We were privileged to have Cooley distillery’s Noel Sweeney conduct a St. Patrick’s Day tasting for us at The Whisky Exchange in Vinopolis, showing off a range of their fine products.
We started off with three examples of the new spirit from the recently-revived Kilbeggan distillery, which began distilling operations again in March 2007, meaning that the first of the new spirit has just reached the three years it requires to be called proper whiskey.
All the whiskey distilled at Kilbeggan has already been distilled once at Cooley, as the stills at Kilbeggan aren’t big enough to take a full-size batch of wash, which needs to be distilled fresh. Cooley’s low wines are therefore tankered over to Kilbeggan from Dundalk for a second distillation. The three samples we tried were aged one month, one year and two years respectively.
This is where things get slightly complicated. The 1yo and 2yo have been distilled once at Cooley and once at Kilbeggan in the latter’s reconditioned still from Tullamore – dating from the late 19th century, this 2000-litre capacity still is believed to be one of the oldest working stills in existence. The month-old new make spirit we tried first, however, is triple-distilled, as Kilbeggan now have two stills of their own, with the newer still a larger replica (3000 litres) of the Tullamore still.
Interestingly, because the spirit has been distilled at two different distilleries, it is not a single malt. However, as it is not a mix of malt whiskies from two different distilleries, it is not a blended malt either. So it’s just Irish Malt whiskey. Or at least it will be when it’s three years old. Clear? Excellent.
I found the triple-distilled new make very promising – creamy and grassy, with hints of vanilla and exotic fruit. It got me thinking – some people assume that triple-distilled spirits are somehow less interesting or lacking flavour. It’s nonsense of course – while triple-distilled spirit is generally lighter-bodied, the best examples have bags of character, as in this case.
There is a difference between richness of texture/weight and richness of flavour in whisk(e)y and it’s often overlooked as they normally go together. However, as with the finest dessert wines, a light or medium-bodied whisk(e)y can really pack a flavour punch – and in the best examples it could even be seen as preferable to a full-bodied dram, since your tastebuds don’t get weary as quickly.
We look forward to following the progress of Kilbeggan whiskey with interest and anticipation. There should be a 3yo double-distilled Kilbeggan malt released in the next few months. It’s been aged in quarter casks to speed up its maturation, so it should more developed than the age suggests. You’ll have to wait a bit longer to see any triple-distilled Kilbeggan though, but on tonight’s evidence it should be worth the wait.
The rest of the tasting was another confirmation of the quality of Cooley’s whiskey – two Tyrconnells and the Locke’s 8yo were extremely drinkable, and I can report that the current batch of Greenore 8yo is the best I’ve tried. Noel provided a couple of little snippets for the geeks on this one – did you know that:
1. Greenore’s mashbill actually contains 10% malt…
2. …it’s distilled to an eye-watering 94%…
3. …before maturation in 100% first-fill bourbon casks.
The crowd’s favourite whiskey of the evening, though, was the most recent addition to the Connemara stable – the Connemara (Oloroso) Sherry Finish.
Nose: Nutty – hazelnuts and walnuts. Much woodier than the standard expression, obviously; raisin cake; cooked plum. Faintest menthol hint, plus a whiff of seaweed, brine, then brown sugar & treacle notes. Classic Oloroso fruitcake aromas after a few minutes.
Palate: Some pleasant, dusty oak initially, followed quickly by the sweet notes from the nose. Develops nuttiness – sugared almonds, possibly some walnut. Also light molasses, and then a turn into coffee flavours – mocha chocolate, milky cappuccino. The phenols are fairly restrained, lurking in the background as light smoke.
Finish: Medium-length, quite warming, astringent. Dry wood, leaves, some bonfire smoke and a resurgence of the briny seaweed from the nose.
Many thanks to Noel Sweeney and his colleagues at Cooley for visiting us and showing their range off on a special St. Patrick’s night. We’ll be sticking a gallery of photos from the night up shortly with the usual unfunny captions (my speciality).