"More apples, dammit!"
The Director of Product Strategy paused to chomp deeply on a Cox's Orange Pippin.
"We've made whiskey that smells of apple. We've served it up with apple juice. We're really close on this, people. We just need a touch more apple."
That is how I imagine the challenge was laid out for the boffins at Tullamore Dew HQ last summer. The solution they came up with: the cider finish.
About 100 casks were assembled near the end of October in a warehouse in Clonmel. They were filled with freshly pressed Irish apple juice which was allowed to ferment naturally. The resulting cider was decanted in mid-January and replaced with already-blended Tullamore Dew Original whiskey. After a further three months finishing, here it is: Tullamore Dew Cider Cask.
It's available exclusively in global travel retail (it's already at Dublin Airport) and at the Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre in Tullamore. It comes in one-litre bottles for a recommended retail price of €54 (€35 duty free).
Sour apples (or cooking apples, as we know them around here) were selected for the cider, to play well against the whiskey. How did it work out? The official tasting notes emphasise the apple:
Fresh, leafy, crisp green apple scent and sweet maltiness.
Distinctive – soft and mellow, with a lovely balance of oak, creamy malt and sweet, fresh apple notes. Light-bodied, with a fruity vibrancy.
A sweet, lingering taste carrying subtle fruity notes.
But apple is not the most prominent aspect for me. Putting it alongside Tullamore Dew Original (they are both 40% so the only difference is the extra few months in cider cask), the nose for me is a lot more honeyed, the mouthfeel more buttery and the finish warmer and biscuity. The Original still pokes through so if you like that you should enjoy the Cider Cask too.
I'd like to taste the cider effect on more rounded starting point, like Tullamore Dew 12yo. The Original is young and shouty enough that it doesn't lie down easily. The tart cider has proved surprisingly self-effacing.
The cider, by the way, hasn't been wasted. It's currently enjoying a secondary ("malolactic") fermentation in a huge vat at a cider maker I can't name. I sampled a little. It's still quite acidic but it'll probably appear as a component in some future bottled cider.
If the Cider Cask finish proves popular, this will be an annual release. I certainly hope the experimentation continues, perhaps with other varieties of apple, different whiskeys, or further ageing. More apples!