Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Here Comes "The Quiet Man"

"The Quiet Man" Blended Irish Whiskey
In recent times it has been no secret that Irish whiskey is back with a bang.  Sales are on the up, big style, and with this we are seeing a flurry of new and planned distilleries all over the island of Ireland.

My interest is obviously heightened when one of these distilleries is planned for my home province of Ulster, in the North of Ireland, and this brings me on to Niche Drinks who are located in Derry City, Co. Londonderry.

Niche Drinks was set up back in 1983 and since then they have been producing cream liqueurs, Irish coffee, and "ready to drink" cocktails for their retail partners in Ireland, the UK, the USA and Europe.

As a direct result of this well established business they have also managed to build up long standing relationships with some of the most successful Bourbon producers.

Fast forward to 2015 and now Niche Drinks are planning to build the first whiskey distillery in Derry for 200 years.  This £15 million project is set to begin later this year and is to be located in the Campsie area, on the outskirts of the city.

Once up and running the plan is to produce a triple distilled malt whiskey that will be "as traditional and as authentic as possible".

In addition to the distillery, which will be named "The Quiet Man Craft Distillery Co. ltd", Niche Drinks have, for some years now, been buying and maturing grain and malt Irish whiskey, both new make and already partially matured.

This whiskey has been bought to allow them to release their own range of Irish whiskey named "The Quiet Man" or "An Fear Ciúin".

Through the aforementioned relationships, with the Bourbon producers, they have already secured ongoing supplies of barrels and it is into these barrels they are filling their bought new make and partially matured whiskey.

The plus point here is that the bourbon barrels they are using are all first fill and therefore will impart some serious flavour into the spirit they have.

They also have some sherry casks in which they are already maturing some 4, 5 and 8 year old malt whiskey.

To bring this altogether, in perfect harmony, Niche Drinks have acquired the services of experienced Scotch whisky blender Billy Mitchell and are currently putting 4 employees through the "Diploma in Distilling" course run by Heriot Watt University.

"The Quiet Man" 8yo Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The Quiet Man whiskey range will be released with two expressions - a NAS blend and an 8 year old single malt with both expressions being chill filtered, although managing director, Ciaran Mulgrew, does state that future single cask bottlings will probably be released at cask strength and obviously without chill filtration.

They are also working out a detailed recipe so that they can make a seamless transition when it comes to Niche Drinks starting to use their own whiskey once fully matured in years to come.

When it comes to the naming of the brand Ciaran Mulgrew has an excellent story behind this, in case you thought whiskey names were plucked out of thin air -

"My father was a bartender who worked for over 50 years in bars around Belfast.  Sometimes he would bring me into work with him and so I grew up loving the sounds and smells of the bar, the craic, the laughter, and the smell of the beer and the whiskey.  Especially the whiskey.

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father.

In 50 years as a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories but, like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales.

My father, John Mulgrew. 'The Quiet Man' or, as they say in Irish, 'An Fear Ciúin'."

From being in contact with Ciaran, hearing what he has to say, and seeing what they have planned, I have to say I'm very excited about this project.  They are moving into this venture with an already good knowledge of the drinks industry and by combining this with expert whisky knowledge, from Billy Mitchell, and focussing on delivering a top notch product, they should be hitting the heights in no time.
 
I like that they are using only 1st fill bourbon barrels, to mature the spirit they have already bought, and if the new releases of "The Quiet Man" are to move seamlessly into the era of their own whiskey then they could have some serious standards to maintain.
 
Being a malt whiskey distillery I am looking forward to seeing how their own spirit matches up against the other north coast powerhouse - Bushmills and in simpler terms I am just overjoyed that the northwest of Ireland is starting to put itself on the map in terms of Irish whiskey.
 
This is further backed up by the plans in Donegal for Sliabh Liag Distillery (pronounced Slieve League) but that is for another update.
 
Well there you have it, keep your eyes peeled because "The Quiet Man" is coming to a bar near you.
 
Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The "Spirit of Dublin" is Flowing Again - A Tour of the Teeling Distillery

Towards the end of April I was lucky enough, as part of my membership with the Celtic Whiskey Club, to get the chance to have a behind the scenes tour of the new Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years.

Located in the very heart of Dublin, a mere 30 minutes walk from Connolly station, the €10 million Teeling Distillery & visitor centre has found it's home in an old market square named Newmarket, an area that, in years gone by, was closely associated with brewing and distilling.

