Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Irish Whiskey Awards - Last Call

There is an important deadline coming up this week. Entries for this year's Irish Whiskey Awards must be submitted by Thursday, August 11th.

If you know me at all, you know I'm not a fan of awards generally. Too many of them are money-making rackets designed to mislead consumers. For several hundred euros your product can have a important-sounding medal to stick on the bottle.

Leave it to Rio

Think a gold medal means a whiskey was judged against all of its peers and found to be the best? Nope. In a "whiskey Olympics" a gold medal can be awarded to every whiskey in a category. Not that there are many whiskeys in each race, since the category will have been sliced thinly to exclude most competitors in the first place. (Congrats to the Irish Single Malt Cask Strength Single Cask Aged 13-14 Years Whiskey Gold Medal Winner for overcoming stiff opposition!)

Nor is the gold a rank; it's an acknowledgement of quality, apparently. So everyone can have a medal just for participating (i.e. paying). Gold is not even the highest award available. That will be Double Gold, or Master, or Crown of Awesome, or whatever.

Irish Supermarket Blended Whiskey, KBE

Think an "Irish" food and drink awards scheme is necessarily Irish? Of course not! It'll likely be some British PR firm hoovering up easy money from a thousand Irish producers and doling out awards like the Queen dishes out New Year's Honours.

The Irish Irish Whiskey Awards Award

So I'm awarding my own award, for an Irish spirits competition that meets several criteria:
  • It's Irish
  • It doesn't charge a fee for entry
  • It's judged by people who are familiar with Irish whiskey
  • Not everybody wins
And the award (the only award) goes to... The Irish Whiskey Awards!

Now in it's fourth year, The Irish Whiskey Awards are organised by Ally Alpine at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. The judging is scrupulously thorough and entirely blind, and involves members of the Celtic Whiskey Club and Irish Whiskey Society, honest folk who train hard throughout the year to keep their Irish whiskey palates honed.

The awards ceremony last year was a huge party for the industry. This year's bash will be held in the old Tullamore Dew distillery building in Tullamore. Tickets are €40. All proceeds go to charity.

If you are in the business and you have a spirit you think the world should know about (it's not just for whiskey, there are categories for vodka, gin, poitín and liqueur too), why not throw it in to the mix? It's the Irish spirits community supporting itself, and a good cause to boot.

Remember, Thursday is the deadline!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Join us for a gin!

American Gin Tasting
7pm, Wednesday, Aug 10th
The Palace Bar, 21 Fleet Street, Dublin 2



All the noise about Irish whiskey in recent years has equipped the (wo)man on the street with a few handy talking points they can resort to when stuck in a conversation with me. Distilleries, styles, brands... we Irish are beginning to get a handle on the topic.

We are not yet such diligent students of gin. Sure, we've noticed the cucumber garnish and can order a Hendrick's by name but that's about it. We don't ponder how it's made or what's in it and are largely oblivious to the recent appearance of Irish craft gins.

It is not that gin is inherently less interesting than whiskey. Historically, in fact, gin and whiskey had much the same starting point.

The problem they both address is how to make spirit distilled from malted grain palatable. Throwing that spirit into oak casks for a few years will knock the harsh edges off and infuse new flavours from the wood. That's whiskey.

Now take that same raw malt spirit, add juniper, spices and other botanicals, distil one more time... et voilà: gin. Or at least the precursor to modern gin. We have since discovered how to distil pure alcohol so we no longer need to mask the underlying taste. But the idea of botanically flavouring spirit persists.

The development of both whiskey and gin was influenced by international trade. Whiskey makers reused the casks that had been used to ship fortified wine to these parts. The Dutch, who invented gin, had global trade connections and colonial possessions that supplied the home market with exotic fruits, berries and spices that became the ingredients of gin. The British enthusiastically adopted the Dutch drink. They had their own global trading empire, surely no coincidence.

Gin though, more than whiskey, is a blank slate upon which to tell a story. It's endlessly fascinating. Behold the variety of themes already in Irish gin:

Historical Trade Links

The inspiration for the entire recipe of Blackwater Gin came from a Victorian-era import catalogue of White's of Waterford. Gunpowder Gin highlights its use of Oriental botanicals.


