Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Whiksy Live Dublin

      Well it's been quite a couple of weeks for Irish Whiskey. Verging on historical with momentous new releases and announcements. IDL with 2 fabulous new and much welcomed Single Pot Still offerings and Cooley with the re-introduction of their tradition of distilling Pot still also.

      Just when we were catching our breath Saturday 14th of May saw Whisky Live arrive into Dublin. This is the first time that Whisky Live has been hosted in Dublin and possibly the first time that there has been a dedicated whisk(e)y expo in Ireland. It was held in the round room of the beautiful & historic Mansion house built in 1821 and located in the centre of Dublin. The event was officially opened by the Dublin Lord Mayor Mr Gerry Breen who is not unknown to have a glass of the golden nectar himself. So it was with great interest that he attended this event in his official capacity. He was presented with various bottles from a multitude of Industry representatives. I think I may run for the position next year just for that alone.

Dublin's Lord Mayor Mr Gerry Breen officially opens Whisky Live Dublin

      I was there on two levels. Firstly on a personal level to taste all the sumptuous whiskey on display and secondly wearing my official Irish Whiskey Society (IWS) shirt and manning the stand for a short while to try and entice people to join. The IWS stand turned out to be very successful. People seemed quite surprised that there was a Society for such shenanigans but all thought it was a great idea and we got a great reaction. Drinking is very much a pub orientated past time in Ireland a few would have thought of whiskey in a more structured way.  Through all the efforts of the IWS Volunteers we were able to extol the benefits of such a society and garner some real interest around the wonderful past time of whiskey and whiskey tasting.

 The Irish Whiskey Society's Stand


     However the real work of the day was tasting the whiskeys on offer and chatting to all the industry guys. I've been at a couple Whisky Live in the UK and the Dublin effort was definitely on a par in the organisation stakes if slightly smaller but hey whiskey is not that big in Ireland... yet. All the major Irish brands were represented, Bushmills, Connemara, Jameson, Kilbeggan, Midleton, Tullamore & Tyrconnell. So too were strong brands like Greenspot (Mitchell's), Knappogue Castle, Powers & Redbreast. However it was also good to see some of the new kids on the block putting in good representations to the Irish Public. Brands like Inis Turk Beg, Irishman, Slane Castle, Wild Geese & Writers Tears. These are brands that the public will largely be ignorant of so a big well done for turning up. It is through events like these that we maybe able to awaken a more general passion of whiskey in Ireland aside from the bog standard pub fare.

      It was not all Irish though and we had a nice easy selection of scotch distilleries too. No heavy handed Islay's were really present (Except maybe a few Independently Bottled ones), possibly the Irish palate needs to be broken in gently? What we saw though was some of the more approachable brands of Auchentoshan, Benriach, Bowmore, Edradour, Glen Dronach, Glen Garioch, and the 3 sisters of Hazelburn, Longrow & Springbank. Not a huge selection as far as Scotch goes but a good start for the Irish market. We also had  Signatory and Duncan Taylor stands who independently bottle various different distilleries, mainly in single cask offerings, which are always very welcome. Then bringing up the reargard for a bit of variety we had Nikka Japanese Whisky & Jefferson's Bourbon for good measure. All in all not a bad selection for what is a new style of event in a yet to be exploited Irish market. Irish Distillers had great stands that were very striking and a totally new set up for the new Single Pot Still series of Redbreast, Greenspot, Midleton SPS & Powers John's Lane SPS and it was probably the best looking stand at the event, I wonder did that have something to do with the whiskey... However all exhibitors made the day and the over set up looked good.  All offerings through out the fair were then on sale at the Celtic Whiskey Shop (CWS) stand which was wonderful. Nothing worse than finding a cracker and not being able to buy it there and then.

Celtic Whiskey Shop or Aladdin's Cave?

      What was evident at Whisky Live was the enthusiasm of all the exhibitors and the willingness to chat about all things whiskey. I hope to follow up some conversations with articles in their own right at a later date. More over there seem to be a very interested public who seemed to be enjoying the warm and relaxed atmosphere of this particular Whisky Live. Everything seemed to move at a nice pace and there was very little over crowding at stands which always is a bonus. We had the usual live cooper demonstrations which were quite interesting for most novices even though I did see a few surprised glances when unsuspecting WL goers with their back to the proceeding heard the clang of the coopers hammer. There was also a separate  chocolate and food stands with whiskey pairing opportunities.

