Monday 26 October 2015

Whiskey Live Dublin 2015

Even with a revised battle plan after last year’s defeat, I failed once again to talk to every Irish exhibitor at Whiskey Live Dublin. I think I did as well as I could do in the three hours, mostly resisting the siren calls of cocktails, food pairings and furrin whiskeys.

The new whiskeys I tried that I most look forward to revisiting are:
  • Tullamore Dew 14yo Single Malt
  • Teeling 15yo Revival
  • Bushmills Rum and Crystal Malt cask samples
  • The Palace Bar 12yo Port Cask.
Four of these five looked beyond the usual bourbon and sherry casks for maturation. Maybe that was the theme of Whiskey Live for me this year.

I’ve written up some notes from the event below. My apologies to Longueville House, St Patrick’s Distillery, Dingle Distillery, Midleton, Knappogue Castle, Echlinville Distillery and the Celtic Whiskey Shop, all of whom I intended to visit and, I’m sure, all of whom had exciting news to impart.

Thin Gin

One drink I was looking forward to finding out about was Thin Gin, from the same people who brought us Muldoon Irish Whiskey Liqueur.

At the Irish Whiskey Awards last week Thin Gin walked away with the top prize in the gin category (beating 12 others). It was an impressive way to announce a new brand to the world.

Nichola Beresford of Blackwater Irish Spirits (no relation to Blackwater Distillery, makers of Blackwater Gin) filled me in.

Thin Gin is named after an American, Isaac Thin, who once lived in Waterford and was a friend of Nichola’s great-grandmother. He was known for bringing his own “bathtub” gin along to parties. Rough stuff, apparently, which led to Nichola’s family dismissing all poor spirits thenceforth as “Thin’s Gin”.

This new Thin Gin, of course, is far more palatable. It’s an “Irish dry gin”, distilled with many Irish botanicals. Citrus is definitely to the fore but there are 17 botanicals in all, including apple, tansy, thyme, mugwort, elderflower, hawthorn flower, orange blossom, lemon balm, lime, red clover and white clover.

The RRP is €35.

Lexington Brewing & Distilling

This is the company I have always referred to as Alltech, that began distilling in Ireland from temporary accommodation in Carlow in November 2012 (very close to 3 years ago, the legal minimum age for Irish whiskey!).

The distilling has been on hiatus for a while now as they construct a new distillery in Dublin by converting a former church.

The build is moving along nicely. The required archaeology work is complete. The roof is completely renewed and readied for a glass spire. Buildings on either side have been acquired to allow space for a visitor centre.

The estimated completion date is the second half of 2016.

The site is quite small so it will always be a boutique distillery. There is a possibility Alltech will set up a volume distilling operation somewhere on the island of Ireland as well, perhaps incorporated into their recently acquired brewery in Newry. (Although if I had a brewery in Newry, I’d open my distillery in Killary.)

Tullamore Dew

The new Tullamore Dew 14 year old Single Malt was launched at Whisky Live Paris at the end of September and we should see it on sale here by the end of the year. It’s a 4-cask finish, like the existing 10yo Single Malt - port, sherry, bourbon and madeira. This one, however, is triple-distilled, not double-distilled, which aligns it with the rest of the range.

It’s what is often called a “Christmas whiskey”, redolent of cake spices and fruits. It’s good.

It’s only available in France at the moment. I see Maison du Whisky has it listed for €68.

The 10yo - which I was not hugely fond of, though many were - will be phased out in favour of the new 14yo.

The Palace Bar

Proprietor Willie Aherne himself was there, and showed me the latest Palace Bar bottling, once again from the Teeling Whiskey Company. It’s a limited edition of 1,000 bottles, a 12yo single malt, port single cask. Not a finish, all port-matured!

The port influence is very restrained though. It’s a lovely whiskey, one I’d like on my own shelf.

The label is literary-themed, with a drawing of three of the bar’s former patrons - Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien.

It will be properly launched in the next fortnight or so, and I’ll have more details then.

Kalak Vodka

This is Kalak’s first appearance at Whiskey Live and it was getting some excellent notices around the room. (See my own thoughts here.)

The latest list of Irish stockists is on the Kalak website and America can look forward to its appearance there in the first quarter of 2016.

Kalak’s founder, Patrick Shelley, was interviewed on Newstalk’s Down to Business earlier in the morning.

Jack Ryan’s

This whiskey was launched a couple of years ago by the pub, Ryan’s at Beggars Bush. Since then it has been going global, and is already available in the UK, Sweden, Germany, France and the US (15 states so far and rolling out to more). It should arrive in New Zealand and Australia by Christmas.

This is really a revival of a century-old whiskey brand since the Ryan family bottled its own whiskey up until the 1950s - Ryan’s Malt - sourced from various Dublin distilleries, all long closed now. It’s great to see this Irish pub tradition returning.