Local

While keeping a familiar base of gin botanicals, some distilleries opt to make their gins hyperlocal too, foraging around the distillery for native plants. So Dingle Gin includes rowan berry, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather. Shortcross Gin uses wild clover, elderflowers, elderberries and green apples. Dublin City Gin celebrates Dublin rhubarb, something we all seem to grow and quietly adore.

Highbank goes the extra mile and makes the base spirit for its Organic Apple Crystal Gin from apples grown in its own orchard. Echlinville (makers of Jawbox Gin) does the same with grain from around its distillery on the Ards Peninsula.

Seasonal

One step beyond local is seasonal. Glendalough makes four gins a year with the taste of each heavily influenced by plants foraged in season. Dingle now offers seasonal variations too.

As a lifelong city dweller unschooled in Nature, I finally have a way in to plants, flowers, trees, roots, all that cool stuff. Thanks, Professor Gin!

"Homemade"

Savvy folk who know when and where to look for the likes of sloes and damsons have long made their own infused gins, combining an off-the-shelf gin with local berries and fruits. There are now commercial versions like St Patrick's Sloe & Honey.

Story-diven

Besides being a vehicle for flavour, gin can carry a good story too. The true tale of the world's oldest cow is proving a popular draw for Bertha's Revenge (nicely tied in with the milk-derived base spirit). Thin Gin is linked with a larger-than-life character from the owner's family's past.

Jawbox Gin invokes the character of Belfast city, Glendalough resurrects St Kevin. Like football fans, gin drinkers can painlessly acquire a smattering of geography, and history to boot.

Echlinville Distillery, makers of Jawbox Gin

Bar brands

Placing the focus back on the contents of the bottle are the bar and distillery house brands, like Black's Gin (from Black's Brewery and Distillery in Kinsale), Eglington Gin (An Púcán, Galway) and No. 57 Irish Gin (from 57 The Headline).

Only the beGINning...

There are a bunch more Irish gin brands on the way, not to mention hundreds next door in Great Britain and countless others worldwide. Now is the perfect time to jump into gin with both feet, while we are all just figuring it out.

Come join us for a gin or four!

To help the conversation along, myself and Marie Byrne are organising a gin tasting in Dublin this month. If all goes well, it will become a regular event. It's not a money-making venture, or a formal society, it's just somewhere for gin fans to congregate, try something new, and learn more about the spirit.

The first tasting is on Wednesday, August 10th, upstairs at The Palace Bar on Fleet Street, at 7pm (sharp!). The theme is American gin. We'll be tasting Aviation Gin, Cold River Gin, FEW American Gin, and Death's Door Gin. Samples will be generous, to allow tasting without and with tonic.

There will also be a chance to scratch and sniff a couple of the botanicals used in these gins.

All this for just €20! Tickets available here.

Do come, it will be fun!

Aviation Gin 
A few more American gins, and a mystery botanical!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Oliver Hughes

There are two people in the Irish whiskey industry that I put in a category of their own: John Teeling and Oliver Hughes. They share an ability to speak about business in plain language openly, honestly and generously with anyone, and they have inspired countless entrepreneurs in their wake as a result.

Sadly, Oliver Hughes passed away suddenly this weekend.

Oliver Hughes, at the opening of Dingle Distillery
Beer drinkers have cause to thank him for standing in the way of the total domination of multinational beer brands in Ireland, and for proving that brewing local craft beer is viable.

Spirits drinkers like myself are grateful for the Dingle Whiskey Distillery, the first of the new crop of distilleries to release a whiskey, Dingle Cask No. 2 (three years old, last December). Then there's Dingle Gin, the first of the new wave of Irish distilled gins. And Dingle Vodka.

Oliver's Dingle Whiskey Bar in Dublin is a home-from-home for the whiskey fan and venue for weekly whiskey classes with A Glass Apart author, Fionnán O'Connor.

For a slightly younger, trendier set, perhaps, there are the Dance & Distil sessions every weekend at Lillie's Bordello, where patrons can watch gins and flavoured vodkas distilled in front of them.

Oliver was also a co-founder of the forthcoming Sliabh Liag Distillery in County Donegal.