When speaking to our host for the day, master distiller Alex Chasko, it is clear how important it was for the distillery to be located in the centre of Dublin as he casually jokes how the international marketing budget has been blown on acquiring the central Dublin site and, whilst the comedy is obvious, this, for me, highlights a deeper feeling that this distillery would be nothing unless it was deep in the heart of Dublin..... after all how else could they claim to be reviving the "Spirit of Dublin"?

Further reason can be found when browsing Teeling's website as they point to the history of the Teeling family as far back as Walter Teeling, who first set up a craft distillery, in Dublin, way back in 1782.  They go on to state that this commenced a 230 year tradition of distilling for the Teeling family, which is being carried on by Jack and Stephen, the latest generation of Teeling's, who are "forging a bright new future for distilling in Dublin and for Irish whiskey".

Upon arriving to the front of the distillery it is clear that they have gone all out on presentation with beautiful blue / grey stone, large circular windows, to represent the ends of barrels, and a modern entrance where the eye moves up to take in a pagoda style peak to the roof.

At the time of visiting the distillery was most definitely still in "building site" mode but we are reassured that the doors should be open to the public during these first few weeks of May with the visitor centre fully operational by June.

As we walk into the building we are brought through what will be the reception area and into the heart of the distillery, where we find all the operational equipment. 

Getting a peek inside the lauter tun
With plans to make both pot still and single malt whiskey we are first shown their modern day milling machine which mills all grains wet, not only to reduce the dust caused by this process, but to also allow the milling machine to handle the unmalted barley required for pot still whiskey.  The unmalted barley can be extremely tough and milling the grain wet allows it to be ground up much easier.

Moving across the room, past the combination of metal and wooden washbacks, we arrive at the three gorgeous looking stills.  Constructed by the Italian company Frilli Impianti, the wash still is 15,000 litres in size with the low wines still and spirit still being 10,000 litres and 9,000 litres respectively.

Two of Teeling's stills
When looking at the stills it is obvious that the necks are on the short side, leading one other tour participant to enquire if Teeling were deliberately looking to produce a heavier style spirit? 

Alex was able to clarify this perfectly by firstly pointing out that it was mostly down to the restrictions offered by the distillery roof that necessitated the shorter necks (the distillery is not a new build but a renovated warehouse). 

He continued though to explain how this will not force them into to producing a certain style of spirit as they will have greater control of the heating process thus allowing them to create as light, or heavy, a spirit as they wish.

The innovation does not stop there as Teeling have installed not one, but two receivers to collect the "heads and tails" of each distillation.  The reason for this, as explained by Alex, is to play around with flavour profiles that they may find to be in the first stage of a distillation as opposed to the end of the distillation, and vice versa.

As highlighted in a recent press release, the Teeling Distillery has already produced the first whiskey spirit to be distilled in Dublin for 39 years but don't be getting excited just yet.  Alex was quick to point out that, once the builders have finally left, they will probably take a year to simply "get to know" the equipment they have installed.

They are going to take this time to carefully understand what works and what doesn't.  They shall play around with quantities, length of fermentation, style of spirit, style of distillation, and so on, until they are happy with their process.  Only then will we start to see the "Spirit of Dublin" going into any sort of wooden cask.

Once fully operational they are aiming for a capacity of 500,000 litres but Alex suggests that they may have the capability for more and the last bit of glorious info, we are treated to, is that they also have plans to produce a peated pot still whiskey!!

Cask style snug
With the operational side of the distillery covered we are brought back into the first floor visitor area where there shall be a tasting bar and shop.  Once provided with a sample of Teeling whiskey visitors shall be able to relax in a cask style snug, with the circular windows, mentioned earlier, looking out onto the front of the distillery.  It is this attention to detail that, in my opinion, will put this distillery & visitor centre at the forefront of tourist experiences.

To end the tour we are brought onto the balcony of the distillery, which commands impressive views over the Dublin skyline.  Here we are treated to the alcoholic part of our tour which takes the form of two samples, of something special, that will soon be available to everyone.

The whiskeys we are treated to are of the cask strength, single cask variety and there is more to this than just simply giving us a treat as there are plans to have these casks in the visitor centre to allow fans the chance to "bottle their own" Teeling whiskey.

Sampling on the balcony
The first sample was a 16 year old single malt which has been fully matured in a rum cask since being distilled in 1999.  Now, while a windy balcony was not the ideal place to get any real tasting notes down, I can say that this was rum and raisin ice cream gone mad whilst being incredibly smooth and deliciously sweet.  This is definitely one I shall be coming back for via the "bottle your own" scheme.

