meet you at the end of the long drive surrounded as it is by lush green pastures populated by lively horses, docile cattle and mature trees.
Instead a barrel of Walsh Whiskey awaits you!
Followed shortly by an impressive looking purpose built whiskey distillery fronted by an idyllic duck pond – populated by real ducks! – bordered by green banks that would make an ideal spot for a bit of outdoor whiskey tasting.
Bernard and Rosemary Walsh have spent many years building up the Irishman brand to get to this. A complete grain to glass whiskey distillery built on the grounds of Holloden House estate in the County Carlow countryside a few miles out of Carlow town itself.
The distillery was opened in 2016 and has been in full-time production from that date making all 3 styles of Irish whiskey; single malt, single pot still and grain.
Our tour guide – Paddy – entertainingly took us through the very spacious & clean working distillery showing us the process by which the barley – from the nearby fields – ends up as the uisce beatha we all love in the glass before us.
Walsh produce that whiskey using the traditional triple distilled method using malted & unmalted barley for the single pot still & malted barley for the single malt. They also have an impressively tall pair of stainless steel coffey stills through which they distill the corn based grain whiskey.
There are plans to build maturation warehouses on-site too – but at present this takes place off-site for now.
Unusually for such a large operation in a new build there is no computerisation of the process. Bernard insisted on the old methods whereby the distillers – there are 12 of them in total – have to nose or sample the new make every 20 minutes during production to ascertain when to switch from the heads, to the heart & finally to the tails for every batch. Certainly putting reliance on there sense of taste & smell.
Talking about taste – after the tour there is the obligatory tasting session in the fabulously appointed Still House Lounge overlooking the scenic duck pond as well as the historic Holloden House itself.
There are 3 tasting options;
The first offers the choice of either the Irishman Founder’s Reserve or Writers Tears Copper Pot blends. Interestingly both these blends contain a mix of single malts & single pot stills only , giving them a richer & slightly more oilier & softly spicy feel than other blended expressions.
The middle choice has you tasting the lovely Irishman Single Malt, the Irishman 12 Year Old & the Writers Tears Red Head Single Malts.
Finally the premier choice offers cask strength heaven in the Irishman Cask Strength, Irishman 17 Year Old & Writers Tears Cask Strength expressions.
Fortunately for our group there were the newly released Founder’s Reserve Florio Marsala Cask Finish at 46% & the stunning Irishman 12 Year Old Florio Marsala Cask Strength at 56% expressions to sample. The cask strength certainly hit the right notes & is only a distillery release at present. Pity it was sold out on the day we visited as there would have been some eager buyers!
Currently all the whiskey in the Walsh Whiskey portfolio is sourced elsewhere from an undisclosed distillery with Bernard Walsh himself overseeing the blending, maturing & final bottling of the product. Most of the releases also contain added colouring – although the sherry finished offerings would be naturally darker & slightly sweeter from the marsala casks used.
The Walsh Whiskey Distillery is certainly an impressive building set in a stunning location with lovely scenery. The dedication & passion for whiskey making is evident – and I eagerly look forward to the proceeding years as the new make Walsh spirit quietly transforms itself within it’s maturing casks into Walsh Whiskey made with their own stills.
I went looking for the much publicised Ben Bracken trio of single malts recently released by Lidl – but inadvertently walked into Aldi instead!
What confronted me were not only 3 single malts – Islay, Highland & Speyside – but also a 12 Year Old Speyside as well as 2 double casks – one sherry finish & the other bourbon – all below £20.
As I’m a fan of bolder flavours I went straight for the Islay Single Malt to sample.
For the price – I wasn’t disappointed.
The nose was a pleasing mixture of Islay peat & muted caramelised vanilla notes.
For this category & price point, my assumed position is that caramel is added. You only need to look at some of the promotional photos of the different malts showing identical shades of golden brown for confirmation.
