Showing posts with label whiskey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label whiskey. Show all posts

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Whiskey and Sherry. Patience and Time

Whiskey and Sherry
Patience and Time
Time, patience

These are two of the best drinks. Two of the best birthday presents also, one I gave myself, the other from a good friend of mine. There is a strong relationship between the distillery in Midleton where the John’s Lane is produced and Jerez area in Spain where the Neo comes from.

Powers John’s Lane Release, Single Pot Still Whiskey

I’ve been enjoying this rather special whiskey recently. Started with a glass (€9.00) in the Grand National Hotel in Ballina. Next up, it was part of a tasting trio in the Midleton distillery. I loved it there and had another glass (7.50) in the Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder in Killarney. The affair was fully cemented when I treated myself to a birthday bottle at Bradley’s (69.00).


Let’s start with the bare bones. This is a Single Pot Still whiskey. The ABV is 46% and it has been produced at the distillery in Midleton where it has been matured for not less than 12 years in first fill Bourbon casks.

What first attracted me, still does, are the outstanding flavours. It is nicely spiced from the still. Raised in US (mainly) and Spanish casks, there is vanilla on the nose, also a light apricot.

Twelve years (at least) of maturation is rewarded with outstanding flavour and complexity, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, spices, all there together to a long long finish. It is 46% so the advice is to add a few drops of water. Nothing else is needed to get the best from this Very Highly Recommended beauty.

* When you buy a bottle, you’ll also get Alfred Barnard’s detailed account of John Lane’s Distillery in the Dublin of 1886. Wonder what’s his Twitter handle?

Gonzalez Byass Noe Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry, 15.5%, RRP €39.50 (on offer at €31.60 here at Wines of the World).

If you like sweet wines, as I do, then this sherry, aged 30 years, is irresistible.

The Pedro Ximenez, and this is one hundred per cent PX, is a usual grape for sweet sherry. Here, the PX has been enriched by the age old “soleo” sun-drying method, then matured in oak for thirty years.

And the result is incredible, one of the best wines you’ll ever come across. The colour is a deep ebony. The warm aromas are rich with sweet succulent raisins, figs, spices too. 

It is complex and intense on the palate, rich and dense, very sweet, smooth, luscious and silky, concentration is very high yet it is fresh and clean. And the finish, with notes of coffee, caramel, toffee, and liquorice, goes on and on.

It is the perfect dessert wine, even on its own. But you’ll find it excels over vanilla ice-cream or with dark chocolate. The advice is to serve it slightly chilled or indeed at room temperature. 

You’ll long remember the superb fragrance and intense bouquet acquired in the silence and shade of the cellars. Very Highly Recommended.

* Noe has been ranked in the Top 100 wines in the US and is distributed by Barry & Fitzwilliam.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas Prezzies, from three euro to 3.5k euro!

Christmas Prezzies
from three euro to 3.5k euro!
First aid from Wines Direct!

Wine App.
Want to know a little bit more about wine? In a hurry? Then download Grape Personalities - a guide to grape varietals and the wines they make. The APP retails for €3.99 in both iOS and Android and is available at http://grape-personalities.appstor.io

Christmas Day Survival Kit 
Wines Direct make Christmas Day easier for you with their Survival Kit. Along with two classic French whites and two classic French reds, you’ll get a bottle of sparkling wine (Cremant de Loire by Alain Marcadet) and, for afterwards, a bottle of Port (Quinta do Crasto LBV 2011). It is available online at Wines Direct and the six bottles will cost you €115.00 (over 30 euro off and free delivery).


Eight Degrees Festival Beers
You can never mention wine within 25 miles of Mitchelstown without Caroline Hennessy shouting beer! She tells me Eight Degrees have some very special ones to offer. “The Three Dukes of Burgundy is our 2016 Barrel Aged Project. From that series, The Fearless Farmhouse Ale and The Bold Imperial Stout were just released last week. In January, we will be releasing The Good Barleywine.” 

All of these limited edition beers are bottled into 750ml amber champagne-style bottles and are available either individually or in 2 x 750ml bottle gift packs (RRP €19.95). 

Fearless Farmhouse Ale is your perfect Christmas table beer. It won’t shout too loudly over the turkey, will happily hang out with ham and doesn’t balk in the face of any cranberry relish-type shenanigans.
RRP €7.95

Save The Bold Imperial Stout for the end of a meal and pair it with something sweet like Christmas pudding, a rich cranberry cheesecake or some quality vanilla ice cream. RRP €10.95

The Whiskeys of Ireland

Want to read up on your whiskey? Then get Peter Mulryan’s Whiskeys of IrelandThe very experienced Peter (the man behind the Blackwater Distillery in Waterford) knows his whiskey as well as his gin and the book charts the history and the current state of Irish whiskey. A very intertesting read indeed. The Whiskeys of Ireland is published by the O’Brien Press and is widely available. I spotted it in Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork  selling for €19.95.

