Month: February 2018

West Cork Distillers – innovative whiskey makers

In the currently very confusing world of Irish whiskey, I’m so glad to find companies like West Cork Distillers, a nice established distillery – in the heart of the lovely West Cork area – that will make Skibbereen famous for more than the famine.

When we were over in Ireland in August, we had the privelege to visit the distillery. They don’t have a visitor centre or do tours normally, but I sent an e-mail to John O’Connell, one of the founders, and he was very kind and received us for a visit.

This fantastic wall made of whiskey barrels meant that we were at the wrong address.  But I absolutely LOVED the wall.

I first came to know about this distillery in late 2016, when I had started exploring the world of Irish whiskey beyond the “famous four” (Midleton, Cooley/Kilbeggan, Tullamore, and Bushmills).

I had seen their whiskey in a shop previously but didn’t buy it or ask about it at the time because it was so unknown to me and I was thinking that if it was any good, I would have heard more about it. But now I wanted to learn more. Maybe especially since Skibbereen is a neighbour of our second hometown Clonakilty, I was curious and wanted to know more about them and about their whiskey.

I bought a bottle of their 10-year-old single malt just before Christmas 2016, and was very pleasantly surprised. It really had its own identity and profile compared to most other Irish whiskeys I had tasted at the time.

The distillery was founded in 2003 by three friends, it started in Union Hall, but moved to Skibbereen in 2013. It’s – so far – the most southern distillery in Ireland. The core range consists in both blends and single malt, and they’ve made some interesting limited editions, such as the cask series – a series of 12-year-old single malts finished in sherry casks, rum casks and port casks – and the newer Glengarriff collection. The later are single malt whiskeys matured first in sherry casks and then finished in casks that have been charred using fuels from the Glengarriff forest. I’ve yet to taste these two but they do sound very interesting.

There’s also a blend bottled at cask strength, no less than 62% – very strong, but it is a fabulous whiskey with lots of flavour, and a nice oily texture. Personally I always prefer cask strength because the higher alcohol content preserves flavour, and there’s always water in the tap for if you want to add some to the whiskey.

Now lately I’ve understood that they have done some more special releases in the past for different purposes that I haven’t been able to find more info about. It seems like they are quite big in the US, and I really hope their products will be more widely spread in Irish pubs. I actually think it’s a shame that there are so many Cork bars who don’t stock whiskey from a distillery in West Cork.

West Cork Distillers use only Irish grown grain, and do some of the malting themselves. To obtain the most flavours they only use pot stills, also for the grain whiskey. All equipment has been built on site by West Cork Distillers themselves, quite impressive in my opinion! I love their creativity and enthusiasm about what they do! When we visited, they were filling a new warehouse with casks.

What’s not to love with a distillery that puts this kind of brilliant labels on their bottles?

West Cork Distillers are very unknown in my part of Europe, but I’m going to do what I can to spread the news by featuring one of their whiskeys in a tasting I’m going to host in late April in my local whisky club.

I do hope that they will eventually open a visitor centre of sorts eventually. This distillery has some really nice things going on and I’m going to follow them closely (any plans of starting a blog, West Cork?).

WOTW – JJ Corry The Gael

This is a very interesting whiskey from a very interesting company. I visited them in August 2017, and will try to write a separate post eventually about the company, but here’s a short introduction.

Chapel Gate isn’t a distillery, but a modern whiskey bonding company, meaning that they buy good quality whiskey from distilleries, and mature it in their own casks. Whiskey bonding is an important part of Ireland’s whiskey history, for example the Spot whiskeys and the big Redbreast brand was created by whiskey bonders.

Nowadays, new whiskey brands pop up everywhere, and many of them are probably in reality whiskey bonders. Many whiskey companies start building a brand without having a distillery – some because they are building their distillery, or their distillery is so new that their own whiskey is still in casks for maturation, and they buy sourced whiskey to release a whiskey with their brand in the meantime, either as a custom made ready product or they own a warehouse where they finish the sourced whiskey in own casks.

The later could probably be considered whiskey bonders, some have no plans for having a distillery but only plan to do the maturation part. But although cask management and maturation is an art form in itself, few (or perhaps none) take pride in being whiskey bonders such as Chapel Gate.

Chapel Gate has its home on a family farm in county Clare where they’ve built a rackhouse where all the magic will happen. Their first whiskey, The Gael, was released during 2017, a very interesting blend. It consists in not less than four different whiskeys, three single malts and one grain. These whiskeys have arrived already mature to Chapel Gate, and have been carefully blended there.

The brand, JJ Corry, has its name from an old whiskey bonder from the area. He wasn’t only whiskey bonder but he was also an innovator and entrepreneur, and The Gael is actually the name of a bike he invented.
It’s bottled at 46% ABV, and the only cask type that is specified is the oldest single malt component that has been matured in ex-sherry butts, so I suppose the others must be matured in ex-bourbon casks.

Nose
Fresh apple with a light hint of mint, honey and citrus.

Palate
There’s loads going on here. The first entrant is lime and fresh stone fruit, followed by a floral character and lots of honey. Pepper comes in at the end, it’s quite intense but mixes well with the honey and creates a nice long and spicy finish.

A nice, flavourful and complex whiskey but still fresh and smooth. You have to get this one. And do you know a whiskey nerd who claims that blended whiskeys are boring? You have to get him/her this one.
Read more about Chapel Gate and The Gael here.

