On September 20, 2020, the drinks writer Becky Paskin started a lengthy thread drawing attention to some of the language used by fellow drinks writer Jim Murray in his annual Whisky Bible. Reaction was swift – condemnation of Murray’s words, multiple attacks on Paskin’s credibility, and a rolling conversation about sexism in what is largely male dominated industry and community. Up until Paskin’s thread, few whisky writers had the level of power Murray did – the unveiling of his annual top three whiskies in the Whisky Bible was a significant event in the annual drinks calendar. Firms would send out press releases about their placing in the top three as soon as the list was announced, as though they had been anointed from on high. But in the aftermath, a nod from Murray was seen as a mild embarrassment, at best. Paskin closed out her thread by stating: “Any brand celebrating their placement in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible should be ashamed.”
None of this comes cheap – high-end creative agencies, social media teams, VO talent, celebrity appearances, all cost a lot of money. It would appear it was money well spent. Shanken ran a piece in July of this year which highlighted the fact that Redbreast sales rose 13% to 63,000 cases in the US last year. Speaking about the surge, Simon Fay, business acceleration director at Irish Distillers Ltd, said the volume growth of 26% in the first six months of the financial year for Midleton’s prestige whiskeys was driven by the Redbreast family, which was up 20%. The little bird had come a long way from ‘find out what all the hush is about’.
Along with the marketing drive came several new releases – aside from the core 12-year-old, its cask-strength sibling, the 15, and the 21, there was the new 27 year old addition, as well as the Lustau, the first of what was loftily titled the Iberian series, and the Kentucky Oak edition. There were the annual Dream Cask releases, snapped up via ballot. There is a full list of releases on the (Murray-free) Redbreast Wikipedia page, although they sadly seem to have forgotten the Redbreast blend Irish Distillers created in the 1990s, which was bottled by Edward Dillon. Peter Mulryan, writing in the early edition of his Whiskeys of Ireland book, had this to say about that particular ugly cousin:
“Just how this mess is meant to be ‘an introduction to the more full-flavoured single pot still expression’ is beyond me. This whiskey has as much in common with its namesake as whiskey writer Michael Jackson has with his. Whoever had the bright idea of extending the Redbreast family should be locked in a padded cell before they can do any more damage. I mean, can you imagine Ferrari putting their name to a Tribant? Even blind this whiskey is pretty awful, but as it bears the Redbreast name, it is an utter disgrace.”
The Redbreast family continues to expand, and the prices being asked continue to rise. Back when they released the NAS Redbreast Mano A Lámh bottling, its RRP was €65. That seems like a distant memory as more recent releases of a similar stature are around the €100 mark. A limited edition, cask strength 10 year old released in 2021 went for €100, while the new ‘distillery edition’ of same at a lower strength costs €120, or €125 if you want your name inscribed on it. This particular bottle is being sold in both Midleton – where all the IDL whiskey is made – and their historic home in Bow Street, where no whiskey is made. Curious about why the decision was made to release the same bottle in both places (given one has not been a distillery for decades), I asked, and this is what a spokesperson for IDL said:
“The Jameson Distillery on Bow Street in Dublin was a distillery for almost 200 years. While it is no longer operational, like the newly refurbished Midleton Distillery Experience, visitors from around the world visit the old distillery to understand the craft of producing Irish whiskey. Through these two world-class experiences, located on the grounds of Irish whiskey distilling history, we proudly share our history and craft with hundreds of thousands of people visiting Cork and Dublin each year.
“The new Redbreast 10 Year Old Distillery Edition was launched to celebrate the reopening of the Midleton Distillery Experience at the end of September, and is an exciting extension of our visitor offering at both visitor attractions and retail spaces, in what were once operational but are now decommissioned distilleries.”
As an aside: Midleton Distillery deserves more than this. It’s where the stuff is made, and has been made for decades now. It is the beating heart of Irish whiskey and without it, without Jameson, there would be no renaissance. The least they could do to honour that is release a distillery edition at cask strength in Cork and a heritage edition at lower ABV in Dublin, but I’m sure the folks at IDL HQ in the leafy suburbs of Dublin know better than I, a simple Corkman.
