The long anticipated release of Irish Whiskey from the Royal Oak Distillery in Co Carlow finally seems to be over.
Bottle & label designs have been approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in America.
The Busker range appears to consist of a Single Grain, 44.3%.
Single Malt, 44.3%.
Single Pot Still, 44.3%,
and a Blend, 40%.
As yet the only information available is from these labels – which may differ from the actual releases in various regions.
I find the bold design quite refreshingly striking – and can’t wait to have the actual bottle in my hands.
Especially as it will allow me to taste the all important Irish Whiskey inside!
After the parting of waves between Walsh Distillery founders Bernard & Rosemary Walsh and Royal Oak owners Illva Saronno– it appears the division was between a ‘premiumisation’ strategy versus a more mass market approach.
This is played out in the Irish Whiskey community too.
In an expanding & more diverse Irish Whiskey market both strategies are possible.
I’m certainly looking forward to sampling the fruits of Royal Oak’s labours – at a hopefully palatable price!
GlenAllachie 12 was an immediate improvement. Cleaner, fresher & more pronounced flavours. Perhaps the 46% ABV, non chill-filtered & natural colour presentation helps. A nice little bite at the end & longer lasting bourbony notes too.
This raised my hopes for the GlenAllachie 10 Cask Strength.
The nose was inviting – but not overpowering.
The palate was just – well – empty!
I struggled to get anything here before the 54.8% ABV kicked in giving an alcoholic rush to the proceedings.
Even though I was disappointed with the Cask Strength – sampling this trio solidified 3 truisms of mine.
1 – Speyside doesn’t suit my palate.
2 – Anything without e150 & chill filtering is automatically more agreeable.
3 – If Cask Strength is your only character – something else is missing.
Laid out before me were 7 whiskeys – 7 identical glasses – & some water to cleanse the palate between each sample.
Oh! They weren’t completely blind.
They were from a list I’d selected from a fellow whiskey fan as part of an exchange and it included;
1792 Single Barrel, Ballantine’s 17, Chita Single Grain, Dingle 4 Single Malt, Evan William’s Bottled In Bond, Hellyers Road Roaring Forty, Jack Daniel’s Bottled In Bond, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel 100, Kilkerran 12, Miltonduff 9, Naked Grouse, North Star Campbeltown 4, Stagg Jr, & a Surprise.
A Immediately impressed me. Strong spirit, good clean flavours, rich in the mouth. Nice.
B Wasn’t as enjoyable.
C A bourbon – but with a welcome spice.
D Nice easy drinker.
E Another bourbon – strong, opened up on the finish.
F Didn’t enamour me.
G Very intriguing.
I initially went through them trying to match my experiences to the expressions above. It was really guesswork – as I hadn’t encountered them before this session.
On a second round – I scored them.
Then the reveal!
A North Star 80 B Hellyers Rd 72
C 1792 SB 77 D Dingle 4 73
E Stagg Jr 79 F Kilkerran 12 70
G Glenglassaugh Evolution 78
Congratulations to North Star Campbeltown 4 Year Old Blended Malt!
An independent bottle from undisclosed distilleries presented non chill filtered & with natural colour at a hefty 57% ABV.
Obviously my kinda whiskey!
There’s a clear division between the top 4 – bigger, badder, bolder – and the bottom 3 – softer, subtler, smoother.
My only surprise was the poor showing of Kilkerran 12 – normally a distillery I enjoy.
But then that’s the whole point of blind tasting.
To try and eradicate – as far as possible – any bias you may hold,
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.
Now I can’t say I’ve ever tasted the whiskey, but having sampled a few of the casks maturing at J.J. Corry’s bonded warehouse in Co Clare, I can appreciate the high quality of spirits being nurtured there.
Presented in a stunning handmade cut crystal decanter – along with an ultra deluxe hand carved ash cabinet too – The Chosen set the whiskey internet buzzing.
It puts Irish Whiskey centre stage – where it belongs.
It may seem an incongruous pair of whiskeys to compare – but in my opinion – the two offerings above represent the growing maturity, complexity and coming of age of Irish Whiskey.
On the one hand you have ChapelGate’s ultra premium exquisitely packaged and presented Chosen,
On the other, McGregor’s mass market blend Proper Twelve.
Both have delivered a product that satisfies the demands of their specific target audiences,
And both are excelling within their respective categories.
My blog welcoming the arrival of Proper Twelve to the market stated;
‘Irish Whiskey will never be the same again’
Has certainly been proven true.
For a newly released brand to be seriously challenging the dominance of Jameson – as in an Irish Times article – is truly outstanding. Despite the recent deplorable antics – perhaps even because of? – there seems to be no slowing down of Proper Twelve’s growth trajectory.
It is opening the market to a new generation of Irish Whiskey drinkers around the world and recently expanded into Poland & South Africa.
ChapelGate’s Chosen is also taking Irish Whiskey into new – and to many unthinkable – territory, the ultra premium luxury market. I highly commend founder Louise McGuane for her courage in doing so.
The dedication, careful selection of stock and variety of quality casks at her bonded warehouse in County Clare was outstanding. I chanced a visit over two and a half years ago – even before her first release – which you can read about here.
To chart the growing success of ChapelGate since then – as well as tasting JJ Corry’s fabulous whiskey releases – has been a wonderful journey.
The reaction to Chosen and Proper Twelve has been immense – and divisive.
Both have taken Irish Whiskey out of the narrowly defined one dimensional stereotypes of the past.
They represent a multi dimensional & complex Irish Whiskey scene that can be double distilled, peated, flavourful, rough round the edges, brash & youthful, aged & nuanced all at the same time.
Both dreamed big and played far beyond the boundaries.
It was a new experience for me – taking part in a Whisky Auction.
I wasn’t after rare or collectable bottles – just a few odd ones to try at an affordable price.
I bid on some mixed bags of miniatures – a broad sweep of whiskies to sample – and happily managed to secure one.
The first result flunked.
An old Haig Dimple bottle with indeterminate writing on the back had obviously suffered some spirit loss.
The cap was loose too – allowing air in – with predictable results.
The whiskey inside had deteriorated to such an extent the nose was painful – the sample went straight down the sink!
I ploughed on with an intact bottle of Glenfiddich Pure Malt.
Now Pure Malt is an outdated term. It began to fade in the 1980’s and generally denoted what we’d now call a single malt i.e. malt produced at one distillery. It could also have meant a blended malt i.e. malt produced at more than one distillery, but as Single Malt also appears on the Glenfiddich label – we can count on the former interpretation.
Basically what I had in front of me was an old Glenfiddich Whisky bottle – so I cracked it open and poured myself a drink.
Clean & fresh!
A heavy butterscotch sweetness combined with a gentle soft smokiness greeted me.
I was just happy to get a bottle that hadn’t gone off!
To be honest I found the sweet caramel too much – but the gentle smokiness – like the wisps of a fire – made it an enjoyable experience.
A pleasant easy drinking single malt with enough character & flavour to keep it cheerful.