Clonakilty Distillery. A New West Cork Landmark
The spanking new Clonakilty Distillery, so conveniently situated on the N71 (the main road from the city to West Cork), is well worth a visit as I found out on July 5th. It has its own car park (tour buses accommodated) but we just strolled in from the town - we had booked online a few days earlier. Like most distilleries, there are a number of tour options; basically, the more you pay, the better you taste!
Our guide, Paddy Hodnett (the visitor centre supervisor), was in top form as he welcomed up and took us upstairs to begin in a room that displayed the town’s drinks heritage and much more. The display, reinforced from time to time by Paddy, told us of the great brewing companies, including Deasy’s. You need barley for beer (and whiskey) and the climate here, mild and damp, is ideal for the crop. And, uniquely, they had a special sea manure, a mix of seaweed and silt available through frequent clearing of the area’s sea access.
|Anyone for Gin School?|
Next we were on a mezzanine (railed!) that gave us a great view of the three large stills below. Photos taken, we headed on down to the base of the stills and were filled in on purposes of the various tanks around the place, all part of the process, and were told that Clonakilty use 50% malted and 50% unmalted.
The distillery’s gin, Minke (named after the whale), is also made here in a much smaller set-up compared to the whiskey stills. Interestingly, two local botanicals (Sea Pink and Rock Samphire), are used. No less than five separate distillations are required to ensure that the best is extracted from each botanical. Then all five are blended together. “It’s an expensive way to make it but the best way,” said Paddy. The process ensures that the likes of the Sea Pink (with its two week window) is at its freshest best and the use of fresh citrus (rather than dried) gives the Minke an edge as well.
While the gin is selling well you, and distiller Paul Corbett, will have to wait up to two and a half years for the whiskey. They are looking forward to seeing how their own Heritage Barley - the owners, the Scully family, have been farming in the area for hundreds of years - works out. In the meantime, they have finished off whiskey that was sourced elsewhere and we would taste some of those with Paddy guiding us through.
We started our threesome with the Single Batch, a light to medium bodied spirit finished in a refurbished wine cask. Then a definite step up as we enjoyed the same whiskey but this one finished in a Cognac cask. He kept the best until last. The 15 year old Single Malt was exquisite, rounded, smooth, not too many words needed (just lots of euro!). All the tasting was carried out in the bar, the Speakeasy.
Just before, we had seen a film, showing the warehouse on the Scully family farm, out towards the spectacular Galley Head, “perfect to mature fine whiskey”. “We use Country Connections to source the best casks worldwide,” Paddy continued. “though the majority are Bourbon. So our whiskey gets the best possible start. There is minimum filtration…, our commitment to quality is ongoing.”
Clonakilty Distillery founders, the Scully family, have patiently farmed by this coastal land for eight successive generations. And their promise is to use that same patience and attention to detail in the distillery. We wish Helen and Michael all the best in this new venture.
After the tour, we called to the shop and bought a bottle of the gin to try at home. By the way, they run a popular Gin School here with the help of a row of mini-stills. It is a great group experience. So team-building or a stag or hen, why not book in and have loads of fun while making your own gin (you’ll also enjoy a Minke G&T) and then take home your own bottle.
The whale’s tail is a symbol of the distillery and is also the name of its bistro. We called there too - it was lunchtime. And here we found a non-alcoholic gin: the Seedlip Garden Gin with Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, a lovely aperitif.
This is a large and comfortable restaurant serving lunch, dinner (including Early Bird) and Sunday lunch. It was a gorgeous day outside (they also have an outdoor area for dining) so I was thinking of something light and picked the delicious Cork Summer Crab Salad with mixed leaves, pickled cucumber, croutons and tomatoes. CL enjoyed her Cod Fishcake with pickled cucumber and aioli is typical.
You’ll see local producers named on the menu and all their beef, chicken and fish is locally sourced. Of course, their own whiskey and gin is here, along with a good wine offering and, again, craft beer from the local brewery. Great to see that support for local. The more we pull together, the further we will go.
|Fish cake starter in the Whale's Tail Bistro|
51 37`17.21 N
8 53`10.37 W
T: +353 23 884 0635
Also on this trip:
Bandon's Seymour Biscuits