Monday, 26 October 2015

Whiskey Live Dublin 2015

Even with a revised battle plan after last year’s defeat, I failed once again to talk to every Irish exhibitor at Whiskey Live Dublin. I think I did as well as I could do in the three hours, mostly resisting the siren calls of cocktails, food pairings and furrin whiskeys.

The new whiskeys I tried that I most look forward to revisiting are:
  • Tullamore Dew 14yo Single Malt
  • Teeling 15yo Revival
  • Bushmills Rum and Crystal Malt cask samples
  • The Palace Bar 12yo Port Cask.
Four of these five looked beyond the usual bourbon and sherry casks for maturation. Maybe that was the theme of Whiskey Live for me this year.

I’ve written up some notes from the event below. My apologies to Longueville House, St Patrick’s Distillery, Dingle Distillery, Midleton, Knappogue Castle, Echlinville Distillery and the Celtic Whiskey Shop, all of whom I intended to visit and, I’m sure, all of whom had exciting news to impart.

Thin Gin

One drink I was looking forward to finding out about was Thin Gin, from the same people who brought us Muldoon Irish Whiskey Liqueur.

At the Irish Whiskey Awards last week Thin Gin walked away with the top prize in the gin category (beating 12 others). It was an impressive way to announce a new brand to the world.

Nichola Beresford of Blackwater Irish Spirits (no relation to Blackwater Distillery, makers of Blackwater Gin) filled me in.

Thin Gin is named after an American, Isaac Thin, who once lived in Waterford and was a friend of Nichola’s great-grandmother. He was known for bringing his own “bathtub” gin along to parties. Rough stuff, apparently, which led to Nichola’s family dismissing all poor spirits thenceforth as “Thin’s Gin”.

This new Thin Gin, of course, is far more palatable. It’s an “Irish dry gin”, distilled with many Irish botanicals. Citrus is definitely to the fore but there are 17 botanicals in all, including apple, tansy, thyme, mugwort, elderflower, hawthorn flower, orange blossom, lemon balm, lime, red clover and white clover.

The RRP is €35.

Lexington Brewing & Distilling

This is the company I have always referred to as Alltech, that began distilling in Ireland from temporary accommodation in Carlow in November 2012 (very close to 3 years ago, the legal minimum age for Irish whiskey!).

The distilling has been on hiatus for a while now as they construct a new distillery in Dublin by converting a former church.

The build is moving along nicely. The required archaeology work is complete. The roof is completely renewed and readied for a glass spire. Buildings on either side have been acquired to allow space for a visitor centre.

The estimated completion date is the second half of 2016.

The site is quite small so it will always be a boutique distillery. There is a possibility Alltech will set up a volume distilling operation somewhere on the island of Ireland as well, perhaps incorporated into their recently acquired brewery in Newry. (Although if I had a brewery in Newry, I’d open my distillery in Killary.)

Tullamore Dew

The new Tullamore Dew 14 year old Single Malt was launched at Whisky Live Paris at the end of September and we should see it on sale here by the end of the year. It’s a 4-cask finish, like the existing 10yo Single Malt - port, sherry, bourbon and madeira. This one, however, is triple-distilled, not double-distilled, which aligns it with the rest of the range.

It’s what is often called a “Christmas whiskey”, redolent of cake spices and fruits. It’s good.

It’s only available in France at the moment. I see Maison du Whisky has it listed for €68.

The 10yo - which I was not hugely fond of, though many were - will be phased out in favour of the new 14yo.

The Palace Bar

Proprietor Willie Aherne himself was there, and showed me the latest Palace Bar bottling, once again from the Teeling Whiskey Company. It’s a limited edition of 1,000 bottles, a 12yo single malt, port single cask. Not a finish, all port-matured!

The port influence is very restrained though. It’s a lovely whiskey, one I’d like on my own shelf.

The label is literary-themed, with a drawing of three of the bar’s former patrons - Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien.

It will be properly launched in the next fortnight or so, and I’ll have more details then.

