A bottle of this new release arrived on my doorstep this morning. Being short of gin in the house, we tried it this evening.
It certainly has juniper aplenty, but with a massive floral scent that also permeates the palate. I think I get the oolong, I certainly get the exotic floral notes on nose and palate, and a hit of orange peel, with heady decadent fruits, and a lingering dry finish. Great on its own, and quite the mouthful with the excellent Poacher’s Wild Irish Tonic Water. My gin expert heartily approved.
Reading online, I learn that Osmanthus is said to improve complexion and rid the body of excess nitric oxide. In China it is often mixed with green tea leaves to make a tea. I’m not sure my complexion improved, but this is a very tasty gin. I liked the bottle design that includes a Georgian townhouse with oriental images through the windows. For reasons not made clear, Chinnery is distilled in both Dublin and Cork. In case you are wondering, George Chinnery was an 18th century Dublin artist who traveled the world, ending his days in Macau. The bottle design with Georgian Dublin townhouse
Available for €55 from Mitchell & Son, chq and Sandycove, Mitchellandson.com; the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson St., Celticwhiskeyshop.com; Molloys Liquor Stores; James Fox, Grafton St., Jamesfox.ie.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2nd December, 2017
It is hard to believe, given the vast array of bottles on display at Dublin Airport and other outlets, but there are still only half-a-dozen distilleries actually producing whiskey in this country. The rest buy in mature stocks and further age, finish, blend or otherwise leave their unique mark on the final product. Some are excellent, others ordinary, and price is not always a good indicator of quality. Certainly there appears to be an appetite for €100-plus offerings. This autumn we have a flurry of new releases from producers anxious to catch the important Christmas market. Interest in Irish whiskey is at an all-time high, crossing all ages and gender, so this could be the ideal present for that difficult friend or relative.
In September, Walsh Whiskey released the excellent Irishman’s Founder’s Reserve Florio Marsala Cask Finish (€70). If that is beyond your budget, Writer’s Tears Copper Pot (€45) is another, more affordable star from the same source. The Dublin Whiskey Distillery sounds like a made-up name but claims a noble history. It was originally founded in 1830 by John Brannick, who served as master distiller at two of Dublin’s great distilleries before founding his own. DWD closed in 1940 but has now been revived by a group of Dublin businessmen. The Heritage Edition is a blend of whiskey from three different distilleries, aged for five to 10 years in Bourbon casks, primarily first fill.
Dingle was to the forefront of the new Irish distilleries, and therefore also one of the first to release whiskies produced in their own distillery last year. This autumn sees the release of four new small batch whiskies available in limited quantities. This includes the Dingle Single Malt (€65), aged in Bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Casks; the Dingle First Single Pot Still (€90), aged in Pedro Ximenez Casks; and the Dingle Single Malt (€78), aged in Port and Bourbon Casks, the last available exclusively from SuperValu.
Speaking of SuperValu, it recently expanded its whiskey range to include a number of exclusives. As well as the Dingle above, they now offer very limited quantities of two single-cask whiskies from Powers, both retailing at about €200. Aged for 15 years in cask, these are superb, rich, full-flavoured spirits, classically Powers in style. Elsewhere, the 2017 edition of Midleton Very Rare (€180) has been released, in a new very smart luxury bottle and wooden case, as has the Mitchell’s Green Spot Ch Montelena Whiskey, aged in Zinfandel barrels from Ch Montelena in California, a follow-on from their excellent Green Spot Ch Léoville-Barton.
Lastly, the Irish Whiskey Awards recently crowned Teelings The Revival IV as their favourite whiskey, with Jameson Black Barrel as the best in the sub-€60 category.
Dingle Single Malt Batch No.2 Irish Whiskey 46.5% (€65)
A very attractive medium to light-bodied whiskey with refined subtle citrus peel, vanilla and toasted nuts. Stockists: Dingle Whiskey Bar, The Loop, Dublin Airport, specialist off-licences and select SuperValu.
DWD Heritage Irish Whiskey 40% (€48)
A rich full-bodied whiskey with honey, milk chocolate, caramel and hints of Christmas cake spice. Stockists: Specialist off-licences and The Loop, Dublin Airport.
Mitchell’s Green Spot Pot Still Whiskey, Zinfandel finish. 46% (€69.95)
Full of warmth and character with delectable red fruits, pears, apples and toasted hazelnuts. An enticing, intriguing whiskey. Stockists: Mitchell & Sons, chq and Sandycove, and specialist off-licences.
