Sean’s Clonmacnoise Single Malt Irish Whiskey does this in bundles.
A short boat ride down the mighty River Shannon from just outside Sean’s Bar’s beer garden in Athlone – is the monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise
The art of distillation is often attributed to monks bringing back the knowledge from the middle east. The route they would have traveled into the heart of Ireland is the very same River Shannon.
The earliest written record of aqua vitae, or uisce beatha, or whiskey as we now know it – was written in the Annuls Of Clonmacnoise in 1405. It regales the story of an unfortunate local chieftain who died of a ‘surfeit of aqua vitae’ during festivities.
Meanwhile I was fortunate enough to receive an advance bottle of Clonmacnoise by Sean’s for appraisal – & more sensible drinking.
Now I’m a fan of pubs releasing their own whiskey brands. It harks back to the days when licensed premises would have had a barrel of whiskey propped up at the bar from which they would have dispensed the spirits inside.
The degree of individuality, diversity & tastes experienced when going from bar to bar would have been vast – and to a certain extent bars releasing their own brands today reflects that history.
Nowadays the whiskey is usually sourced from a number of distilleries and bottled for the bar.
Sean’s happens to have been sourced at West Cork Distillers (WCD) – and I must admit to being a fan of this slightly unconventional distillery founded by three friends who were mainly previously involved in the fishing industry.
So how did I find Clonmacnoise Whiskey?
Well the colour is a lovely dark amber. Suggestive of charred casks – which WCD do a lot of – or perhaps a sherry finish.
The nose is quite youthful & invigorating – with a warm & inviting depth to it. There’s some dark fruity notes & an intriguing soft hint of smoke.
It starts off light & easy. Very accessible & gently warming – but then it takes you on a journey – slowly developing layers of enjoyable flavours & complexity before a lovely dry spiciness with subtle hints of smoke finishes of this characterful little number.
Sean’s Clonmacnoise captures both the modern rebirth of Irish Whiskey with it’s youthful vitality & modern style – as well as remembering the long historic legacy of Irish Whiskey that has journeyed so far from it’s original birthplace.
There can be the bargain basement headline grabbing Glen Marnochs & Ben Brackens.
There can be the annually anticipated Lidl/Aldi Xmas Specials which can be of high age statement, low cost and surprisingly great quality to boot.
And then there is Marks & Spencer’s Single Malt.
M&S always go the extra mile.
To begin with they name the distillery that produced the malt – Cooley – even although it’s not a legal requirement. They also inform the discerning drinker caramel colouring is added – also not a legal requirement. And they package the liquid in a very attractive bottle providing a piece of prose about the rich folk lore contained within the local area the whiskey is from – as well as a clever back label that evokes the mountainous landscape of the region.
And what a stunning region it is too.
Slieve Foy Whiskey is named after the majestic mountain of the same name that dominates the landscape of the Carlingford Peninsular. Despite Cooley Distillery not having a visitors centre – that is the role of the pretty Kilbeggan Distillery of the Beam/Suntory group that owns both facilities – a trip to this fabulous part of the country is highly recommended.
A hearty arduous ascent of Slieve Foy itself is rewarded by jaw dropping views of the clear blue waters of Carlingford Lough below – as well as the rounded tops of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland in the distance.
You can replenish your energy afterwards by dining out in one of Carlingford towns many bars – not forgetting a drop of the hard stuff!
So what is the whiskey like?
Well – unlike the rugged countryside – Slieve Foy exhibits a soft, sweet malty nose.
A gentle introduction to a very easy approachable – slips down smoothly – bourbon cask matured single malt.
It’s well balanced – the added caramel doesn’t dominate like other offerings – and there are no rough edges to this very pleasant malt.
The whiskey leaves a warm glow at the end – along with a soft spice – much like the open fire in a suitable Carlingford town bar after a strenuous day on the hills.
Cooley built it’s reputation and business producing 3rd party bottlings. Slieve Foy 8 Year Old is a fine representation of that business.
I look forward to many more representations emanating from the Great Northern Distillery – the successor to Cooley after the sale to Beam – as well as West Cork Distillers – who are both in the business of supplying the supermarkets with malt for the masses.
A small privately owned island off the East Coast of Ireland with a rich historical background and a thriving biodiversity.
A business venture by the current Lambay Island owners and French based drinks producer Camus to launch Ireland’s first Cognac cask finished Irish whiskeys.
Sean’s Bar Athlone
The Oldest Bar In Ireland. Also happens to be a local of mine where a tasting of the Lambay Whiskey range was held with their entertaining & informative ambassador Calum.
Lambay Small Batch Blend
A small batch sourced blend – West Cork Distillers – of malt & grain Irish whiskeys triple distilled, matured in ex-bourbon barrels & finished in cognac casks.
