I recently had the pleasure of revisiting Clonakilty Distillery.
Unlike the building site of my previous visit – Feb 2018 blog here – this time the gleaming copper pot stills were in full working order & the rich smells of distillation were ever present during the highly informative & enjoyable tour.
Clonakilty Minke Gin is already available – but it will be a while for their own whiskey to mature.
In the meantime a varied range of sourced whiskeys – with added maturation & finishing at Clonakilty Distillery’s own warehouses on the Wild Atlantic Way – are available at the distillery shop.
I bought a couple of miniatures – part of their core range – as well as taking away some extra samples – I was driving – to enjoy later.
Clonakilty, Single Grain, Bordeaux Cask, 43.6%
A clean, sweet & delicate fruity little number that lulls you in with gentle flavours before delivering a healthy spirity kick by way of entertainment leaving a soft fruit finish on the rear.
Clonakilty, Small Batch, Double Oak, 43.6%
Warming, more malt biscuity. There’s a fruity sweetness from the recharred ex-wine casks which give this blend a juiciness followed with a dry prickly spice from the virgin oak casks too.
Clonakilty, Cognac Cask, 43,6%
A limited edition at the distillery.
Rich warm dark fruits with a touch of nuttiness to boot. Dries out towards the finish with a pleasant spiciness.
Clonakilty, Single Malt, Single Cask, Distillery Exclusive, 43.6%
If you ever need an excuse to visit a distillery – the chance to sample an exclusive bottling is always a bonus.
Warming vanilla enticed me in. A gentle rich maltiness tinged with dry tannic spice caressed my palate. A wonderfully balanced & elegant bourbon cask matured malt.
Clonakilty, Single Pot Still New Make, unknown ABV.
A rare treat indeed!
Using the traditional – as in malted & unmalted barley only mash bill – that signature oily & slightly sour new make nose was evident. A clean & fresh feel was enjoyed before the high ABV kicked in leaving a prickly heat with a touch of spice on the finish.
A well crafted spirit for the wood to work it’s magic on.
Interestingly this new make has already won awards.
All bodes well for Clonakilty Distillery.
The stunning signature building, the lovely cafe, the enjoyable tour and the increasing use of barley from their own farm in future distillations yet to come.
Maybe if you were an 8th generation farmer growing barley on the fertile soils of West Cork near the historic Galley Head Lighthouse you’d look for a business opportunity that would add value to your crop.
Maybe you’d look for a business that could demonstrate a sense of pride in the beautiful landscape of the wild Atlantic coast you love, a sense of pride in the natural bio-diversity of the area you enjoy and perhaps a business that could stand proud for the next 8 generations of your family.
I had the privilege to visit the distillery site with founder Michael himself. Currently – February 2018 – it’s a glass fronted empty shell of concrete & steel. A landmark legacy building of the previous boom that was never fully utilised before the crash came. Now Clonakilty Distillery have started works to install 3 gleaming copper pot stills – from Barison in Italy – an additional gin still, associated mashtuns & fermenters as well as all the pipework of a working distillery – the building will be transformed into an iconic tourist attraction in an area already awash with visitors.
The artists drawings of the finished distillery – along with the next door restaurant/cafe showcasing the best culinary delights & locally produced fare that West Cork has to offer – certainly look fabulous.
The views from inside the actual building – overlooking the Clonakilty roofscape & hinterland – are also appealing. Even before the copper stills are in place!
A projected finish of late 2018 is proposed for this ambitious project.
This is more than just whiskey.
It’s being part of the wild landscape from where the ingredients are grown.
It’s being part of bustling Clonakilty with it’s tourists, trades people and locals.
It’s embedding these memories & feelings in your mind every time you raise a glass of Clonakilty Whiskey to enjoy.
So what about the whiskey?
The intention is to produce single pot still Irish whiskey – made from locally grown malted & unmalted barley – but that will take a few years. In the meantime a couple of sourced blends will be released – bearing the distinctive whales tail logo – to fly the flag for Clonakilty Distillery.