The Revival IV, Teelings 15 year-old Single Malt Irish Whiskey 46% (€120)
Finished in Muscat casks, this is a medium-bodied fruit-filled whiskey with peaches, lemon zest, candied orange and lemon, and subtle vanilla. Stockists: Specialist off-licences including the Celtic Whiskey Shop.
The young and the old made the trip up from Midleton Distillery to launch four new whiskies in Dublin last week, all under the banner of Method & Madness. The old guard was made up of Ger Buckley (Master Cooper), Brian Nation (Master Distiller), Kevin O’Gorman (Master of Maturation) , Billy Leighton (Master Blender), David Quinn (Master of Whiskey Science). Lots of Masters. The new team included David McCabe (Apprentice blender), Karen Cotter (Apprentice Distiller), and Katherine Condon (Apprentice distiller).
Irish Distillers cannot be accused of resting on their laurels, having launched several new or revamped ranges of whiskey over the last few years. The Method & Madness series allows the team to experiment with limited releases of more exciting styles of whiskey. As they have just taken delivery of a new micro-distillery, currently being installed in Midleton, we can expect more in the future. This is a genuinely fascinating range of whiskeys.
Single Grain Irish Whiskey Finished in Virgin Spanish oak casks.
This single grain whiskey forms the base for all Jameson whiskies. It has been aged for 12 months in toasted virgin Spanish oak casks. Lightly aromatic, it has a smooth texture with a real spiciness (cloves?) and plenty of toasty oak. 46% €49
Single Malt Whiskey Enhanced with French Limousin Oak Casks
This single malt was made from a batch of whiskey distilled in Bushmills in 2002, when both Dave Quinn and Billy Leighton were working there. When Bushmills was sold, it came with them to Midleton. The influence of the French Limousin oak was so marked they only used it in part of the blend. Beautifully perfumed and elegant, with a lovely sweet palate of biscuits, toasted nuts, and a lingering finish. 46% €79
Single Pot Still finished in French Chestnut
‘The Irish Whiskey Act allows us to push the boat out’, says Billy Leighton, as it doesn’t limit ageing to oak casks. They used sweet chestnut or Spanish chestnut, unrelated to Horse Chestnut, for this whiskey, and the result is spectacular. Ger is delighted with how it turned out. This is an amazing whiskey with a warm spicy rounded nose, a big powerful palate, with plenty of wood character, sweet spices, honey and golden syrup. 46% €69.
Single Grain 31 year old single cask Cask Whiskey
Just three casks of this were made, and all bottled separately. It was distilled in 1985. We tasted cask 21614 which yielded 105 bottles. A wonderful delicate nose, sweetish but more precise, elegant and incredibly long, with honeyed fruits and spice on the finish. 52.5% €1,500 a bottle!
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 23rd July, 2016
Irish whiskey is on the up, both here and abroad. No week seems to go by without a new release. The explosion of interest has been great for the industry but it also has a downside; it has put huge pressure on stocks of aged whiskey.
In the future, it is likely that we will see fewer whiskeys with a statement of age – “10 year-old” etc – and more “NAS”, or no statement of age. Scotch is facing similar difficulties.
Over the past year or so, Jameson has released a trio of threesomes; a combination of new whiskeys, repackages or re-releases, all in smart clear glass bottles with cool retro labels. Together they represent a significant move forward for the brand, to sit alongside whiskeys with a statement of age, such as Redbreast and Yellow Spot.
The Deconstructed Series has three whiskeys, entitled Bold, Lively and Round. The idea is to show the three key characteristics of Irish whiskey. Those of you who have gone though our airports recently and visited the shops will have spotted them on sale at €36.
This is a clever way of explaining the complexities of whiskey to someone starting off on that journey. Next up is the Heritage Series, which includes Black Barrel, reviewed here a few weeks ago, Crested (no longer Crested Ten) and Signature. All have been available for a few years, but the presentation has been nicely updated.
Going towards the super premium level we have the Makers Series, a trio created by three key craftsmen: head distiller Brian Nation, head cooper Ger Buckley and head blender Billy Leighton.
“For me it was like being a kid in a sweet shop,” says Nation, “although Billy was the dad, always saying ‘no’ to everything I wanted. He is essentially the stock controller.”
