The Chapel Gates I’m referring to are not the ones in the song of emigration & belonging.
I worship a different kind of spirit.
It too travels all over the world – yet also has a belonging. A place called home – from where it was born – and where all those imbued relationships & history can be awoken by taking a relaxing drink of the noble liquid.
Founder Louise McGuane – like many other Clare folks – left her homeland to seek a career. Now she has returned to the family farm & resurrected the old Irish tradition of whiskey bonding by naming her soon to be released blended whiskey after local grocers J.J. Corry.
An advert for the original – now long defunct – grocers still hangs proudly in the lovely local Crotty’s Pub in Kilrush.
Mrs Whiskey and myself took a trip down to Cooraclare to drop off a few items – and in return received a guided tour of the premises & generous sampling of some whiskey casks.
Whiskey bonding used to be the normal way the brown spirit travelled from the distilleries to the consumer.
Distilleries would sell the spirit to the bonder – usually a grocer – who would then mature that spirit in casks of their own choosing before blending & bottling the results under their own brand names for the ultimate satisfaction of the drinker.
Louise has been quietly buying up her stocks of whiskey for the last few years. Some of it came already casked & others she filled in casks sourced by herself through contacts built up over many years in the drinks industry.
My first sample was from one of those casks.
New make spirit – Louise has & is buying new make from a number of new Irish distilleries – was put into a ‘juicy’ 1st fill bourbon barrel for 1 year. After removing the bung & using a valinch – or whiskey thief – to transfer some of the softly golden liquid into a glass I took a sniff.
At 63% this was powerful stuff indeed. Yet the the rich vanilla & caramel notes from the bourbon cask came through clearly & the overall experience immediately captivated me.
It was certainly youthful & punchy – but there was no nasty burn or smell of rotten fruit I associate with new make spirit – and I’d have bought a bottle as it is. But as 3 years is the minimum age for whiskey in Ireland – it will have to mature for another 2 years. This will alter that initial hit of sweet vanilla & honey with more woody & balanced notes that longer maturation develops – for a bit of explanation read here.
We then moved onto a single grain cask. I got my chance to pull out the bung & fill the glass but compared to Louise’s easy looking example earlier – I broke the bung & left a lot of the precious liquid for the angels to share before getting it in the glass.
The single grain was an altogether softer, fruitier & more balanced tipple still with a healthy bourbon barrel flavour flowing through it. Even Mrs Whiskey enjoyed this one!
On the other side of the rackhouse were some more mature barrels.
An 18 year old aged & worn looking sherry hogshead produced a very fine well balanced mature sherry single cask whiskey – a bit too well defined for my tastes – although Louise said this was one of her favourites. She did profess to knowing the flavour profile of each and every single one of the casks in the shed individually & had even developed a relationship with them all. She would find it hard to part with them for her upcoming Gael blending session the very next day!
My final tasting was from an ex-Bushmills cask acquired from John Teeling at GND in Dundalk. At 26 years old the exact history of the cask was unknown – but clearly peat had played a part as that familiar waft of smokiness made it’s presence felt even before the sample entered the tasting glass.
Rich, warm & well balanced. The soft smokiness never dominated the more subtle flavours yet left a wonderfully long finish on this fabulous malt.
Unlike the brashness of the youthful 1 year old which enthralled me with it’s loud delivery of a few notes – this 26 year old gently developed a full orchestra of flavours to amuse & entertain my palate.
Like the fabulous spirit – the building which contain the casks is a combination of old & new materials uniting to create a thoroughly modern example of an old tradition.
The nearby visitors reception & office are still being finalised from the old cattle sheds of the farm by using the original walls & fittings yet containing up to date facilities & warm hospitality.
The energy, drive, enthusiasm & above all passion for whiskey which Louise exhibits is clearly evident in her ability to create such a wonderful facility in the beautiful Clare countryside of her birth. At times it has been an up-hill struggle to almost re-invent the wheel of whiskey bonding that once was such an intrinsic part of the industry. The current generation of tax inspectors, coopers, blenders & bottlers, town planners & developers are re-learning the skills of a generation that went before.
When JJ Corry The Gael is eventually released in September – it too will encapsulate all that lost history, taste & sense of belonging.
After having had the opportunity to sample some of the raw ingredients – I’m sure it will be a stunner.
The limited run of 7,000 bottles will be non-chill filtered with no added caramel & presented at 46%. Most of the run is destined for America – with limited release to some choice outlets in Ireland.
I suggest you secure your bottle now – it won’t hang around for long!
My thanks to Louise McGuane for her hospitality in showing us round the rackhouse & generous samples.
We wish all at Chapel Gate Whiskey future success.