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.
Miniature gift sets make ideal gifts – they also make for an enjoyable tasting session.
Back to back comparisons very soon show up the range & diversity of flavours, styles & tastes from any whiskey distillery’s output – and the drinker will very quickly discern the particular flavour profile suitable for their individual palate.
I recently picked up the revamped Kilbeggan Distilling Co Irish Whiskey Collection at my local Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath – flag bearer to the Beam/Suntory owned sister Cooley Distillery in Louth where the bulk of the whiskey is made.
I got things rolling with ‘The Complex One’ – the Kilbeggan Single Grain.
Showing its new livery – along with the other featured brands – and a boosted 43% ABV with additional maturation in sherry & wine casks – this softly sweet Single Grain displayed a pleasingly varied range of flavours, a little prickly spice & warming heat on the satisfyingly long finish.
A great introductory single grain whiskey.
The ‘Sweet One’ came next. Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey – or a blended whiskey to you and me.
Now I must admit to having a soft spot for this blend. On blind tastings it always comes out vying for top spot within the category.
Easy, approachable, but with enough maltiness & depth of flavour to keep it interesting – this is an entry level blend that never disappoints.
The ‘Fruity One’ came in at 100 to 1 – or at least the famous horse the Tyrconnell Single Malt is named after did.
This is the non aged statement (NAS) version of a brand that has many cask finished & age statemented brothers & sisters to explore.
Ex bourbon barrel maturation only allows a warm fruitiness to shine through with a crisper, cleaner taste experience for my palate at least. Very nice.
The final offering is ‘The Smoky One’ – the Connemara Single Malt.
The Connemara range is sadly reduced to just this NAS – and the 12 year old. Gone for the time being are the fabulous 22 year old and Turf Mór expressions. Which is a pity – as peated Irish whiskey is an underrepresented flavour profile within the market.
The smoke in this single malt is rather dry & ashy, complimented by some gentle sweetness. There isn’t much complexity, but its a style I love – and I go out of my way to seek its pleasures.
There isn’t a bad whiskey in this range.
Just 4 differing styles & types of Irish Whiskey.
You have the single grain, the single malt & the blend combining both – along with that rare commodity in Irish Whiskey – peat.
I’d have to give my top pick to the smoky Connemara – even if the Tyrconnell has more complexity within its softer & subtler flavours.
Choosing between the Kilbeggan Single Grain or Blend is also a tough call – but I’d plump for the Single Grain. Simply because the wonderful flavours within showcase what a wonderful whisky a decent single grain can be.
A visit to a whiskey distillery is always an exciting experience.
There is the history, the heritage, the gleaming copper pot stills, the subtle smells of malted barley along with gentle woody notes of maturing casks.
There are the characters that make the whiskey too – and all that before actually tasting the whiskey!
But there is also the unexpected.
Like Glastry Farm Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey infused ice cream!
I couldn’t resist.
Soft, creamy, indulgent, with a mention of malt in the background. This ice cream makes a gorgeous dessert on it’s own – let alone served with strawberries and a dash of Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye perhaps?
Little touches like this provide the icing on the cake.
They have a range of miniature bottles labelled up in county colours covering the entire Island of Ireland.
Meanwhile, I happened to be in Mullingar recently & picked up their Westmeath Irish Whiskey in the surprisingly well stocked off-licence of The Old Stand on Dominick Street – just round the corner from the railway station.
Not being one to leave a bottle unopened – I poured a glass.
There is no indication as to the source of the whiskey. Kilbeggan Distillery does produce malt in the county of Westmeath – mainly for inclusion in blends – but it didn’t strike me as one of theirs -although this young lad is definitely from Mullingar.
The colour was reassuringly straw like – even if added caramel is predominant in entry level blends.
The nose was rather spirity at first – but calmed down on subsequent tastings to reveal some standard vanilla & caramel notes.
A mild tasting with subtle fruits & more of that bourbon cask influence made it’s presence felt after a rather alcohol forward mouthfeel.
There was a bit of a burn at the end – but nothing too unpleasant. Just a straight forward no-nonsense entry level whiskey.
More novelty than nuanced.
My thanks to TOMODERA for posting his thoughts on other county whiskeys here.
I got fierce excited about a 138 million euro proposal to develop a whiskey maturation & filling facility near the village of Moyvore – only a half hour from my home in Westmeath.
It’s the less ‘sexy’ side of the whiskey industry whose main attractions are the actual distilleries with their gleaming copper pot stills.