I was looking forward to trying this one.
A lovely soft, sweet yet surprisingly fresh & lively grainy nose pulled you in to a fruity & floral mix complimented by some nutty, almondy notes – presumably from the cognac influence.
The taste was clean & crisp – very engaging. Even at the 40% presentation there was appreciable depth of flavour with more of those nutty notes slowly fading to give that lovely dry mouth feel I enjoy.
This small batch blend certainly introduces a new and exciting flavour profile to the Irish whiskey scene.
Lambay Single Malt
Also sharing the same source and maturation as the small batch blend, the single malt spent a little while longer in the cognac casks. Some of them were even matured on Lambay Island itself in a small warehouse used for the cognac finishing.
A softer, more malty & rounded nose led to a very smooth vanilla & caramel taste from the ex-bourbon barrels before the deeper almost cherry fruit notes of the cognac casks came through.
The finish wasn’t as dry – which allowed more of the lovely flavours to linger on the palate.
Both of these new expressions bring a welcome additional taste & flavour to Irish whiskey. Cognac cask finishing is new to Ireland – and relatively new to the whiskey world in general. I congratulate Lambay Whiskey – and all their partners – in delivering a lovely pair of great tasting and exciting whiskeys to the market.
For what it’s worth – I enjoyed the youthful vitality of the blend over and above the smoother single malt. The grain element provided a pleasant kick which contrasted with the softer fruitier depth of the cognac cask influence. Very enjoyable indeed.
Sean’s Bar Whiskey Club
A friendly gathering of whiskey fans to meet, discuss & enjoy fine tasting whiskeys from around the world. For details of future events, membership & activities please email email@example.com – or chat to a member of staff at Sean’s Bar, Athlone.
As I write this Ireland is effectively in lockdown covered in a great blanket of snow from the #BeastFromTheEast & awaiting the blizzard of Storm Emma.
In response I’m sitting indoors enjoying a #WarmthFromTheWest whiskey by the name of Great Oaks.
This whiskey seems to be off the radar for most – which is a pity – as it’s the perfect antidote to keep Storm Emma at bay.
I’ve only come across it in Dunnes stores – yet it’s a product of West Cork Distillers. The label isn’t particularly attractive. Rather plain & unassuming – but for me – it’s the contents that count.
There’s a rich inviting nose of vanilla & caramel – with a hint of oakiness – the usual notes expected of bourbon cask maturation coupled with charred cask finishing.
In the mouth it’s soft, approachable, very bourbony and above all, lovely & warming. The oak influence adds a degree of spiciness too. Very nice.
A lovely dry prickly finish rounds off this comforting little blend.
Bottled at 46%, non chill filtered, no age statement & possibly without added caramel. I’d suggest this was all West Cork’s distillate. It has the same DNA as their Black Cask bottling which at only 40% doesn’t pack as much flavour or heat.
With snow all around – heat is exactly what I’m looking for and Great Oaks certainly delivers that in a delightfully enjoyable way.
Every now and then a TV show comes along which just seems to capture the imagination.
Peaky Blinder on BBC 2 has certainly done that.
With a growing fanbase worldwide and racking up big viewing figures, the show is now available on Netflix.
There’s a strong Irish link in the story line, Irish actors pepper the cast and a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ crew are Irish too.
So it’s entirely fitting an enterprising company would release a trio of spirits – gin, rum and whiskey – on the back of the show – and that the whiskey in question is Irish Whiskey.
I couldn’t wait to get hold of a bottle!
Now there has been some controversy over the term ‘Product Of The British Isles’ printed on the label – which incidentally is common to both the gin & rum too.
As a geographical term – technically it’s correct. Ireland is part of the British Isles. But the term has geo-political implications which you can read about here from Wikipedia.
Such disputes would not have deterred gang leader Tommy Shelby from plying his trade – and nor will it stop my pastime of drinking whiskey.
So? Is it any good?
Well. To start off with. It looks like some of the aforementioned Mr Shelby’s victims have been allowed to bleed all over the mixing barrel. The colour is a deep ruby red which even allowing for ‘Aged In Sherry Casks’ seems a bit dark. Much like a lot of the excellent music featured in the show.
The nose follows on in this theme with rich sweet & dark notes with a bit of depth. I’m suspecting Oloroso or PX casks were used to get the very inviting aromas here,
The taste is – well – WOW!
I wasn’t expecting this from a reasonably priced blend,
Now it does start off rather softly – just like Mr Shelby sweet talking to you. The gentle sweetness & warmth guiles you in.
A gorgeous hit of rich, dry prickliness envelopes the mouth with soft spice & tangy fruits.