Kalak Vodka

This is Kalak’s first appearance at Whiskey Live and it was getting some excellent notices around the room. (See my own thoughts here.)

The latest list of Irish stockists is on the Kalak website and America can look forward to its appearance there in the first quarter of 2016.

Kalak’s founder, Patrick Shelley, was interviewed on Newstalk’s Down to Business earlier in the morning.

Jack Ryan’s

This whiskey was launched a couple of years ago by the pub, Ryan’s at Beggars Bush. Since then it has been going global, and is already available in the UK, Sweden, Germany, France and the US (15 states so far and rolling out to more). It should arrive in New Zealand and Australia by Christmas.

This is really a revival of a century-old whiskey brand since the Ryan family bottled its own whiskey up until the 1950s - Ryan’s Malt - sourced from various Dublin distilleries, all long closed now. It’s great to see this Irish pub tradition returning.

There will be a 15yo limited release of 500 bottles towards the end of November, to mark the centenary of Jack Ryan’s birth.

The Irish Whiskey Society

The Irish Whiskey Society continues to grow in membership and geographic reach, with new chapters in Cork, Galway and the South-East.

The next tasting is on Thursday, the 29th, the theme triple-distillation. That’s something often associated with Irish whiskey but Liam Smith will be introducing us to triple-distilled whiskeys from other countries too.

And, of course, as November approaches, society members are looking forward to the final tasting of the year, the President’s Selection, when the president is allowed to go nuts with society funds and choose some particularly fancy whiskeys for us to try.  It’s strictly members only for this tasting though so be sure to join up!

Teeling Whiskey Company

I had a chocolate made with Teeling Small Batch Whiskey by Skelligs Chocolate. Tasty stuff, sold at the distillery shop.

The main event on this stand was the Teeling 15yo Revival Single Malt. It has spent all 15 years in ex-rum casks (I was told they were tequila casks before that). 46%, non-chill filtered.

I really liked it (I'm not brave enough to attempt tasting notes based on 1cl samples at a show; also I can't remember the specifics!) and look forward to meeting it again soon. I asked about price but that didn't seem certain yet - €75 to €85? about €120, I hear now (thanks, Serghios!).

Kilbeggan Distilling Company

Not a lot of news here. Kilbeggan (née Cooley) has quite a settled portfolio at this stage. A redesign of the Tyrconnell bottles seems to be on the cards (and will not include a rename).

On a historical note, I discovered from master distiller, Noel Sweeney, that Cooley once made a gin: Four Courts Dublin Dry Gin. It was compounded (like Cork Dry Gin), so not really a precursor of the craft gin explosion we are seeing today.

Irish Whiskey Shop

This wasn’t a stand but I did chat with Colin Hession, one-third of the L. Mulligan Grocer team about their brand new online whiskey shop.

They are stocking and shipping the bottles themselves, with some real rarities among them. There are a few nice opening offers and no doubt it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the site for exclusive bottlings in the future.


Bushmills totally brought it this year. The master distiller, Colum Egan, was on hand, and they had tapped a few casks before setting out:

  • 2008 crystal malt, first-fill bourbon cask, 54.8%
  • 1997 rum cask from the Dominican Republic (all 18 years in the rum cask), 52%
  • First-fill sherry cask, 8yo, 40%
  • First-fill bourbon cask, 40% (I didn’t catch the age)

I tasted the rum cask and the crystal malt. I can’t offer tasting notes but I do recall a great fruity fizz that lingered on for ages from the rum. I loved the nose on the crystal malt, and the flavour too. (I wasn’t very taken by the 1608 Anniversary Edition a few years ago which featured crystal malt but trying it in isolation was a revelation.)

They were both excellent and would go down a storm with whiskey drinkers if released.

Will they be released? There is a “strong likelihood”, but there is no timeframe on that. At least they are now talking about such things again within Bushmills. I’m sure the general feeling among attendees was “Wow, take our money, Bushmills. Please!”

What influence have the new owners, Jose Cuervo, had? One of the first things they did, apparently, was hire a full-time archivist from Queen’s University to catalog and preserve the history of Bushmills. That’s a great thing in itself, obviously, but it’s also a resource for the company to draw on for new product development and marketing. A very positive sign of things to come, I’d say.