Whiskey maturation warehouses are simply that – warehouses – but they do smell nice with all that wood & slow release of whiskey to the angel’s share!
Project Vault plans to offer a service to Irish whiskey distilleries whereby the clear new make spirit is transferred to Moyvore – probably by road tanker – carefully filled into wooden casks and then put on the shelves for the minimum 3 years period to slowly take in all the tastes, flavours & colours of the wood before it becomes that fabulous brown spirit I love – whiskey.
Most of the new whiskey distilleries that are currently being built have no storage facilities on site.
The current Dublin distilleries of Teeling, Pearse Lyons, Diageo & Dublin Liberties have no choice. Ever since the infamous 1875 Liberties whiskey fire – no whiskey has been allowed to mature within the confines of Dublin City.
The established distilleries of Bushmills & Midleton are currently expanding their storage capacity on lands adjacent to or nearby their present sites.
Westmeath’s own Kilbeggan Distillery – along with it’s sister Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth – now owned by US giant Brown-Forman is also running out of space due to the increased demand for Irish whiskey throughout the world.
It’s this demand and welcome worldwide growth in Irish whiskey sales that local businessman Alan Wright is trying to satisfy in developing this much needed facility in his home county of Westmeath.
A public meeting to discuss the proposal was recently held in the St Oliver’s Community Centre in Moyvore itself. Excited to hear what the full plans were – I went along.
Cars were strung along the R392 road as the community hall was filled by over 100 local residents. On the top table were Alan Wright himself flanked by Robert Allen – a structural/civil engineer with 35 years experience who works with Allen Barber Ltd engineers who have been commissioned to design & build the facility – and Dr George Smith – an eminent ecologist with Blackthorn Ecology who will be overseeing the environmental impact of the development & it’s ongoing lifespan.
I must confess to bumping into Dr Smith on a number of occasions. The most recent being engaged on an environmental BioBlitz on the beautiful Clare Island where despite the frenzied wildlife finding activities, time was found to enjoy a few whiskeys in the fabulous Sailors Bar!
A short video introduced the project to us.
It laid out the rise of Irish whiskey & the need for more maturation sites. The process by which the site at Moyvore was chosen over & above about a dozen other sites around Ireland. – It should be noted here that to be labelled as Irish Whiskey the spirit has to be both distilled AND matured on the Island of Ireland. – The various land surveys, ecological surveys, transport links & other health & safety requirements that had to be met before even the first sod of turf could be turned on the site. How the developers wanted to work with the local community in allaying any fears or worries about the project & how they wished to consult over any issues that could arise during any phase of the plan.
I considered the presentation a rather thorough explanation as to what was planned, what had been done to date & what would be done in the future to ensure the safe operation of the site for both the workers within, the wider community around and the bio-diversity of the habitat too.
From the outset it became clear the mood was decidedly negative.
Speaker after speaker after speaker voiced their fears about how the development was a threat to the community. Issues were raised over the risk of fire & explosion, increased traffic problems, the threat of black fungus & even a potential terrorist target!
The top table calmly & clearly attempted to explain the actions they had instituted to allay theses issues. Mr Allen said that the safety requirements in the building far exceeded those of the recent American explosion & that a large water storage tank on site to feed a water sprinkling system would extinguish any potential fire within thirty minutes.
The mere mention of a large water storage tank in turn prompted fears of flooding.
Dr Smith outlined they were aware of the black fungus – or angel’s share fungus – which is a particular type of fungus common to distillery sites which creates dis-colouration on nearby vegetation & buildings. There wasn’t much actual research on this species – and certainly I think the whiskey industry ought to do more – but that a planned 100 to 150 metre zone within the site would be planted with a ring of trees to prevent any outbreak from reaching close neighbours.
None of the comments seemed to appease the angry & clearly passionate opposition.
I was taken aback!
No one seemed to think of the increased opportunities for jobs created by such a venture especially given that nearby Longford has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
No one seemed to see the potential tourist development given the nearby Center Parcs site as well as the 40,000 people that visited the Kilbeggan Distillery – that would certainly be a boost to McCawley’s, the only pub & shop in the town!
No one seemed to comment on the growing spend of the Irish whiskey industry both directly & indirectly into the Irish economy of up to 45 million per annum . Maybe some of that money could be used to improve the local roads.
When one of the commentators mentioned there would be no jobs for locals I just had to butt in.
‘I live only a half hour away & I’m a fully qualified haz-chem driver & I’d love to drive a tanker of whiskey up and down the local roads.
