Showing posts with label Ballina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ballina. Show all posts

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On Whiskey Trail in Mayo. Visit to the Connacht Distillery

On Whiskey Trail in Mayo
Visit to the new Connacht Distillery
Connacht Distillery
Last weekend, after a drive from Donegal, we made it just  in time to take the 12.30pm tour of the new Connacht Distillery in Ballina, County Mayo. What else would you be doing on a Sunday morning!

Aside from a spanking new distillery, you need water, barley and yeast to make whiskey. Connacht get their water, clean water, from Lough Conn and Lough Cullen. Lots of iron and calcium in the water so it has to be demineralised before being used in the distilling process.

The malted barley, having come through the milling stage, meets up with the warmed water in the boiler tank. This liquid-y mix is called the mash and is put into the mash tun, another tank.  The sugar, from the barley, dissolves and is drawn off through the bottom of the mash tun. The resulting liquid is called 'wort'. Lautering is the next process, in the third tank (the Lauter tun), and here the mash is separated into the clear liquid wort and the residual grain.
Now we are on to the three wash vats, all stainless steel. Here, the yeast is added and begins to act on the sugar in the wort, turning it into alcohol over a period of two to four days. This wash is low in alcohol, much the same as that of wine.

Our guide now enthusiastically points to their three gleaming stills, which were made in Victoria, Canada. They have different necks which influence character and texture etc. The first tank is called Wash; the alcohol evaporates up the neck and leaves this tank at about 20% abv.

On then to the Feint tank where the process is repeated and the alcohol increases, this time to about 35%. The final, the third, tank is called the Spirit. Irish whiskeys are traditionally triple distilled. When the Spirit has done its work, the liquid, still clear (no colour) has an abv of about 70%!
Ballina last Sunday (28.08.16)
You’ve heard of flying winemakers. Well Connacht’s distiller Rob runs two distilleries in Pennsylvania and flies over regularly to Ballina. He also sources the oak casks which are charred and impart flavour and colour and in which the Connacht whiskey will be matured. The casks are made in Kentucky and are ex-Bourbon. All bottling is done here, all by hand.

Like many new distilleries, Connacht makes some white spirits to get the cash flow going while waiting the mandatory three years (and a day) for the whiskey. They are planning their gin and there will be some interesting botanicals included! The Poitin was due to be bottled the day after our visit but we did get a taste of their smooth Straw Boys Vodka. This wheat based drink is good and smooth, with a hint of  pepper in the aftertaste. The Straw Boys are a Mayo tradition, a sign of luck if they turn up at your wedding. “They are all about fun and getting the party going!”.

You will have to wait until 2019 to taste their own whiskey but in the meantime, they have been putting their own finish to a bought-in whiskey. It is called Spade and Bushel (after the tools of the trade) and is light amber in colour, smooth and sweet, hints of caramel and a “great after dinner drink”. No bother agreeing with that. Be careful with it though. One thing that sets this apart is that it is a cask strength whisky with an abv of 57.5%! It comes in a 37.5cl bottle.
The Straw Boys love a party
 When their own whiskey comes on the market, it will feature a rather special logo, a Celtic Dragon with a bunch of corn stalks in his claw.


There is another distillery starting up in Mayo, the Nephin, named after the county’s famous mountain. This is different. They are creating peated single malts made in a small Mayo village using locally grown barley, locally cut turf and triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills, then matured in unique casks handcrafted in their own cooperage. Must call there the next time!

My base for the night was the Grand National Hotel Ballina. They have a rather large bar and I was disappointed, considering the amount of breweries around the county, that they had no craft beer. Luckily, I spotted a Jameson Whiskey menu on the counter and spent an enjoyable hour or two sampling.


The new Connacht distillery. A new Greenway, from Ballina to Killala, starts alongside it.
The favourite was the Powers John's Lane Release at €9.00 a glass. The drop of water, the only other thing needed, was free! There is an abundance of aromas - don't stick your nose into the glass - just hover above it; it is full bodied, spicy and sweet and has a lingering finish. Think this is my new number one!

And if I can't get it, I’ll go for the Yellow Spot 12 Years Old, another single pot still whiskey, another smooth sweet customer at €9.50 a glass. It is complete from start to long finish with a distinctive sweetness at all stages. Sophisticated and complex they say. And it sure is. Reckon the Mayo distillery, indeed all new distilleries, have a fight on their hands. Perhaps, the best way to go about it is to avoid the direct collision and find your own niche.

Great for us customers though to have the choice!
Beers from the local Reel Deal
Aside from pulling a blank in the Ballina Hotel, craft beers, especially in bottle, were easy enough to find during this quick trip to Donegal Town and Ballina. Kinnegar Brewing and Donegal Brewing were available in The Harbour Restaurant in Quay Street in Donegal. And beers from the same two breweries were enjoyed over in the Village Tavern in Mountcharles. Last call in Donegal was the Olde Castle where the restaurant were offering their own beer called, appropriately, Red Hugh, and brewed in the county.