Walsh Whiskey Distillery

I’ve been saving up a sample of the 2015 Writers Tears Cask Strength for this moment.

Every year around this time, the new Irishman Cask Strength and Writers Tears Cask Strength come out. 12 or so casks apiece, a couple of thousand bottles, a vatting of malt and pot still spirits.

Being a small batch, each year they are different and each year it’s a modest amusement to pick out my favourite. (Last year it was Writers Tears; the year before, it was Irishman.) I had a tot of the Irishman at Whiskey Live and now, at home, I’m sipping the new Writers Tears.

The Irishman is very good, and mouth-filling but, for me, the Writers Tears pips it this year at the finish, which is long and oily and sweet.

There are 2,100 bottles of Writers Tears and 2,595 bottles of Irishman.

They were showing photos of construction progress on the new Walsh Distillery in Carlow. The three copper stills arrived on September 30th, from Forsyth in Scotland, and are being commissioned now. The column still - in two sections, 12m high, also from Forsyth - turned up on Wednesday.

Distilling could happen by March.

The pots arrive at Walsh Whiskey Distillery. Photo courtesy of Walsh Whiskey.

It was very nice to meet Aidan Finnegan, the Distillery Manager, on the stand. Aidan is formerly of Diageo’s Cameron Bridge, a grain distillery in Scotland with about 100 times the output of Walsh’s new column still.

Walsh now sells in 50 countries and is beginning to make inroads in Asia, beginning with Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Bán Poitín

Poitín is a regular topic of discussion in whiskey circles. Does this category have legs? Does anyone actually like it? What can you do with it?

The general feeling to date, fair or not, is that commercial poitíns have been trading on curiosity value and the hope of a revenue stream before the real product - whiskey - matures.

Bán Poitín is a great leap forward. It has solid craft credentials, being made in partnership with Echlinville Distillery. It took a year-and-a-half to develop the potato, sugar beet and malt recipe.

Dave Mulligan with his very cool bottles of Bán Poitin

It’s good enough to drink on its own, though it’s really intended for spirits-led cocktails. The London cocktail scene is currently getting to grips with it, though it has popped up here and there in Dublin and Belfast. It will see a proper roll out here and in the UK generally soon.


I didn’t get time to properly talk to Glendalough. They have their seasonal gin releases, of course, which come out faster than I can keep up with.

The botanicals are largely foraged around Wicklow so each release is different. The latest Autumn gin is good, better than last year’s, I think. Their Spring gin from this year still stands out though. That was a genuinely different and very interesting flavour.

The possibility of another fascinating gin like that will keep me returning to Glendalough at every opportunity.

Hyde Whiskey

I didn’t chat with anyone from Hyde. They have just launched a companion for their 10yo Sherry Finish Single Malt. It’s also a 10yo single malt, but this time it’s finished for 9 months in a dark rum cask from Mount Gay Distillery in Barbados.

Both whiskeys are Cooley-distilled but Hyde finish them in their own casks in Cork.

Quiet Man / Niche

Niche Drinks has been making cream liqueur in Derry for 30 years. They have had a plan for a few years now to move the liqueur plant to Campsie in Derry where they would have space to add on a whiskey distillery.

This depended on selling the old site, but that is proving difficult. Rather than delay the distillery, Niche will now build it on its own, in Ebrington Square in Derry. The visitor centre will be housed in an old barracks building from 1841, while the distillery will live in a new building beside it.

That’s still awaiting environmental approval.

They have also been buying whiskey for the last 5 years and maturing it themselves. The 8yo Quiet Man, for example, was bought at 3 years old. Niche have a relationship with Heaven Hill and Sazerac in the US through the cream liqueur business so they can get fresh bourbon barrels from them that they then use to further mature the whiskey.

Niche don’t reuse their own casks, they sell them on. They only use first-fill bourbon.

The single malt was distilled originally by Cooley but the blend, I’m told, is from two distinct sources.

