The Irish Whiskey industry is experiencing an unprecedented rise in sales.
Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing spirits sector in the World – prompting a rush of new entrants, new distilleries, new players and above all else – new Irish Whiskey bottles & brands to sample.
Things have never been so good.
Yet reading an article entitled ‘The Trouble With Irish Whiskey’ here – it would seem the author is in a parallel universe.
Within the first few paragraphs he suggests Irish Whiskey adopt wholesale Scotch Whiskey Rules.
ARE YOU COMPLETELY BONKERS!!!!!!!!!!!
The whole point of Irish Whiskey is that it is NOT SCOTCH!
But no – this writer would throw away the rich creamy delights of single pot still Irish Whiskey with it’s delightful spicy notes as in the marvelous Dingle Single Pot Still.
Down the drain would go the earthy savouriness & rich history of poitins such as Galway’s Micil Poitin.
And the wonderful reintroduction of Irish Rye as experienced by lucky drinkers at the vibrant Whiskey Live Dublin who managed to sample the stunning single cask 6 year old rye pot still that Kilbeggan Distillery happened to have ‘under the counter’ would never see the light of day.
Because all these superb whiskeys are not allowed under Scotch rules!
The joy of whiskey – for me at least – is experiencing new tastes, new flavours and new styles. I’d also suggest a growing number of consumers deliberately seek out Irish Whiskey for that same reason – because it is NOT SCOTCH.
But the biggest clanger of the whole article is down to one statement.
‘accurately and clearly naming the distillery on bottles of Irish Single Malt Whiskey. Like they have to in Scotland.‘
Now for a piece that has headlines stating;
‘Creating an honest sector‘ and ‘Misinformation and inaccuracies‘
this is simply breath taking.
THERE IS NO SUCH RULE!!!!!!
Section 9 of the Scottish Whiskey Rules here deals with ‘Names of distilleries and distillers etc.’
I must have read it a dozen times looking for the ‘you must name the distillery’ rule – but to no avail.
I wrote to the Scottish Whiskey Association on the subject and got the following reply.
‘ Scotch Whisky Rules do not require the distillery name to be stated on labelling.’
Lecturing the Irish Whiskey industry on it’s misdemeanors based on a lie – or rather ‘Misinformation and inaccuracies‘ isn’t exactly a great start now is it?
There is an Irish word for such occasions which my father in law often used.
Look it up.
Because when you are experiencing the biggest boom Irish whiskey has witnessed for decades, creating an exhilarating buzz AND producing absolutely stunning new whiskey releases – the trouble with Irish Whiskey is letting such omadhauns have a platform in the first place.
It’s that time of year when the great and good of the Irish whiskey world gather together in a celebration of distillation. This years event takes place in Tullamore with a visit to the new Tullamore Distillery and an awards evening in the Old Bonded Warehouse on October 20th.
As part of the process to pick the winners – members of the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Irish Whiskey Society were invited to a blind tasting of the competing expressions.
I made my way up to Dublin for the day to add my scores to the collective pot and found myself in a basement hotel room carefully laid out with 38 identical whiskey bottles – along with a half dozen barrel aged beers – to rate.
The bottles were arranged in their respective categories;
Irish Blends up to 60.
Irish Blends over 60.
Irish Single Pot Stills.
Irish Single Casks
Irish Barrel Aged Beer
The only way of differentiating them was the bottle code for scoring, the colour and the very subjective taste preferences of the judges.
All entrants have to be commercially available in Ireland in October. Other than providing the required sample bottles to The Celtic Whiskey Shop by the allocated date there is no entry fee and ticket sales for the evening are forwarded to charity.
I started with the entry level blends.
What struck me straight away was the uniformity of colour on display.This saddened me. The variety and differences in blended whiskey are what excite me – both visually and taste wise – yet presented here to all intensive purposes were 15 bottles of identical dark golden brown liquid.
My fears of added caramel were confirmed as in one expression after another the dominant – and at times overwhelming – note encountered was sweet. My poor scores reflected this disappointment. A few did have some pleasant fruit notes coming through together with a welcome spice. Some were rough – most were smooth – but there wasn’t much that excited me.
I expected a noticeable increase in flavour and quality in the blends above 60 category as experienced last year. Despite the average scores being slightly higher at 66 as to the former’s 63, that all important “more bang for your bucks” wasn’t forthcoming. At least the colour variation was more pronounced.
Oh dear! Perhaps my 3 weeks in Australia tasting some knockout single malts, ryes, bourbons and wheat whiskies had jaded my palate.
I moved onto the barrel aged beers.
Now I must admit to a benchmark brew in this style which all others are judged on. Trouble is – it’s not Irish! There was one dark beer that came out close however. It had a noticeable whiskey nose together with less carbonation giving it a more heavy feel – much to my liking.