The considerable might of IDL’s marketing has been thrown behind the new Tawny Port Redbreast as well, with a select audience of writers, influencers, and thought leaders being flown out to Portugal for the main launch, and then a selection of platelickers being invited to the afters of the wedding back home in dear old Dublin. I know some of us bristle when we see who gets invited to these things, thinking to ourselves, they aren’t real whiskey lovers. Of course they aren’t, that’s why they have massive followings, because they are slick content creators who don’t spend all day arguing about historic mashbills. Influencers have reach – they are human billboards.
One of the influencers flown out to Portugal has a whopping 1.2 million followers on TikTok and, uncannily, the exact same number of followers on Instagram. What is even more remarkable is that he says his Insta following went from 40k to more than a million in less than 90 days. I would never have heard of him were it not for the fact he was at the Redbreast launch, nor would I have taken an interest in his stats, but this is the price of profile – it brings scrutiny.
It may have taken a couple of decades, but scrutiny was Jim Murray’s undoing (along with writing whisky reviews that sounded like the monologues of Swiss Toni from The Fast Show). The saddest part of the unravelling of his Whisky Bible, aside from how lonely all the innuendo and smut made the author sound, was that nobody had apparently sat down and read the thing in some time. He credited himself with getting single pot still restarted as a category, and championed it many times in his reviews. But like a digital Ozymandias, all that remains of that legacy is the sterilised landscapes of the Redbreast and Green Spot Wikipedia pages, stretching like the lone and level sands far away.
The Irish have a long history of emigration. It pre-dates the Famine years of the 1840s, but that confluence of a failure of the potato – the staple crop for much of the impoverished population – and the subsequent failure of the ruling British government to properly react to the crisis pushed millions into flight. By 1890, 40% of Irish-born people were living abroad. The War of Independence, a brutal Civil War, and an economic slump which ran until the 1980s kept a steady flow of outbound traffic – in flight from poverty, and in pursuit of opportunity. The descendants of those who left number in the region of 70 million worldwide, a remarkable figure not simply for its size but as a testament to the power of memory and identity. Where the Irish went, Ireland travelled with them – or at least a version of Ireland, captured at the point of departure, then molded and reformed as it was passed down the generations. Sometimes returning emigrants, or their descendants, find a different Ireland to that which they carried in their hearts when they come back to these shores.
James Doherty grew up in Woking, England; his father was born and raised in the UK to Donegal parents, while his mother was born in the county before moving to the UK. Like a lot of emigrant homes in Britain, theirs was an outpost for family and friends leaving Ireland who would live with them as they found their feet in England. Doherty says that as a result the house was very Irish in his youth, with cousins and uncles passing through. As he got older, and the family became more middle class (“We went from being clothed from jumble sales, with dad repairing old bangers and living in a terrace to a detached house and a Volvo”) they settled more into Englishness.
He says he never stopped feeling Irish, even though there were times in the 1970s and 1980s – as the Troubles raged – when there was open prejudice, and that for his parents, the aftermath of an IRA atrocity would mean that to be visibly or audibly Irish in the UK was to be perceived as suspicious, or worse, a co-conspirator with terrorists. Pride in their heritage sometimes had to be a private affair.
The family assimilated and acclimatised, and while they enjoyed the comforts of life in the UK, going back to Donegal often meant they were seen as having what the Irish call ‘notions’ – ideas above your station, economic aspirations, or delusions about which class you belonged to and which class you belonged in: “It’s ironic that dad and mum being successful was also distancing when they came home, where mum would be resented or be referred to as an English Queen. When you saw how hard they worked (dad had two jobs and mum at times two or three) to give us opportunities it does feel very unfair.”
But Doherty says that his experience of having an identity rooted in two nations, and thus two cultures, gave him an outsider’s perspective on both: “We have a distinct take on life that comes from being Irish, British, both and neither. I think it gives you an empathy for others that sometimes allows you to look into a situation from the outside without feeling like an outsider.”