The real whales tails can be spotted locally from one of many whale watching boat-trips that ply the coastline during the season searching for Minke, Fin and the impressive Humpback Whale that occur annually.
You might even be lucky to spot one from the stunning Galley Head Lighthouse itself which you can stay in courtesy of the Landmark Trust here. A truly marvelous experience – even if I didn’t see any whales when I visited a few years ago.
The 2 expressions on show are based on a blend of 8 to 10 year old grain & malt ex-bourbon cask matured whiskeys which have been finished by Clonakilty Distillery in their nearby warehouse – I didn’t visit on this occasion – in either virgin american oak casks or port casks. Both are presented at 43.6%, non chill filtered and naturally coloured. Which is always a bonus in my book.
The Port Cask has already been released in Germany. It shows a lovely ruby red appearance & there are some reviews already here.
The Virgin Oak Cask is due for April release in a number of countries & has a far more lighter straw lemon colour about it. Happily I got the chance to sample some of this spirit.
The virgin oak accentuated the vanilla & warm caramel notes which were very forward before a more subdued woody element made it’s presence on a fragrant nose.
The taste is beautifully crisp, fresh & clear with a gently growing glow that warmed me up no end in the chilly February sunlight.
Like the embers of an open fire, the fruity flavours danced around on my palate before gently fading away.
This is not a shy whiskey.
It proudly shows it’s strengths in it’s make up.
It’s a fine drop indeed to launch such a wonderfully ambitious whiskey project on the Wild Atlantic Way.
I’d like to thank Michael Scully for generously taking time out of his busy schedule to show me round the distillery site.
A big shout out too to all the team at Clonakilty Distillery for future success in their whiskey adventures.
We’d picked up the Wicked Camper late in the afternoon & left the Melbourne cityscape heading West. Our first stop was the industrial town of Geelong – which happened to have a whisky distillery in the 1960’s producing spirit of dubious quality – to stock up on provisions.
Being wintertime in Oz, it got dark around 5pm. We just managed to catch the sunset over Port Philip Bay from the campsite in Portarlington – well, so near so far as the saying goes. The original Portarlington is only a half hour from our home in Ireland but lacked the sandy beach & pier of it’s Aussie sister.
The next day say us join the Great Ocean Road proper at Torquay – and only then did the stupendous views of heavily wooded steep hills cascading down into the wide blue ocean below enthrall us with it’s rugged beauty with every twist & turn of the road.
An overnight stay at Cape Otway found us shivering during the night – we had underestimated the cold of an Australian winter – so a cabin was booked in Port Campbell the next evening to warm ourselves up!
This marked the end of the Great Ocean Road for us as we intended to double back & head out to the East of Melbourne for the remainder of the trip – but there was one destination I didn’t want to miss – Timboon Distillery.
Nestled as it is in the pleasant valley town of Timboon at the end of an old disused railway line – Timboon Distillery is part of the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail. We both sat down for a tasty mid-morning snack of locally produced artisanal foods. I also got chatting to Josh – the master distiller & owner of the distillery and friendly eatery.
The still was rather small compared to Irish & Scottish standards – but it was attractively situated in the corner of the restaurant along with some quarter casks aging the spirit. The mash for the distillate was provided by a local craft brewery Forrest Brewing. I sampled Timboon’s Port Cask offering at 41% & found it a lovely rich, dark & slightly heavy single malt – well I am always partial to a port cask finish. So much so I bought one of their 200ml bottles to take home with me.
There happened to be a booklet which caught my eye as well.
The Whiskey Trail. Illicit Whiskey Distillers in South West Victoria. I had to have it.
Inside are the stories of hardy frontier men & women who had fled poverty & starvation in their home countries of Britain & Ireland of the 1850’s to carve out a new life in Australia. They often faced hardship in that venture & many turned to illicit distilling to keep themselves afloat. Descendants of these settlers have produced this highly informative booklet & placed plaques at historical sites to make up a whiskey trail.
