UPDATED 05 Nov 2010: price info supplied was ex-distillery and not final retail price. Entry has been corrected.
Last week's Irish Whiskey Society tasting was dedicated to peat. Six of the eight bottles came from Islay, off Scotland. I'm still developing a taste for full-on peat but the selection chosen for the night by Michael Slevin and Luke Gough would persuade anyone of its merits. You can see the full list on the event page.
I want to focus here on a new whiskey from Cooley, an extension to its Connemara range in the Small Batch series. I've written about Connemara Turf Mór ("Big Turf") before, when we tried it straight from the cask during the Kilbeggan tasting. The context here was different though, up against some of the finest examples of peated spirit from across the water. How would it compare?
To recap the story of Turf Mór, a few years ago Cooley had trouble sourcing its usual amount of 20ppm peated malt from Scotland (malt made in Ireland is not peated). To keep the stills going, they bought a higher 58ppm malt and mixed it with the unpeated variety to moderate the intensity.
As an experiment, however, they distilled some of the highly-peated malt on its own and that is what has appeared today as Connemara Turf Mór.
This whiskey has a peppery bite that is the result of several factors. First, the high level of peating in the malted grain. Second, it's only just over 3 years old. That's the minimum legal age for whiskey but even basic whiskeys are given longer than that in oak to round off the raw taste of young spirit. Maturation will also tone down the effect of the peat smoke over time.
Third, this whiskey is being released at a cask strength of 58.2%, rather than the 46% I would have guessed.
It all sounds a bit much but somehow it isn't. You'll notice drinking it, no doubt, but there is a balance there that avoids the scorched, queasy feeling you can get after drinking some unrefined peat monsters.
Indeed, the Turf Mór tied for favourite of the night with Bowmore 25yo at 11 votes apiece. If you know the Bowmore, you'll know it's a spectacularly good sherried whiskey (a little too much sherry on the finish though). So the new Connemara is up there.
It gets better though. The Bowmore 25yo is a wallet-emptying €160. The Connemara Turf Mór, when it goes on sale in Ireland at the beginning of December, will cost far less. The ex-distillery price is in the low €20s so that will make it, in my estimation, one of the best value Irish whiskeys out there. I don't think it will linger on the shelves.