The second on show was an 11 year old single malt which was matured, for the majority of it's life, in a bourbon barrel before being finished, for around 14 months, in a white burgundy cask.  This is a different beast altogether with huge notes of white grape, a little white wine vinegar and a bigger sense of overall fruit.  This is also extremely dry on the finish and will be a favourite to many but, for me, the rum cask wins the battle.

As we finish off our samples we were informed about a possibility of Teeling producing their own version of the much talked about Jameson "Caskmates", coming as a result of a collaboration between Teeling and Galway Bay Brewery.

Galway Bay recently released an aged stout that had been matured in some of Teeling's small batch rum barrels, the question is definitely "what now for the barrels?" and I can only hope, having tasted the success of the "Caskmates", that Teeling give this experiment a try and treat us all to their fine style of whiskey with some deep stout flavours.

With this the tour came to an end and I left the distillery to make the journey home with the thoughts and excitement of what lies ahead for the Teeling Whiskey Co.  They have already hit the ground running with innovative finishes to fine Irish whiskey and with an excellent distillery, to further build their reputation around, I can only see a bright future on the horizon.

I can only hope that other up and coming Irish distilleries take serious note and strive to achieve as much as Teeling are aiming for.  There's no doubt that this is only the start of the journey, and there's a long way to go, but one thing is for sure... "The Spirit of Dublin" is flowing again.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI


Huge thanks to "The Celtic Whiskey Club" and "The Teeling Whiskey Co." for the wonderful experience.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Celtic Cask - Deich - Review

Tonight I continued my exploration of new and interesting Irish whiskeys by taking part in another fine "Tweet Tasting" hosted by the Celtic Whiskey Club.  The sample for the evening was a new release from the Celtic Whiskey Shop's "Celtic Cask" range - The Celtic Cask Deich, or Celtic Cask Ten for the non Gaelic speakers out there, and those of you who may have previously seen my reviews of the Celtic Cask Sé (7), or the Celtic Cask Ocht (8), will know that I usually hold these whiskeys in high regard as they always seem to deliver on quality and taste.

The previous reviews of the Sé and Ocht covered whiskeys that had originally come from the Bushmills distillery but for tonight's offering we were being taken a bit further down the east coast of Ireland to Cooley,  Co. Louth.

The Celtic Cask Deich is a double distilled, peated, single malt that has been matured for 15 years.  The first 11 years of it's maturation were spent, traditionally, in an ex-bourbon barrel whilst the last 4 years were spent in a red wine barrel from the Domain Anges winery, which is located in the Rhone Valley, France.

As you can guess, with the Celtic Cask Deich being peated, this single malt could have been Connemara in another life but thankfully the Celtic Whiskey Shop got their hands on this cask and have given it an interesting twist with the red wine finish.

The original spirit was casked on 19th March 1999, and was bottled on 23rd February 2015, so in fact this isn't a kick in the arse off being a 16 year old.

Bottled at 46% ABV, and being non-chill filtered, this whiskey currently retails on the Celtic Whiskey Shop website for £107.65.

Another thing you may have picked on over my blog updates is that Connemara, as a whiskey, is usually one that I enjoy without ever being bowled over by.  I've always found it to be a tiny little bit thin and the 22 year old, whilst undoubtedly well made, just didn't "do it" for me.

Naturally then, when I received this sample in the post, I was excited to see if the single cask style, combined with a well managed finish, would mean I had finally found the Connemara I had been looking for.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Once poured this takes a second or two to settle in the glass and when it does there's a serious battle going on between the peated spirit and the red wine cask influence.  A good battle though it has to be said.  The peat comes through for starters and is light and gentle.  Burnt embers and dry wood smoke come across with a slight chalky, mineral note.  Not sure if that's the peat or the cask.  All the time this peat influence is distinctly coated in the red fruits which are rich and juicy.  Ripe strawberry and blackcurrant juice.  A slight minty / menthol note appears along with dark chocolate orange and some nice oak vanilla.  With time the peat develops but in the end the red wine cask wins with some red apple appearing as well.

Palate - This is more red wine cask dominant, than the nose, with sweet red fruits, more strawberry and a variety of currants.  The dry peat / wood smoke just lurks in the background enough to remind you it's there but it's definitely taking a back seat now.  There's some spice on the taste, presumably from the French oak red wine cask, and again there's the menthol which is also a little like eucalyptus now.  Initially this is most definitely sweet and juicy but the oak takes over and brings a nice dryness to the mouth.

Finish - Medium in length with stewed orange leading into crunchy red apple which is lip smacking and juicy.  Right at the end, when the fruit aftertaste subsides, the dry smoke returns for one last hurrah.