The origin of the names is heritage driven. A spirit safe is a small glass container, often lined with copper that allows the distiller to analyse and sample the spirit leaving the pot still. The Distiller’s Safe is very much a spirit-driven whiskey, although it does have a wood contribution. According to Buckley, “it was very exciting to get involved with whiskey, it’s not something I would normally do. I love the sweetness of American oak, the vanilla and other spices.
“We called it the Croze, because that is the one tool I need to make a barrel. I have been using it all my life, and so did my dad.”
As for Blender’s Dog, a dog, is the small cup used to draw samples from a cask. It is an essential part of any blender’s equipment. Together the three make a fascinating new range of Irish whiskeys.
The Distiller’s Safe, Jameson
Peaches and spice on the nose; elegant creamy texture with butterscotch on the finish.
Stockists: Specialist off-licences
The Cooper’s Croze, Jameson
Sweet vanilla & toffee nose; not overly oaky, with toffee, dried fruits, toasted nuts & Oloroso sherry.
Stockists: Specialist off-licences
The Blender’s Dog, Jameson
Big, powerful and smooth, with rounded sweet toasted oak and a long spicy finish.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th June, 2016
First the gin, then the tonic. Oisín Davis is one of the leading lights of the cocktail business in Ireland. I bumped into him at the Ballymaloe Litfest, and for the first time I can remember, he had a soft drink in his hand. The liquid in question was Poacher’s Tonic, Ireland’s first tonic water. All of these new Irish gins obviously need something to mix with, and Davis thinks he has the answer. Until now, you could only buy an Irish-made tonic syrup from americanvillage.com. Fever-Tree and other premium tonic waters have been hugely successful in the UK, so it was only a matter of time before someone came up with an Irish version.
The Poacher’s Tonic certainly went down well at the Litfest – supplies ran out the first evening, and an emergency dash had to be made back to the warehouse. It is made by Davis and partner Vaughan Yates from spring water drawn from Litterberg House in Co Wexford and bottled in nearby Enniscorthy.
“We wanted to make is as Irish as we could,” says Davis. “We got 150 kilos of Irish rosemary and shipped it to a perfumer in the UK, who extracted the rosemary essence. We use cinchona bark to make a natural quinine and add Florida orange and sugar beet for sweetness. It was a year in the making with all sorts of complications and experiments.” According to Davis, Poacher’s pairs best with gins that don’t have too much spicy coriander and cumin, and is less sweet than standard tonics.
Gerry Scullion of The Chocolate Factory has come up with his own very unique tonic water. “I make it from scratch using cinchona bark and other spices and a small amount of Irish lavender. It is also a water kefir, and far less sweet than the standard tonic (2 calories a bottle). I create the fizz by the addition of organic honey and bottle-condition for approximately two weeks.” The result is a quite delicious adult tonic, great by itself or with gin.
I received another bottle of Irish gin just after going to press with my last article. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin is the latest creation of Pat Rigney, the man who came up with Boru vodka and Sheridan’s Irish Cream Liqueur. Made in his new distillery in Drumshanbo, it is aimed primarily at the export market, but already has good distribution here in Ireland.
If you fancy trying out anIrish G&T, the Irish Gin & Tonic Fest runs from June 20th-25th, where pubs, restaurants and hotels will be serving one or more of eight Irish gins with a tonic of their choice. See greatirishbeverages.com for further details.
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
A very different gin with a distinctive spiciness and refreshing herbs alongside the juniper.
Stockists: Widely available including Dunnes, O’Briens, Mulloy’s, select SuperValu.
Poacher’s Tonic Water
€1.55 for a 200ml bottle
Light and refreshing, with lovely subtle hints of rosemary. Great with or without the gin.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 11th June, 2016
Irish craft brewers are fond of ageing their beers, usually stout, in casks previously used to age whiskey. The resulting beers can be very good, sometimes gaining a percent or two in alcohol, as well as flavour, from the wood. But what happens if the barrel is returned to the distiller and used to further age whiskey?