It just so happened our intended route took in a few!
Obviously Timboon Distillery is part of the trail – with a display on the wall showing the history.
Next stop was the former Cobden Police Station where many of the raids started from. It now happens to be an ‘op shop’ – or charity shop – where we handily picked up a duvet & pillows to make our nights in the Wicked camper more comfortable!
Lunch stop was in the agricultural town of Camperdown with it’s fine wide avenue. The old Courthouse happens to have a whiskey plaque on it – but the very helpful tourist information officer inside was unaware of it’s existence!
We took her outside to show her when I eventually found it – and in return she informed us of the lifesize sculpture of Rabbie Burns!
And a lovely spot to eat at the Snout In The Trough food, wine & beer emporium! Marvelous. Like Natalie Imbruglia sings – I’m ‘Wishing I Was There’ again.
The randomness of finding a whiskey trail founded on illicit distillers – some of whom were from Ireland – followed by a Scottish icon who enjoyed a drop or two but was actually employed as a tax inspector himself – all washed down by some gorgeous Aussie whisky – now I wasn’t expecting that at the end of The Great Ocean Road!
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.
We’d actually been on the Wild Atlantic Way since Derry – and the sea views from the North Mayo coast road raised our spirits in the early morning light.
But to begin with we ventured on a little detour!
Whilst in the bar the previous evening tales were told of a distillery in Sligo. We drove to the site in Hazelwood House but found little to confirm nor deny those tales. An internet search did reveal planning permission had been granted in 2016 – so if anyone has more information then please get in touch!
Our first planned visit meanwhile was Connacht Distillery in Ballina. A guided tour of the recently opened & fabulous looking shiny new facility by the banks of the River Moy had been arranged. Lyndsey kindly agreed to an early start to show us round the gleaming pot stills & lovely wooden lined tasting room of the spacious site. Like most new distilleries Connacht have a range of sourced products they sell until their own actual spirit is flowing.
Interestingly one of the freshly filled barrels of Connacht new make single malt recently made it’s way over to the beautiful scenery of Clare Island to quietly see out it’s maturation time in the stunning coastal location there. No doubt a large party will be in order when that barrel is finally bottled!
The Straw Boys Poitin – which is now Connacht’s own spirit – & Spade & Bushel Single Malt made an impact this early in the day – but what interested me was the Brothership Irish-American Whiskey. It’s a blend of 10 year old American rye whiskey with similarly aged Irish whiskey and is one of many new expressions currently going down this hybrid whiskey style to either much applause – or disdain.
Personally I think it’s a great idea & has sold out fast! I managed to get my hands on the last bottle before a new label adorns the expression to comply with Irish whiskey regulations. The rye certainly comes through in the mix which pleased me no end.
Only a short drive down the road is Nephin Distilery. Nestled in the pretty village of Lahardaun under the towering bulk of Nephin mountain, Nephin Whiskey have chosen not to release any spirit until their own peated single malt is matured. Using locally grown barley & locally sourced peat – or turf as it’s called in Ireland – this will be a malt with some terroir. My name is already down on the list for the Reserved First Bottles offer!
Nephin have very ambitious & well thought out plans for an attractive distillery in the town along with a malting floor too! Wonderful news. The site is empty at present but everything is going according to plan for this forward looking company. Construction is due soon & expected to be complete by 2018. More power to them.
A long drive through counties Mayo & Galway was eased by the stunning scenery – as well local lads Saw Doctors singing their songs on the car stereo.
The busy crowds of Galway City slowed down our progress as we made our way to the home of Micil Poitin in the popular spot of Salthill.
The enthusiastic founder Pádraic Ó Griallais met us in his micro distillery behind the Oslo Bar where just like his ancestors, Pádraic makes 100% Irish grain Poitin infused with locally sourced bogbean botanicals. The results are a soft, smooth yet slightly spicy refreshing drink which is often used as a base for cocktails.
