IRISH WHISKEY TASTINGS
Hello and welcome! This month we are exploring the exciting world of Irish Whiskey.
Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world, though a long period of decline from the late 19th century onwards greatly damaged the industry. So much so that although Ireland boasted over 30 distilleries in the 1890s, a century later, this number had fallen to just three. However, Irish whiskey has seen a great resurgence in popularity since the late twentieth century, and has been the fastest growing spirit in the world every year since 1990. With exports growing by over 15% per annum in recent years, existing distilleries have been expanded and a number of new distilleries constructed. As of early 2017, Ireland now has sixteen distilleries in operation, with at least a further fourteen in the planning stages. However, only five of these have been operating long enough to have products sufficiently aged for sale, and only one of these was operating prior to 1975.
The Locke's Single Malt was the pioneer brand for Cooley Distillery, first launched in 1992. On the 17th of July that year the first mature cask of Locke's Single Malt was tapped by the Grand-daughter of the last John Locke. The initial bottling was a limited edition of 5,000 individually numbered bottles. In 1998 the Locke's brand was officially launched and went on general release to complete Cooley's malt range. However it wasn't until 2000 that Cooley launched its first aged version, Locke's 8 Year Old Single Malt. Its unique quality and flavour was fully rewarded when it won a Gold medal at the 2001 International Wine and Spirits Competition. Noel Sweeney, Cooley Master Blender, comments, 'Forget all the bottles of fancy wood finished Scotch and get this. I promise you a rare and wonderful treat. A minimum age of 8 years has given this whiskey the smoothness one would expect. The marrying of peat and non-peated malts has given this whiskey everything, honey, oak, fruit, peat, mouth-feel and finish.’
Tasting Note - Nose: Fragrant, with just the tiniest hint of peat. Grassy. Lemon-grass. Palate: Honeydew melons. Finish: Full. Firm. Juicy. Peachy maltiness.
As of 2015 there are only four distilleries in Ireland with mature whiskey stocks, and four new distilleries in operation whose stocks are not yet fully matured. Meanwhile, the popularity of Irish whiskey is growing at an unprecedented rate. Ireland's Minister for Agriculture and Food, Simon Coveney, said recently: "Irish whiskey brands now represent the fastest growing spirit globally, with investment of €1 billion planned over a 10-year period". In fact, there are around twenty distilleries either being planned or being built in Ireland to cater for the expected 300% growth by 2030. The mammoth demand has inevitably led some to conclude that a supply shortage is imminent. Will Ireland follow the same path as Japan and Scotland, repositioning its prestige labels as reduced age / NAS (no age statment) releases? Are Irish classics destined to be compromised by a disproportionate inclusion of younger material? Time will tell...
This single pot still incarnation of Powers is named for the now-defunct old Powers distillery. Using a pot still distillate which is true to the original style of John's Lane, the whiskey has been matured for not less than 12 years, mainly in first fill American bourbon casks, with a small contribution from whiskies matured in Oloroso sherry butts.
Tasting note - The brilliant, brassy gold colour is pleasure to behold. A typically robust, Irish pot still note of oily richness is replaced by gorgeous lifted, sweet, floral scents, mostly apple/pear fruit strudel and vanilla wafer delivered with sublime purity. Whisper light entry is svelte-smooth building into a superb, fruity, semi sweet profile with a dazzling, pure delivery of ripe pear followed by vanilla wafer and gently pulsing spices adding depth. Text book balance, as the palate concludes clean, juicy and fresh, like biting into perfectly ripened fruit. Drying, nashi pear, vanilla aftertaste buzzes with staying power, before tailing off into a dried coconut, cocoa and vanilla fade. Just so pure and poised. A must-try Irish whiskey experience.
Once upon a time in Ireland, many hundreds of wine merchants would fill their own casks with the spirit from their local distilleries and sell it under their own brand name, occasionally giving mention to the stills where it first bubbled into life. But all that changed when distillers became proprietorial and wished, often with good reason, due to the dubious practises of some merchants, to have complete control over any whiskey which bore their name . As businesses closed or merged, brands were lost. Others decided not to compete with the ever more powerful distillers. Some distillers simply refused to supply the whiskey. In the end there was only one left which can still be found today. That sole survivor is Green Spot. There are no exact record as to when the brand first hit the streets, but certainly by the early 1920s the long-established wine merchants of Mitchell and Son of Kildare Street, Dublin, were annually putting aside 100 sherry hogsheads to be filled at Jameson’s Bow Street distillery. So that the whiskey would not be too overpowered by the wine, half the casks used had held oloroso and other dark sherries; the other half were the former homes of lighter finos.
