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.
He’s missed his train & is looking for a spot to while away the hour – preferably with a whiskey.
Nancy Hands on Dublin’s Parkgate St is only a short walk from Hueston Railway Station and his train home. The pub has a large & welcoming facade. He walks in.
The front bar has the usual array of whiskeys on display – nothing that attracts his eyes – but there seems to be a back bar. He hasn’t been here before & only chose it at random. He investigates.
He’s hit the jackpot!
Loads of Scotch. Many old looking bottles with gently faded fawn labels – no fancy colours here – and loads of Irish too with a slightly more colourful collection.
But what to sample?
As I was that man I decided to continue my exploration of peat.
A Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old caught my eye. Having previously enjoyed the Darach Ur NAS (Non Age Statement) Travel Retail release I thought it would be a good comparison.
The satisfying rich peat on the nose from this Islay distillery single malt reassured me of what was to follow. I found the taste a tad harsh & rather monosyllabic however. Just the one note of pure peat – and a bit too burnt at that. The NAS release wins out on this challenge.
Only when I Googled the bottle did it become apparent that this was an old release prior to a redesign of the label. Maybe some of the subtleties of the whisky had been lost due to the length of time the bottle had been opened? It’s recommended 2 to 3 years is the maximum before the spirit begins to degrade due to oxidation & other chemical reactions that occur & can then spoil the taste. Perhaps this was happening here?
I moved on to the Irish section.
Slieve na cGloc stood out for me.
It’s a peated single malt made at Cooley Distillery from when John Teeling was still at the helm. I’ve read it was an own-label-bottling for the Oddbins off-licence chain in the UK – but I cannot confirm this.
Again that lovely pungent peat on the nose warmly greeted me. The taste this time was smoother – yet the peat punch was still reassuringly intense. A more balanced feel to the malt sang a delightful harmony & had me wondering why there wasn’t more lovely peated Irish expressions.
Slieve na cGloc – named after the mountain below which the Cooley Distillery sits – is an excellent whiskey & much more appropriately named than it’s equally appealing peated stablemate Connemara whiskey that is also made at Cooley.
There is a lovely walk up the hill here – which I did on a crisp winter’s day when last on the wonderful Carlingford Peninsula.
But that was then and this was now.
I could have stayed for more – but the night train was calling.
And being the last one home I didn’t want to miss it.
Nancy Hands is a treasure trove of whiskey.
I know where I’ll be enjoying a bite to eat & a whiskey or two before catching my next train home from Dublin!