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.