As to the whiskies ... there was nothing that I tasted that I disliked but there were some I liked more than others. Cooley had released a Tyrconnell 11 year old sherry finish especially for the event and for my money a far superior version of the regular 10yo Sherry finish, I am guessing that extra year has paid dividends but then I tend to like my sherry influence a bit heavier than some. Powers John's Lane was another highlight and was delighted to relieve the Celtic Whiskey shop of two of these. Lastly was a young Signtory Bunahabhain which really impressed me, definitely on my list to get one next time I'm in the CWS.

My overall impressions of Whisky Live Dublin is that is was a great success and a thoroughly enjoyable experience so here's to hoping that it will be back in the future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cooley refire the true Spirit of Kilbeggan

      Wednesday 11th May 2011 saw the Chaser venturing into the centre of Ireland to visit the Kilbeggan Distillery also known as Locke's Distillery. This distillery is a wonder to behold and a step back in time complete with the workings of 19th century distillery on display. The Kilbeggan Distillery Museum is definitely well worth a visit but that is not only reason to visit.

      The Distillery like many before it closed in 1957 but had ceased production since 1953 and went through various indignation's from a multitude of owners that breezed through it over the next 30-40 years. Redemption was found though when Cooley Distillery Limited acquired the site and used it as their main maturation site for the whiskey they were producing in their more modern Riverstown operation in Co Louth. All output from there is either Single Malt or Grain whiskey and not Irish Pot Still for which the Locke's Distillery had become famous. Cooley unfortunately, who only establish in 1987, were the new kids on the block and did not have the resources to refurbish the Kilbeggan Distillery in the early years and it remained a warehousing site. However Cooley have gone from strength to strength and in 2007 Cooley started distilling in Kilbeggan once again to the acclaim to Irish Whiskey enthusiasts every where. It did not matter that it was Malt whiskey, what was important was the emergence of a fourth distillery on the Island of Ireland.This resulted last year in the release of the Kilbeggan Distillery malt. A 3 year old whiskey that was part distilled in Cooley HQ there fore cannot be called a Single Malt and eventhough possibly slightly young, this is a historic release and a definite collectors item for the future. However it also As the years go by we will be able to see the progression

      The aroma of distillation once again hung over the Locke's distillery but something even more special has been rekindled this month. For the first time in over a half century the distillery is producing Pot Still spirit which will become Single Post Still whiskey in 3 years time. Alex Chasko, the affable American and inovation manager in Kilbeggan, has resurrect an old Locke's mash bill of 60% malt 35% spring barley (which is stone ground by the way) and 5% oats. Oats has long since been dropped by IDL as part of their distilling method so Kilbeggan are in a way making a truly unique pot still whiskey and the true spirit of Kilbeggan is alive once again.

A Pot Still Mash Containing Oats.

      While there I got to taste the new make which was quite flavoursome, lovely light fruity and a sweet spirit which is surprisingly very drinkable straight from the still. This bodes well for a matured product in the long run. In tandem they are going to do some pot still in the Riverstown plant also so it will be interesting to see what differences there will be between the 2 new spirits. So now all there is to do is wait ...

      I was also lucky enough to sample the new Kilbeggan 18yo, this for me is much better than the award winning 15yo Limited version that was released for Kilbeggan's 250th anniversary. Comes in a very similar bottle which I am told is actually lighter and more slimline but still very striking.If you liked the 15yo you will love this.

Kilbeggan 18yo

Friday, May 13, 2011

Irish Distillers Launch 2 New Whiskeys


      I am delighted to write my very first post on a significant announcement in the Irish Whiskey Industry. On Thursday 5th of May 2011 I had the pleasure of attending an Irish Distillers Ltd (IDL) launch of 2 brand new Whiskeys. That in itself may not seem significant but the fact that these are 2 new Single Pot Still whiskeys is a major development. Why? because it was a real possibility that the Pot Still style could have died out all together but Mitchell's (Greenspot) & Gilbeys (Redbreast) managed to keep the style alive against the odds. Then earlier this year we had a new dawning in relation to these brands with a major overhaul of Greenspot livery and an updating of Redbreast. Then on Thursday in one fell swoop we suddenly have double the brands in the Single Pot Still category with the addition of the Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy and the Power's 12yo Johns Lane Release. Both bottles are celebrating 2 very important cogs in the IDL wheel. Barry Crockett Master Distiller who is literally a living part of the Midleton Distillery having been born on the old Distillery site and the Powers 12yo John's Lane Release celebrating the ancestral home of Powers.