The taste was a bit of a non event. Soft, sweet, slightly watery & muted no doubt by that caramel – but after swirling it around in the mouth for a while, a rich peaty smoke surfaced into a pleasingly warming burn on swallowing which proceeded to develop a lovely long afterglow.
A very inoffensive easy sipping entry level malt whisky at an affordable price with just enough character to make it interesting.
I’m not sure which markets it will surface in the pan-european Aldi store area – but it will certainly fly off the shelves. It makes a decent everyday single malt for the drinks cabinet.
For good measure I compared it to another store brand offering. This time from the Co-operative Group.
The 8 Year Old Pure Malt is a blend of,
‘carefully selected choice malt whiskies from the Highlands Islands and Lowlands of Scotland.’
so says the label.
The same label doesn’t say caramel is added – but it has that same cloying mouthfeel which dulls any freshness or sharpness in the flavours on tasting. There was a little smoke – but not enough to rise above the morass of caramel & vanilla smoothness.
A rather muted dram in comparison to the smoky punch of Islay peat.
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?
And the way to pronounce Hven is demonstrated by this piece of Eurotrash pop with it’s instantly sing-along-can’t-get-the-words-out-of-my-head-catchy-tune-vibe going on as in The Macarena or Agadoo – complete with obligatory kitsch dance moves.
I give you Karen Paolo – Ven Ven Ven.
Ven in Spanish – which is the official language in Chile where the singer is based – happens to mean ‘come’.
Well I first came across The Spirit Of Hven on the Amathus stall at the very enjoyable Birmingham show. Amathus being the importer & distributor of Hven – and other fine malts – in the UK.
There were 2 expressions to sample from the Hven Distillery range of organic barley made single malts produced with no carbon filtration, no chill filtration and no added colouring.
Tycho’s Star – named after the famous astrologer Tycho Brahe whose scientific work was conducted on Hven in the late 1500’s – was an instantly attractive softly peated single malt. Soft & smooth with subtle flavours and a well balanced feel.
It’s star mate – as the No. 3 Phecda release also follows in the astral theme being named after one of the seven stars that make up The Plough constellation which is prominent in the Northern sky at night – is much more my style of whisky.
Big, bad & bold.
There was a noticeable waft of smoke on the nose – the official tasting notes suggest BBQ.
The taste exploded on the tongue – young, strong , fresh & meaty.
A bit like a bold teenager full of vigour & vitality. Bursting with self confidence & self belief. Unashamed by their youthful exuberance and unabashed by their posturing & strutting.
To use a term that’s crept over the Atlantic and is now in common use by my grandkids.
What better way to engage with a new whisky than at the launch of a new whiskey magazine called The Cask.
The Cask Magazine is proudly based in Ireland – but has a global outlook when it comes to a passion for whiskey.
An eclectic mix of whiskey fans, bloggers, celebrities, imbibers and industry giants gathered in the wonderful surroundings of the Irish Whiskey Museum to raise a toast to the success of this brave new venture.
In the midst of all the media rush to tweet, post, photo & record the event I spotted a bottle that screamed out to me to
Distilled in the former Czechoslovakia before the fall of The Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of communism. Who remembers the joyous occasion of the tearing down of walls rather than building of them?
Left to mature under the distillery in Pradlo for 23 years before it’s ‘re-discovery’ and release into the marketplace to a changed world. This whisky certainly has a story to tell.
So what is it like?
Soft, smooth & very refreshing with a lovely malty note that pleased me no end. Hammerhead delivered a delightful blow to my tastebuds.
Almost as silky & smooth as the beautiful glossy pages of The Cask Magazine!
Whiskey for me is a journey of discovery and enjoyment.
Cask Magazine certainly added to that enjoyment with their fabulous launch night.
They also added to my journey by unexpectedly increasing my world whisky count to 19 countries with a wonderful single malt from Czechoslovakia. Still a few more to go to match their Around The World In 24 Drams article!
I’d like to wish all the team at The Cask Magazine a long & productive publishing future.