Garavan’s in Galway is the very epitome of what an Irish Whiskey Bar should be.
Leaving the bustling world outside, it is a haven of calm in a warm friendly bar adorned with a bewildering array of whiskey on wooden shelves behind the bar as well as in glass cabinets around the cozy snug areas.
It entices you in to sit down and slow down.
To take time and browse the extensive whiskey menu looking for a sample of that rare bottling, or perhaps ordering up one of Garavan’s tasting platters to explore the rich depth and variety of whiskey flavours on offer.
Garavan’s even have their own whiskey – Garavan’s Grocers Choice 10 Year Old Single Malt – and a fine whiskey it is too!
Yet Garavan’s have raised the bar even higher.
In a nod to times past when it was common practice for bars to bottle their own whiskey bought in barrel from the distillery – Garavan’s took themselves down to Midleton Distillery in County Cork and chose a single cask of Powers Single Pot Still Whiskey to be bottled for them as an exclusive Garavan’s Single Cask Release.
A small gathering of whiskey fans assembled to be part of the unveiling of the Powers 15 Year Old Garavan’s Single Cask Release presented by Ger Garland, Irish Distillers Whiskey Brand Ambassador.
As a way of introduction – we were served a glass of Powers Gold Label.
It’s a blend of spicy single pot still and sweet grain whiskey.
It typifies the more characterful spirit forward, honey sweet yet peppery spiced notes which are usually associated with the Powers range of whiskeys.
It’s a style I enjoy.
The Garavan’s Single Cask Release builds on these elements.
Presented at a higher 46% ABV and being a single pot still there is no grain input. A gentle vanilla & softly burnt toast nose from the exclusively ex-bourbon cask maturation provided the sweet part.
The dry peppery spice came through more clearly & distinctively on the palate with warming notes from the charred cask which slowly faded away leaving a gorgeously dry mouthfeel.
It’s a sensation I enjoy in a whiskey – and one this Powers delivers.
Single cask offerings can vary a great deal.
I’ve tried a few of the Powers Single Cask releases and it always amazes me the differences considering they are all essentially the same distillate. The individual casks used for maturation can produce such a wide variety of results that are normally married together to produce a consistent flavour profile. It’s a treat therefore to sample from one individual cask.
The Garavan’s 15 Year Old Single Cask Release certainly highlights for me the signature sweet & spice Powers mix I find so attractive.
Congratulations to both Garavan’s Bar & Powers Whiskey for coming together to release this bottle.
It’s presented in a very attractive wrap around laser etched box with a representation of the bar itself on the front.
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.
Coming on the back of St Patrick’s Day it’s often amusing to point out that the man himself wasn’t actually Irish!
Controversy still reigns as to his actual birthplace. Some say Scotland, some say France and some say Wales. What is clear is that he certainly visited these countries during his lifetime. What is also interesting for the sake of this blog is that all these countries are whisky producers!
Scotch Whisky is firmly Numero Uno in the whisky world. French Whisky is a relative newcomer but has many exciting brands and expressions. This humble blogger has tried a few which were grand. The Champagne finished single malt from Guillon Distillery being one of them. Welsh Whisky is also a relative newcomer to the scene – despite a rich distilling history in Wales, there is only one distillery in operation today. A fine distillery it is too!
The whisky itself lives up to the heroic struggles of it’s namesake. A single malt finished in madeira casks bottled non chill-filtered at 41%, it gives a very rich aroma backed up by a satisfying taste a with long finish. Definitely an A class whiskey, if not A+ in my book! As this whisky is a limited expression, it may sell out, but Penderyn release a single malt madeira finish in their standard range bottled at 46% which may also be very good. I can’t wait to taste the other bottles which include sherrywood finish, peated and single cask expressions. Penderyn have already won awards since launching in 2004 so this is a distillery to watch out for.
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.