 

Our tasting consisted of these 4 brands with Redbreast 12yo 40%, Greenspot 40%, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy 46% ncf and the Powers 12yoJohn's Lane 46% ncf in the line up. The RB12 & Greenspot are at this stage well respected so their new cousins had a lot to live up to and it was good to be able to taste all 4 against each other as it really emphasises the differences in the whiskeys. The Greenspot definitely comes across in this company as fresh and youth full and the RB12 being full of rich fruit and spice.

So what did the new guns on the block have to offer ... well I'm not going to write detailed notes but will try and give you a flavour of what to expect as these really need to be tasted personally to appreciate them to the full. Any detailed break down from me could do them an injustice as they did not disappoint.
The Midleton Barry Crocket Legacy pretty much uses all bourbon first fill cask with the exception of the tiniest amount of virgin matured Pot Still to round it off and it contains a mixture of whiskeys between 15 - 22 years old. Even though full of flavour and a slightly heavier mouth feel this is a very elegant whiskey and will fit into the Midleton stable very comfortably. There is plenty of sweetness with lots of Vanilla and soft ripe fruits so if you are a fan of Midleton VR you should really enjoy this and at circa €165 it offers excellent value for the Midleton drinker especially for the step up in quality.  


The Power's 12yo John's Lane Release was the revelation of the day though. This is a big whiskey and built in the old Power's style. Heavy earthy aromas and the big pot still flavours are driven by the distillate which is curiously made up from refill as well as first fill casks. Again the majority is Bourbon but there is a small percentage of sherry in the single figures but what really marks this whiskey is the use of Mod Pot 4 which is IDL code for a heavy style of Pot Still. Even regular Powers drinkers who will recognise the spice and wood may be surprised by the robustness of this whiskey and I must say it is a breath of fresh air. At circa €50 a bottle this I feel offers wonderful value for money and could easily become a main stay of one's whiskey drinking selection. So do not hesitate and get your skates on as they have only bottled circa 600 cases in this the first batch but surely not the last for such a great whiskey. Obviously depending on reaction of the rest of the whiskey drinking public but I feel that this has all the traits to become an Irish classic.

      Over all a wonderful and possibly historic day. Could this be the dawn of a new era? IDL have what seem like very ambitious plans for the future and that is to release at least one new whiskey every year for the next 20 odd years (and no I don't mean yearly issues of Midleton Very Rare). What this actually means is that we may see the Redbreast & Greenspot brands expanded as well as possible additions to the other family brands. So now IDL have really upped their game and we will have something to look forward to on a more regular basis.

Introduction

In 1999 during a trip to Scotland I paid a visit to The Scotch Whisky Experience on the royal. Eventhough at the time I was a confirmed whiskey drinker I was not blown away by some of the scotch I tasted but I was totally in awe of the sheer scale and variety of the worlds number one whisky. It was then that I realised that I was pretty much a single brand Irish Whiskey drinker and I really did not know much about my own native drink or whiskey in general. This was the light bulb moment and the catalyst that was to launch me on a quest to explore Irish Whiskey. I have been on this adventure ever since and have learned to love and appreciate whisk(e)y of all types counting many scotch, Japanese and American whiskies amongst my favorites.

Even back just a decade ago Irish Whiskey had a very low profile and was not being exploited to it's full potential. Therefore I was fearful that it was just a handful of the usual suspects that existed. I dived in head first and went in search of as many brands of Irish Whiskey as I possibly could find and luckily I found that there was a burgeoning underground of other brands also. From an Irish prespective on the ground in Ireland IDL was the giant in the field with the Jameson Paddy & Power brands totally dominating. Then you had Bushmills being popular also but far from wide spread and then Tullamore which may come as a surprise to some but was even more aloof in Irish pubs. And even though back in 1999 these possibly accounted for 90% of all irish Whiskey being sold in Ireland it was only the tipof the ice berg in relation to different brands.

I had come on the sceane just in time to see Cooley begin to blosom and totally dominate the production of Independent bottles of Irish Whiskey for various companies as well as build their Kilbeggan, Lockes and Connemara brands and later Greenore. However the there was so little information I started to catalogue any different brand or bottling I came across. This eventually resulted in the IrishWhiskeyChaser website which is basically an archive of Irish Whiskey. However, in the last 3 to 4 years we have seen a real explosion of quality new bottlings from all of the Irish Distilleries and because of the fact that I have basically done the major work on my archive site I now only need to update it. Therefore I now feel I can try my hand and write about my favourite subject whisk(e)y.

I am no expert just a regular Joe Soap who really enjoys his whiskey and I spend many hours reading and researching my favorite pass time. Futher I am no Journalist nor Oscar Wilde so don't expect Pulitzer prize quality writing.

So without further adieu let the odyssey continue ....