Irish whiskey is a growing & well respected product throughout the world. Having such a facility in Moyvore would put it on the world map & lead to a growing tourist industry.
I’m fully in favour of the development.’
Or words to that effect.
Unexpectedly I received a round of applause – almost as loud as that garnished by opponents to the scheme. At the end of the day I was the only person from the floor to voice a positive attitude to the development.
Clearly Project Vault have a hard job to do to convince a divided community of the merits of such a development within their midst. The meeting was certainly an eye-opener to me of all the hard work that often goes on unseen to build the infrastructure that produces the liquid I so enjoy.
I hope Project Vault gets the go ahead.
Irish Whiskey used to be number 1 in the world in terms of sales & quality up to the early 1900’s.
It has the potential to win back that title in the future.
Moyvore is an essential part of that future and I wish all those involved future success.
I should point out I’m an independent blogger passionate about all things whiskey.
All views are my own and I am not connected in any way to the proposers of this plan nor the whiskey industry in general.
The residents of Moyvore have voiced legitimate concerns that I feel can be addressed by the Project Vault team in whom I credit a degree of trust & faith that they can deliver a state of the art facility that is safe, clean and efficient both for the needs of the whiskey industry and the nearby communities.
Now in it’s 5th year, the numbers attending are still growing. This reflects the increasing awareness and appreciation of craft beer, food and distilled spirits among the discerning drinking public.
Being my 3rd visit, I’m always amazed at the growing number of Irish Craft Beer breweries, cider makers & distilleries producing a bewildering array of fine tasting alcoholic beverage.
The other reason for attending the show this year was an opportunity to interview the Head Distiller of Dublin’s soon to be opened Pearse Lyons Distillery in the historic Liberties area.
Dr. Gearóid Cahill.
Whiskey Nut (WN) Is the timetable for the distillery opening going according to plan?
Gearóid Cahill (GC) We’re fairly confident in the proposed July opening. But we’re already a full year behind our original plans. At the start of the project the former St James’s Church wasn’t a listed building. A Protected Structure was subsequently applied to the site which we were happy to comply with but this understandably slowed down our schedule. Being a former church surrounded by a graveyard also meant that everytime we wanted to dig a trench for cabling or pipework human remains were unearthed. These had to be treated with respect. All of them were carefully catalogued, analysed for historical data and then reinterred at the graveyard. We have cooperated with the relevant authorities over these and many other issues which have arisen during the construction and done our utmost to comply with all the conditions.
WN Will there be a visitors centre?
GC There will be a visitors centre adjacent to the church inside which the actual distillery is situated. We want to take visitors into the working distillery to feel the heat, experience the noise and smell the aromas of a working distillery, as well as showing them the entire whiskey making process from grain to glass.
WN What style of Irish whiskey are you intending to produce?
GC Dr. Pearse Lyons, the Founder & President of Alltech has a vision and passion to produce a malted barley Irish whiskey in his home town of Dublin. I’m thrilled and equally passionate to be charged with making sure that vision becomes a reality.
WN I’m very excited by the return of rye as an ingredient in Irish whiskey manufacture. There is already a rye cask finished Irish whiskey on the market. Midleton have planted fields of rye near Enniscorthy and Kilbeggan/Cooley are currently maturing a rye single pot. Are there any plans for this style of whiskey at St James’s?
GC The design of the distillery and the dynamism of Alltech allow for a high degree of flexibility & innovation. We can produce beer at the distillery, over and above that required for distillation. We can access any type of grain we require through the Alltech agricultural division and we will be using the best casks from our Lexington distillery in Kentucky. Together with the relatively small size of the, what you can call a boutique distillery we are about to open, we can respond & react to any change in style or vision we wish in the coming years.
WN You come with a very impressive career both academically and practically mainly founded on brewing. Has distilling always been a dream for you?
GC I’ve worked for many years in the brewing industry and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I love working for Alltech as the passion and enthusiasm Dr Pearse Lyons has for brewing & distilling is something I share. It’s that enthusiasm that drives our team to hold the Alltech Craft Brews And Food Fair every year to showcase the growing rise of craft beer, cider and spirit making in Ireland. A lot of our staff give freely of their time to help organise & run the event and we see it as showcasing the best that is out there. There is also a growing blurring of lines in the types & styles of beer now available. Just when does a heavily hopped dark porter stop being a porter & become an IPA? It’s a question I often have to adjudicate on being a judge at the show. Those blurred lines are also entering the whiskey market with stout aged whiskey, IPA aged whisky and other variations. This also feeds back into the growth of barrel aged beers. These are exciting times.