First out of the blocks on this were Jameson and Cork craft brewer Franciscan Well. ‘It all started in 2013 it started when Shane Long of Franciscan Brewery asked us for a dozen used whiskey barrels to make a special Christmas brew’, says David Quinn, head of Whiskey Science at Jameson . ‘We tasted the results and thought it was fantastic. He did a second batch in 2014, and we got a call asking us to take the barrels back, as he didn’t have the space to keep them. More on a whim, we decided to refill them with mature Jameson and left them for 4-5 months. We had a taste and were blown away. It came across as discernably Jameson, spicy, fragrant and fruity, but with other characters through the interaction with stout – coffee, cocoa and chocolate and hints of hop. They were all there at a level of intensity that complemented instead of dominating. The taste had a different complexion; a texture, a creamy mouthfeel a coating sensation we found fascinating’.
Jameson ran a pilot scheme in Dublin and Cork, and as with the stout, the shelves were cleared in a couple of weeks. In 2015, they started to lay down enough barrels to launch Caskmates abroad. Apparently it has gone down very well in the U.S. So much so that Jameson linked up with craft brewers in London and Brooklyn, supplying them with whiskey barrels to create their own limited edition beer, and then releasing a local unique Caskmates.
Jameson are no longer alone; back in March, Galway Bay Brewery launched 200 Fathoms, an Imperial stout aged in whiskey casks borrowed from Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey. Now the favour has been returned with a single cask release from Teelings of 200 Fathoms whiskey, aged in the stout casks. Another distiller has plans in the pipeline. Glendalough Whiskey gave a couple of barrels to Five Lamps brewery for their barrel-aged porter. The barrels were returned and filled with 10 year-old single malt. 400 bottles will be produced, available later this year in Dublin Travel Retail. I tasted it on a visit to the distillery; it was rich and full of chocolate. Lastly O’Haras have been working with Tullamore Dew for their (delicious) Leann Folláin stout, aged in whiskey casks. It seems only a matter of time before the favour is returned. For the moment, Tullamore DEW offer a whiskey aged in cider casks.
Muldoon Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Whiskey infused with hazelnuts and toffee. Delicious sweet caramel and toasted nuts.
Stockists Celtic Whiskey; World Wide Wines and other specialist off-licences.
Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey
Scented fruity and mildly spicy; long and sweet with coffee, chocolate and subtle hops. Superb whiskey.
Stockists: widely available.
Teeling Whiskey Single Cask 200 Fathoms Irish Whiskey
Stockists: Exclusively from Teelings Distillery, Dublin 8.
It mightn’t please the hard core craft beer drinkers, and I’m not sure about Lionel Ritchie fans either, but I can see this going down very nicely over the coming month, maybe longer if the Irish team qualify for the final stages of Euro16. Kicking in at 4.2%, this is a very tasty light refreshing beer with a pleasing hoppiness, although not too bitter and a nice fruitiness.As a session beer, it works very well. I like the retro (1990’s?) design too. This is available exclusively from Mulloys Liquor Stores and the result of a collaboration with Rascal Brewing. €2.75 for a 330ml can or 5 for €10.
The Irish Times was, in some small way, responsible for Ireland’s first seasonal gin. In the 2014, the brains behind Glendalough Irish Whiskey decided to make a gin tasting of summer but had no idea how to go about it. Then they read an article by Emma Somers in this paper about Wicklow forager Geraldine Kavanagh. They contacted Kavanagh who provided local ingredients for Glendalough Summer Botanical Gin. She now works full-time for them.
We took a stroll through the Wicklow countryside together. Kavanagh, a fount of knowledge, showed me most of the wild shoots, flowers and plants used in Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin, as well as other edible wild plants. “We are tying to capture the essence of Wicklow; something different and local,” she says. This year they are increasing production from 3,000 bottles to cope with a burgeoning demand.
Not to be outdone, Dingle Distillery has released its Four Seasons Gin, containing four small 200ml bottles, each representing a season. Unlike Glendalough, they are all available at the same time, providing a very interesting tasting.
We worked through all four in the Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau Street, Dublin. The spring gin is the lightest and most floral, the summer still delicate but more textured. The autumn, many people’s favourite, has more earthy spice with red fruits, and the winter gin is spicier and most full-bodied of all.
Peter Mulryan of Blackwater Distillery in Cappoquin, Waterford, had something of an artistic struggle with his seasonal gin. “We wanted to take one key local botanical to represent each season, and decided on Wexford strawberries for our first. The problem with strawberries is you get mostly water,” says Mulryan. “So we had to use massive amounts of fresh fruit. It is an elusive flavour but we think we have got it right. We are now macerating the distilled gin in strawberries.”
He plans to release Wexford Strawberry Gin in June. In the meantime you can try his Juniper Cask Gin. It is fascinating, with sweet woody juniper aromas.