Oliver Hughes' opinions on business were never dull, often unprintable, always illuminating. The last time I spoke with Oliver was at Lillie's. He inspired an idea in my head that night that I have spent the last few months working hard on.

Thank you, Oliver.

My sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

Dingle Whiskey Distillery, Cask No. 1

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Jameson - The Whiskey Makers Series (etc.)

I remember a theory advanced some years ago that Jameson had exhausted the pool of potential Irish whiskey drinkers in the United States. To pursue further growth, it would have to pitch lifestyle rather than product. Think cosmopolitan party lubricant rather than heritage craft spirit.

If that was ever true (and it does fit with some Jameson marketing in recent years), it no longer is.

Craft focus 

The re-emphasis on craft began, I think, with Jameson Select Reserve, launched in 2010. It soon acquired a "Black Barrel" strapline calling attention to the heavily charred oak casks used for its maturation. Black Barrel promotional events featured the distillery's master cooper, Ger Buckley, knocking down and rebuilding casks around Ireland and beyond.

The Black Barrel Craft Series showcased collaborations with weavers, leatherworkers and so on, further humanising the 5 million case a year brand juggernaut that is Jameson.

Another small-scale collaboration with the local Franciscan Well brewery became an unexpected hit. Jameson whiskey finished in casks that had previously held stout was released as Jameson Caskmates, and it has since been getting the same marketing love that Black Barrel got.

Jameson Caskmates, another 'craft' collaboration
Note that word 'craft' in the advertisement again. Caskmates may have been a happy accident but it plugged neatly into a project started four years ago to completely rethink the Jameson range.

Project Clean Sweep

The result of that project has been the ruthless culling of the Jameson "Reserve" range. Gone are the Special Reserve (12yo), Gold Reserve and Rarest Vintage Reserve. The Limited Reserve (18yo) has been spared for now, but it is absent in the new family photos. The name "Select Reserve" has also been dropped from bottles of Jameson Black Barrel.

Jameson Black Barrel


Signature Reserve survives, as Jameson Signature. It has always been exclusive to Travel Retail and the press release indicates that's still the case. I've heard that may change now that there are three new Travel Retail exclusives (the Deconstructed Series below).

Jameson Signature

Crested Ten has become Jameson Crested. (There is an 'X' in the label background, an echo of the 'Ten'.) This was mostly a domestic brand that has now been launched in other markets. The opportunity was taken to tweak the recipe a bit but it remains a sherry-forward version of Jameson.

Jameson Crested

Out of fashion, along with the word "Reserve", is Jameson's signature green glass. The updated range, aside from standard Jameson and Caskmates (because it's also standard Jameson, beneath the stout finish), now comes in clear bottles. Looks very well it does. It would suit standard Jameson too, I'm sure, but at the risk of confusing the consumers of 5m cases a year. I wouldn't take that risk either. Perhaps a limited St Patrick's Day clear bottle edition could test the waters?

In with the new

Pulling so many expressions at once, I might have expected some grumbling in the whiskey drinking community. I've always held up Jameson Gold as an exceptional Irish blend, for example, and I'm sorry to see it go. But there has been general understanding of the worthy motivations behind all of this. Besides, there are some shiny new whiskeys to dive into, which draws some of the sting. Let's take a squint at those...

Deconstructed Series

Known as Bold, Lively and Round, these are the new Travel Retail exclusives, taking Signature Reserve's place in that regard. The idea is that each plays up one contribution to the overall experience of drinking Jameson. So Bold is the pot still whiskey contribution, Lively is the grain whiskey contribution, and Round is the wood influence.

The Deconstructed range

I haven't tried any of these yet but the RRP is only €36 so they are worth a punt.

Makers Series

On the face of it, the Makers series is quite similar to Deconstructed in that it separately highlights different aspects of Jameson whiskey. The twist here is that three of the distillery "masters" have each been asked to create a blend that illustrates their own speciality. The bottlings are named after key tools they use to do their job.

Distiller's Safe

This is master distiller Brian Nation's creation. It keeps cask type constant (ex-bourbon, obviously) and the age fairly young to limit the wood influence while blending various distillates to produce a characterful whiskey.
Jameson Distiller's Safe

In the mix there is some heavy pot, regular grain whiskey, and a portion of another small batch grain that hasn't appeared in any other whiskey from Midleton (it's a variation on the Black Barrel small batch grain that is made from a pot still mash, distilled once in a pot still, then finished in the final columns of a column still).

