Saturday, 20 September 2014

Tullamore Dew Phoenix Celebratory Exclusive Single Batch

This fearsome-looking bird greets VIP visitors to the plush end of the new Tullamore Distillery.

The phoenix is the central motif on Tullamore town's coat-of-arms, recalling a major fire of 1785 and the town's subsequent reconstruction. It was more recently co-opted as a metaphor for the return of distilling to Tullamore after a gap of 60 years. Tullamore Dew Phoenix was released last year as work on the new distillery progressed.

To commemorate the first flow of spirit last Thursday, the company has taken Tullamore Dew Phoenix and finished it in virgin American oak. They watched it closely in cask and, after 3 months, judged it to have picked up just enough of that fresh wood influence. It was bottled in a limited edition of 2,014 bottles as Tullamore Dew Celebratory Exclusive Single Batch.

Like the original Phoenix, it is a hefty 55% ABV, non-chill filtered. It is a triple-distilled, triple blend -Tullamore's signature recipe of grain, malt and pot still whiskeys blended together. The pot still component of Phoenix is finished for two years in Oloroso casks.

A few of us were fortunate to taste this new expression the day before the grand opening in the company of John Quinn, Tullamore Dew's Global Brand Ambassador. I subsequently noticed what John was too modest to point out then: that it is his signature on each bottle.

John Quinn, Global Brand Ambassador for Tullamore Dew
I checked my notes from some years ago and was reminded that John started with Tullamore Dew in 1974, back when it was made at Powers distillery in Dublin. He has, therefore, spent 40 years nurturing the brand to the success it is today (it is the second most popular Irish whiskey, shifting about 900,000 cases a year, and growing).

The phoenix metaphor implies an intermediate state of total destruction but that's overstating things here. Sure, Tullamore Dew lost its home in 1954 and has kipped on a few couches since then. But it has emerged stronger from the experience because people like John Quinn maintained its unique recipe, evolved its brand, and kept introducing it to new consumers. The 1829 year of establishment declared on bottles of Tullamore Dew and on the front of the new distillery implies a continuity of production and craftsmanship that only stands up thanks to the efforts of John, along with his colleagues and predecessors.

I'm thrilled, then, that the company has honoured John's 40-years and counting by putting his name on this fine whiskey.

There are only 2,014 bottles of this Celebratory Exclusive, a number with obvious significance. The night before the distillery launch, Tom McCabe handed over the keys of the old Tullamore distillery to the new distillery's Process Leader, Denise Devenny, who is responsible for all operations there. It was said that Tom was the last to lock the doors on the old distillery when it shut down in 1954.

Tom was presented with bottle number 1,954 of Tullamore Dew Phoenix Celebratory Exclusive, while Denise received number 2,014.

Denise Devenny (centre-left) receiving the keys of the old Tullamore distillery from Tom McCabe (centre-right)

The whiskey is exclusively available in Ireland, at the Tullamore Dew visitor centre, Dublin Airport, and the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin, at a recommended retail price of €90. (I'll be trying to snag one myself at this price. Excellent value, I think.)

The official tasting notes are below. I'd call out the orange and delicate oak on the finish, with not a hint of dryness. A distinctly oaky smell remained in the glass, reminding me of the pleasant, sweet fragrance of pipe tobacco.

Rich vanilla with creamy toffee and spice. The Tullamore Dew signature notes of green leafy maltiness are beautifully framed with the warmth of the new American oak. 

Full oak flavour with vibrant vanilla and cinnamon spice. With water the more delicate floral and fruity notes develop and mingle with the sweet oak notes. 

Long lasting vanilla sweetness.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Walsh Whiskey Distillery

It must be at least six years since I first spoke with Bernard Walsh. Even then, long before Irish whiskey projects became fashionable, he was dreaming of one day distilling himself. An impossible aspiration, I thought, but on Thursday I was down at Royal Oak, Carlow, turning the sod on Walsh Whiskey Distillery.

The Setting

I parked near the gate of the 40-acre estate and walked up the long drive towards Holloden House, a mid-18th century pile. To my left was a stubble field, recently harvested of its grain. To my right, a line of 200-year old oak trees. Beyond the house, the estate backs on to the River Barrow. Grain, water, oak... the recipe for whiskey is written right into the landscape.

Some of the magnificent trees dating from the early 1800s dotting the estate, including seven species of oak.
There are about 200 oak trees on the estate, comprising seven different species. About 200 species will grow in Carlow, however, and part of the plan is to establish an oak arboretum under the guidance of a horticultural consultant.

Holloden House is a picturesque, overgrown ruin. It won't be part of the distillery proper but will welcome visitors for tastings in fine style when it is eventually restored.