Overall this is honestly the best Irish peated whiskey I have tasted.  Whilst I admittedly have not tried the entire Connemara range, nor any other independent bottlings, I have tried the recent 22 year old and for me the Celtic Cask Deich is by far the better dram.

I initially thought, when I first poured this into the glass, that it was a little bit muddled,  and unbalanced, with no sense of identity, as the two distinct flavours fought to be noticed, but as the seconds ticked on my fears were put to bed as I found the whiskey becoming extremely well integrated.....it is clear this finish has been handled to near perfection. 

The red fruits flavours, from the red wine cask, marry nicely with the Cooley peat spirit, which I have sometimes found to be a little on the weak side, and both get a good chance to have their say.

Yet again the Celtic Whiskey Shop have outdone themselves in selecting a great cask of whiskey and putting their own spin on it.  When it comes to red wine finishes they seem to hit the nail on the head every time and I only hope they continue to do this for years to come, and I get to sample as many as I can.

What's Gaelic for 100?

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Friday, 17 April 2015

Greenore - 8 year old - Single Grain - Review

Irish single grain whiskey is not commonly heard of but for some time now the Cooley Distillery, Co. Louth, has been producing this style of spirit and originally had it on the shelves under the title of Greenore.

Named Greenore, after the port into which the grain, used in making the whiskey, was shipped, the two main expressions, I was always aware of, were the 8 year old and the 18 year old.  However after further research I see that there once was also a 6 year old, for the Swedish market, a 15 year old, which preceded the 18 year old and a 19 year old single cask, which was limited release of 300 bottles, released exclusively for the travel retail market and at the time was the oldest Irish single grain whiskey in the world.

With the recent changes in the ownership of Cooley, and the subsequent re-emergence of Kilbeggan as a major brand, the Greenore name is sadly no more and has now been re-named under the Kilbeggan brand.

As far as I am concerned they can call it whatever they like as long as they continue to maintain the high quality and reputation the Greenore name had been building for itself.

Before I go on to my notes it's only fair to mention that recently we have had another Irish single grain enter the market in the recent years and this is of course the Teeling single grain. 

Now while details of it shall be reserved for a future review I just want to say that it is also of very high quality and if the overall reputation of Irish single grain continues to grow in this manner it can only be brilliant for Irish whiskey as a whole.

For so long we have been known for our pot stills, our blends and our single malts and now that we can proudly add good quality single grain into the portfolio this completes our set, so to say, and allows us to compete across the board, across the globe.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Green apple, watermelon, ripe banana and fruit salad sweets.  Spirit is smooth and creamy and turns the fruits into apple tart with cream and banoffee pie.  Feels like great casks have been used in maturing this spirit as there is a distinct, but light, vanilla note and a slightly dry oak spice in the background.  A little touch of lemon citrus and a bit of rum and raisin ice cream finish the nose off nicely and towards the end a slight dustiness appears.

Palate - Light, gentle and slightly sour.  Crunchy green apples, more banana and the citrus is now more orange in nature.  Still undeniably smooth but the youthfulness is more apparent on the palate with a nice kick of spice which, now I think of it, is probably also partly due to the 93% corn used in the production process (the other 7% I believe is malted barley).  Still tropical and the oak comes at the end with some dryness and oak spice.

Finish - A little thin and swift but extremely fresh with dry spice.


Overall this is a fantastic whiskey, apart from the short finish.  I've never really let a finish cloud my judgement of a whiskey providing the nose and palate are of high quality and in this instance they are.  The whiskey has fantastic flavours throughout and if this is an example of what lies ahead for Irish single grain then we're all in for a treat.

What I would say though is that remains to be seen whether this quality will be maintained under the Kilbeggan name?  I honestly do not see why it wouldn't but you never know whenever new owners come into town with their new ideas.  Hopefully they'll understand the reputation this whiskey has built up and use it as a building block to grow from. 

Hopefully I shall have a sample of the Kilbeggan version soon and you can rest assured I'll be checking closely to make sure all that's changed is the name and only the name.

Lastly I'd just like to say thank you to David for the sample which was obtained as a swop.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Dunville's VR - 10 year old - Review

Back in February, this year, I brought you all news of a brand new release coming from Echlinville Distillery, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. 

The release was of course Dunville's VR 10 year old single malt. 

This is the second release under the reinvigorated Dunville's label and if you wish to catch up on my release update then go ahead and click right here for a recap.

This new release is a 10 year old single malt, bottled at 46% ABV, non-chill filtered and finished for around a year in a PX sherry cask.  

With regards price I had initially stated that it was to hit the shelves at just under £50 but Master of Malt currently have this on sale for £44.62. 