They also have a consignment of sherry casks in the warehouse that they have filled with 8yo malt, which will be 10 years old by the time it’s bottled.

Boann Distillery

I was up in Boann Distillery / Brewhouse a couple of months ago. Most of the kit was in place, though not operational, but there was a large empty space where the stills should have been.

They will finally arrive this Thursday, all the way from Italy. It might all be plumbed up and distilling as soon as January.

The brewery part is working already, with the first brew just gone through.

On the stand, they had a bottle of their forthcoming whiskey blend, The Whistler, with a mocked-up label. I asked Pat Cooney, the founder of the distillery, where the name came from. He told me whistling was one of the lost arts and he would like to see its revival. (I’m a competent whistler myself so I’ll help the cause along.)

This whiskey will be a placeholder until their own spirit is mature. It is sourced from Cooley.

Great Northern Distillery

Great Northern’s business model is to supply bulk whiskey to retail and private labels rather than to develop its own brands. It was nice, therefore, that they came along to a largely consumer event to let us all see what’s going on.

I met John Teeling, his wife, Deirdre, and Allan Anderson, Great Northern’s Distillery Manager.

The site is a former brewery and the copper pot stills are converted brewing vessels from those days. I’ve been curious, then, to see what kind of spirit they would produce. They have already made malt spirit and there was some on the stand to nose and taste.

At 80%, it tasted just like I’d expect new make to taste, and with plenty of flavour. I don’t know how risky they judged the copper pot conversion to be (they said they were too busy with everything else to be nervous) but they must be happy with the results so far. There is still some tweaking to be done, and they have yet to distil pot still spirit.

Great Northern also has a column still and there was new make grain (maize) spirit at 94% available to taste too. This one was very pleasant to drink (aside from the throat-closing effect of the high alcohol strength).

There is lots of unused space on the site and John Teeling considers a smaller boutique-scale distillery to be a distinct possibility to supply customers with particular requirements.

Nor does he rule out re-establishing brewing on the site, if it makes business sense.

I asked about gin and vodka but he said “I don’t know how you make money on it”, even though his costs would be very low there. That should worry a few distillers around the country!

John Teeling still has a couple of heritage whiskey brands - Burke’s and Castletown (I haven’t heard of that one) and a stock of mature whiskey, but there is no particular plan to release anything yet.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

One week to go!

Only a week to go to the marathon. My goal this year is to get around the whole circuit in just three-and-a-half hours.

I should have trained more. Last year was a disaster. I completed just half the course.

And that was in a smaller venue; this year’s Whiskey Live takes place in The Printworks, Dublin Castle.

(I believe there is a marathon of the running sort on next weekend too but that’s not a feat of pacing and endurance like Whiskey Live.)

If I get to visit all the Irish stands I’ll be happy, but that’s what I hoped last year too and I didn't succeed.

The problem is that it’s just too enjoyable. A chance to grill the makers and purveyors of my favourite spirits? And they can’t escape? Heaven. But I lose track of time.

Next Saturday, I will try the latest whiskeys and fill the gaps in my tasting of older stock. I’ll hear whispers of what’s in the pipeline and what’s being discontinued. Perhaps I’ll even meet prospective distillers on the floor revealing their intentions publicly for the first time.

Should you go?

If you already know you like whiskey, don’t miss Whiskey Live. Just don’t.

If you think you might like whiskey, Whiskey Live is the best chance you’ll get all year to zero in on the styles that appeal most to you.

If you don’t like whiskey, there will be whiskey liqueur, poitín, vodka, gin, apple brandy, and cocktails. You will not go thirsty. There will also be food pairings. Or look at it as an inspiring chat with Irish craftspeople and entrepreneurs. Or as a contribution to a good charity. (At least €10 from each ticket goes to Down Syndrome Dublin.)

Every Irish person should have an informed position on one of our greatest national products. If the government cared about education, whiskey appreciation would be taught in schools. Until that enlightened day arrives, Whiskey Live is where the self-taught gentlemen and lady scholars gather.

