Tuesday 8 April 2014

Alltech First Principals - Whiskey by the Cask

It's a tantalising time for Irish whiskey lovers. New distilleries are filling casks day after day, but those casks won't leave the warehouse again for years. We won't entirely go thirsty in the meantime but we must nevertheless dig deep into our reserves of patience as the whiskey matures.

What might help is if we could each adopt a cask and look in on it every now and then to check how it ages, stealing a quick sip to make sure. Alltech is now offering exactly that chance, to snag one of three hundred young casks right now. They are inviting you to meet the Master Distiller, and to personalise a cask which you will then be able to visit every year to taste. All the details are in this document (pdf).

Filled casks waiting for you in Carlow. Photo courtesy of Alltech.

Alltech has been distilling single malt spirit since November 2012 in Carlow, though the plan is to up sticks to Dublin by June 2015. So far they have been maturing exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, though some of those may have tasted beer too (Alltech's American single malt, Pearse Lyons Reserve, is aged in casks that have previously held bourbon, then beer for a brief 6 weeks. That's a beautiful whiskey so I'm all for ex-beer casks). A little bird tells me there are sherry casks in Carlow now so you might be able to persuade the distiller, Jack O'Shea, to part with one of those instead. (Sherry casks are usually bigger than bourbon casks so you might have to chip in a few more groats for the extra liquid.)

Alltech has made an enormous impression on the whiskey and craft beer community in Ireland since they fetched up in Carlow with a couple of stills a scant year-and-a-half ago. They have the smartest, friendliest and most professional staff and are refreshingly open about their plans and ideas. They have hosted two huge conferences in Dublin that put potential brewers and distillers in the same room as still makers, maltsters, coopers, chemists, marketers, journalists and drinkers to network and trade knowledge.

I listened to founder and president of Alltech, Dr Pearse Lyons, exhort the attendees at one of those conferences to make something great and Irish, and sell it to the world. I watched him walk around the exhibition floor, meeting and talking to people, figuring out how he could help them, or do business with them. Things happen when you fall into Pearse's orbit. It's an enlightened way of doing business that I admire: growing the industry as a whole through cooperation and sharing, while competing by making great products.

Dr Pearse Lyons at the Alltech Craft Brewing & Distilling Convention, Dublin. © Alltech 2013

I don't know what Alltech's Irish whiskey is going to taste like when it's 5 or 10 years old. That's the risk of investing in a cask. Think of it, perhaps, as a bet on an accomplished company and a talented team.

I should mention that Dingle Distillery is still offering casks through its Founding Fathers programme. Dingle is another company with a fine provenance so what better way to hedge your liquid investments than by acquiring a cask from both distilleries.