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while would remember, back in February 2014, I reviewed the first release of the Dunville's VR, which was a blend, and I raised a few points that I felt would need to happen for this brand to achieve the status it is aiming for and, judging by the presentation of this 10 year old, Echlinville are moving rapidly in the right direction as they wait patiently for their own spirit to mature.

Further to this vast improvement, since I last wrote about this release in February, this whiskey hit the world stage in spectacular fashion when the World Whiskies Awards recently awarded the Dunville's VR 10 year old the award of "Best Irish Single Malt - 12 years and under" for 2015!!

Now, while I've no idea, presently, which other whiskeys the Dunville's VR was up against, this is an unbelievable achievement and brings the brand back into the limelight with a bang.  I can only imagine how chuffed Shane Braniff was with this result knowing the passion and effort he is putting into his brand and distillery.

Seeing as the whiskey has clearly wowed the judges at the World Whiskies Awards I may as well share my humble opinion....

Onto my notes:

Nose - Initially tropical with good hints of banana and a little coconut water but quite quickly some nice fresh fruit also appears with green + red apple and lemon sweets.  The sherry finish is not immediately obvious.  Some light pepper and a slight buttered note.  Sherry finally starts to appear but in a gentle fashion with light mixed spice and buttered red fruits.  The finish has been handled with care and allows the original spirit to stay in control without the sherry over dominating.  Right at the end a slight perfumed note also shows through.  With a little water a distinct dusty note appears giving a nice sense of age.

Palate - Initially sweet with malt and light berry.  Some black pepper and chilli heat arrives but this really benefits from the 46% ABV.  The dusty note sits in the background, presumably from the sherry casks, and with a little water the whiskey becomes much sweeter and sherried with more mixed spice, stewed strawberry and some dryness into the finish.

Finish - On the short side of medium but enjoyable with a lip smacking finish of red fruit.

Overall this is an excellent improvement on the 1st release.  I know they are two completely different styles of whiskey but in terms of direction we're now definitely heading upwards.

In honesty I initially struggled to get to grips with this release, when I first opened the bottle, as it was unlike any other Irish whiskey I'd tried before and in my opinion it reminded me more of some Scottish malts I have in my collection.

As I moved through the bottle though the familiar tropical fresh fruit notes, I was fully expecting, came to the fore and I am now fully enjoying each glass.  This whiskey can't be rushed, and needs a little time to open up, but the reward is a glass of whiskey that is well balanced and full of flavour.

The finish of this release is very impressive and gives you just a hint of sherry without overpowering the original spirit.  I believe that future releases may have a slightly longer finish, in the PX casks, and I think this will enhance the spirit even more.  Whatever the standard of the casks being used, they are imparting just the right influence needed to bring this whiskey up a level or two.

Without doubt Echlinville, and the Dunville's brand, are going in the right direction and all I can say is here's to the future.

Lastly I'd just like to say a huge thank you to Shane Braniff for the sample bottle.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Bowmore - 15 year old "Darkest" - Review

First released in 2007, Bowmore 15 year old "Darkest" is an Islay whisky that has initially been matured in bourbon casks before "finishing" off it's maturation in sherry casks. 

This most recent release has spent the final 3 years of it's life in a Oloroso sherry cask which, according to the Bowmore website, gives Bowmore "Darkest" "the rich, deep colour reflected in its name..." 

It has been bottled at 43% ABV and can be picked up online for around £50.

Bowmore is a distillery I'm beginning to enjoy more and more so when I received this sample as a gift from two fellow bloggers I was only too keen to see if my enjoyment would continue.

Onto my notes:

First thing I noticed was the fantastic colour of the whisky, maybe too good a colour?

Nose - Smoked orange, deep and dark with sherry goodness.  Raisins, light gentle mixed spice, cinnamon, BBQ'd meat and char.  Not too much earthy peat going on in here but more of a clean smoke note.  Red fruits are fresh and juicy and it's clear the sherry cask has taken full effect.  Great vibrancy about this whisky and there's extra wee notes of smoky bacon and dark toffee chews.  Not too many coastal notes going on in this glass.  With a touch of water a distinct burnt match smell comes through.

Palate - Sour, bitter arrival which is very smooth then the red fruits come back and again the juiciness is here in abundance.  The smoke, which has now become a little more peaty, lurks in the background and never dominates although it is slightly acrid.  Just to the end a little dusty wood comes apparent.

Finish - Medium and smooth with raspberry and spice.