He also hoped to do a gin soon – and whiskey was on the cards too! But the timescale wasn’t finalised. Nonetheless his Micil Poitin went down very smoothly. We even sampled a taster at 80% which despite my initial misgivings actually proved to be quite palatable. You could still taste the attractive flavour through the powerful alcoholic kick!
The Oslo Bar is also the original home of Galway Bay Brewery – who have since moved onto larger premises in Ballybrit – and is a lovely gastropub serving delicious food & snacks on the popular Salthill promenade which was thronged with folks enjoying the wonderful sunshine.
Later on in the evening we also ventured out into the sunshine on the famous Galway Whiskey Trail to sample the Galway Bay Irish Whiskey that is only available in the 10 pubs & 1 off-licence that make up the trail. We settled on Freeny’s in the end with it’s marvelous selection of Irish whiskey on display.
Being Saturday night the bars were packed with revellers – but we did find space in the newly opened Caribou bar who stocked an impressive array of craft beers, gins & whiskeys. I couldn’t resist a can of Commotion Lotion. A collaboration between pop act King Kong Company & YellowBelly Beer. A tasty & fun beer to end the day!
Dram of the day?
The blended expression of Irish whiskey & American rye that is Brothership.
Lowry’s bar is an attractively fronted warm and friendly pub situated in the heart of the equally attractive town of Clifden in the West of Ireland.
Clifden itself is picturesquely situated at the foot of The Twelve Bens of Connemara on one side – with the wide Atlantic Ocean on the other.
About 100 years ago Clifden was at he cutting edge of technology as Marconi had the first commercial wireless station sending transmissions to America close to the town as well as Alcock & Brown touching down in a nearby bog after completing the first transatlantic flight. The internet and jumbo jets have both grown from these feats – or rather the Connemara bog nearby!
Smack bang in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way which stretches from Cork down South to Donegal up North – what better place to take some time out and enjoy the uisce beatha.
That’s exactly what I did after indulging in one of my other passions – hill walking.
With over 100 expressions on offer it’s sometimes difficult to pick one out I haven’t tried before – but my eyes soon settled on a bottle of Dingle Gold from the recently established Dingle Distillery in Kerry – also on the Wild Atlantic Way.
A tuna melt toastie from the bar menu accompanied the whiskey as I settled my weary legs for a little pick-me-up.
Now Dingle Gold wasn’t actually made in Dingle. The distillery is too new to have matured it’s own stock yet. It’s a 3rd party offering whilst Dingle Distillery’s hotly anticipated and selling out fast exclusive first barrel release is just coming to market.
Dingle Gold is a blend of malt and grain spirits bottled at 46%.
There wasn’t much going on in the nose for me – but after a day being blasted by the wind and heather on the Connemara hills perhaps my senses had been dulled.
The taste was sweet and smooth with a slight bite that belied it’s 46% strength which followed through to a satisfyingly long finish.
A decent dram from the West – which leads me to my musical interlude of ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld’ by Theatre Of Hate.
I certainly do based on the delights of Lowry’s Bar.
In amongst the large array of Irish Whiskeys a trio of Connemara peated releases were prominently displayed which is only appropriate given the location. A good selection of Scotch and Bourbon was also available along with some tasty Swedish Mackmyra‘s and Japanese offerings too.
Damien – the helpful bartender informed me that whiskey tasting evenings were being arranged – so follow Lowry’s Bar social media for further information. They promise to be good nights!
In addition to the whiskey – there was also a selection of Irish Craft Beers too – a pleasant bonus not always found in a whiskey bar.
The cosy lounge area walls were festooned with whiskey mirrors – memorabilia and bottles arranged on shelves.
Lowry’s Bar would certainly be a wonderful place to spend the evening tasting some of the many whiskeys on offer.