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. :D 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?).