At Whiskey Live last year, I had a good plan of what to taste and who to talk to, instead of browsing the stalls as I did the previous year. I got to taste some fabulous whiskeys, but sticking to my plan had a downside. I missed some new brands that were to become a big thing in the Irish whiskey-sphere.
One of these brands was W.D O’Connell Whiskey Merchants. It became clear to me afterwards, reading other people’s blog posts or social media posts, that this brand was something special.
I’m a big supporter of transparency in Irish whiskey. Whiskey companies need to let consumers know whether they are distillers, bonders, bottlers or brand owners. They need to let consumers know if they use sourced liquid while waiting for their own to mature. Whiskey enthusiasts will understand that a new distillery didn't make that 10-year-old whiskey themselves, but being honest and transparent about it is common sense and decent behaviour. There's also no shame in using sourced whiskey, especially since some of the most fabulous whiskeys come from independent bottlers.
It seems clear what whiskey companies get more respect – it’s those that are transparent about what they do.
In the same way that Louise McGuane and crew take pride in being whiskey bonders, Daithí O’Connell takes pride in being an independent bottler. W.D O’Connell is, in fact, the first Irish independent whiskey bottler I’ve heard of, at least if we speak about companies that title themselves as bottlers.
There are two W.D. O’Connell whiskeys out there; Bill Phil, peated single malt, and a 17-year-old px cask finished single malt from Cooley's.
Peated Irish whiskeys are scarce but are being reintroduced into the industry. Connemara peated whiskeys have been around for a long time, and there was another brand around a couple of years ago that I haven't heard of since then. Now, a few other distilleries plan to make peated whiskey. Great Northern offered some samples at Whiskey Live, and I know at least two more distilleries with plans on peated whiskeys. It’s exciting and will add even more variety into the Irish whiskey industry.
Bill Phil - a peated, triple distilled Irish single malt
Bill Phil is produced at the Great Northern Distillery, bottled at 47,5% ABV, and matured in ex-bourbon casks. The name Bill Phil comes from family members of O’Connell himself – who had the nicknames Bill Phil and were makers of a specific tool used to cut turf.
I’m a big fan of peated Scotch whiskies, but I’ve never liked the Connemara whiskeys, at least not those I have tasted so far. I was curious about what I would think about Bill Phil.
Very odd to begin with. Burnt rubber or something like that. But then I get hints of Islay style peat, and behind that fresh and fruity aromas; pineapple and lemon, and leather.
The first impression on the palate is prickly spice. Then light smoke that is very much present but not overpowering. There’s also sweet tropical fruit, a hint of leather, something that reminds of nutmeg, and a nutty flavour. It’s soft and creamy on the palate with a nice sweetness and a medium-long spicy finish.
This is a very nice dram. As noted, I found it odd to begin with, but after a few nosings, the crazy rubbery feel is gone and there’s plenty of fruit and subtle peat smoke. Smoke and sweetness aren’t always a good combination - I sometimes find certain Islay whiskies too heavy. It depends on the mood of my palate though. Now, I found Bill Phil nicely balanced with only a hint of smoke to sort of embellish the fruit sweetness. Very nice.