An incredibly quick post on whiskey Live Dublin. It’s basically the All-Ireland, Christmas, The Eid and Glastonbury all rolled into one. I love it – loads of vendors, loads of great whiskeys, and loads of Internet Friends who you finally get to meet in real life, albeit after quite a bit of booze so it doesn’t seem real. This was my fourth year, and my worst for making all the stalls. I think I managed to hit about ten of the 40 or 50 there. Pathetic. The upside of that is I only tried a few, really interesting drams, and got to meet some really interesting folks. Here’s a whistle-stop tour.
First up was John Teeling’s Great Northern. Working off a third-party sales model, they may well be a serious player down the road, simply because they are making whatever people want. I tried the 18-month-old peated malt – mild, medicinal but nowhere near the demonic motherfuckers of Islay. The chap I spoke with (that’s him above) had a career that included working as a botanist, a miner, and finally a distiller, so he was a mine (!!!) of information.
The third-party model will be an important one, especially for anyone who wants to distill interesting drams by contract. The flipside of this will be what some chose to put on labels, but none of that is John Teeling’s concern.
I have a lot of admiration for Connaught Distillery. Their CEO David Stapleton comes from a background in waste management and did his MBA through the Open University. They are effectively an Irish American operation, which is reflected in their Brothership whiskey, which I tried for the first time and really liked. It’s a blend of two ten year olds, one from each side of the Atlantic, with the Irish making up 55% and the American whiskey 45%. I hope these frontier distilleries are going to do the really interesting stuff down the road, as they will need to build cult following to get the whiskey tourists flocking to their doors.
The guys at Glendalough are looking towards whiskey tourism too – they have a site tucked away in Laragh and hope to start building their distillery soon. Perhaps with this in mind they have unified their branding, eschewing the blues and greens for various shades of grey. It’s not just the labels that changed, the liquid is different too. Five Lamps brewery used their whiskey barrels to finish stout in, so Glendalough took those barrels back and finished the seven year old in them. Gone now are those sweet citrus notes for a far deeper expereience – chocolate, coffee, brandy butter, whiskey cream. I loved the earlier seven, but this is a change I can believe in. Meanwhile, the 13 – an oblique nod to company investor and rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll – is now finished in mizunara cask, making it the only whiskey in ireland that uses this Japanese wood.
Speaking of coffee – Black Twist is a coffee liqueur crafted as a crossroads between the late nights and early mornings of the whiskey aficionados. Don’t think Kahlua or Tia Maria, this is far better – like an iced coffee with whiskey. The alcohol content is low, about 26%, but it is a delight to drink, with far more of the coffee flavour than the booze. This could definitely be one to sharpen the mind after too much turkey.
Sliabh Liag are getting there – they have bored two wells at the site of their planned distillery and have struck sweet delicious water. They hope to start work on it once the weather gets better, which given that this is Donegal we are talking about, I’m going to assume will be never. I’m kidding – they are looking at spring 2018. This is one I can get behind – clear message from day one, and a pedigree in the drinks business.
Tipperary are another team working to get off the ground. They’ve gone the extra mile and have distilled their own grain by contract at an unnamed distillery. I had a sample of that new make and it was really excellent. High hopes for these guy – they are rolling out a cask programme soon, and this is one I could get behind if only I wasn’t a member of the working poor.
I also managed to strongarm (I asked politely) John Cashman of Cooley into sharing a mystery dram – their six year old rye pot still whiskey. It was unique. Bottle it and get it on a shelf so I can buy it lads.
One of the first difference I noticed was the lack of Glencairns – the Tuath has taken over. The new Irish whiskey glass is larger than its Scottish cousin, which meant for more generous pours. This was a solid test of the glass and it passed with flying colours. It’s sturdier and the angular base makes it easier to hold and thus not drop on your fucking foot after 25,000 drams, like I did last year. I’m going to do a proper test of the Tuath at some stage, but out in the field, it worked a charm.
There were, of course, loads of other snippets, but overall it would appear that the Irish whiskey category is in rude health – distilleries are being built, more are planned, and we are heading into an interesting time for whiskey lovers. While I’m not one for the backslapping, everything-is-awesome guff that gets fed to the mainstream press – clearly there are issues that need to be sorted out – overall Whiskey Live Dublin was a reminder that our best days are still to come.