Posts Tagged Irish Whiskey

The best new Irish whiskeys to buy this Christmas

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.

Irish distilleries

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.

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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!


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A host of new Irish whiskies including one for €260

ImageFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th January, 2017

On a wonderful, crisp, clear, sunny morning last December, I headed up to the beautiful Ballydowling Wood in Glenealy, Co Wicklow. There, I watched a 150-year-old native Irish oak tree being felled. The tree was destined to become an oak barrel, (in fact three to four barrels) used to mature and season the latest edition of Midleton Dair Ghaelach, the unique single-pot-still whiskey that is aged in virgin Irish oak.

Gabriel Fernández Rodríguez of the Madebar sawmill in Galicia was on hand to approve the quality of the wood, and to work out how many barrels he could garner from this tree, as was master cooper Ger Buckley, along with Irish Distillers head blender Billy Leighton and head of maturation Kevin O’Gorman. All three have been involved in this fascinating exercise for the last seven years.

The forest, sustainably farmed by Coillte, was one of the first to be managed under the Native Woodland Scheme, and part of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Along with 11 others, the felled tree would go on a trip to Galicia, where Gabriel and his father would saw them into staves. Then the staves would be transported to Jerez in the south of Spain, to be seasoned for 15 months and fashioned into 250-litre casks, before being returned to Ireland some two years later. Back home, they will be filled with some of the finest old single-pot-still whiskey. All being well, this will become the third release of Dair Ghaelach. Each bottle will be traceable back to a specific barrel and the individual tree.

A few specialist off-licences still have stocks of the first release of Dair Ghaelach, yours for about €260. The next release is planned for later this year.

Irish Whiskey Magazine

Further whiskey news: Irish Whiskey Magazine, run by a group of very knowledgeable enthusiasts, is, I think, our first specialist publication about Irish whiskey. See for subscription details.

Whiskey aficionados will soon be flocking to city-centre Dublin. We already have the Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street and the Teeling distillery in the Liberties. They will soon be joined, in March, by the refurbished Jameson visitor centre in the Smithfield area of Dublin 7, followed by the Pearse Lyons Distillery in the renovated deconsecrated St James’s Church in Dublin 8.

In the meantime, I would be tempted to take the train to Killarney and the Irish Whiskey Experience to enjoy one of their 50-minute courses covering various aspects of Irish whiskey and how to enjoy it (see for details).

While in Kerry, a visit to Dingle Distillery would certainly be on the cards too. Alternatively, the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild is a group of 10 establishments in the city, all of whom offer at least 60 whiskies, served by a trained bartender.

Image 7Redbreast 12 year old Single Pot Still Whiskey



One of my favourite whiskeys, and very well priced; dried fruits, raisins, toasted hazelnuts and coffee in a delicious warming spirit.

Stockists: Widely available





Image 1Teeling 10 year-old Single Cask Amarone Finish Whiskey



Deliciously richly fruity with raisins, toasted almonds and caramel. A limited edition made exclusively for O’Briens, using Amarone casks from Musella, one of their suppliers. It works really well.


Stockists: O’Briens.





IMG_2976Tipperary Knockmealdowns 10 year-old Whiskey



Chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch with a touch of honey.

Stockists: Celtic Whiskey and other independent off-licences.



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Staying in: a three-part whiskey harmony from Jameson

Staying in: a three-part whiskey harmony from Jameson

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.

Image 2The Distiller’s Safe, Jameson

Peaches and spice on the nose; elegant creamy texture with butterscotch on the finish.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences

ImageThe Cooper’s Croze, Jameson

Sweet vanilla & toffee nose; not overly oaky, with toffee, dried fruits, toasted nuts & Oloroso sherry.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences

Image 5The Blender’s Dog, Jameson

Big, powerful and smooth, with rounded sweet toasted oak and a long spicy finish.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences


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Whiskey aged in stout barrels

Whiskey aged in stout barrels

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.

ImageMuldoon 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.

Image 1Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey

Scented fruity and mildly spicy; long and sweet with coffee, chocolate and subtle hops. Superb whiskey.

Stockists: widely available.

Image 2Teeling Whiskey Single Cask 200 Fathoms Irish Whiskey

Stockists: Exclusively from Teelings Distillery, Dublin 8.

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Teelings – A quick tour of Dublin’s Newest Whiskey Distillery.

The Liberties, close to the very heart of Dublin, was once known as a centre for distilling. The tradition died out over the last two centuries, but recently construction began on no less than four new distilleries within a four kilometre radius. I visited Teelings this morning. Two very dynamic brothers, sons of a very dynamic father, these guys are making some very good innovative whiskey. Some pics to get started with tasting notes on their produce to follow.







The Rivals – just around the corner.



 Last minute preparations.












The first line-up, followed by…


Thank you Alex Chasko for the tour.



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