I’m very confident and comfortable in the field of brewing which is the first step in whiskey production. I’m also very comfortable with the science and technique of distilling. The whole process of maturation in wood is a much less understood area and still a bit of a mystery – although I’m getting much valuable advice & experience from the team over in Lexington.
WN There are some who say up to 70% of the flavour in a whiskey comes from the influence of wood maturation. Would you agree with that?
GC I wouldn’t go that high.It’s true wood plays a yet not totally understood role in the final flavour profile – but the spirit you put into the barrel in the first instance has to be of good quality. No matter how long you age a bad distillate it simply won’t become a stunning whiskey. Understanding the variables of wood maturation, temperature fluctuations, types of wood, charring levels and previous contents all play their part in the final whiskey. They will all become a major part of my – and my teams work – over the next few years.
WN When you get time to relax at home,
and at this a wry smile suggested this wasn’t a common experience
What would be your drink of choice?
GC Erm, well when I get the time, I like to sit down with a good bourbon, usually over ice. I enjoy a malted Irish too but I wouldn’t be a fan of a heavily peated Scotch.
At this point I finished my interview by thanking Gearóid for giving me the time out from his busy schedule for the talk and fired off a couple of photos for the blog.
During the small talk I discovered he’s originally from Collinstown in Westmeath!
Westmeath gains another notch in the wonderful world of whiskey!
And talking about Westmeath, why not finish with another of Westmeath’s finest – Joe Dolan – here singing a song titled Sister Mary. Chosen by me for Gearóid Cahill building the Pearse Lyons Distillery in a former church!
I wish all the team at Alltech future success with the Pearse Lyons Distillery – and eagerly await the opening.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can worship at the shrine of whiskey and celebrate the mystery of wood.
Unaware I’d just committed a crime against whiskey at Tigh Neachtain’s – I ambled up the High Street a short while to the lovely inviting entrance of Sonny Molloy’s.
The wooden snugs – lit up whiskey cabinets that encircled the bar and immediate seating area – friendly staff – together with my increasing mellowness brought on by the previous drams – endeared me to yet another special bar on the Galway Whiskey Trail.
An estimated 100 plus expressions on display made it a little difficult for me in my increasing alcoholic fuzz to pick out something I’d not tried before – but eventually a bottle of Tyrconnell Sherry was spotted.
Hailing from my local distillery in Westmeath – Kilbeggan – Tyrconnell is one of the old brands John Teeling revived back in the late 1980’s to build up his whiskey empire.
At 46% – as opposed to the mainly 40% drams I’d enjoyed earlier in the day – there is a much more noticeable spirity kick on the nose. This follows through to the taste before a warm sweet experience from the sherry influence is experienced which mellows the kick into a smooth and satisfying finish. The Sherry Finish is one of 4 Tyrconnell Single Malt releases available. There is the standard Single Malt itself bottled at 40% – and the 3 finishes of Port – Madeira and Sherry all bottled at 46%.
I’m currently working my way through them all and have to say the Port Finish sampled in Kilkenny is currently my favourite – but a blind tasting of all 4 back to back would certainly be an interesting experience if only to be able to discern the different barrel finishes have on the resulting whiskey. Mmm – must work on that one.
Sonny Molloy’s is another one of those establishments – like it’s sister pubs The Dail and Blake’s – that serves a comprehensive food menu and the early evening diners were beginning to come in after finishing their shopping. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and I began to relax knowing that I had enough time to complete my tour of the Galway Whiskey Trail – as well as feeling I wouldn’t keel over anytime soon!
The Saturday papers were scattered on the wooden shelves near the bar where I perched myself to enjoy the Tyrconnell so I fell in to reading them. An article on the reformation of LCD Soundsystem caught my eye. At one time I thought I was abreast of the music scene. Clearly I was now out of the loop as despite enjoying some of their tracks – I was unaware they had even split up in the first place! C’est la vie!
Thankfully I’m of an age the only drunk girls I need to worry about now are my rapidly maturing teenage grand daughters!
Sonny’s also had a fun and informative whiskey leaflet which could be stamped to say you’d raised a glass to Sonny Molloy. How could I resist?
A lovely little souvenir of my time on the trail!
I got chatting to the bar staff and it turns out the whiskey trail has brought a lot of tourists in – especially during summer. A further expansion of the whiskey display cabinets is envisaged to enhance this increased interest. They felt the trail has been a success in raising awareness of the fine whiskey bars present in Galway.