Overall this is a solid whisky that still has room for improvement.  The flavours are all present, and hugely enjoyable, but they could just do with being integrated a little better on the palate.  I've no issues with the nose but Bowmore need to be careful not to overpower the classic peat and coastal notes in favour of the sherry, again further integration and gentle improvement.

At £50 I probably wouldn't buy this but could easily be tempted if it was on offer at around £40 or so.  In addition this is a whisky I would watch closely over the next few years for the simple reason that, if they get the balance right, Bowmore could be onto a winner.

Huge thank you to @MashtunandMeow for the sample, cheers guys.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The "Spirit" of Jameson - 3 Days in Midleton & Dublin


Jameson Welcome Pack
Back in 1780, when the original Old Jameson Distillery was founded by John Jameson on Bow Street, Dublin, men and women, working in the distillery, enjoyed the best wages, and working conditions, within Dublin, and on top of this they also enjoyed company with John Jameson himself.

John Jameson believed that sharing his profits, time and spirit with each worker made them loyal and, in turn, made a better whiskey.   

Further to this, if you look closely at a bottle of Jameson you will notice that each bottle has two-barrel men balancing the label as a tribute to the men and women who produce the whiskey. 

A family spirit continued in a truer fashion throughout the 1800's as John Jameson II and, his son, John Jameson III transformed the Jameson Irish Whiskey brand into one of the largest in the world. 

It is this sense of family / community spirit that I want to touch upon throughout this piece. 

I was somewhat taken aback when I received an email back in January inviting me to be part of a Jameson media trip over the St Patrick's Day weekend but without second thought I naturally jumped at the chance and on 14th March I made my way to Belfast City airport for the slightly unnatural journey to Cork via London. 

Upon arrival into Cork we were greeted by the welcome party and promptly transferred to our accommodation for the next two nights - The Castlemartyr Resort.

Consisting of a 17th century manor house, sitting adjacent to the ruins of a 800 year old castle, and surrounded by immaculate gardens and walkways, Castlemartyr is truly decadent.  Walking around the original buildings gives you a sense that you are an extra on the set of Downton Abbey and the whole style of the resort felt far more in keeping with the era in which Jameson was born way back in 1780. 

The mood was tranquil and idyllic and allowed myself, and no doubt the 50 or so others who had been assembled for this trip, time to contemplate what this trip was all about and what Jameson were trying to capture by bringing us all together.  Maybe they were trying to re-create another type of family to spread the word of the "spirit" of Jameson.

As we moved into the first evening whiskey flowed and discussion was everywhere.  The mix of accents, that accompanied the almost never-ending sound of new introductions, created a wonderful soundtrack to what was quickly becoming a enjoyably relaxing atmosphere.

The night wore on into the small hours and as it did I found myself in great conversation with fellow whiskey writers Jake Mountain, of Master of Malt and Tiger and Turbo, from the Edinburgh whisky blog.  We were also accompanied by Midleton's master blender Billy Leighton.

We discussed all things Irish, in terms of whiskey, and sipped some fine examples that are coming out of the Midleton distillery at the moment.  I ended on the Paddy Centenary 7yo Single Pot Still, which I wasn't fussed on when I first sampled it last year but found it to be a lot more agreeable this time around.

We talked about the future of Irish whiskey and the importance for all new distilleries to ensure a quality is maintained to back up the fine reputation Irish whiskey has been gaining in recent times. 

There was also discussion on how Jameson / Midleton are more than happy to lend a helping hand, where they can, to get new distilleries up and running.  Not in a sense of "we're the big boys in this game and you'll listen to us" but more of a "we're all in this together, for the long haul, so let's make sure we do things right".

As I retired for the evening I was on a definite buzz and seriously looking forward to the morning where we'd be whisked away to Midleton for a full day around the distillery.

The trip to Midleton was a whirlwind of a tour.  Unfortunately hampered by the clock the Jameson team did their upmost to get us all round in time.

We began with a quick background to the Irish whiskey making process and a quick look around some of the original buildings that are now nothing more than a museum and a snapshot into a world long gone.  This was then followed with a quick introduction to the Irish Whiskey academy which was ably delivered by David McCabe.

First opened in 2013 the Irish Whiskey Academy is a state of the art training facility that hosts courses that focus on the production and heritage of Irish whiskey produced at Midleton.

From what little I observed it is clear that the delivery is professional and informative with fantastic use of the learning space to maximise interaction.  To take part in the academy properly you may have to fork out a pretty penny but if you have the money, and the interest, then I would sincerely recommend considering this package to further your whiskey knowledge.