The Jameson pot still would mature for five years in those casks before being vatted together and then allowed to blend and mature for a further five years in those same butts in Mitchell’s old bonded warehouses in Fitzwilliam Lane. The brand was originally known as Pat Whiskey, with a man looking very much the worse for wear apparently bursting through the label. Behind him was dark green shading. From this image grew the name Green Spot. The popularity of this type of whiskey spread to a seven year old Blue Spot, a Yellow Spot (12) and Red Spot (15). As the costs involved in maturing expensive sherry casks became heavier and heavier, Mitchells reverted to vatting just the single and the original Green version. However, when Jameson switched production from Bow Street to Johns Lane, the make-up of the whiskey altered for the first time in living memory. Mitchell’s maturing stocks were running low, and having no intention of losing their famous brand, the company entered into an agreement with Irish Distillers to produce the whiskey. A stipulation was that the whiskey supplied had to be matured in Midleton’s own casks, but IDG were able to guarantee the future of the brand as pure pot still whiskey.
The current Green Spot is made entirely from seven and eight year old Midleton pot still, a healthy 25% coming from sherry cask, which is quite evident in its aroma and taste. With Irish Distillers producing their own 12 year old pot still, Redbreast, it was understandable they were not willing to produce an older vatting for Mitchell’s. But when Redbreast was taken off the market, Green Spot enjoyed the distinction of being the only and very last, pure Irish Pot Still in existence. Now with Midleton back on the shelves it can no longer claim that, but it does remain the longest running pot still whiskey to continuously remain on the shelves. Only 500 cases are made each year, all for the home market, with most of this sold through Mitchell’s shop at 21, Kildare Street, Dublin. Those 6000 bottles represent a very small part of the total Mitchell operation. But for a seventh generation family company which dates back to 1805, it is one they cherish as a vital part of their own history and Ireland’s whiskey heritage.
Tasting note - The nose reminiscent of vanilla wafer biscuit, however there’s a potpouri/herbal overtone with subtle lavender and a more distinct spearmint top note. The medium weight palate is soft and off dry, with the biscuit flavours re-emerging, building into a warm flavour wave that gets juicier with ripe stonefruit flavours, though it’s the cooling menthol character that's most striking. Excellent balance. Long, drying aftertaste of peppermint, spice anf dark chocolate. A unique Irish, (almost a choc-peppermint style of whisky) which yields delightful complexity.
Bushmills is a truly unique Single Malt from the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, first licensed in 1608. The pure water used in Old Bushmills flows over the basalt rock which is visible in the spectacular formations of the world famous “Giants Causeway.” The malt is entirely unpeated and thus the smokiness associated with Scotch malt is entirely absent from Bushmills. In addition to this, every drop is carefully distilled three times for purity and smoothness (most malts are distilled only twice). Bushmills is then left to mature for a minimum of ten years in select bourbon oak casks and Oloroso sherry casks. The result is a smooth, rich Single Malt with overtones of vanilla, honey and sherry.
Tasting Note - Nose: Very lightly scented with nutty ice cream and sherry. Palate: Rich dried fruit and chewy toffee, quite a mouth filling shock after the very delicate nose. Finish: Fudgy. Comment: After years of being overshadowed by its older wood finished cousins, this 10 year old is finally coming into its own.
Connemara is a wild, mountainous region on the west coast of Ireland, lying between the Atlantic Ocean and Loughs Corrib and Mask. The peat bogs of Connemara are major fuel sources to the region and have played an important role throughout Irish history as an energy source and in the production of whiskey. However, as many of the distilleries in Ireland were located alongside a canal, the transport and use of coal in distilleries became more efficient than peat. This temporarily killed the tradition of drying malted barley over peat fires in the production of whiskey. Managing Director of Cooley Distillery, David Hynes and chairman John Teeling have resurrected this traditional Irish custom. Noted whisky writer, Michael Jackson commented of Connemara “The revival of rustic peatiness adds a whole new element to today’s palette of Irish whiskey flavours…Lots happening. Chimney pots of smoke. I love this whiskey.” (Whisky Magazine Issue 15) Connemara Peated Single Malt was placed fourth in the Irish Whiskey category at Best of the Best 2003 and received a double gold and Best of Irish at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition 2004.
Tasting Note - NOSE : Smoky peat balanced by heathland flora with hints of honey and oak.
PALATE : Smooth as silk with a honey sweet start, followed by more complex aromas of malt and fruit giving way to the intensifying full bodied peat.
FINISH : A long and glorious finish with hints of honey and deep peat make spreading across the mouth and palate. Notes of chocolate vanilla and oak leave a mouth-watering taste behind.