There will be a 15yo limited release of 500 bottles towards the end of November, to mark the centenary of Jack Ryan’s birth.

The Irish Whiskey Society

The Irish Whiskey Society continues to grow in membership and geographic reach, with new chapters in Cork, Galway and the South-East.

The next tasting is on Thursday, the 29th, the theme triple-distillation. That’s something often associated with Irish whiskey but Liam Smith will be introducing us to triple-distilled whiskeys from other countries too.

And, of course, as November approaches, society members are looking forward to the final tasting of the year, the President’s Selection, when the president is allowed to go nuts with society funds and choose some particularly fancy whiskeys for us to try.  It’s strictly members only for this tasting though so be sure to join up!

Teeling Whiskey Company

I had a chocolate made with Teeling Small Batch Whiskey by Skelligs Chocolate. Tasty stuff, sold at the distillery shop.

The main event on this stand was the Teeling 15yo Revival Single Malt. It has spent all 15 years in ex-rum casks (I was told they were tequila casks before that). 46%, non-chill filtered.

I really liked it (I'm not brave enough to attempt tasting notes based on 1cl samples at a show; also I can't remember the specifics!) and look forward to meeting it again soon. I asked about price but that didn't seem certain yet - €75 to €85? about €120, I hear now (thanks, Serghios!).

Kilbeggan Distilling Company

Not a lot of news here. Kilbeggan (née Cooley) has quite a settled portfolio at this stage. A redesign of the Tyrconnell bottles seems to be on the cards (and will not include a rename).

On a historical note, I discovered from master distiller, Noel Sweeney, that Cooley once made a gin: Four Courts Dublin Dry Gin. It was compounded (like Cork Dry Gin), so not really a precursor of the craft gin explosion we are seeing today.

Irish Whiskey Shop

This wasn’t a stand but I did chat with Colin Hession, one-third of the L. Mulligan Grocer team about their brand new online whiskey shop.

They are stocking and shipping the bottles themselves, with some real rarities among them. There are a few nice opening offers and no doubt it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the site for exclusive bottlings in the future.


Bushmills totally brought it this year. The master distiller, Colum Egan, was on hand, and they had tapped a few casks before setting out:

  • 2008 crystal malt, first-fill bourbon cask, 54.8%
  • 1997 rum cask from the Dominican Republic (all 18 years in the rum cask), 52%
  • First-fill sherry cask, 8yo, 40%
  • First-fill bourbon cask, 40% (I didn’t catch the age)

I tasted the rum cask and the crystal malt. I can’t offer tasting notes but I do recall a great fruity fizz that lingered on for ages from the rum. I loved the nose on the crystal malt, and the flavour too. (I wasn’t very taken by the 1608 Anniversary Edition a few years ago which featured crystal malt but trying it in isolation was a revelation.)

They were both excellent and would go down a storm with whiskey drinkers if released.

Will they be released? There is a “strong likelihood”, but there is no timeframe on that. At least they are now talking about such things again within Bushmills. I’m sure the general feeling among attendees was “Wow, take our money, Bushmills. Please!”

What influence have the new owners, Jose Cuervo, had? One of the first things they did, apparently, was hire a full-time archivist from Queen’s University to catalog and preserve the history of Bushmills. That’s a great thing in itself, obviously, but it’s also a resource for the company to draw on for new product development and marketing. A very positive sign of things to come, I’d say.

Walsh Whiskey Distillery

I’ve been saving up a sample of the 2015 Writers Tears Cask Strength for this moment.

Every year around this time, the new Irishman Cask Strength and Writers Tears Cask Strength come out. 12 or so casks apiece, a couple of thousand bottles, a vatting of malt and pot still spirits.

Being a small batch, each year they are different and each year it’s a modest amusement to pick out my favourite. (Last year it was Writers Tears; the year before, it was Irishman.) I had a tot of the Irishman at Whiskey Live and now, at home, I’m sipping the new Writers Tears.

The Irishman is very good, and mouth-filling but, for me, the Writers Tears pips it this year at the finish, which is long and oily and sweet.

There are 2,100 bottles of Writers Tears and 2,595 bottles of Irishman.

They were showing photos of construction progress on the new Walsh Distillery in Carlow. The three copper stills arrived on September 30th, from Forsyth in Scotland, and are being commissioned now. The column still - in two sections, 12m high, also from Forsyth - turned up on Wednesday.

Distilling could happen by March.

The pots arrive at Walsh Whiskey Distillery. Photo courtesy of Walsh Whiskey.

It was very nice to meet Aidan Finnegan, the Distillery Manager, on the stand. Aidan is formerly of Diageo’s Cameron Bridge, a grain distillery in Scotland with about 100 times the output of Walsh’s new column still.