He studied agricultural engineering in college after which he went to work in Zimbabwe as a tea planter in 1987 for a year, meeting his wife Moira, a midwife and native of Bulawayo. In 1991 they settled in Malawi for just over six years, before later moving to London where James worked in sales with William Grant and Sons, a role which brought him all over the world, and which eventually led him to becoming managing director of the international sales operation. He left to join Fosters in Australia, and after the company was acquired by SAB Miller, he found himself in Hong Kong. Far from having a yearning for home – be that the UK where he was born and raised, or the ‘old country’ of Ireland – he found home in many places.
“I have often said that home is where you are not. When we were in the UK we would talk of going home to gran and grandads [in Donegal], when we were there you would talk of going home to Woking, the same would be true when I went to live in Zimbabwe and even in Hong Kong but being in Donegal does feel like home. Moira and I have lived together here longer than anywhere else. I connect here and feel rooted in a way I don’t anywhere else except in Zimbabwe.”
Donegal suffered from partition – the act whereby six northern counties remained in the UK as part of the treaty which ended the Irish War of Independence – more than most counties in what was to become the Republic of Ireland. Once the border was set, Donegal found itself cut off from its main trading partners, which now lay in Northern Ireland – a jurisdiction of the UK – and isolated from the rest of the Republic. Donegal has a small land border with only one other county in the Republic – Leitrim – while 93% of its land border is shared with three counties in Northern Ireland. It was a county which had been devastated by the Famine, suffered several bombings and assassinations during the Troubles, and had become known, even by its own politicians, as the forgotten county. It also suffered from higher unemployment than other less remote parts of the country. When Doherty first started to formulate a business plan, in the back of his mind was the hope that he could build something which would celebrate Donegal but would also create jobs. With his experience in the drinks industry, and the skyward trajectory of Irish whiskey sales, a distillery made sense.
“If you look at the commodity side of it, then a distillery at scale is something like a mine – providing you are well capitalised it’s a good business. If you build strong brands on the distillery’s production capability then they become great businesses and create opportunities for hundreds of years. And I guess you need to be naïve enough to believe you can pull it off.”
James and Moira were joined by fellow founders James Keith, and supported by former CFO of SABMiller Domenic De Lorenzo and John Davidson, General Counsel and Corporate Affairs Director for SABMiller plc until the completion of the takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016, who joined as investors and non-executive directors in 2017. Oliver Hughes of Porterhouse and Dingle Distillery fame was an original founder (Doherty was chairman of the Porterhouse Group from 2015 to 2019). Backers were reassured by James’s career spanning three decades in the drinks industry, and with funding secured, they moved to make the dream a reality. The Dohertys agreed a price for a piece of land outside the village of Carrick and contracted to buy it subject to planning permission; which they then applied for. It did not go smoothly.
Their architects noted in a letter sent in May 2016 to Donegal County Council’s planning department that the planning notice on the site – which is required by law to be there – kept being removed. They would replace it and on one occasion it was removed again within 48 hours. In another letter sent in June 2016, the architects noted that three local objections to the development enjoyed significant commonality, which would suggest there had been some collaboration between those parties in the compilation of their submissions. It was also claimed in that letter that the architects had been made aware that not all the named individuals on the submissions agreed with the objection or agreed to have their names included on the submission.
Taking to his company blog, Doherty claimed that the local objections were part of a concert party which seemed to be designed to stop the distillery rather than to seek amendments to the planning to accommodate concerns. He also claimed there was ‘some decidedly sharp practice going on which belied the “hail fellow well met” bonhomie of the face-to-face meetings’. On the blog he described this as ‘an abuse of position within some of the local bodies’.
The contract Doherty had with the land owner had the condition that the land come with clean title and vacant possession, but the then occupier declined to leave and launched a court action. Doherty’s blog once again bore the brunt of his frustration: “It felt more like John B Keane’s The Field every day, and we often joked that I should avoid waterfalls.”
With obstacle after obstacle slowing their plans for Carrick, they realised they needed to pivot.
“At this point we needed a Plan B. Moira found another site with our architect and a ton of clandestine meetings later we bought the land in Ardara outright so we couldn’t end up in the same situation. We proceeded to planning with a new design, the plans went through and we got planning with zero objections. We went to crowd fund the build and proceeded.”