Shortcross Gin from Co Down does not make a seasonal gin, but forages wild clover to use alongside apples and elderberries for its standard gin.
As to the vexed question of tonic, Dingle served its with Fever-Tree, a choice Gary McLoughlin of Glendalough Distillery agrees with. However, he did suggest trying Thomas Henry, a German tonic made without quinine. I prefer to sip mine lightly chilled with a little water, and enjoy the unique flavours of these delectable gins.
Dingle Four Seasons Gins.
A selection of four very different gins, so no tasting notes.
Stockists; Widely available in good off-licences.
Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin
Wonderfully aromatic, light and refreshing. Plenty of juniper, with spring flowers and zesty citrus.
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey; James Fox; Mitchell & Sons; Redmond’s and other specialist off-licences.
Blackwater No.5 London Dry Gin
My current favourite, a delicious mix of citrus, juniper and earthy spices.
First there was Joe. Joe Coffee was a single batch porter that didn’t hold back on the coffee content. Unlike some of their rivals you could really taste the coffee. Great if you like espresso, but not if you drink latté. No Joe is the same beer but without the coffee. ‘It was conceived as a coffee porter,’ says Barry O’Neill of O Brother; ‘local roaster Coffee Mojo ground and brewed 68 litres of fresh coffee on site, which was added to the porter. We were tasting the beer all the way along and thinking this is realty nice even without the coffee. So this time, we did it without. It’s the one I bring home in the winter, ‘admits Barry, ‘there is something warming about it. It is all sold now (all of their releases tend to be presold), but there is still plenty in the shops.’
As for O Brother, Barry says they are thriving; ‘We are out the door doing emergency bottling runs this week, trying to keep up with everything, the draft and bottles at the same time. We are going one and a quarter years, but it still feels like we are finding our feet; it will probably always be that way.’ For a porter No Joe still has plenty of body and alcohol (6.7%), with vanilla, chocolate and toasted malt with an attractive subtle bitter touch.
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 2nd April, 2016
Nothing can quite prepare you for your first hit of Fernet-Branca. Mine came over breakfast, courtesy of a Danish colleague, who assured me it was the only way to start the day. I thought he was trying to poison me. Fernet-Branca is dark, mysterious and bitter. Very bitter. Drunk neat, it is dry, medicinal, sharp and herbal, like a slap across the face.
I once read a memorable description of Fernet Branca as “like waking up in a foreign country and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated thorny voices outside your hotel window”.Italians like this sort of thing; witness the popularity of Campari, cima di rapa and other bitter brassicas, and liquorice. They treat Fernet-Branca and other bitters as a digestif. A small glass at the end of a meal is said to ward off indigestion and promote well-being. Elsewhere, there are those who swear it is the perfect antidote to a hangover, but that is probably because it tastes like a severe punishment, and temporarily dulls the senses.
Fernet-Branca was invented in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. His company, Fratelli Branca Distillerie of Milan, is still run by the Branca family. As with so many drinks, the recipe is a secret, but the company website tells us it has 27 herbs from four continents, as well as spices and roots. This includes aloe from Sri Lanka or India, and chamomile from Italy or Argentina. It is aged in old oak barrels for a year prior to bottling.
Fernet-Branca is hugely popular in the bars of San Francisco where bartenders apparently start their shift with a shot, and sometimes continue throughout the evening.
The most popular cocktail is the Bartender’s Handshake, Fernet and ginger ale, sometimes drunk one after the other. But it is Argentina that consumes the greatest quantity of Fernet-Branca, some 25 million litres each year, usually as a Fernandito or Fernet con Cola.
It is even available in pre-mixed cans. On a recent visit to a trendy Buenos Aires nightspot, bartenders were offering all manner of Fernet-based cocktails. I tried one and returned to my Malbec.
Throughout its history, Fernet-Branca has been marketed as having curative properties, in the 19th century as a treatment for anxiety and fever.
Early labels claim it “benefits the stomach, promotes digestion, strengthens the body, overcomes cholera, reduces fever, and heals those suffering from nervous weakness, lack of appetite, sickness or tapeworms; suitable for use as a preventative measure for all those who are obliged to reside in damp and infectious conditions. May be taken at any time of the day as required, undiluted or mixed with water, soda water, wine, coffee, vermouth, or other beverages”.