Like a blow from Tommy – you are left reeling from the experience as the dry sensation slowly fades.
This is very nice.
So who is behind the blend?
Sadler’s are a brewery based in the West Midlands of the UK. They obtained the whiskey from Halewood International who are a marketing & distribution company with worldwide reach based in Liverpool. Halewood previously released The Pogues Irish Whiskey – to much acclaim – which was produced for them by West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen.
Draw your own conclusions.
I’ve drawn mine.
From the Peaky Blinders gang – this is a belter of a blend!
Update August 2019!
Peaky Blinders Irish Whiskey label now states ‘Product Of Ireland’.
When over in Scotland earlier this year I popped into a few bars to see what whiskies were on offer.
The very attractive Ship Tavern – which appropriately sits only a stones throw from the picturesque harbour in the fishing village of Anstruther on the East Neuk of Fife – didn’t disappoint.
A pleasing variety of Scottish blends & single malts adorned the shelves – as well as a sprinkling of Irish blends,
Being in Fife – which has a few new distilleries waiting for their own spirit to mature – I was keen to sample a sourced blend for the local Eden Mill distillery near St Andrews.
And being in Scotland – you have to have a bit of tartan!
The Art Of The Blend is a trio – a 4th bottle was released later – of very attractively presented blended Scottish whiskies from unnamed sources that Eden Mill are using to showcase & practice their maturing and blending skills on.
No 1 is a bourbon cask matured blend of malts & grain. It didn’t really do much for me. A fairly soft, sweet standard entry level offering with subtle tones. Approachable I suppose.
No 2 was far more entertaining. Mainly as smoke had been introduced with the use of ex-Ardbeg casks in it’s maturation. This raised the whole character of the blend with distinctive peaty notes I enjoy very much that balanced the sweeter tones.
No 3 offered an even more powerful peat influence and was the most attractive – at least on paper – expression I was keen to taste. Clearly this corresponded with many other whiskey drinkers thoughts as the bartender informed me the bottle they did have sold out almost immediately!
Whilst chatting – I asked how the Irish whiskey was going down.
Now there were only 3 offerings on the shelf from the Emerald Isle – the ubiquitous Jameson Original – which effectively is the brand on which the entire rise of the modern Irish whiskey revival started with – The Pogues Irish Whiskey by up and coming West Cork Distillers in partnership with Halewood Wine & Spirits and West Cork’s Bourbon Cask.
‘Och The Pogues is a great wee dram, canny get enough o’ the stuff.’
If that’s not a testament to the resounding success of the new breed of Irish whiskey companies, blenders, bottlers & distilleries – I don’t know what is.
Whiskey Live Dublin continues to grow every year. Not only in numbers attending this marvelous showcase of Irish Whiskey – but also the amount of exhibitors on display.
There are masterclasses held throughout the course of the day which provide access to the distillers, whiskey ambassadors, blenders & bottlers who are driving the current growth in Irish Whiskey. It was to one of those classes that I started my visit to this years show.
Alex Chasko – master distiller with Teeling Whiskey Co. – regaled us with the story behind the current Brabazon series of whiskeys – as well as introducing us to some choice single cask samples.
I was particularly taken by the 2001 Port Single Cask – especially in the newly released Tuath Irish Whiskey glass which was provided to visitors at the event.
After this highly enjoyable introduction – I joined the crowds in the main hall as I tried to sample my ‘hit list’ of whiskeys I’d either missed out on during the year – or were new releases appearing at the show for the first time.
The Glengarriff series from West Cork Distillers were on my list.
I was highly impressed by the Peat Charred Cask single malt. The influence of the peat was clearly evident on both the nose and taste – yet there was a lovely earthy savouriness element to the expression too. Beautiful!
Talking about peat – Echlinville had their Three Crowns Peated on display – very appealing to my tastes. But what surprised me was their yet to be released peated poitin – Bán Barreled & Buried at 47.2% – now that’s a tasty innovation.
Now I’d heard Kilbeggan were showcasing some of their ‘experimental’ casks – as well as the current range of freshly re-branded (and even re-recipied in some cases) favourites too – so naturally I was excited by a 6 year old Rye Pot Still!
Rich rye on the nose & taste followed with some creamy smoothness. Stunning!
Peter Mulryan’s Blackwater Distillery – which is currently under construction in Co. Waterford – chose to reveal their Retronaut 17 year old single malt at the show – a must try.
I can confirm the whiskey is every bit as bold & brassy as the elegantly designed label on the very attractive bottle.
At this stage in the proceedings – with a few samples onboard – chatting away with fellow attendees & stall holders began to divert me away from my ‘hit list’ as I was tempted into trying some surprising expressions.