The new site was 20 kilometres from the original site in Carrick, and with that secured, the objections and difficulties on the previous site dissipated. The court challenge over the land vacation order was thrown out by the judge: “By this time we had started building the Ardara Distillery so didn’t need the site but bought the land as it has full planning permission for its option value.”
It was a tale of two distilleries – the best of planning processes, the worst of planning processes. Doherty still feels frustrated and disappointed by the experience of the latter, but when I ask if his Englishness perhaps had something to do with the issues he faced, he says it was not his outsider status that sparked it: “We have come across some resistance though I put it down to the scale of ambition we have rather than my accent. Trying to do what we are doing causes change and that’s not always welcomed by everyone. I do think that if we were not connected to the area but rather a German company (for example) some of the “who does young Doherty think he is, coming back with his big ideas” would not happen.”
But big ideas are what he has – he has a vision to restore a style of Irish whiskey that has slipped from memory, largely because of the dominance of the monolithic Jameson, whose entire identity hinges on it being smooth, accessible, and unpeated. To hear Doherty speak about the style of whiskey he makes is jarring – it feels like he is aiming for an almost confrontational whiskey, bold, robust, strong, heavily peated; a punchy, smoky style that he claims was very much traditional and regional.
“My view is that the lighter, sweeter easier style of today’s Irish is something of a modern evolution driven by the cronyism that moved distilling to the towns and that has evolved post Second World War as a counterpoint to the surge in Scotch and is a poor reflection of Ireland as a whole and not reflective of styles that existed before.”
Although he accepts that the smooth and accessible (both used as euphemisms for unpeated) narrative kept Irish whiskey alive over the last 60 years, he feels the time is right for the category to shift beyond what has often been a suffocating pigeon hole. He says that such was the lack of regard for peat in Irish whiskey that were it not for John Teeling’s Cooley bringing out their peated Connemara range of Irish whiskeys, peat may well have been written out of the Irish Whiskey Technical File altogether.
Doherty says he plans to reclaim distilling heritage for Donegal and to resurrect ‘soft drinking hard spirits’ as a counterpoint to the constraints of ‘smoothness’.
“Our style of soft, rich, smoky – challenging if you will – is our response to that. I think it’s right for Donegal to be contrarian about this and so it is all we make. Ulster would historically have been peated in the main so we are dedicated to just that. Our belief is that the dry slightly sweet turf/tobacco smoke taste is one that is highly evocative and is very accessible, but that the TCP/iodine/seaweed and cresol notes of some Islays are what really turns consumers off. And while I love some Islay whiskeys, we have elected to use cuts that keep those notes out. Our whiskey is smoky rather than peaty and it provides some challenge, but the softness we distill for allows us that smoke to accentuate the other flavours in the spirit which we think will play well in the long term.”
Donegal was once famous for its distilling, although much of that was illicit – famed excise man Aeneas Coffey, father of the column still, was almost killed trying to clamp down on the illegal distilling that went on in the region during his time posted there. The landscape and identity of the county lends itself to the idea of a rugged, wild whiskey.
Doherty sees region as being key to breaking down the Irish whiskey category: “I do believe that regionality will help consumers navigate the category as it develops and consequently we are setting off with that destination in mind. The category is currently amorphously Irish, which doesn’t tell the tale of the Ireland I know, but as a consumer and shopper I think it makes it very difficult for a taste-centred drinker to navigate the category.”
He says that breaking the stereotype of unpeated Irish has been a fun ride so far, and that they actually quite enjoy it when people wrinkle their noses at whiskey festivals and struggle to find a polite way to say they don’t like it.
“With the Silkies, particularly Dark, we have created a modern gateway alongside Bill Phil, Shortcross, Killowen, Blackwater, Two Stacks, and Teeling Black Pitts that will hopefully lead you to Ardara and Sliabh Liag. We love ice too and for some that’s even more challenging than smoke.”
The whiskeys they have on the market right now are all sourced and released under the Silkie brand – a standalone which is separate from their distillery output, the first of which is due out shortly. On Irish whiskey’s often dubious use of sourced whiskey – whereby distilleries use their own branding on liquid they did not make – Doherty is blunt: “For distillery releases that carry a distillery name then I think the position is pretty clear – the spirit should be from the distillery. If the spirit is some sort of bonded series or curated series then it should say that unequivocally. Being opaque about what you are doing seems to me to be intrinsically an undermining position for your proposition, in the medium to long term.”