I’ve been to every Whiskey Live in Dublin so far. It’s a highlight of the year, a brilliant few hours. Don’t dither, buy a ticket before they sell out. You’ll thank me.

Whiskey Live Dublin 2015
Saturday, 24th October
The Printworks, Dublin Castle

Friday, 16 October 2015

Irish Whiskey Awards 2015

I try to avoid mentioning whiskey awards, in general. They are too often profit-driven, cash-for-medals wheezes designed to deceive consumers.

Not so the Irish Whiskey Awards, presented last night at the Teeling Whiskey Distillery in Dublin. These are organised with scrupulous fairness by Ally Alpine of the Celtic Whiskey Shop. No fee is charged to enter a product (though bottles for judging must be supplied, of course) and profits from ticket sales for the awards evening go to the charity, Mary's Meals.

The Awards are enthusiastically supported by the industry in Ireland, which put its best spirits forward for consideration and turned up in force last night to collect the gongs and enjoy the after party.

They are judged entirely blind by members of the Irish Whiskey Society and the Celtic Whiskey Club. In other words, those weighing in are routine drinkers of the stuff, au fait with the various styles, keep up with new releases, and can sort the wheat from the chaff.

I was out of the country on the judging weekend and so missed chipping in my own vote. I did have a chance at the ceremony last night, however, to taste the winning spirits.

I find myself (mildly) disagreeing with the results this year more than I have done in previous years. Perhaps this is just due to the growing number of whiskeys available, with something to suit every palate. Ally commented that for quite a few of the categories opinion was pretty evenly divided.

I haven't seen the full list of entrants yet but if I was free to choose my own whiskeys of the year I'd nominate the Tullamore Dew 15yo Trilogy and Midleton Dair Ghaelach (tree 4). In other spirits, Bán Poitín and Kalak Vodka have been the exciting new arrivals in their categories.

There were 13 gins up for consideration, a remarkable number given that the oldest of them (Dingle) has only been around for a few years. The winner, Thin Gin, is a new brand, possibly not even on sale yet. It'll be at Whiskey Live Dublin next week so I'll find out more then.

I was also hearing of Mrs Doyle's Irish Cream Liqueur for the first time last night. But we have companies that make many such brands for export so it's not so surprising. It was very tasty, but Coole Swan will always stand out in this category for me.

Redbreast 21yo walked away with the overall prize for the second year running. Few would quibble with that. If anything challenges it, it's most likely another whiskey from the same distillery, Midleton.

Brian Nation, Master Distiller at Midleton

Without further ado, here is the full list of winners and runners up.

Irish Whiskey of the Year (Overall winner) 
Glencairn Trophy Winner - Redbreast 21 Year-Old

Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey
Trophy Winner - Redbreast 21 Year Old

Gold Medal - Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy
Gold Medal - Powers Signature Release

Irish Single Malt Whiskey (12 Years & Younger)
Trophy Winner - Connemara Single Malt

Gold Medal - Teeling Single Malt

Gold Medal - Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt

Irish Single Malt Whiskey (13 Years & Older)
Trophy Winner - Knappogue Castle Vintage 2000 Batch 2 Mongeard Mugneret Burgundy Cask
Gold Medal - The Palace Bar Three Generations Batch 14 Year-Old

Gold Medal - Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt

Irish Blended Whiskey (RRP of less than €60)
Trophy Winner - Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old

Gold Medal - Writers Tears Copper Pot

Gold Medal - Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel

Irish Blended Whiskey (RRP of €60 or more) 
Trophy Winner - Midleton Very Rare 2015

Gold Medal -Jameson Gold Reserve

Gold Medal - Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve

Irish Single Cask Whiskey
Trophy Winner - An Púcán Teeling Whiskey Single Malt
Gold Medal - Celtic Cask Trí Déag

Gold Medal - Celtic Cask Dó Dhéag

Irish Cask Strength Whiskey
Trophy Winner - Tullamore Dew Phoenix

Gold Medal - Midleton Dair Ghaelach

Gold Medal - Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength

Irish Single Grain Whiskey
Trophy Winner - Kilbeggan Single Grain
Gold Medal - Glendalough Single Grain
Gold Medal - Teeling Single Grain 