The front of Holloden House

Adjacent buildings

Nobody I asked knew the purpose of the unusually-shaped slits in this wall
The Distillery

The distillery will be a short stroll from the house across a wooden bridge. It's compactly arranged to present the whole process to visitors from grain delivery through milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling to casking. It's then only a tidy barrel-roll out the back door to the onsite maturation warehouses which can hold up to 60,000 casks.

Aerial view showing the river Barrow behind, Holloden House on the left and the new distillery on the right. Image courtesy of Walsh Distillery.

The Irish distilling renaissance has been awaiting a confident, contemporary architectural statement. This is it. There are no pastiche accoutrements like "pagoda" roofs that ape the appearance of Scottish distilleries. A clean, modern line is achieved with natural materials: stone, oak posts, slate, copper. The distillery wears its newness with assurance, nodding politely to its 250-year old neighbour but ready to begin forging its own history.

The new distillery. Image courtesy of Walsh Distillery

The building - designed by architect, James O'Donoghue - showcases its purpose by displaying the copper pots behind a huge glass wall, and by making a feature of the column stills and their height, wrapping them in a tower capped off in glass and copper.

Although the River Barrow flows right behind the distillery, water is so important to the whiskey-making process that it has been given added prominence in the form of two ponds in front of the building. The distillery's cooling water is drawn from the river and circulates through these ponds. A cascade between the ponds contributes the sound of water to the ambience of a distillery visit.

Process water will come from the Barrow Valley Aquifer, directly below the distillery.

Construction should begin in October for completion by the end of 2015, with commissioning of up to 3 months duration from January 2016.

The Whiskey

The distillery will make all three styles of spirit - pot still, malt and grain - under one roof.

Distillery capacity is 2m litres of pure alcohol a year, which translates into 500,000 cases of whiskey (a "case" is 9 litres) or 6m bottles. The whole Irish whiskey industry currently shifts about 6m cases a year so Walsh's output will make a fair splash in the market. Bernard reckons that by size he will rank just after Midleton, Tullamore, Bushmills and Cooley.

The pot still and malt spirits will be triple-distilled in pots already on order from Forsyths in Scotland, who are also supplying much of the rest of the distillery kit. No attempt will be made to replicate the existing Irishman and Writers Tears range - currently made at Midleton - with the new stills. Those whiskeys will continue to be made under contract by Irish Distillers while new expressions are created from the Royal Oak spirit.

Photo courtesy of Walsh Whiskey Distillery

Walsh Whiskey has released both single malts and "blends" of malt and pot still but has never produced a blend in the usual sense of the word, i.e. a whiskey that combines grain with malt and/or pot still. In the new distillery there will be a two-column Coffey still producing grain whiskey. The continuous throughput of a Coffey still produces a lighter style of spirit, very efficiently. It therefore enhances the financial viability of the distillery. It also allows full flexibility when supplying the needs of private labels, something that Walsh has indicated it will do. Bernard tells me he hopes to use Irish-grown wheat in his column still (imported maize is more common in the industry here).

The barley for the pot still and malt whiskeys will be sourced locally too, with malting done by Minch Malt, about 35km away in Athy. The distillery should achieve "field to glass" control over the product it makes with farming and malting done in the vicinity and everything else done on site.

The maturation story has a nice twist. The use of ex-bourbon casks has always been a hallmark of Walsh whiskeys (not exclusively though) and no doubt bourbon will be the mainstay of the new whiskeys too. But Walsh Whiskey Distillery is a joint venture with Italian family-owned company, Illva Saronno, which is in the wine business (besides owning Disaronno, Tia Maria and many other alcohol brands). Walsh already has its eye on reusing those wine casks to age its whiskeys.

Distilling expertise is being provided by Stuart Nickerson, a Scottish whiskey consultant who brings over 30 years of experience in the business, covering production, marketing and management.

Walsh Whiskey has already honed the knack of selecting and blending fine whiskeys, of course. Its relationship with Irish Distillers at Midleton dates back to 1999 when the Hot Irishman Irish-coffee-in-a-bottle product launched. The Irishman whiskey launched in 2006, and Writers Tears (always on my recommended list) followed in 2009. Bernard's annual limited edition selections from the warehouses in Midleton are always a treat. At Royal Oak this week I was able to remind myself just how wonderful the 2013 Irishman Cask Strength was. (Bernard advises me that this year's Writers Tears Cask Strength has turned out to be quite something too.)

Breaking Ground

Ready to dig. Photo courtesy of Walsh Whiskey Distillery.

All 200 guests at the sod-turning ceremony last Thursday had a chance to wield the spade. Only a handful work directly for Walsh Whiskey but most of the rest, I would say, have been involved in some way in Walsh's success to date, or will be with this new phase. Some we heard from during the day: the maltster, the distiller, the architect, the engineer; many were publicly thanked, including the bottler, the county council planner, and representatives of Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia & the Irish Whiskey Association.