I would certainly concur with this sentiment.
A final sip of Tyrconnell was savoured before I thanked the staff for their time and hospitality – then I headed out for the remaining stops on the trail.
When asked to contribute a flight of whiskies for a recent blog, I took a little while to come up with a few favourites. As the story of a whiskey – it’s origins, manufacture, history, heritage and trivia – are as important and enjoyable to me as the tasting – my flight reflects that element.
The story around my Black& White is the basis of this blog.
A few months ago after a recently acquired contract at work, the decision was taken to renovate the old office space that had lain idle for at least a decade. One of the founding directors had also passed away during that time and the offices had effectively been left abandoned.
There was a mountain of old paperwork,artefacts, pictures, memorabilia as well as outdated phones, electronica and files. Most of it was destined for the skip – but there were a few surprises and items that required attention before removal.
Word soon spread around the yard that a cache of booze had been found.Now the firm had previously been involved in drinks distribution and this may have been a relic from those times – I had to have a look!
Mt eyes lit up and my tastebuds tingled when I viewed a collection of old whiskey, cognac, vodka and gin bottles stored in a locked metal cabinet. There was some Famous Grouse, a Black Bush, Hennessy, some unidentified clear spirits and a Black & White – all with old and aged looking labels.
This was an opportunity too good to miss – especially as I hadn’t sampled the whiskies before – so I approached management for a quiet word and after a day or two – became the proud owner of a bottle of Black & White!
Several questions then raised themselves;
How old is it?
Is it worth anything?
Should I drink it?
Is it palatable?
My mind was already decided on the last 2. Whiskey is for drinking – not sitting on a shelf as some kind of object to be admired (although some bottles do look like a piece of art) or seen as a potential pension plan. The contents of the bottle appeared golden clear and despite the dusty outside gave me no cause for concern regards it’s suitability to consume.
I did however delay a little on the first 2 – mostly out of curiosity and the off chance it was worth a few bob.
It quickly became apparent that there was indeed a market for old Black & White – mainly advertising material and pre-1930’s 700ml bottles – but as mine was only a half bottle and not that old – I wasn’t about to drink a goldmine!
As for the date – well that proved a tad more difficult.
I was surprised to find Black & White had no dedicated website, facebook, twitter, instagram, chat show or even TV channel as part of it’s marketing strategy. For such a longstanding and popular dram – created by James Buchanan in the 1880’s where it became a big seller and continues to be so today – and now part of the Diageo stable – this seems somewhat amiss.
I put some snaps up on a whisky chat site – followed up a few leads and eventually got an informed reply to an email;
“Additionally, there is a bar-code on the back of the bottle,which was something not widely in use prior to about 1980.”
This was later narrowed down a bit by Diageo GB in a tweet;
So my bottle of Black & White is between 24 and 30 years old!
But what about that all important tasting?
Well – as an entry level blend – I wasn’t expecting any fireworks. There isn’t much nose – but it is definitely a lightly peated blend. The taste is a bit sharp – but mellows as it rolls around the tongue leaving a lingering soft smoky feel. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the warm glow it gave me. Not a bad dram.
Now I know it doesn’t have the historical cachet – nor the advertising opportunity – nor the silky smooth taste of Mackinlay’s Old Malt that Shackelton left behind in the Antarctic for a century – but for a quarter of a century hidden in an office in Westmeath – I think this will be as good as it gets for me!
I raise a toast to Aidan – for I believe this whisky was originally for him.
All journeys start from home and Westmeath is home to both this humble scribe and The Kilbeggan Distilling Company. 1757 is when this distillery first (legally) made and sold whiskey. From that date on, it has witnessed the ups and downs of Irish Whiskey, weathered the tough years and played it’s part in the current rise of whiskey. Kilbeggan Distillery encapsulates the history of Irish Whiskey within it’s four walls. Her story mirrors that of other distilleries that are now silent, as well as burgeoning the new ones that are beginning to find their voice.
Why the World?
It’s the only place we humans currently live – as yet – and it’s where Irish Whiskey is made, exported and enjoyed. Ireland used to be the Number 1 whiskey producer in the world. That position is now firmly in Scottish hands. However whisky is currently produced in over 25 countries around the world from Belguim to Bhutan,Taiwan and a lovely distillery in Wales.
As a relatively new convert to the world of whiskey, I’m inviting you to join me on a shared journey in taste, style and aroma by sampling the wide range of whiskey products that are out there.
I’m no expert, but hopefully I will enliven your taste buds and excite your palate with tempting tipples