Ballina had started well enough with a couple of decent beers, the Irish Blonde amber ale and the General Humber French fusion ale, both by Mayo’s Reel Deel and both available in bottle in the upstairs restaurant of the lively Bar Square in Garden Street. And then came the blank in the hotel. The joys of researching. Still the whiskeys were a considerable consolation!
Killala, known to M. Humbert

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lovely stay at Lakeside Hotel on the Shannon River


Lovely stay at Lakeside Hotel on the Shannon River
Lough Derg
Spent a two very enjoyable days in Ballina, County Tipperary, last weekend, staying at the Lakeside Hotel, a lovely hotel on a little rise on the east side of the bridge that connects Ballina with Killaloe, its Clare “cousin”. Many people don't realise there is a Ballina here at all but it is  lovely riverside place in a very central location and is a great gathering point for boats and indeed there are cruises available on the Shannon and into nearby Lough Derg.

Was never quite sure whether I was in Tipp or Clare. Some places, you read the hotel is in Tipperary, some places they say it is in Clare and then you also see the address is given as Killaloe/Ballina! Maybe they are playing it safe as the flags outside the hotel - they were blowing stiffly last weekend - include both the Tipperary and Clare county flags and even Saturday night’s entertainer said he had to be careful where his feet were when making remarks that might favour one county over the other!
The ducks win this race for food!

That Saturday night session was one of the highlights. We had just enjoyed a lovely meal at the nearby Tuscany Bistro in Ballina and were settling into the hotel bar (where they have a full menu with lots of local producers featured) when the tall lanky singer with a great line of patter arrived on the scene.


His audience, including two couples from Thurles celebrating their 40th anniversary with friends, were all in good form and the singer enhanced the mood with standards from Bob Dylan to Christy Moore, popular songs such as simple 60s pop to The Fields of Athenry. And all the time, I was sipping away at some excellent Red Ale by O’Hara’s, a warm fire nearby.


Ballycuggeran Beach

We don't get a  chance to eat in the hotel’s restaurant, except for breakfast on each morning. Breakfast was totally buffet on the  busy Sunday morning but we were well catered for. Lots of juices and cereals and no shortage either of hot stuff (you could help yourself to the full Irish or any abbreviated version you wanted). Some nice breads and pastries also available. Not too many people there on Monday morning and instead of the hot buffet you were able to order. Either way, it was excellent.


Our room was very spacious and comfortable, all mod cons including TV, hairdryer and Tea/coffee and we had a very comfortable sofa to sit on. The bathroom (bath and shower) was large and very well equipped and no shortage of toiletries.


Rossmore on Lough Derg

They have a lovely garden out front but we weren't sitting there on this occasion. But we did take the walk down to the river. Sunday morning was better and brighter and we drove up the western side of Lough Derg. Ballycuggeran Beach, one of a few if not the only Blue Flag freshwater beach in the country, was our first stop and a pleasant one, even if some of the paths were flooded.


On then through places like Whitegate, Mountshannon, Ogonnelloe and into An Cuas in Galway heading for a viewpoint at Rossmore. Had to negotiate a flood or two (nothing serious) and the view was worth it even if the water in the large lake was lively and quite high. Retraced our steps to Killaloe, arriving a little too late to benefit from the Farmers Market, held between the waters, but in time to see Ireland v Scotland. Later in the evening, we were back at the Tuscany Bistro for the presentation of the Pride of Ireland Awards.


Lakeside Hotel

The weather may not have been at its best but we had a most enjoyable couple of days at our base in the Lakeside where the staff were friendly and very helpful. A day or two after coming home, we got an email offering us 20 per cent off on the next visit,. Nice, and one to be seriously considered. This is a lovely part of Ireland and deserves to be much better known.


Derelict in Disguise. Nice paint job in Ballina.
Related posts:
Pride of Ireland Awards 2013-2014

Tuscany Bistro. Superbo. Splendido. Eccellente





Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mayo Stop-over

Mayo Stop-over
I enjoyed my recent one night in Ballina (County Mayo), especially the meal in the Market Kitchen and the overnight stay at the nearby Quignalegan House. The Irish don’t seem to have discovered Quignalegan yet as most of the guests come from the continent!
Amuse Bouche
Met up with my Mayo relations during the day and then checked in with Breege Padden at her Quignalegan House just about a mile out the Sligo Road from the well known Ice Hotel. Breege runs a four star guesthouse here and had the kettle on even before we thought of a cuppa. We enjoyed the tea in her well equipped lounge which has comfortable chairs, a TV and plenty of books.
Crab claws
The bedroom too was comfortable and spacious and had all the mod cons, including a flat screen TV. All rooms are ensuite and you’ll also find information here on what to see and do in the area. There is a breakfast menu. Cereals and fruits and yoghurts are on side tables and you might need to give Breege your cooked breakfast preferences in advance – otherwise it is the full Irish!
Scallops
Had heard only good things about the Market Kitchen, the restaurant that is on the floor above the Murphy Brothers Bar in Clare Street in the town. The kitchen is a big supporter of local producers and they are listed on the menu.
Duck
It comfortably seats 80 and it was busy on the Saturday night. We really enjoyed our dinner there. The local produce stood out in the starters, both top class. CL went for the Seared Scallops (pan-fried, with asparagus, chorizo, béarnaise, and Kelly’s black pudding crumbled). Mine was one of their signature dishes: the Achill Island crab claws (baked, with roast baby potatoes, garlic, chilli and lime cream).
Salmon
The main courses were also local, also superb. Mine was the Roast Breast of Silver hill Duck while CL went for the Grilled Fillet of Clare Island Salmon. The restaurant, as I said, was busy, but the bar was positively abuzz as we walked down the stairs and most of the punters seemed to be eating. Highly recommended!
River Moy, Ballina