Irish Poitín
Trophy Winner - Teeling Poitín
Gold Medal - Bán Poitín

Irish Liqueur
Trophy Winner - Mrs Doyle's Irish Cream

Gold Medal - Coole Swan

Gold Medal - The Wild Geese Irish Honey Liqueur

Irish Gin
Trophy Winner - Thin Gin
Gold Medal - Blackwater No 5
Gold Medal - Dingle Gin

Irish Vodka
Trophy Winner - Dingle Vodka

Gold Medal - Untamed Irish Vodka

Gold Medal - St Patrick's Distillery Vodka

Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Irish Craft Beer
Trophy Winner - O'Hara's Barrel Aged Series
Gold Medal - Independent Whiskey Stout
Gold Medal - Franciscan Well Jameson Stout

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (Overall Winner) 
Glencairn Trophy - Dick Mack's, Dingle

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (Leinster) 
Trophy Winner - The Dingle Whiskey Bar, Dublin
Gold Medal - The Whiskey Palace, Dublin

Gold Medal - L Mulligan Grocer, Dublin

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (Munster)
Trophy Winner - Dick Mack's, Dingle
Gold Medal -The Shelbourne Bar, Cork
Gold Medal -The Folkhouse, Kinsale

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (Connaught) 
Trophy Winner - Garavan's Bar, Galway
Gold Medal -An Púcán, Galway

Gold Medal - Tigh Neachtain's, Galway

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (Ulster)
Trophy Winner - The Duke of York, Belfast
Gold Medal - Bittles Bar, Belfast

Gold Medal - McCuaig's bar, Rathlin Island

Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year (International)
Trophy Winner - Whisky and Alement, Melbourne, Australia

Gold Medal - The Shebeen/Irish Heather - Vancouver, BC, Canada
Gold Medal - Scholars Lounge, Rome

Monday, 7 September 2015

Writers Tears, Copper Pots

When the Irish Whiskey Technical File was published, I noted that Writers Tears had been somewhat shortchanged by its relegation to the blended whiskey category.

Typically, a blended whiskey is lighter, cheaper whiskey made in a column still, amped up with a dollop of either pot still or malt whiskey (both made, confusingly, in a pot still) for flavour.

Writers Tears is a blend of just pot still and malt, with no column still contribution, and it's one of the best Irish whiskeys under €50.

Until now, Writers Tears has been able to declare itself a "Pot Still Blend" or even, simply, a "Pot Still Irish Whiskey" on its packaging. "Pot Still Whiskey" has an older meaning, however, one now resurrected and given legal force by the Technical File. Writers Tears, though made in pot stills, is not a pot still whiskey. It contains pot still whiskey, but in a blend with malt whiskey.

While the File was still being drawn up by the Irish Whiskey Association, I asked the company founder, Bernard Walsh, if there would be a special category for Writers Tears (along with his similarly formulated Irishman whiskeys). Apparently, though, it was never raised as a subject for consideration, there being too many other matters to tease out.

Instead, Walsh Whiskey is going with the simpler expedient of replacing the words "Pot Still" with "Copper Pot" on the label. It's a reminder that Writers Tears is made the old fashioned way and it comes, appropriately, just as the new Walsh Distillery in Carlow takes delivery of its copper pot stills from Forsyths in Scotland.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dan Kelly's Whiskey Cask-Aged Cider

Previously on Liquid Irish...

If you recall, I ended a post a couple of months back on quite the cliffhanger. Oak casks had been used to ferment cider, emptied, then filled with Irish whiskey for a few months. The whiskey subsequently appeared on the shelves as a Cider Cask Finish. But what happened to the cider??

Cut to the present day...

Enter Dan Kelly's "Full Steam" Cider at last weekend's Irish Craft Beer Festival in Dublin. The blackboard in the photo below tells the story of the apples, the cider, the whiskey and the casks a lot more succinctly than I'm about to. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

In June I joined a tour of the 200-acre Boyne Grove Fruit Farm in Drogheda, the home of Dan Kelly's Cider. Dan Kelly's is the brand but it's a McNeese family business and it was Olan McNeese who steered us through the apple stores, the cider production process, and then out amongst the trees.