I should point out my method here. Out of an average 3ml sample I possibly tasted and swallowed half. The other half ended up in the spittoon after having been swirled round the mouth for further evaluation. In between each sample a full measure of water was consumed to cleanse the palate and rinse the glass. I must have drank about 2 litres of uisce during the process. A hearty lunch and some hot tea also split the session in two and aided to my relative sobriety at the end of the day.
It was after that lunch I attempted la creme de la creme of Irish whiskey – the Single Pot Stills.
Using a combination of malted barley and unmalted barley in the mash, I was looking for – and happily found – the signature soft spice together with some rich fruity notes. The variety was much more pronounced in terms of colour, flavour profile as well as strength. I distinctly thought one entrant was simply a watered down version of another! The average scores rose to 73 for the packed field of 13 entrants.
Only in the big reveal on awards night will all my hunches be either confirmed – or more likely dashed. The new Redbreast Lustau release was rumoured to be in the mix somewhere. Was it one of my winners?
For me however – the best was yet to come.
The Single Casks had only 5 entrants. All scored highly with a 77 average and one stood out.
Fuller of flavour and richer in style, I dispensed with the spittoon to immerse myself in their beauty. My winning dram on the day happened to be the smokiest entrant and I fear I’m turning into a peathead!
A further sample of this expression went down equally delightfully as the first – well – I did have to re-check my initial scores!
The craic agus ceol was mighty during the session. Judges came and went but all added their penny’s worth to the growing banter and collective scores.
If you haven’t already joined either the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society – isn’t it about time you did?
The King’s Head is only a short walk down the busy pedestrianised High Street from Garavan’s – but the contrast between the two pubs is marked.
Whilst Garavan’s doesn’t look much from the outside – on the inside it’s a quiet haven for the whiskey aficianado.
Meanwhile The King’s Head has a marvelous and prominent red medieval window facing out into the thoroughfare which draws in the tourists – sightseers – hungry shoppers and thirsty drinkers. It’s as busy inside the bar as it is on a sales day outside!
I maybe didn’t choose the best spot to sit by the bar as all the traffic passed by – queue a Jimi track – but at least I was close to the whiskey.
Nonetheless – there is a warm feel to the large premises – helped by the open fire burning brightly just inside the door.
Spread over 3 floors there is the bar area itself – a large dining area behind in which many shoppers were already tucking in to a meal – as well as upstairs. I didn’t venture any further than the downstairs today – but I’ve attended a private party held on the top floor where there is a comfortable lounge area complete with it’s own bar.
I was also pleased to see the inclusion of some craft beer too with Galway Hooker and my buddy Richard’s Sheep Stealer on tap. Whilst all the previous premises had plenty of whiskey expressions – their beer selection could be limited. Like the new whiskey distilleries – the rise of craft breweries in Ireland has brought about a taste and flavour explosion for the discerning drinker. Long may it last.
On this occasion my tipple of choice was from the Midleton distillery in the form of Paddy Centenary. Unlike the standard Paddy blended offering – Centenary is a single pot still bottling at 43%. The tasting notes accompanying the glass mentioned apples – spice and oily mouthfeel.
My palate isn’t the best – but I did get a hint of green apples – certainly the spices – and a long smooth finish. Gone is that grainy bite associated with the blend. A far superior whiskey indeed and worth the extra expense.
Pleased I’d reached my halfway point and was still relatively functioning well – despite a warm pleasant wooziness beginning to kick in – I finished my dram and moved on – and I couldn’t resist this – to the next whiskey bar – thanks to The Doors.
Quite how Paddy’s Day came to be associated with drinking both in Ireland and abroad is a bit of a mystery. Suffice to say other countries national days also have this reputation – noticeably Scotland’s Burn’s Night which focuses on drinking whisky as well as eating haggis – which is a lovely combination if you haven’t already tried it.
Anyway, it’s wise to be Drink Aware on this day and point out there are many alternative exciting non-alcoholic events taking part around the world on Paddy’s Day to enjoy.
Not having booked on-line I got rather worried at the sea of tourists queuing up and taking pictures. My fears were confirmed as all the tours were booked out for the next few hours. The reception area, bar and shop were all very well decked out with two lovely whiskey bottle chandeliers dominating the scene but as I had other fish to fry, and the bar was not yet open,I left amidst a flock of Frenchmen topped with green hats, I only hoped they had advance tickets!
The recently opened Irish Whiskey Museum beckoned as my 2nd destination. It’s new clean lined decor and whisky memorabilia shop with adjoining bar and friendly staff impressed me. The guide informatively, enthusiastically and humorously led us through a potted history of Irish Whiskey with the aid of tastefully done set scenes and clever audio visual displays including actors in period costumes to bring the story alive. Interestingly one of the actors was Fr Jack of Father Ted fame, Frank Kelly. I didn’t recognize the others. A stunning display of old Irish whiskey bottles mirrored the rise, fall and subsequent current re-birth of the Irish whiskey industry before being led to the all important tasting session.