Note that the Makers series doesn't stick strictly to the components present in ordinary Jameson.

The name refers to the spirit safe through which the output of distillation flows. The distiller uses it to monitor the alcohol content and to select only the most desirable portion of the output for further distillation and eventual casking.

Cooper's Croze

This is master cooper Ger Buckley's whiskey. It keeps age and distillate variation to a minimum and goes to town on cask type with first-fill bourbon casks, first-fill sherry casks, and virgin oak casks employed.
Jameson Cooper's Croze

There was virgin oak in the Jameson Gold too but the wood influence is clearer here.

A croze is a tool for carving a groove around the inside of a barrel for securing the barrel end.

Blender's Dog

Master blender Billy Leighton had a free hand to vary distillate, cask type and age for this one. Well, not an entirely free hand, because part of the skill of the blender is to ensure that the whiskey is reproducible year after year, with enough stock always available to bottle fresh batches. Billy oversaw the development of the other two whiskeys as well to ensure this would be the case.

Jameson Blender's Dog
Billy wanted to demonstrate how age influences a whiskey, where the lighter floral fruity notes come from in Jameson and how these are balanced out with wood and time. Thus the Blender's Dog includes standard grain whiskey, some aged in younger refill bourbon casks, some in older virgin American oak which contribute floral and heavier charred oak notes respectively.

There is also some spirit aged in sherry casks and first-fill bourbon casks, but with a different profile and a wider age range to the Cooper's Croze.

A blender's dog is a cup on a chain that is lowered through a cask bunghole to extract a sample.

Personal touch

Each bottle bears the fingerprint of the maker behind it, to push home the message that Jameson is made by real people. (There's also a fingerprint on the new Black Barrel label, but I don't know to whom it belongs.)

The whiskeys are all bottled at 43% and are not chill-filtered. Nor is there added colouring. Side-by-side in their clear bottles, there is obvious colour variation between the expressions which is exactly what you would expect given the different woods and ages involved.

They are all priced at a suggested €70. With a traditional whiskey family of escalating ages, you position yourself on the ladder according to what you can afford. With this new concept of a horizontal family, you can buy the whiskey you like the best.

Assuming you can stump up €70, that is. The revamped Jameson range is a response to the younger drinkers who have reacted enthusiastically to Black Barrel and Caskmates. It gives them another waypoint in their continuing exploration and enjoyment of Jameson whiskey. It's quite a step up from Black Barrel's €47 price tag though. A set of three 200ml bottles would be more affordable (and luggable), and would be attractive as a self-administered whiskey masterclass.

At the launch, a quick poll of favourites at our table counted 6 votes for Cooper's Croze, and one vote for each of the other two. I hear the Cooper's Croze is outselling the others handily at Dublin Airport too. But I suggest watching out for a tasting of the three side-by-side and making up your own mind. (There's a tasting on August 18th in Dublin, as it happens.)

Without Fear

That was the new Jameson line-up, as announced. Brian Nation, however, dropped a mention of one more Jameson expression in a recent interview: Jameson Gan Eagla. (The Irish phrase means 'without fear'; it's on the Jameson crest in Latin.)

It has not been mentioned anywhere else, to my knowledge. According to Brian, it represents "the future of Jameson" but I know nothing more about it.


Bonus Content: Eat like a Master

If you want to know how to tempt three Midleton masters out of Cork, the secret is to allow them to choose a course each for a meal hosted by L. Mulligan Grocer in Dublin. For the Makers Series Dublin launch, they revealed their culinary preferences to Mulligan's co-owner and food genius, Seaneen O'Sullivan, who came up with the menu below. The text was written by Mulligan's.

Brian Nation, Ger Buckley and Billy Leighton
Starter

Seared scallops, black pudding bon bon, red wine poached pear purée, pea shoots.

This course is an homage to Brian Nation, Head Distiller. We have used black pudding made by ‘Sir’ Jack McCarthy, Cork’s finest butcher, and paired it with East Cork scallops which is Brian’s (an aspiring Masterchef contestant!) favourite starter. The dish is served on a russet coloured plate, mimicking the copper of the still.