WOTW: Method and madness single pot still

This week we’re heading to county Cork and the Midleton distillery, where Shakespeare has given inspiration to the name of this whiskey range – Method and Madness.

‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in it’

Method & Madness was launched in early 2017, a range of whiskeys matured in new types of casks, to celebrate innovation and experimentation, and create something totally new and different. There’s a single grain matured in virgin Spanish oak casks, a single malt matured in French limousin oak, and there is this single pot still. Their single grain is one of few grain whiskeys that I’ve really liked, very nice and tasty. I wasn’t overly fond of their single malt – but have only had a quick taste of it so far – and the single pot still is superb.

I like the concept of testing new cask types that aren’t typically used for maturing whiskey. I guess I generally love creativity and daring to try new things. This single pot still whiskey is bottled at 46% ABV, matured in sherry- and bourbon barrels, and then finished in French chestnut casks. How cool is that?

This batch 1 was released during the winter of 2017, and when I was going back from the Irish whiskey academy workshop, I browsed the Dublin airport shop for some good whiskey to take home. Of course I wanted that Barry Crockett or Dair Ghaelach pot still whiskey, but didn’t want to spend too much €€€, and when I met a sales person I asked for his advice. He recommended the Method & Madness range. I was unsure whether I should buy the pot still or the single malt, but chose the pot still – after all I had started to really love pot still whiskey.

Nose
Sweet fudge, but with a sting. Dark wood, vanilla, honey. Light mint. With water everything is generally more mellow and vanilla takes over a bit.

Palate
Very strong character of salted caramel – fabulous! Honey and herb, cloves, cinnamon. After a while lots of wood and more spice. Nice woody spicy finish. I don’t think this whiskey gets better with added water but it adds a little more wood to the flavour.

Definitely a very interesting whiskey, pot still characters with a little twist. I see that the price has gone up a lot since I bought it, but I’ve also seen hints about new batches being made, so that’s good news!

WOTW: West Cork rum cask finish

This week’s dram is a nice 12-year-old single malt from West Cork Distillers. It’s a sourced whiskey, but has spent time in the West Cork warehouse. It’s been matured in first-fill bourbon casks for 12 years, and then finished in rum casks for a shorter period of time. It’s bottled at 43% ABV.

West Cork whiskeys have an interesting floral character that I haven’t been able to identify yet (suggestions welcome), and this one is no exception. It’s a smooth and very nice dram.

West Cork distillers keep the whiskey in the finishing casks for shorter time than many other distilleries, in order to keep the bourbon cask character. I haven’t decided yet if I think this is good or bad. I like lots of flavour and I do like whiskeys where also the cask used to finish the whiskey has left its character, but the typical flavours of the ex-bourbon cask are definitely very nice.

Nose
The whiskey greets your nose with fresh fruit, light oak scents, vanilla, and pepper.

Palate
Peppery, spicy entrance, then fresh fruitiness along with vanilla, floral notes, and a long peppery finish. With a drop or two of water the oak scent comes through stronger, the oak takes more place, more sweetness appears and there’s more body to the whiskey. Generally this whiskey is quite light, perhaps a little too light for my liking.

The nice fruity character and long spicy finish kind of makes up for it but I miss a more robust body, I really like whiskeys where there’s a strong body behind all the other flavours. Still, how you like and perceive different kinds of whiskeys always depends on many different things, and this is a very nice whiskey after all, one that I’d happily enjoy also on a hot summer day.

WOTW: Tullamore DEW Phoenix

Today I’m going to start of Whiskey of the week (WOTW), a weekly feature where I’ll highlight nice drams that I’ve come across. Let’s kick off with this fabulous release from Tullamore DEW – the Tullamore DEW Phoenix.

This is a limited edition and it’s said to be available only in airports, but I’ve seen it at Systembolaget near the PK shopping centre in Stockholm, it’s available at Celtic Whiskey Shop, and I tasted it at the Irish pub The Liffey, in Gamla Stan, Stockholm.

On Tullamore’s website you can read about a hot air balloon accident that took place in Tullamore in 1785, and it destroyed much of the town. After the accident they placed a phoenix in their coat of arms, and this is what also gave the name to this whiskey. 
The original Tullamore distillery closed down in 1954, and the whiskey under the Tullamore DEW brand has since then been distilled at the Midleton distillery. A brand new Tullamore distillery opened in 2017, so I’m looking forward to their future home made whiskey releases.

Tullamore DEW Phoenix is a blend of triple distilled grain, malt and pot still whiskey, with a high pot still content. It has been finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and bottled at the nice 55% ABV. It’s a very nice dram, soft but with an attitude. Nice and spicy but still soft and creamy.

Nose
Spicy, then oak, sweetness, fudge and raisins.

Palate
There’s an immediate attack of soft fudge, vanilla, and salted caramel. Pepper, spice and oak immediately after. Dark fruit and a slightly bitter, peppery finish. 
With two drops of water, the sweetness and softness marry together perfectly.. the toffee comes through a lot, the slight bitterness is gone and the finish is just sweet and spicy.. it’s simply gorgeous. I think this dram is actually best with 1-2 drops of water, as it makes the sweet toffee notes come through so much.

Go on and taste it!