Looking back through my notes from the weekend I have noted at this point that everyone at the distillery appears to know each other on first name terms.  For a distillery of such size to retain this community feeling is fantastic and, in my opinion, echoes the original style of John Jameson to make everyone feel a part of the process and, in turn, produce a better quality product. 

Onwards and into the brand new "Garden Stillhouse" where we were greeted by master distiller Brian Nation.  As with all the major figures, Brian Nation spoke with a great sense of pride and honesty about his feelings towards Midleton and the whiskey it produces.  At no time did you ever feel that those involved were simply "going through the motions" to talk to us. 

I've no doubt that they speak to hundreds upon hundreds of people every year, probably about the exact same topics, but each and every one of them speaks with a passion that clearly burns deep inside.

We moved quickly onto one of the 45 warehouses, that are based on site at Midleton, and wound up at warehouse 39B to be precise.  Here we were introduced to master of maturation Kevin O'Gorman and this is where we began to get a few more facts and figures.

During 2015 Midleton expect to receive around 150,000 casks from America alone.  On top of this Kevin put to bed the rumour of oak shortage by saying that this was simply not true.  He acknowledged that there were issues with loggers and poor weather but that these have been resolved.

Further insight was given into the type of casks used at Midleton: Madeira, Marsala, Irish oak, Port, Bourbon and Sherry and, with regards barrel management, we were also informed that Midleton do not rotate casks in their warehouses and would use a bourbon barrel 3 times before forwarding it on to the rum industry.

Then, from a whiskey drinking point of view, came the highlight of the trip...tasting straight from the cask(s).

First up was a 24yo pot still which was distilled in 1991 and had been resting in a second fill bourbon cask until 2005 before being moved into a first fill cask.  While we didn't have time to sit down and truly get into the whiskey I can say that this was extravagant in ways I've rarely tasted before.  Naturally huge on pot still spice but smooth, thick and oily.  Delicious stuff.

Second was a 17yo pot still, distilled in 1998 and matured wholly in a first fill Oloroso cask.  This was, quite simply, like nothing I've ever tried before.  To call this a "sherry bomb" would be an understatement as we went clean past dark fruit and straight into dark deep meaty notes.  Unbelievable!!!  Can I have a bottle please??

Jameson Family Tasting
Floating on the crest of a whiskey dream we stopped for a quick bite of lunch before moving onto our second tasting of whiskey for the day.  This time it was a Jameson Family Tasting with Billy Leighton.  On show we had the Original, Black Barrel and Gold Reserve.  All excellent in their own right when you take into consideration the area of the whiskey market they're aimed at.

As BIlly Leighton spoke he echoed terms I've heard before in the importance of forecasting and managing stock to ensure quality is maintained for years to come.  We also got a little insider knowledge with conformation that Jameson original contains, amongst other styles, some 8yo sherry matured pot still whiskey.

Last stop on the tour was the cooperage and a display from someone who I consider to be a living legend in the whiskey world.

Ger Buckley is a 5th generation master cooper and still uses instruments and tools that were passed down to him through the ages.  When you watch his brief display you can't help but marvel at the true skill he possesses.  His work is an art form and one which is not learned quickly.  Even though the work is tough and contained within, arguably, the coldest building at the distillery, you can tell that Ger is completely at one with the work he carries out. 


Cooperage Display with Ger Buckley

Again, you get snippets of information that Ger is only too happy to pass on what knowledge he can to any other distilleries wishing to train a cooper to keep an eye on their precious casks and again it come across as an Irish Whiskey community looking out for each other rather than an unwanted task bestowed upon him from above.  

With people such as Brian, Billy, Ger and Kevin at the helm of Ireland's largest distillery surely nothing can go wrong.  I certainly do not think so and if the Irish whiskey community can come together, and fight towards a common purpose to get Irish whiskey back to where it belongs, then Irish whiskey has a long and very bright future ahead of it. 

On that positive note we moved back to our hotel to prepare for our final night in Midleton and for our last Midleton meal we were taken to a local restaurant Sage.

Sage restaurant is unique in their 12mile ethos.  As obvious as it sounds they pride themselves in sourcing the vast majority of their produce within 12 miles of the restaurant.  It is this sort of provenance and terroir that resonates hugely within the whiskey industry and maybe the very reason this restaurant was selected by Jameson??

After a fine traditional Irish music session in a local pub we returned to the hotel bar and again spoke at length with Billy Leighton and also Ger Buckley.

It was while speaking with Ger that he talked briefly about the original IDL alliance with Bushmills and the friendships that were built over time and even agreed to the notion of being part of a Irish whiskey family.