Main course

Slow roast fillet of Ballinwillin House beef, carrot purée, rainbow carrot & potato gratin, wild mushroom duxelles, pickled mushroom, spiced beef jus.

Cork’s best fillet from Ballinwillin Farm is served as an homage to Head Cooper, Ger Buckley. A proud Corkman, he graciously decided against inflicting spiced beef upon us all, so we have spiced the jus with star anise & nutmeg as a nod to the Cork staple dish. The mushrooms have been toasted over oak and then slightly charred, echoing the wood of the casks and the barrel charring process.

Dessert

Chocolate mousse, lemon curd, apricot purée, blackcurrant purée, raspberries, strawberries, cape gooseberry, sea salt chocolate oranges, meringues, apple sticks.

Billy, the Head Blender, requested fruit salad for dessert. We have taken seasonal fruit and poached it in Northern Irish honey. Billy is from North Antrim, where a famous sweet called Yellowman is made. We have served this alongside, as well as blends tiny meringues and lemon curd.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Irish Whiskey Society "Marrowbone Lane" Single Pot Still

There is a clue to the origins of the latest Irish Whiskey Society bottling in the pages of A Glass Apart, the ultimate guide to Irish single pot still whiskey. It's in the description of a legendary single pot still whiskey released at the turn of the millennium, Jameson 15-year old:
... this bottle is dense like a sinking ship full of dates and figs, punctured by the bristle of its own brown sugar gingers and drowning in an oil spillage... Wide cut, unrelentingly lathery, dense Irish spirit aged in an old sherry barrel - the kind of whiskey that would have been right at home in [the Dublin of the late 1800s]
The author can't quite bring himself to favour one whiskey above all others but quietly confesses that, if pressed, he would probably name this one.

He's not alone. Many members of the Irish Whiskey Society have tasted old Irish pot still whiskey from long-silent distilleries, enjoyed its characteristic oily, musty heft and now await its return like the Second Coming. Back in 2000, Jameson 15yo indicated both that the new Midleton distillery could venture into the denser reaches of the pot still spectrum, and that there was at least some inclination at the distillery to do so.

Fast forward to today, and Ireland has just marked the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Rather than focusing solely on the headline events of that year, the hugely popular commemorations aimed to recall the lives of ordinary Irish citizens a hundred years ago.

The Irish Whiskey Society's bottling for 2016 meshed well with this theme. The committee, led by the president, Peter White, aimed to recreate a typical Dublin whiskey of 1916. That would be the heavy pot still spirit mentioned above, aged in an indifferent sherry cask (wood management and consistency not being the thing then that it is now) that kept the distillate character to the fore during maturation.

A sub-committee of Peter, Willie Murphy (a noted collector of old Irish whiskey and whiskey lore) and Fionnán O'Connor (the author of A Glass Apart) drew up a more precise liquid brief for submission to Midleton distillery, heavily influenced by the lingering memory of Jameson 15yo.

With the brief in mind, Billy Leighton, Midleton's master blender, drew samples from three casks that the committee tasted one evening in January at Wynn's Hotel.

Marrowbone Lane Edition Single Pot Still

The whiskey chosen from those three for the 1916 commemorative bottling is an 11-year old single pot still. It spent the first 7 years in refill bourbon casks and the last 4 years in a first-fill oloroso sherry cask.

Bourbon casks are not exactly faithful to the period but if the point is to avoid a lot of wood influence, a refill bourbon is the best available option today. A first-fill sherry cask, on the other hand, is quite potent and those final 4 years are clearly imprinted on the liquid.

The whiskey is named the Marrowbone Lane Edition, commemorating one of the "Big Four" distilleries operating in Dublin in 1916, William Jameson & Co, of Marrowbone Lane. It was occupied by rebels during the Easter Rising but is almost entirely forgotten today. Hardly a trace remains of the 14-acre distillery.

The Marrowbone Lane Edition was launched last Thursday at Wynn's Hotel. Wynn's is the current venue for Dublin meetings of the Irish Whiskey Society but it has its own strong associations with 1916. Besides hosting the founding meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 with several leaders of the subsequent Rising in attendance, the hotel was completely destroyed during the fighting of 1916.