Doherty maintains that blends are different – so his Silkie blend releases reflect more of the ideologies of the great Scottish blends such as those from Johnnie Walker where the source distilleries are not part of the identity. Blends are, to his mind, standalone entities which can be used as a playful space for experiments in branding and flavour.
“I think blends are fundamentally different and Irish whiskey has found itself pigeon holed into an unhelpful place where blends can only exist synonymously with a distillery location. Which probably is an accurate reflection of where the industry was, but it’s certainly not true now. No one asks where Famous Grouse comes from.”
“Scepticism is good but it’s incumbent on us producers and commentators not to descend to cynicism – for our part that is ensuring we are not cynically releasing whiskeys that are less than transparent or worse deliberately misleading. We deliberately retained the names Ardara and Sliabh Liag for things we have distilled ourselves.”
The first of those whiskeys, due out in July, is their Sliabh Liag Single Malt, a three-year-old, double-distilled, ‘ferociously peated’ single malt from a first-fill bourbon cask from Woodford Reserve. The turf came from their own bog in Donegal and the malt was peated by Irish Craft Malts. It was distilled in their temporary home in Carrick – an industrial unit where they set up the stills they use to make their An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin, which uses five seaweeds – Sweet Kombu, Dulse, Pepper Dulse, Dulaman and Carrageen Moss – as botanicals.
As they had no brewkit they were given one by the producers of the iconic Donegal soft drink McDaids Football Special and in a week at the end of July 2020 – the depths of the frist pandemic lockdown – they made whiskey. This inaugural release will have a run of 150 500ml bottles with an ABV yet to be confirmed; the price is also yet to be set but likely to be in the region of €250 and will come with a 2ml sample. Doherty says it will be a collectible – two bottles have already been auctioned for the victims of the Creeslough gas explosion and Rosabel’s Rooms, a child-loss charity.
As for their Ardara distillery, the stills were made in Scotland by Forsyths to designs by Doherty himself, based on ‘things he likes’.
“Wash still – named James, after my dad, big strong, generous and does the heavy lifting. 10,000 litres external heat exchanger. Has an offset neck as a lot of old Irish stills did (Tully have one, though not as pretty). The offset neck is a nod to history when direct-fired stills had the necks moved off centre to allow a rummager to be driven by a shaft down through the centre (in Scotland they brought the drive in horizontally and used a rack and pinion to drive it).
“Intermediate still – Alec, after Moira’s dad, ramrod straight (lines up with the centre line of the building) a talented creative with a rascally sense of humour. 5,000-litre conventional steam heated.
“Spirit Still – Sam, for James Keith’s son. 3,500 litres, it puts all the finesse on the spirit.”
Their split in their total production is 70% single malt and 30% pot still – all their own production is peated, but they also contract distil for other whiskey producers with the obvious caveat that peat can linger: “The customer needs to understand that the distillery is peated so there could be some carry over. Our process is “grains in” so the grain makes it to the wash still. We believe we get a richer character and it certainly boosts yields.”
The inaugural release is just one of the styles they have been working on – Doherty is clear that they are working off a single vision and would hope to create a family of whiskeys which all have that commonality of flavour so they are immediately identifiable as Sliabh Liag Distillers products.
“There is heavy peated single malt at 55ppm, triple-distilled, comes off the still at 78% ABV and casked at 63.5%. There is a medium-peated 25ppm triple-distilled as the others but we have the ability to go lower in the cut if we want to. The pot still is a 50/30/20 mash bill – I think it’s one of the original Powers mashbills but we have peated it obviously – so it is 50% heavily peated malt, 30% raw barley (Donegal-grown) and 10% heavily peated malted oats and 10% naked oats. Our cask mix is 65% first-fill bourbon casks. 30% Oloroso sherry and 5% red wine (Rioja, Ribera, Pomerol), the last just gives us a bit of blending flexibility for later.