Teeling’s Top Drops
While you’re reading, why not sip from either The Teeling 24 or 33 Year Old Single Malt, available  initially in the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, Celtic Whiskey Shop and Dublin Airport in Ireland and retailing for €300 per 70cl for the 24 Year Old and €3,500 per 70cl for the 33 Year Old. 

Too expensive? Well you can get a perfectly good bottle of Jameson for thirty euro or less! Another favourite around here at the moment is Writer’s Tears, also in Bradley’s at €45.99.

Tipperary Crystal

Have you a wine lover in your life? But don’t know which wine to buy for him or her. Why not make a present of some suitable glasses instead. Tipperary Crystal have just produced a new range for white and red wine, for bubbles, and also for whiskey and brandy. Prices are mainly twenty euro for a gift box containing a pair of the glasses. All the details here.  

The Oxford Companion to Cheese
Wine and cheese go together of course and so too do beer and cheese. You can get all the best pairings and so much more in this massive just published (December 1st) book on cheese. Lots of Irish interest too with Cashel Blue, County Cork and pioneer cheesemaker Veronica Steele covered in this landmark encyclopaedia, the most wide-ranging, comprehensive, and reliable reference work on cheese available, suitable for both novices and industry insiders alike. See more here.  Published by the Oxford University Press, the impressive volume costs forty pounds sterling.


Bertha’s Revenge Gin

The producers are so happy with the complexity and smoothness of this milk based gin that they really enjoy sipping it with a “splash of water”. But they add “she works very well with a good quality tonic”. And she performs well also in a martini. Bertha, shaken with ice and a suggestion of vermouth, poured into a chilled glass with a simple zest garnish delivers “a gloriously smooth and precise cocktail experience”. Try it for yourself - stockists here - about 50 euro per bottle.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Spirits of the Islands. Top drops from Ireland & Islay

Spirits of the Islands
Top drops from Ireland & Islay

Had a significant birthday recently - they are all significant now! - and treated myself to these significant spirits. Quite expensive when you consider that you can get a bottle of excellent Jameson for about thirty euro. But I must say, I am really enjoying these. And, just to let you know, there is a significant gift-giving occasion on the horizon!

Writer’s Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey, 40%, €45.99 Bradley’s, Cork

This single pot still, plus single malt, is fast becoming a favourite with me for its complex flavours and amazing smoothness. The name, according to Walsh Distillers, is because a whiskey such as this was enjoyed by famous Irish writers in the good old days.

Don't stick your nose in to get the aromas - a "mistake" wine aficionados make with spirits - just hover above the glass and they’ll come to you, apple and honey in this case. The attractive soft whiskey has been matured in charred Bourbon barrels and there are notes of the wood on the gentle palate, also a sweet spice, some toffee too in a gorgeous mix. And the finish is smooth, elegant and long. Quite the foxy lady and worth exploring. Very Highly Recommended.
  • Writer’s Tears won the award of Best Irish Blend Under €50.00 in the 2013 Irish Whiskey Awards.

The Botanist, Islay Dry Gin, 46%, €59.95 Bradley’s, Cork
Lots of hype around this gin but what is undeniable is that it is a very very good one. The usual suspects are among the botanicals but there are no less than 22 local botanicals as well - Islay must be denuded. Undeniable too is the website claim that the foraged 22 are “unbuyable flavors” - amazing how the US English spellchecker takes over, even in Islay.

“You’re getting uncommon things”, they say and no denying Islay is producing an uncommon gin, one of the best.

On the complex nose, you meet the usual indispensable suspects (including juniper, orange and lemon peel) and, from Islay itself, come apple mint, thistle, summer flowers, gorse and other “unbuyable flavors”. On the palate this smooth Scotch gin seduces, its strength cloaked with its rich and mellow taste, its fresh and stimulating flavours, its warm and lingering finish. Very Highly Recommended.


By the way, if your Latin is up to scratch, you’ll recognise the local botanical names which are embossed on the bottle: Galium Verum  (Lady’s Bedstraw) and Cirsium Arvense  (Creeping Thistle) are two examples.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Whiskeys of Ireland by Peter Mulryan.

Review: The Whiskeys of Ireland
by Peter Mulryan
Midleton
“Whiskey. Irish for droplets of pure pleasure.” WB Yeats.

You’ll find tour guides in the many new Irish distilleries telling you that whiskey is a corruption of the Gaelic Uisce Beatha (water of life). No need to believe those novices! Yeats got it right and his interpretation is quoted on the back cover of the Whiskeys of Ireland by Peter Mulryan. 