The building didn't appear to harbour any grudges and the launch was a happy event with society members and representatives of Irish Distillers enjoying a superb and unique whiskey in historic surroundings.

Fionnán O'Connor, Peter White, Willie Murphy [Photo courtesy of Ove Grunnér]

Fionnán introduced the Marrowbone Lane Edition noting, by the way, that it did not turn out to be a reproduction of the elusive Jameson 15yo (that quest continues), but that it is still a fitting nod to the hallowed Dublin whiskeys of a century ago.

The whiskey was filled into cask on February 13th, 2005, and bottled on March 9th, 2016, at a cask strength of 54.7% ABV. The 300 bottles in this release are available only to members of the Irish Whiskey Society.

The tasting notes were also written by Fionnán:
Nose 
Sherry – but not the sweet, pungent sherry of many modern malts. Musky old sherry distorted into something drier, more leathery, and less immediately inviting by the pot still mustiness and liquorice once sported by the genre hallmarks. Beneath that, a bass clef robustness of earthy distillate-driven oils, cloves, shoe polishy resins and herbal moss all strangely stained by the Oloroso glaze. 
Palate 
Like an old traditional Dublin pot still with a touch of the pub’s house sherry tipped in... Classic pre 70s too-dry-for-dried-fruit apricot, old polished floorboards, and sherry stained leather like the musty linoleum over a spicy base so thick that even its irrepressible spices feel a little too heavy for spice. Large sip advised for texture. 
Finish 
Not so much long as mouth filling. Oils, resins, and a slight sherry echo. The finale, like the palate, is all about weight – and that weight is unapologetically cut with the prickles of its own residual oils.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Bloom 2016

Bloom is a magical village where the weather is always sunny and the people are always happy. Like some kind of Irish Food Board-sponsored Brigadoon, it appears from nowhere once a year in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Bloom has several distinct themes but for me it's a chance to meet small food & drink producers from all over the country. Many of them have launched since last year's event and have brought their wares to Dublin for the first time. It's a great opportunity for consumers and producers alike.

I was at Bloom on its first day yesterday. Here are a few highlights from the drinks tent.

Bloom Inn

Blackwater Distillery

Blackwater distillery, inspired by the strawberries coming into season in the neighbouring county of Wexford, has just launched a new gin: Wexford Strawberry Gin.

Peter Mulryan and Kieran Curtin of Blackwater Distillery

The watery fruit proved reluctant to yield its flavour despite macerating in alcohol for 48 hours before distillation. The result does not shout strawberry but a good gin should aim for balanced flavours anyway and this is a very good gin. The strawberry is there in the mix. Particularly, I felt, in the finish.

The colour does not survive distillation, of course, so the gin is tinted an eye-catching pink post-distillation with blackcurrants and more strawberries.

It is served at Bloom with tonic, a slice of strawberry, basil and cracked black pepper.


Móinéir Wine

More strawberries, this time a 100% Irish strawberry wine, made by Brett Stephenson and Pamela Walsh of Wicklow Way Wines. The Irish word "móinéir" means "meadows".


The strawberries are pressed, fermented and then aged in a process that takes about a year. The outcome is an off-dry wine with a rich natural red colour.

The wine can be paired with food (including spicy dishes, the website suggests) or served as an aperitif.

It is only just launched but is available in Whelehans Wines in Loughlinstown, The Parting Glass in Enniskerry, and online from the company itself.

There are more wines on the way, including Blackberry & Elderberry and Elderflower.


Stonewell Cider

East Ferry Farm in Midleton had a few acres under rhubarb that risked going unused. So they called up Daniel Emerson of Stonewell to see if he had any thoughts.

Daniel dug out one of his retired hand-cranked apple scratters and set to juicing the rhubarb. He then fermented it with sugar to a strength of 12%. Due to the acidity, fermentation is slow.

An unusual feature of rhubarb, he told me, is that it retains its flavour and aroma through fermentation. With the rhubarb wine as the backbone, he added small amounts of eating apple cider, dessert apple cider and fresh dessert apple juice. For visual appeal, fresh rhubarb juice made from the redder stalks was also blended in.