“The whiskeys are filled into one of two solera before casking (one for pot still and one for single malt, we take in six still runs and then mix them before pumping to a tank for dilution and casking but the soleras are never emptied so we have consistency from batch to batch and maybe a drop will stay in the wood for 100 years or more.”
On the ratio of single malt to pot still, Doherty feels the latter needs to evolve as a category before it becomes as bankable as the former: “We may shift the split between malt and pot still later but at the moment I think the more immediate scalable opportunity is in single malt. Pot still has a communication challenge – the language of the category is far from straightforward and we need to find a way to communicate the benefits of multigrain pot distilling that excites and opens up the category.”
Right now one of the biggest topics for all whiskey producers in Ireland is the rising costs. Doherty says they have seen the cost of peated malt rise from €690 a tonne to €1,230 a tonne; bottles from 70c a bottle to 120c a bottle; the price of corks has risen 26%, while sending a container to the USA has risen from €1,250/20’ to circa €9,850/20’. But even with all that, Doherty says the bigger issue than the cost last year was just getting space on vessels and then port congestion.
“I think the current levels of cost inflation are concerning, the capital markets are tight and that allied to cost inflation exposes businesses that are tight for cash.”
Despite being the owner of a distillery and having full planning for a second, Doherty isn’t afraid to be cautious, and questions the long-term value proposition of Irish whiskey: “A premium Irish blend costs what a 12-year-old single malt scotch costs at retail. Is that sustainable? Has the speculation by investors on the likely maturation gain pushed the cost of spirit to a point where the long-time prize – which is branded, in my view – gets lost in commodity speculation?”
Dr John Teeling stated last year that Irish whiskey had 700 Irish whiskey brands and 42 distillers, and Doherty expresses concern that the category could become bloated – too many offerings with too much similarity and not enough distinctive propositions.
“I thought we had hit peak brand gold rush but It seems not and there is a risk that the category fragments unhelpfully. That could result in trade and consumer fatigue before the category establishes its new framework – be that regionality, age, cask, or whatever base.”
In December of last year Doherty was appointed chair of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) which comprises 47 member companies who between them account for 98% of global sales of Irish whiskey. However, not every whiskey firm on the island of Ireland is a member.
In 2018, the IWA filed an application for a certification mark for Irish whiskey – which, if granted, could be used to certify that goods carrying the mark met the standards set forth in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980, the Irish Whiskey Technical File 2014, and Regulation (EC) No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council. It would also give the IWA control over who used the term on labels. Some producers felt it was an overreach by what is, in essence, a private members club. In 2021, West Cork Distillers – the largest non-members of the IWA – mounted a challenge to the IWA’s application. WCD’s managing director John O’Connell, speaking at the time to the Sunday Independent, said that he and other producers believed that the State should be the only one to wield such a powerful tool. Peter Mulryan of Blackwater Distillery – who are members of the IWA – labelled the application a disgrace.
After talks between the objectors and the IWA, the application was withdrawn. But the issue persists – the IWA say they still encounter spirits products claiming to be Irish whiskey which are, in fact, not. The IWA also took issue with a product from famed American craft distillers Kings County. In June last year they served the Brooklyn-based company with a cease-and-desist letter over their one-year-old ‘Irish style American Whiskey’. Kings County responded on Twitter, calling it ridiculous to imply they were trying to ape Irish whiskey when it was clearly labelled as American whiskey.
Central to many of the issues around protecting Irish whiskey in America – its biggest market – is the fact that it has considerably less protection than its Scottish cousin. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) rules, which outline the definitions and protections for various drinks categories in the US, have an extra line for Scotch – that the words ‘‘Scotch’’, ‘‘Scots’’ ‘‘Highland’’, or ‘‘Highlands’’ and similar words connoting, indicating, or commonly associated with Scotland, shall not be used to designate any product not wholly produced in Scotland. In other words, anything that looks vaguely Scottish is not allowed. This line is part of what allows the Scotch Whisky Association to take action as often as it does, and withconsistentresults. The SWA also achieved their certification mark for America in June last year.
In his role as chair of the IWA, Doherty sees protection of the category as a priority.