Whenever I get my hands on a new Irish food or drink book, I usually flick through the opening pages to see where it was printed and am invariably disappointed. This, printed in the Czech Republic, is no exception. If we are expected to support the Irish food and drinks industry, then our food and drink writers should do all they can to support Irish printers. But that's about the only gripe  (one more - there is no index), I have against this excellent book.



The new Connacht Distillery in Ballina
Because, for a long time, there were spirits galore but no definition of whiskey, Mulryan says it is difficult to trace its evolution. But distilling was alive and well, if not up to FSAI standards, in the 15th century and the Crown passed a law in 1556, in vain, to put a stop to it. Eventually, after the collapse of the Gaelic order, a licensing system was imposed.

The first Irish patent was granted in 1608 but cronyism and corruption led to the collapse of the system. Taxation reared its head in 1661 and that reinforced the illegal side of the trade. And the same happened when a stiff tax regime was imposed in 1779. The underground operators sold their poitín and that became “the drink of the people”.


A more benign tax regime led to a booming whiskey industry in the 1820s and onwards. But that led to widespread alcohol problems and in stepped Fr Matthew. Distilleries closed by the dozen. 

On display in Teelings, Newmarket, Dublin
The respectable side of the business examined the newly invented Aeneas Coffey column still and he had some initial success here before turning to a warmer welcome in Scotland. Ireland, pants down in Mulryan’s phrase, missed the revolution and would pay dearly.

Close to the end of the century though, the big players in Irish whiskey, including Allman’s in Bandon, were flying high again. Phylloxera dealt the French distillers a hammer blow and that too helped the Irish in what Mulryan terms “the Golden Years”.


Scotland too was on the rise but the bubble would burst as the century turned, fraudulent trading, recession, wars, and increased taxes all contributing.

With the author (left) in his Blackwater Distillery
Ireland now had its own problems: wars and then partition. We were behind internationally and now the domestic market collapsed. And, in the US, prohibition was looming. Closure followed closure.

There were back doors to the US market. The Scots didn't hesitate, the Irish did. Then we Irish had the “Economic War” with England and next came WW2. After they were over, in the US, the Scots were in and, except for Irish Coffee, the Irish were out.

It was a long tailspin, halted only in 1966 when the three (yes, 3!) remaining distilleries amalgamated. Eventually a new outlook led to a new distillery in Midleton (1975). John Jameson was the brand that led to the current revival, the brand that eventual and current owners Pernod Ricard used as a wedge to once more open the international market to Irish Whiskey.

Cyril (left) and Barry of St Patrick's in Cork
Meanwhile, Mulryan relates that an opportunity was spotted by John Teeling at Cooley and, thanks to the eagle-eyed entrepreneur, the Irish industry acquired a new and vibrant arm, an arm that is still reaching out. Now virtually every county has a distillery, many of them micro. The consumer, home and abroad, has never had it so good. Cheers to John Jameson (5 million cases in 2015) and the French marketeers.

Those marketeers include a salesman selling Jameson in a Vendeé supermarket sometime in the 90s. He was an insistent guy and I bought a bottle (the price was good too!) and I still have the free cassette tapes that came with it!


Mulryan's fascinating book covers the history, the rises and the falls and the stunning re-birth, in a lively manner, great for the experienced and novice alike. It is well worth seeking out for the history alone. But he also casts his keen and experienced eye (he founded and runs the Blackwater Distillery) over the current scene (sending out a warning to mid-sized operators).

Whiskey by Hyde's
The closing chapters take us, in plain and engaging English, through the making and blending and, most importantly, the tasting of our beloved Uisce Beatha, sorry droplets of pure pleasure. Slainte!

The Whiskeys of Ireland is published by the O’Brien Press and is widely available. I spotted it in Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork  selling for €19.95.
Hands on research in Dingle recently


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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Taste of the Week. West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Taste of the Week
West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Armed with a gift voucher, I made a quick visit to Dunnes Stores in Cork City recently. Had enough socks and shirt, so headed for the drinks section, looking for something around the thirty euro mark. After a couple of near things, I spotted a bottle of the West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt, priced at exactly the thirty (a few euro off, I think). Have been enjoying the odd glass since and it’s now our Taste of the Week.

It is an excellent blend of grain and malt whiskey, a smooth and approachable whiskey with a light vanilla finish. This “non-chill filtered whiskey has been matured in first fill, flame charred Bourbon barrels to deliver an exquisite aroma, rich taste and pleasantly lasting finish”. Malty, toffee, treacle notes are to the fore here. And yes, they certainly deliver on the aroma, flavour and finish.