As this second evening came to a close I wondered how the Dublin side of the trip would contrast with what we had experienced over the past two days.  One thing was for sure...I was ready to find out.

As we travelled the somewhat tedious, but necessary, journey from Midleton to Dublin I further contemplated the aforementioned contrast.  Undoubtedly we were heading back to "where it all began" for Jameson but a modern day Dublin is a far cry from a 1780 Dublin.

As we moved closer to the traditional, spiritual home, of Jameson there was an obvious upward change in pace.  The tranquil surroundings of Midleton were long gone and we were now deep into the heart of one of the most vibrant cities in Europe.

How times have changed, if you had no knowledge of Irish whiskey, and no knowledge of the Old Jameson Distillery tourist centre, you'd be certain that Midleton was the traditional, spiritual, home of Jameson and we had been moved up to Dublin for the sole purpose of the St Patrick's Day party.

We were further thrust into modern day Dublin with a fantastic walking tour hosted by Le Cool Dublin.  Le Cool Dublin's focus is on the modern day, lesser known, workings of this wonderful city and just before the tour, where they took us around the back streets to take in street art, pop up shops and even a secret supper club, we were treated to a short acoustic session from local musician Richie Egan and a short talk from artist Steve Simpson, the award winning illustrator behind the St Patrick's Day limited edition Jameson bottle design.

Now into it's 5th year the 2015 Jameson St Patrick's Day bottle set out to capture the soul and warmth of the city that first welcomed John Jameson in 1780. 

Encapsulating a heart, the label artwork is a mix of landmarks, local slang and a map of roads to represent the lifeblood of the city: the people and their passion for Dublin.  
                      
The bottle pays tribute to the special relationship between Jameson and Dublin with Jameson stating that "Ireland’s capital is our spiritual home; something Steve has captured perfectly by including the phrase: "Wherever I roam, it's Dublin my heart calls home""

To end the tour we arrived at a seemingly closed butcher's shop.  Set on a busy Dublin street the butcher's shop appeared desolate and uninviting.  Completely missing the reference to John Jameson & Sons, on the frosted front door, we entered the empty store and wondered what exactly was going on.  All was then revealed by one of the "butchers". 

The building we were in was, in fact, one of Jameson's private venues for hosting clients and as the "butcher" opened the freezer door we were invited inside to discover a rickety wooden staircase leading down to a perfect recreation of a speakeasy.

This was marketing done to the nth degree and no stone was left unturned with regards to detail.

In the cosy confines of the speakeasy we were introduced to Jameson's consultant mixologist Oisin Davis.  He was here to take us through some classic Irish cocktails and the two we were served up were completely delicious.

Oisin Davis taking us through a classic cocktail


One was a complete Irish cocktail made up of Jameson whiskey, wild elderflower cordial, rhubarb sherbet and dry Irish cider.  The second was named "The Tipperary" and consisted of equal measures of Jameson, Chartreuse and Vermouth which were served with a garnish of rosemary and a green olive.  Who knew Irish cocktails could be so good?

As the tour came to an end all that was left was the live concert being held that evening.  This was a chance to slightly let the hair down, and have a good time, but it was still clear that there was a focus on the local with the line up being the very finest of up and coming Irish bands.

St Patrick's Day Live Event

The experience of Dublin was a far cry from Midleton but what was clear is that while Jameson are aware of who they are, where they come from and the traditions and values they hold dear, they are also fully aware of the need to embrace the future.

By endorsing great local music, new exciting art, modern day mixology and the living culture of modern day Dublin they are reaching out to a consumer that used to think of whiskey as old men, sitting by a fire, smoking on a pipe and expecting their wives to have their dinner ready for them.

Now while the sexism is hopefully no longer present I've no doubt that there is still a strong amount of consumers that will see their whiskey as having to be traditional and unwavering in the face of modern day demands.

The skill that Jameson, and other companies, have to find is how to blend the modern with the traditional. 

Some companies have struggled recently and this has been noted in failed advertising campaigns, and failed marketing strategies, but having spent 3 days with Jameson I'm openly confident in that Jameson can make the transition and bring a new whiskey drinker to the party without alienating the fans they've already amassed.

Who knows exactly what the future may hold for Irish whiskey but with Jameson leading the way I'm happy with where it's going.

A huge thanks must be given to the following:

Everyone at Jameson / Midleton including the PR teams and staff for organising everything to perfection, including food, accommodation, tours and transfers
Chris, Jason, Jake, Lucy and Louise for the awesome craic and lastly to James for looking after us all so well throughout the weekend.


I would also like to highlight that the trip was paid for in full by Jameson.


Until next time,

Sláinte

SI