Walsh now sells in 50 countries and is beginning to make inroads in Asia, beginning with Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Bán Poitín

Poitín is a regular topic of discussion in whiskey circles. Does this category have legs? Does anyone actually like it? What can you do with it?

The general feeling to date, fair or not, is that commercial poitíns have been trading on curiosity value and the hope of a revenue stream before the real product - whiskey - matures.

Bán Poitín is a great leap forward. It has solid craft credentials, being made in partnership with Echlinville Distillery. It took a year-and-a-half to develop the potato, sugar beet and malt recipe.

Dave Mulligan with his very cool bottles of Bán Poitin

It’s good enough to drink on its own, though it’s really intended for spirits-led cocktails. The London cocktail scene is currently getting to grips with it, though it has popped up here and there in Dublin and Belfast. It will see a proper roll out here and in the UK generally soon.


I didn’t get time to properly talk to Glendalough. They have their seasonal gin releases, of course, which come out faster than I can keep up with.

The botanicals are largely foraged around Wicklow so each release is different. The latest Autumn gin is good, better than last year’s, I think. Their Spring gin from this year still stands out though. That was a genuinely different and very interesting flavour.

The possibility of another fascinating gin like that will keep me returning to Glendalough at every opportunity.

Hyde Whiskey

I didn’t chat with anyone from Hyde. They have just launched a companion for their 10yo Sherry Finish Single Malt. It’s also a 10yo single malt, but this time it’s finished for 9 months in a dark rum cask from Mount Gay Distillery in Barbados.

Both whiskeys are Cooley-distilled but Hyde finish them in their own casks in Cork.

Quiet Man / Niche

Niche Drinks has been making cream liqueur in Derry for 30 years. They have had a plan for a few years now to move the liqueur plant to Campsie in Derry where they would have space to add on a whiskey distillery.

This depended on selling the old site, but that is proving difficult. Rather than delay the distillery, Niche will now build it on its own, in Ebrington Square in Derry. The visitor centre will be housed in an old barracks building from 1841, while the distillery will live in a new building beside it.

That’s still awaiting environmental approval.

They have also been buying whiskey for the last 5 years and maturing it themselves. The 8yo Quiet Man, for example, was bought at 3 years old. Niche have a relationship with Heaven Hill and Sazerac in the US through the cream liqueur business so they can get fresh bourbon barrels from them that they then use to further mature the whiskey.

Niche don’t reuse their own casks, they sell them on. They only use first-fill bourbon.

The single malt was distilled originally by Cooley but the blend, I’m told, is from two distinct sources.

They also have a consignment of sherry casks in the warehouse that they have filled with 8yo malt, which will be 10 years old by the time it’s bottled.

Boann Distillery

I was up in Boann Distillery / Brewhouse a couple of months ago. Most of the kit was in place, though not operational, but there was a large empty space where the stills should have been.

They will finally arrive this Thursday, all the way from Italy. It might all be plumbed up and distilling as soon as January.

The brewery part is working already, with the first brew just gone through.

On the stand, they had a bottle of their forthcoming whiskey blend, The Whistler, with a mocked-up label. I asked Pat Cooney, the founder of the distillery, where the name came from. He told me whistling was one of the lost arts and he would like to see its revival. (I’m a competent whistler myself so I’ll help the cause along.)

This whiskey will be a placeholder until their own spirit is mature. It is sourced from Cooley.

Great Northern Distillery

Great Northern’s business model is to supply bulk whiskey to retail and private labels rather than to develop its own brands. It was nice, therefore, that they came along to a largely consumer event to let us all see what’s going on.

I met John Teeling, his wife, Deirdre, and Allan Anderson, Great Northern’s Distillery Manager.

The site is a former brewery and the copper pot stills are converted brewing vessels from those days. I’ve been curious, then, to see what kind of spirit they would produce. They have already made malt spirit and there was some on the stand to nose and taste.

At 80%, it tasted just like I’d expect new make to taste, and with plenty of flavour. I don’t know how risky they judged the copper pot conversion to be (they said they were too busy with everything else to be nervous) but they must be happy with the results so far. There is still some tweaking to be done, and they have yet to distil pot still spirit.

Great Northern also has a column still and there was new make grain (maize) spirit at 94% available to taste too. This one was very pleasant to drink (aside from the throat-closing effect of the high alcohol strength).

There is lots of unused space on the site and John Teeling considers a smaller boutique-scale distillery to be a distinct possibility to supply customers with particular requirements.

Nor does he rule out re-establishing brewing on the site, if it makes business sense.

I asked about gin and vodka but he said “I don’t know how you make money on it”, even though his costs would be very low there. That should worry a few distillers around the country!

John Teeling still has a couple of heritage whiskey brands - Burke’s and Castletown (I haven’t heard of that one) and a stock of mature whiskey, but there is no particular plan to release anything yet.