I must admit I've been drinking this on the rocks and that could get me into trouble with Frank McHardy (a very experienced Scottish consultant with West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen). I met Frank a few months back and he cautioned against using ice. “Add a little water - it opens up the whiskey flavours. If you think it is a little cold, heat it up with your hand.” Next time Frank, I’ll take your advice!

West Cork Distillers was born from humble beginnings. From the coming together of a food and drinks engineer and his two fisherman friends it now has become a global business selling in over 35 countries worldwide.  John O’ Connell, Denis McCarthy and Ger McCarthy are the three pioneers. They reckon their use of local spring water (“from 3 kms down the road”) is a key factor as this natural soft water leads to a smoother whiskey.

They have quite a range at this point and you can see all the latest here.
West Cork Distillers are taking part in next month's A Taste of West Cork Festival. Would you like to visit? See details here.

West Cork Distillers
Market Street,
Skibbereen,
Co. Cork,
Ireland
T: + 353 (0)28 22815
E-Mail : info@westcorkdistillers.com

Sunday, August 30, 2015

You Can't Hurry Sloe Gin. St Patrick’s Distillery

You Can't Hurry Sloe Gin
St Patrick’s Distillery
You can’t hurry Sloe Gin. That’s what Cyril Walsh and Barry Fitzgerald of Cork's St Patrick’s Distillery told me last week.  The sloes and the gin do their thing together for about three months. No sugar is added. They like to retain the natural tartness of the sloes, though they temper it with “just a drop of honey”.

Another infusion is their Elderflower Gin, the process here taking about a month. Both infusions are post distillation and are done with the gin at 96.4% to make “the extraction more complete” and it is “cut” after that.

The Sloe and Honey is Cyril’s favourite and he loves it with ginger ale. Barry goes for the Classic and takes it as a G & T. The other gin - they make four - is the Extra Dry. All, by the way, are the full 40% abv.

And when Barry, or his colleagues, makes that G & T, the tonic will be the German made 28 Drinks. It is a low sugar mixer, comes in a can and comes highly recommended by the Douglas Distillery team.
Cyril (left) and Barry
The gins and their St Patrick's Vodka are made with potato alcohol, are charcoal filtered and hand bottled. The alcohol is “a full strength spirit, straight and crystal clear, with an aroma and taste profile that is unique”. By the way, each bottle of vodka takes about 250 potatoes!

The whiskey is bought in at present but that will change over the next few years. The bought in whiskey, already quite a good product having been matured for more than three years in first fill bourbon barrels, is blended with a 21 year old malt whiskey. Cyril says the blend of the young and the very old (very expensive too!), plus the fact that it has been raised in US oak, produces the perfect balance, and make it extra special.

Indeed, the whiskey has been the stand-out success so far. “We are up against the big boys, up against Jameson, so we can’t go to the market with the same type of whiskey. We can't be the same and we don't want to be the same. People have been very willing to try the whiskey and are impressed by its smoothness and that longer finish”. Barry has been impressed with the way the Sloe and Honey Gin has been received, "Maybe because of the long tradition in Ireland of making Sloe gin at home”.

St Patrick's may be new but not all their kit is!
This old Vitamin Stamper, from the 1950s, was
 spotted in the UK and adapted by Cyril to
cork their bottles of spirits.
The team travels to exhibitions all over the country. Check out their products and be sure to sample their cocktails. Indeed, you’ll find some cocktail recipes, including the Crafty Cobbler, on their site here.

If you can't hurry Sloe Gin, you can't hurry a distillery either. Tom Keightley (Managing Director) and Cyril (General Manager) are the pioneers of St Patrick’s and Barry has joined them as Brand Manager. They are just about six months in operation. The Potato alcohol is being bought in at present but they have their own stills now and expect them to be operational in the near future.

They do their own bottling here in Douglas, by hand. Soon, they be contracting out that part of the operation, mainly because of increasing volumes of sales. Aside from the general market, the products are selling well in Dublin and Cork Airports.

St Patrick’s won't be stopping at the airports. They have confirmed their first export order and that goes off to Germany next October and, as a follow-up, the team will attend the ProWein, the International Trade Fair for Wine and Spirits next March. Could well be a Happy St Patrick’s Day for the Cork company.

St Patrick’s Distillery
Unit 105
St Patrick’s Woolen Mills,
Couglas
Cork.
Tel: 021 4918791
Facebook: St Patrick’s Distillery https://www.facebook.com/stpatricksdistillery.ie?fref=ts
Twitter: @StDistillery

You might have spotted this at St Patrick's tastings, the
most recent at the weekend in the RDS. A piece of a
whiskey barrel is heated, the glass is filled with smoke,
and you add in your whiskey for a drink with a difference!