The delicate and refreshing result is available on cask at Bloom. In about three weeks' time it will be available in 330ml bottles too, though with a slightly higher fresh rhubarb juice content for a more rosé tint.

By the way, a top tip from a professional rhubarb farmer: don't cut your rhubarb in the heat. It will not regenerate as quickly. Thursday was so blazingly hot that East Ferry's harvest had been delayed until nightfall.


Glendalough Distillery

Glendalough makes seasonal gins, foraging in the forests of Wicklow for botanicals. I was very impressed by their distinctive Spring gin last year. The 2016 version came out a few weeks ago.


It's similar to last year's recipe with about 23 botanicals in all, gorse flower to the fore. That said, with a foraged product it is impossible to replicate previous batches exactly. This one is lighter but still very flavourful.

3,000 bottles of each season were made last year. Volumes will be much higher this year to match demand. They will also hold back a proportion so that they will eventually be able to sell all four seasons side-by-side.


Longueville House

2009 is the latest apple brandy vintage from Longueville House. The apples would have been picked in 2006, fermented to cider, double-distilled, then aged for 4 to 5 years in French oak casks. The fruits of all that effort can be had for the very reasonable price of €35 (for a 50cl bottle). Anyone who finds Irish whiskey becoming too pricey should run Irish apple brandy past their palate.



Longueville House Mór is their base cider fortified with their own brandy. The brandy brings the ABV up from 5% to 8%.



Teeling Whiskey Company

Besides their familiar trio of single malt, single grain and blend, Teeling brought along their new poitín. This is the first released product actually distilled at the new distillery. It's a triple distilled pot still spirit (50% malted barley, 50% unmalted barley), a glimpse of the whiskey that will eventually emerge from cask in a few years' time.

It's one more milestone in the revival of distilling in Dublin, something Teeling marked with a Revival Single Malt last October. There were 10,000 bottles of that all-rum cask matured 15yo malt, now sold out at the distillery shop. There will be a second edition Revival arriving within a few weeks. That will be a 13yo Calvados finish single malt. I tasted it at a recent meeting of the Irish Whiskey Society and I reckon it's going to find a lot of fans, myself included.

Kevin Hurley, Teeling's Global Brand Ambassador, was behind the stand serving up his own cocktail creation, the Teeling Redleg Rebellion. Starting with the rum-influenced Small Batch whiskey, the cocktail layers on tropical and Caribbean flavours of pineapple, citrus and falernum (a sweet and spicy citrus liqueur from Barbados).

The Sun Tavern in London (specialising in Irish whiskey and poitín) recently posted a two-part interview with Kevin...






Dingle Distillery

There is plenty of interest to come from Dingle this year. They already have a good gin, along with a fairly recently launched set of seasonal varieties. In a few months they will add a more premium gin to this lineup.


Dingle began distilling whiskey at the end of 2012. In about October this year they hope to have bottled a selection of whiskeys - both single malt and single pot still - matured in various kinds of wood.



Monday, 29 February 2016

Redbreast Single Cask 1999

The Whisky Exchange, a London (and online) retailer of fine spirits, has bagged itself an exclusive single (sherry) cask Redbreast pot still whiskey. I refer you to their own blog for the full story and detailed tasting notes. The basic stats: 59.9% ABV, 16 years old, 576 bottles, £180.

When I heard about it, I was a little wary. I've tried plenty of whiskeys that tasted more like sherry than whiskey, including a cask sample or two from the Midleton distillery. I tend to eschew a whiskey where one element is too loud in the mix but, for some, such "sherry bombs" are a treat to be relished.

A small sample fell through the letterbox on Friday, which I've just poured...


It's a big whiskey. The sherry-seasoned wood and pot still spirit have clearly been duking it out for 16 years in the cask, but neither has managed to gain the upper hand. They have both bulked up in the process though and are now delivering huge punches of prunes, raisins, liquorice, spices... It's all there, amped up, but still remarkably balanced.

I thoroughly enjoyed being whacked around the chops by this heavyweight tag team. It's unlike anything else on my (mostly Irish) shelf, which includes several other members of the Redbreast family. If you're a Redbreast fan, and cool with cask strength whiskey, you've got to love this.