One of the 14,307 apple trees, with beehive
Nature has been thoroughly co-opted for this project. Honeybees and bumblebees live in the orchards and take care of pollination. Beneficial predators control insects so successfully that no insecticide has been needed this year or last.

Bramley apples
Best of all, the cider is fermented by wild yeast. The usual way to make cider is to add sulphites that kill off the natural yeast in the juice before adding a cultured yeast to begin fermentation. The advantage is a more predictable result. The disadvantages are the unpleasant flavour contribution of sulphites and their allergenic effect on some people.

Allowing wild yeast to do the job, as Olan does, is doing things the hard way. A measure of consistency is relinquished but the resulting ciders are more interesting.

Back to those casks...

The whiskey company had requested a very tart cider to season their casks. Olan supplied a juice mix of Bramley and Grenadier apples, both cooking varieties. That's fine for a cask-seasoning experiment but it's a tricky starting point for drinkable cider since what you get is lacking in body, high in acidity, and low in alcohol.

Olan took it back anyway, storing it in a large, stainless steel vat where it was undergoing a secondary ("malolactic") fermentation at the time of my visit.

Olan McNeese with the cider vats
The oak casks continued to reside at the distillery warehouse in Clonmel for a few more months, transferring their new, cidery imprint to a standard whiskey blend.

Their whiskey job done, Olan brought two of the disgorged casks up to Drogheda at the end of April.

The whiskey casks at Boyne Grove
Into these casks he filled a mix of ciders. The greater portion of it was the Bramley/Grenadier cider that had returned earlier from the distillery warehouse. To that he added a Dabinett/Bramley cider (the backbone of Dan Kelly's) and a pure Dabinett cider.

Four months later, Olan tapped some of it for the Irish Craft Beer Festival, presenting it just as it came from the cask. In other words, not "back sweetened" with fresh apple juice, or carbonated as many ciders would be. It clocked in at 7.5% ABV.

According to Olan it divided opinion among the tasting public, with some loving it, others finding it too unfamiliar. Apparently the Spanish favour just such a cloudy, uncarbonated, slightly-acetic style.

I became accustomed to the slightly dry catch in the throat and enjoyed two full glasses of the stuff, one unchilled on the first day, another chilled on the last. It would be interesting to revisit it alongside food.

There are no plans at the moment to bottle Full Steam, but now that cider drinkers have had a chance to sample it and venture an opinion, who knows? At least one off license has already offered to stock it.

For Olan, this has been a chance to experiment with cask ageing and, with the knowledge gained, crack on with the next trial of oak maturation.

While we're waiting for that (and apple-picking season is upon us so I'm sure they'll be busy on the farm for a while), we can be getting on with the regular Dan Kelly's cider, an outstanding example of its kind.

Dan Kelly's cider. Standard on the right, the now rare but extra-delicious "Fiona's Fancy" on the left.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Tullamore Dew Trilogy 15-Year Old

The latest Tullamore Dew is a lethal combination of gorgeous and affordable. A bottle was kindly sent to me four days ago and I haven't been able to stay out of it since. Lest I run out during the rigorous "sampling" phase I've already been to the Celtic Whiskey Shop to purchase another and I'm assailed by regret that I didn't just hoover up whatever they had in the stockroom.

From time-to-time I'm reminded how good Irish blended whiskey can be, and it's often Tullamore Dew doing the reminding. They have made the "triple blend" their own, meaning a combination of grain, malt and pot still whiskeys. Most other blends make do with just two of these.

This new whiskey begins with the standard 12-year old Tullamore Dew triple blend aged for a further 3 years in ex-bourbon casks. It's then finished for 3 months in Trinidadian rum casks.

There are, you can see, a lot of threes in this story (the various components are triple-distilled too). Since regular Tullamore Dew is matured in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, the addition of rum here makes the new whiskey a "triple-wood". Hence the name, "Trilogy".