Not being tied to any manufacture allows the Irish Whiskey Museum to give a broad range of whiskeys for it’s customers to sample. The 4 offered on my tour are subject to change and may not represent future or past tours. This is very refreshing as it allows for new entrants into the market.
Powers Gold Label Blend – I wasn’t expecting much from this entry level blended whiskey but was pleasantly surprised by it’s slightly spicy taste and warm finish. B+
Teeling Small Batch – All Teeling expressions are very good and this blended whiskey shows what a finishing cask can add to the mix. B+
Not surprisingly personal taste prevailed when asked to name the favorite tipple. A Spanish couple opted for the stronger and fuller flavoured Teeling, a German couple opted for the Irishman whilst I went for the unexpectedly good Powers.
Suitably warmed up it was on to my 3rd stop of the day in the famous Celtic Whiskey Shop. A true cornucopia of whiskey of all descriptions with a mouth watering display for the eyes to feast on. I could have spent hours going through every bottle possibly sampling it’s contents but thankfully for the staff (who would prefer buyers to browsers, although both are welcomed) and my health (I wouldn’t be able for so much Whiskey) I already had a bottle in mind. The shop, through it’s owner Ally Alpine, also runs The Celtic Whiskey Club which conducts whiskey tastings, mails out samples for on-line discussion and offers Whiskey Of The Week to members. Today was the chance for the Hyde 10 yo Single Malt to shine. With a sample taste I duly bought a bottle along with a miniature of which the shop has a fantastic selection. This is a great idea as for the price of one full sized bottle you can sample 6 or 7 of these handy 5cl bottles to try out first at your leisure.
As it had already gone 1pm my stomach was in need of more substantial fare. My prime objective and final port of call was the Irish Beer and Whiskey Fest in the RDS where I knew the Pieman would have their stall. On entering the hall I made a beeline for the wonderful Pieman who didn’t disappoint with a Chicken & Mushroom pie with added Teeling Whiskey for flavour. This was washed down with Porterhouse Red Ale, a delightful combination.
One of the lovely things about the festival are the communal tables and chairs dotted about the place for folks to sit, eat , drink and chat. During the course of my visit I met a South African truck driver now residing in Tullamore, a retired Dublin gent, a young American couple living in Germany and a gaggle of Dublin based Brazilians with a French woman in tow. Conversation flowed easily over what drinks were liked, tips on which beer to go for next and general chat all conducted in a colourful camaraderie of common consumption!
Lunch over I was now on the lookout for desert. The Irish Single Pot Still display provided it as well as making up for missing the Jameson tour earlier in the day.
Whilst browsing in the whiskey shop at the Loop in Dublin Airport last month I noticed a 4 pack miniature box of Irish Pot Still Whiskeys. As these are the very whiskeys which made Irish Whiskey number 1 back in the late 1800’s before the rise of Scotch, I was intrigued. Now I had my chance to try them out!
The staff very friendly made up the 4 samples and gave me a running commentary as I nosed then tasted each one. At this stage of the game my memory and tasting notes were a little muddled by the rich, complex and powerful flavours these whiskeys possess. Greenspot, Redbreast. Powers John Lane and Barry CrockettLegacy truly deserve the marketing campaign that is underway to rebuild the status these whiskeys once held. Again I chose the Powers expression for a full measure shot due to the rich body coupled with a spicy taste. I enjoyed the drink so much I missed the whiskey talk due to be delivered by John Teeling which was a bit of a shame.
I did however make an earlier informal chat with 3 passionate beer makers as part of the Meet The Brewers talk. Kinnegar of Donegal, Mountain Man of Cork and Black Donkey of Roscommon. All told anecdotes about small brewers trying to survive in the market place. I just can’t wait for Black Donkey’s brilliant new advertising idea to bear fruit!
Unfortunately I had a train to catch, so my last whiskeys were a taste off between the Pearse Lyon Reserve and the Town Branch Rye at the Alltech stand. The Rye won out with it’s stronger more robust taste and a generous enjoyable shot delayed my departure resulting in a dash with only minutes to spare.
I was tempted to open my Pig’s Nose miniature on the train but quit when I was ahead to opt for tea and crisps from the trolley service. I also erred on the side of caution and went for a Crafty Irish Red Ale which is part of the Rye River portfolio from Kilcock to accompany the evening meal.
That brought my very satisfying pre-Paddy’s Day celebrations to a happy end. I do hope you enjoy your day as much as I did mine.
I’ll be sober for the actual event – I’m the driver.