Sunday 11 October 2009

Grand Crew Irish Whiskey

This is probably the Irish whiskey story of 2009, at least as far as I'm concerned.

The tale goes back to 1959, when the Grand Canal that crosses this country was closed to commercial traffic. That broke a longstanding link between the canal and various distilleries that received water-borne raw materials and fuel, and sent out whiskey by the same route.

One such distillery was Locke's in Kilbeggan. That distillery went silent but has been revived in recent years by Cooley. The canal spur to Kilbeggan hasn't fared as well - it's now dry.

A founding member of the Irish Whiskey Society, Michael Slevin, was aware of this history through his other passion, boating, and from his memberships of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Heritage Boat Association. He persuaded all of these organisations to come together to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Grand Canal to commercial traffic.

He also convinced Cooley to supply a couple of casks of single malt that would be symbolically hauled along the dry canal spur, then placed on board a 1929 barge for the trip into Dublin.

All this came to pass and the casks were bottled as two single cask, cask strength whiskeys under the name Locke's "Grand Crew", in honour of the boatmen who plied the waterways back in the day.

I was very privileged to accompany barge 107B into the centre of Dublin last Monday. It was a beautiful day and a thoroughly calm and peaceful way to travel. It's very rare nowadays that an original canal boat makes it into Dublin. The waterway is not maintained the way it used to be and progress can be difficult. So it is no wonder that heads turned and people stopped to watch the unusual sight of a barge pass through the city.

And the whiskey? Half-a-dozen casks were selected by Cooley with the final selection made from these by a committee from the Irish Whiskey Society. I got my first taste of them at our last meeting. They are 9 year old, cask strength, single cask (ex-bourbon) malts. And they are wonderful. I have at least one bottle of each on order (one of the benefits of belonging to the society).

Jim Murray likes Grand Crew too. A sample of cask 696 (the slightly better one, in my opinion) made it to him just in time for this year's Whiskey Bible. It got a rating of 93.5, a "near faultless little cracker".