Distributors and marketers are key, of course. It's one thing to make the stuff but how do you get consumers to realise it exists and then buy it, particularly when 95% of your sales are outside Ireland. Walsh sells to 30 countries and its distributors in 12 of those travelled to Ireland for the event. They have to be evangelists for the product, winning over shops and bar owners who, in turn, must persuade their customers to drink it. It takes a strong marketing message emanating from HQ to travel that distance, a message that will be greatly reinforced by having a working distillery with a visitor centre set on a grand estate.

Of course the Italian side was well-represented, led by Illva CEO, Augusto Reina. Besides financial support, Illva also brings serious distribution muscle to the partnership, with a network stretching to 160 countries and with particular strength in the important markets of India and China. At the moment, Walsh seems to be shifting as much liquid as it can lay its hands on but when the taps open at Royal Oak, the pipelines to the rest of the world will be ready.

Rosemary Walsh, Augusto Reina, Bernard Walsh, Minister Ann Phelan
I'll be ready too, with a glass. I'd like to congratulate the founders of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Rosemary & Bernard Walsh, everyone else at WWD, and their new partners Illva Saronno on this exciting new adventure for Irish whiskey. Slaínte! Salute!


I feel very privileged to have helped turn the sod on a new distillery, especially for a company whose whiskeys I enjoy so much. Thank you, Walsh Whiskey, for the invitation and to Bernard Walsh, Shane Fitzharris and Woody Kane who have all been so helpful over the years with information for this site.

Thank you, too, to Conor Dempsey, of Dempsey Corporate, who is the guy you want running and MC'ing an event like this. It was elaborately arranged, with many moving parts, but it all went off as beautifully and enjoyably as the occasion deserved.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Whiskey and politics

A posse of drinks industry heroes recently met the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food in Leinster House. Marie Byrne of the Dublin Whiskey Company brought the entrepreneurial vibrancy that suffuses Irish distilling at the moment; Willie Masterson, malted barley grower, told of farmers' readiness to supply the extra grain that the phenomenal growth in Irish whiskey will require; and Peter O'Brien, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland and corporate relations director for Diageo, explained the enormous ongoing contribution of drinks production to the Irish economy.

You would think this would be a rather convivial encounter. "You want to generate how many jobs and attract how many extra tourists to the country? That's marvellous! What can your representatives in government do to help?"

But no. The visitors were treated rudely and condescendingly by the committee members, none of whom seemed prepared to begin an intelligent and constructive partnership. Éamon Ó Cuív set the tone by decrying the "violence and misery" that the demon booze has visited upon us, and the other five speakers trotted out sanctimonious variations on the same theme.

Even Senator Mary Ann O'Brien disappointed. She is not a career politician but a businessperson who built a successful export-oriented chocolate company. I had expected her to support fellow luxury goods entrepreneurs instead of throwing them under the bus.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe...

If we did have political representatives capable of independent and productive thought, perhaps they would sound like this:
"There is nothing wrong with an Irish person enjoying an alcoholic drink. It is a pleasure we share with every other society on the planet, a part of our common humanity and something we have enjoyed for millennia. The state should not punish this activity."
"Changing the binge drinking culture is our job, not the job of the drinks industry. We were elected to lead, we are paid to lead, we will lead."
"We have generated a lot of noise about alcohol abuse but while pretending to give a damn we actually made alcohol of indifferent quality widely available in petrol stations and late-night convenience stores, and in bulk at low cost from supermarkets. We sabotaged sensible ideas like café-bar licensing and the introduction of smaller 'schooner' glasses in pubs."
"We are closing the Daíl bar. Nobody should be drinking in the workplace. We will set a more mature example."
"The recent interest in craft brewing and distilling is a great opportunity to move the focus of drinking away from quantity towards quality."
"We will also encourage, via Bord Bia, the matching of Irish foods with Irish drinks, encouraging a healthier pattern of consumption."
"We will subtly shift an unfortunate perceived link abroad - particularly in the the US - between Irishness and alcohol abuse, towards an association between Ireland and the world's best craft spirits, ciders and beers." 
"Bottles of fine whiskey will be ambassadors for Irish quality and craft in every nook and cranny of the globe."
"We will foster a pride in and appreciation of our native spirits at home by not pricing them out of reach of ordinary folks. The new distilleries need a thriving local market to bootstrap their growth and gain valuable consumer feedback."
"VAT of 23% on a bottle of whiskey is already an excessive grab from people's after-tax income. Adding a further €14.66 in excise duty (including VAT on that duty!) is arbitrary, punitive and unbecoming of a democracy."
"We will not discourage whiskey tourism  - so successful in Scotland - by making great spirits but taxing them so they can't be affordably sampled in their own country." 
"We can phase out archaic taxes like excise duty if we ruthlessly eliminate wasteful public spending due to over-administration and corruption."
"If alcohol abuse imposes a cost on society we will seek to recover those costs more directly from those who abuse alcohol. Spreading the cost across all drinkers is not a disincentive."
"We wish the new brewers and distillers the best of success. The country is behind you. Slaínte!"