Official tasting notes:
Rich spice and nutty oakiness interlaced with a hint of tropical fruit  
Creamy and full bodied 
A rich and complex full-bodied taste with fruit, nuts and spice and a lingering creamy fudge flavour 
Long, intensely rich and satisfying 
The standout attributes for me are the creamy mouthfeel and whoosh of spice on the finish (traits commonly associated with pot still whiskey). But it's immensely satisfying and balanced all the way from the lively nose to the long, lingering echoes of flavour. The bottling strength of 40% carries all the oomph you could want.

9,000 bottles will be available in selected stores and travel retail in the US, Ireland, Denmark, France, Germany, South Africa, Russia, and the UK. 240 have been allocated to Ireland where you can find it in the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin Airport and the Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre. RRP is €65.

Like the Cider Cask before it, Trilogy is a product of the modestly described "small warehouse" in Clonmel where John Quinn, Brian Kinsman, et al, must be having the greatest time imagining and testing combinations of spirit and wood. Here's an action photo from the warehouse, tweeted by John Quinn himself, no doubt working on the next limited release to delight us.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Kalak Vodka

Vodka Martini
One part vermouth
Seven parts Kalak vodka
A strip of lemon peel
A stick of cinnamon
A week ago I had yet to taste my first martini. Now I'm ready to elbow James Bond aside at the bar to demand it be made just so.

Until recently I had the usual whiskey drinker's prejudice about vodka: that all the flavour had been intentionally distilled out of it. But the recipe above goes light on the vermouth, leaving Kalak to carry the martini. Which it does, easily. Kalak is a vodka with substance.

The big vodka brands (Grey Goose and Absolut, for example) are typically made from wheat. A couple of weeks ago I was standing in fields of winter wheat just north of Dublin wondering why an Irish vodka would use anything else.

According to Kalak's founder, Patrick Shelley, it's all about the character of the finished product. Malted barley delivers that in spades, wheat doesn't. Kalak is made solely from malted barley and water, and is distilled in pot stills. The same jumping off point as single malt whiskey, as it happens.

The kinship with whiskey is apparent on the nose and on the tongue. If you have tried new make whiskey, straight from the still, you will recognise Kalak.

It does not have the rawness of new make whiskey, however, having been distilled to a purity of 96%. It takes three passes through a pot still to reach that point. A further distillation reduces congeners and improves the flavour. Finally, it is filtered through charcoal and cut with spring water to a bottling strength of 40%.

The process is simple to describe but it has taken Patrick 2½ years to get to the point of launching Kalak. Two years alone was spent perfecting the spirit.

The resulting mouthfeel is remarkable. So soft it's ethereal. Pure flavour wafting over the tastebuds.

Official tasting notes:
Freshly baked brioche, vanilla and fresh fruit. 
A deliciously elegant texture with hints of dark chocolate, cream and candied fruit. 
A soft and glowing lingering complexity.

Kalak is 100% Irish in every respect. It's an Irish brand, made by the fully Irish-owned West Cork Distillers, from 100% Irish malted barley. The name, too, is Irish in disguise, derived from a mythological figure, An Cailleach, whose legendary qualities and accoutrements suffuse the branding.

It goes for about €44 and is so far available in James Fox and the Celtic Whiskey Shop (Dublin city centre), Redmonds (Ranelagh), Jus de Vine (Portmarnock) and Eldon's (Clonmel).

By the glass

It's also pouring in at least one of Dublin's top cocktail bars, Upstairs @ Kinara Kitchen. That's where I encountered the Kalak martini, devised by Kinara's Paul Lambert.

Paul is some kind of hypnotist, apparently, because he turned me into a cocktail drinker. After kicking off the evening with the martini, I had two more insanely tasty concoctions that did not frighten the palate of this die-hard whiskey drinker. I'd gladly have any one of them again, something I have never before said of a cocktail.

I always wondered what 007 was thinking, alternating whiskey and martinis. But he knew what he was doing. Now, where can a guy find a game of Chemin de Fer in this town?