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!
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.
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?
Every now and then a whiskey comes along that kind of takes you by the hand & leads you in to a taste sensation that just enraptures you.
Powers 1817 Release is one of those whiskeys.
On the nose it’s wonderfully rich yet smooth.
Gorgeously rich in depth on tasting with the characteristic Powers pot still spice toned down to a delightful tingle.
With a finish that just goes on and on and on.
At only 10 years old & matured solely in bourbon casks, there must be some much older single pot still malts in here to give the whiskey such gravitas.
Powers 1817 Release is a special bottling for the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) to mark their 200th Bicentenary. The LVA are the trade association representing Dublin pubs.
If you want to sample Powers 1817 you’ll have to visit one of those Dublin pubs – like I was fortunately able to do for a tasting with the highly informative Powers Ambassador Michael Carr at The Brian Boru in Phibsborough.
Michael expertly guided us through the lovely Powers Gold Label blend – a mixture of single pot still & grain whiskey giving a lovely spice kick on the finish – which I must admit to being my ‘go-to’ blend.
The superb Powers John’s Lane Release – a bourbon matured & sherry finished single pot still 12 year old which I thought couldn’t be surpassed.
Until I tasted the 1817 release.
My thanks to Michael for the tasting & Rebecca for arranging the event.
The Irish Craft Beer Fest of 27th to 29th August at the RDS in Dublin continues to be the centrepiece of the growing Irish Craft Beer scene. Brewers amaze with their ever expanding range of styles, flavours and tastes while new entrants pop up all over the country with yet more fine ales.
The atmosphere is always very relaxed and friendly with loads of seating areas where casual conversations with strangers quickly enter into the finer qualities of the beverage being consumed.
Cider is also a growing scene – with one of our party braving the massive 15% ABVTawny from Stonewell Cider!
Meanwhile the whiskey element seems to have been dropped from the logo – despite this 4 worthy distilleries displayed their wares at the show.
Midleton actually had 2 stalls. The first showcased their collaboration with Franciscan Wells Brewery of Cork and Jameson Whiskey using beer barrels to age whiskey in – and whiskey barrels to age beer in. Now I’ve tried a few beers of this type – Ola Dubh from Harvieston is one of the best – and found them generally agreeable – rising to fabulous – but I’ve yet to try the whiskey!
The second Midleton stall was the marvelously wooded Single Pot Still stand offering the highly acclaimed as well as highly enjoyable range of expressions from this esteemed distillery.
The remaining stalls were both from the new kids on the block – no – not the dodgy boyband – but the new generation of Irish distillers.
Dingle Distillery of Kerry were showcasing their Gin and Vodka expressions only which judging by the long queues were going down very well indeed. Their whiskey however has not matured for long enough to be released yet – but should be out by the end of the year.
The last spirit offering came from Cork in the shape of the unknown – at least to me – St Patrick’s Distillery. Despite telling myself I’d stick to sampling the myriad of beers on offer – I was drawn to this new expression – one of very few new releases not connected to the established distilleries.
I got talking to Cyril Walsh about their whiskey release – St Patrick’s Irish Whiskey. Turns out their spirit is a blend made from 3 year old grain from the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen and a 21 year old malt from an undisclosed source – probably Midleton – also in Cork. The distillation, maturing, blending and bottling is all done in the Rebel County. St Patrick’s Distillery aren’t a distillery at all – they just get someone else to make it for them – then market it.
Now before anyone jumps on their high horse – this is a very tried and tested method of whiskey production. After all Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants bonded, blended and sold whiskey under their own brand names – Green Spot and Yellow Spot to name two – which originated from the then Jameson Distillery in Dublin.
Having said that – St Patrick’s Irish Whiskey is not in the Spot class – it is however a very smooth spicy tasting blend which I enjoyed very much. There is a passing resemblance to some Powers releases in my mind – I’d certainly like to try the 21 year old malt that gives this blend it’s lovely flavour! They weren’t selling bottles at the show – a pity as I’d have snapped one up on the strength of the sample I drank.
After having this lovely tipple – despite being at the beer fest – our table started a whiskey fest and an excellent Yellow Spot arrived. This is a smoother 12 year old companion to the equally fine Green Spot. Not to be outdone I offered the Powers John’s Lane Release which also has a rich smoothness complimented by a spiciness which gives it just that extra little kick I love – despite The Cramps who are still looking for it.
As time was getting on – we retired to a friends house where the fine whiskeys kept on coming courtesy of the drinks cabinet.
There was a predominance of Scotch whisky on offer with a few Irish expressions too.
The first off the blocks caused a rumpus. Now I know Speyside malts have an almost cult like status in the whisky world – much like IPA has amongst the craft beer fraternity – and Gordon & McPhail are renowned blenders and bottlers of good repute who have been tantalising the tastebuds of whisky aficionados for over 120 years – but their Speymalt Macallan much like Shania says – didn’t impress me much!
There you go – said it – I’ve completely dismissed the holy trinity of alcoholic beverages – Scotch whisky – specifically from Speyside – Gordon & McPhail and IPA – the beer style that launched the current craft beer revival – dissed by a slice of cheesy 90’s pop!
But isn’t drinking all about personal taste? Not about what we are told to like by popularity polls or slick advertising?
After my host almost choked on his dram – a bottle of Springbank 10 yo proved to be far more aligned with my tastes. I have to admit here that I have had issues with peat in the past – but this finely balanced expression allows other flavours to come through in the mouth whilst the peat element gives an extra oomph to the experience.
The Irish contingent were not to be outdone with a very fine smooth glass of the excellent Jack Ryan 12 yo Single followed by an equally smooth Celtic Casks Ocht release which is one of the expressions made in conjunction with the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I did prefer their Knappogue Castle Marsala release – but I think it’s all sold out now!
The final offering also split the table. Whilst the host waxed lyrical about how cask strength is a pure form of the distillers art undiluted by ingredients like water – others mused it blew your head off and as mere drinkers we had to guess how much water to add – too much killed the taste – too little numbed the palate – we felt safer if the expert distiller had done this for us.
At a massive 58% ABV the Glengoyne Cask Strength hits the palate with a BOOM – but within that there were discernible tastes and flavours. Mmmmm! Must explore this distillery further.
By now the discussions became more rambling and mellow! Teas, coffees and a slice of toast rounded of the very enjoyable evening tasting.
From the premier Irish Beer Fest to a very fine private whiskey fest – what more could you ask for?