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ómra 2001 Single Cask Single Malt

Hot on the heels of their Teeling Single Cask, online German whiskey retailer, Irish Whiskeys, has released another exclusive bottling. This is a single cask, single malt, triple-distilled in 2001 at a distillery in Northern Ireland (more we are not permitted to say). It was matured in a bourbon hogshead and bottled at 51%. There are only 120 bottles, €79.90 a pop.

It has been christened "Ómra" which, I have just learned, means "amber" in Irish.

Photo courtesy of

As well as shipping to various continental European countries, owner Mareike Spitzer tells me they now ship to Ireland too. Welcome news!

Official tasting notes:
Ripe fruit, hazelnut, vanilla, toffee, sherry sweetness. 
Oily, malt, nutty, apricot. 
Very long-lasting and sweet.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Midleton Very Rare 2014

Irish Distillers have just released this year's edition of Midleton Very Rare. It's the 30th anniversary of Midleton Very Rare but it's also significant because this is the first to bear the signature of Master Distiller Brian Nation. He succeeded to that role when Barry Crockett retired in 2013.

Master Distiller Brian Nation. Photo courtesy of Irish Distillers.
Midleton is a blend of pot still and grain whiskeys, matured in lightly-charred ex-bourbon American oak casks for between 15 and 22 years. I expect it will retail for about €150 in Ireland.

Official tasting notes:
Rich, with vanilla sweetness on a layer of oak char from the influence of American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels. A soft floral note introduces the sweet spice of cinnamon, green pepper, and garden mint. Beautifully rounded with hints of green apple and banana.
Full, with the sweet spice of vanilla, cinnamon, and liquorice and the flinty note of barley grains. Ripe fruit combines with the charred oak, adding to the complexity.
Sweet spicy flavours that linger, fading slowly to leave the last word with the barley.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask Single Malt 2007

I wrote yesterday about a "new" Teeling single cask, single malt whiskey bottled exclusively for Irish Whiskeys, an online retailer in Germany. I slipped up a bit there because that was, in fact, released last year. I didn't document it then so better late than never.

What I should have been writing about is their actually new, just released, single cask, single malt Teeling. It was double-distilled in 2007 and matured in an ex-bourbon cask until 2014. Mareike Spitzer, the company founder, selected the cask herself.

324 bottles have been produced, at 46%, without chill-filtering or colouring. It sells for €49.
Wood, apricot, marzipan, apple, cream.
Wood, vanilla, citrus, oily, fruit.
Very long with intense woody notes.

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask 11 Year Old

Update: this was, in fact, released last year (though it's still available). I meant to write about this Teeling single cask, single malt.

A new Teeling whiskey has surfaced in Germany last year. It's a single cask, double-distilled, single malt bottled exclusively for, an online seller of Irish whiskey based near Frankfurt.

Distilled in August 2001, it matured in a bourbon cask for almost 12 years, until July 2013. It is bottled at the cask strength of 57%. It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured.

Tasting Notes (from
Vanilla, peach, apricot, grass, oak.
Oily, intense fruit, sweet vanilla, oak, subtle hints of pepper.
Long-lasting, intense.
It sells for a very reasonable €65 and can be shipped to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

Photo courtesy of

The Irish Whiskeys company was founded by Mareike Spitzer in September 2011 when she found it hard to find a good selection of Irish whiskeys in Germany.

I asked Mareike when her interest in whiskey began. She tells me her husband was quite the fan which piqued her curiosity so, at a whiskey show in Frankfurt in 2008, she sought out something mild and sweet. She found it in Jameson Gold which, to this day, remains one of her favourites (it's one of mine too!).

Mareike toured Ireland recently, meeting with distillers old and new like Slane Castle, Cooley, Teeling, Bushmills and Glendalough. While here she enjoyed some of the best spirits this island has to offer, including Teeling's 26- and 30-year old single malts, and 15-year old cask strength, sherry-matured Bushmills malt. is an online-only vendor but you can meet them in person at various whiskey shows this year: Whisky Herbst in Berlin, Whiskymesse Rüsselsheim, Aquavitae in Mülheim and Whisky & Tobacco Days in Hofheim.

Their catalogue is pretty comprehensive and up-to-date. I spy some other exclusive bottlings, some whiskeys that aren't available in Ireland, and some labels I don't even recognise. It's already a great selection but Mareike aims to keep expanding it and to add more single cask bottlings, in particular. There will be another of these soon, perhaps by the end of this month.