There promises to be quite a lot of new bottlings on show but, to get their foot in the door first, The Kilbeggan Distilling Company have laid down the first marker by releasing their latest Connemara only a couple of weeks ago....Connemara 22 year old.
Now, those of you in the know with Irish whiskey, will be well aware that Connemara has always been produced at Cooley distillery in County Louth and that recently this distillery has found itself with a quick turnaround of owners. From Beam Inc. taking over in 2011, to Suntory taking over Beam Inc. earlier this year, the distillery, and it's workers, could be forgiven for wondering what direction the future was headed, but now it seems that they are back on track and readying a vast number of releases to please their ever growing fan base.
All good indeed.
To give you a little insight into Cooley I can tell you that it was founded in 1985 when John Teeling acquired the building, which was a former potato alcohol plant, and converted it into a working whiskey distillery. The distillery itself has both pot and column stills and sets itself apart by practising only double distillation as opposed to the traditional Irish triple distillation as displayed in the likes of Bushmills.
Over the years they have become famous under a variety of releases and brands including - Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Connemara (peated malt), Greenore (Single Grain), Locke's, Feckin', Michael Collins, Titanic and being partly responsible for Writer's Tears (the malt part).
This has allowed their style and flavours to reach far and wide and in my opinion would have a lot of people being a fan of Cooley without knowing they were a fan of Cooley.
With regards to their Connemara my previous experiences have been a touch varied. At times I've found it either being a big peaty beast, slapping you about the face, or a gentle tame smoky softy that just caresses at your love for all things turf.
For me, this Connemara 22 year old, is bang in the middle.
Bottled at 46% ABV, costing about £140 / €170 and un-chilfiltered, here's what I thought:
Nose - The initial feel is that this is not a peat monster. There's a lovely mix of peat smoke, earthy turf and green notes of fruit and herbs. Smooth cereal and malt with a touch of pepper. Wood smoke. Light vanilla. Fresh green apple, lemon oil and fresh oak. Quite youthful for a 22 year old in my opinion. With time the smoke turns to that smell you get from your clothes the morning after standing beside an open fire the night before.
Palate - Sour arrival, very sour, bitter lemon becoming sweet with plenty of clove and more pepper. Again, this is not a peaty beast but the rather the smoke interacts nicely with the spice and fruit flavours which continue with green, and now some red, apple. Toasted malt, some chilli but not hot. More lemon, now with orange, and some ash with a background of a damp burnt wood note, which isn't as unpleasant as it sounds.
Finish - Nice length with fruit being more dominant than anything resembling peat, but it is still there either in the background or walking alongside the fruity flavours as it's "little brother".
Overall this is very smooth and highly enjoyable. I've had powerful Connemaras in my time, and this is certainly not one of them, but the lighter side this displays allows the smooth fruity character of Cooley to shine through. I'd say that the longer maturation has caused the taming of this peat monster but it certainly has not diminished the whiskey.
If this had of been bottled at 40% ABV it could have been a disaster. Full marks to the Kilbeggan Distillery Company for presenting this just right.
All that said, I have to finish by stating that this quite simply doesn't take my breath away. Undoubtably this a good whiskey, well made and well finished with good character, but I just can't say that I absolutely need to have it in my life. I can't put my finger on exactly why that is but maybe with a bit of comparison, this Saturday, I can work it out....or maybe with a closer examination all will fall into place?
Who knows? All I know is that this is why I love the world of whisky so much. Just when you think you've got one thing figured out it sneaks up behind you and shows you a different side which can completely alter you opinion.
Well that about wraps things up for another review, and this shall be the last before I head down to "Whisky Live", but be sure to follow along on my Twitter page @Whisky_Belfast, this Saturday, as I shall (battery permitting) be tweeting my days adventures which will include, a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery, a quick look around the Dublin whiskey shops, a Benromach masterclass and of course the show itself where I'll be sampling as many new releases as I can and hopefully taking just as many notes to bring them all straight to you in Whisky Belfast review form.
Until next time,