“The Irish whiskey category is currently less well protected than Scotch. Scotch has had more protection since the 1970s and given the current pace of growth and opportunity the category is going to be increasingly exposed by some out for a quick buck and others inadvertently undermining the category. It is incumbent on all of us in the industry to protect the industry to act in its best interests and ensure we leave it in a better place for those that follow to inherit. It’s why I was willing to be John Quinn’s vice chair for two years and now to chair the IWA – it’s not like I was unbusy.”
For now, the TTB is the best place to defend the identity of Irish whiskey.
Doherty, along with IWA’s core team of William Lavelle, Carleen Madigan, and Miriam Mooney, spent St Patrick’s Day week – a period in which the soft power of Irishness opens a portal to the American corridors of power – in Washington, lobbying and seeking support for changes to the TTB that would insert one sentence that would afford the Irish whiskey category similar protection to Scotch at the TTB stage. But in the meantime, the certification mark is still very much in the frame: “If we want protection and I think we need it then it has to be within a body that is resourced to enforce the Technical File definitions.
“The trademark would protect the whole category so moving to it is a wholly good thing. It sets up protection exactly as per the GI [geographical indication, a sign used to identify a product whose quality, reputation or other such characteristics relate to its geographical origin] which is recognised differently in the USA, and thereby includes allusions and styles, things that the TTB labelling requirements don’t enforce currently – for example, you cannot bottle a Scotch-style whisky or allude to Scotland if it’s not Scotch and the same could be true for Irish whisk(e)y with the trademark. The trademark only enforces the GI and Technical File so its reach is governed by the Technical File so its enforcement is limited and even-handed in that context.”
Irish whiskey is an all-island industry. The North is a different jurisdiction from the Republic, so while suggesting that the Republic Of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture should be the entity tasked with controlling the certification mark, there are many producers north of the border who fall under the UK’s ministry of agriculture.
“The GI and Technical File is held across two jurisdictions so it is complicated as no one state actor would hold the trademark. I do think it could be held jointly with a delegated body to champion and enforce it. For this you need a body that has protection as one of its primary focuses, has the financial resources to implement, and the human resources to action. There is only one body that can do that and for me that is the IWA.”
In the immediate term however, Doherty is focussed on Sliabh Liag Distillers’ upcoming release, and spreading the word about Ardara Distillery. He says the story of a returning emigrant is one that resonates with people all over the world. But Doherty himself isn’t a returning emigrant. He is the son and grandson of emigrants. Neither could you say he is an immigrant, per se; he would still qualify to answer Ireland’s call and play for the Irish rugby team should they come calling. He is English, with a healthy dollop of Irish. Or Irish, with a veneer of Englishness. Or maybe just English; or maybe just Irish. He exists somewhere between two countries, two cultures, two identities. His family have lived all over the world – his kids were learning Mandarin in school in Hong Kong up until a couple of years ago, now they are learning Irish in the Donegal gaeltacht. The Dohertys are internationalists – they appear to shift between countries and cultures with relative ease. Perhaps this is the lifeskill that children of emigrants everywhere learn – how to settle anywhere, that nationality is not a fixed identity, and that where you come from is far less interesting than where you are going.
Jennifer Nickerson wanted to be a vet. The Aberdeenshire native was studying in Edinburgh when she came to the conclusion that she didn’t particularly want to spend the rest of her working life outside in the wet and cold, so she switched to accountancy – a drier career, in every sense.
While she was in college, she took a job in an Irish pub, where she met an engineering student named Liam Ahearn. They were friends, but after graduation, went their separate ways. Then they bumped into each other in Dublin, where Jennifer had risen to being an associate director in the tax department of KPMG just seven years after joining as a trainee. One thing led to another – love, marriage, plans. Liam wanted to move home to Tipperary (‘you can’t put wheels on the lands’ being his refrain), and Jennifer said she would only go if she could find a job that presented her with the right challenge.
Jennifer Nickerson’s father is Stuart Nickerson. Graduating as a chemical engineer from Heriot-Watt University in 1979, he worked with Arthur Bell & Sons in Dufftown, Pittyvaich, Blair Atholl, Inchgower, and Bladnoch. He previously managed Highland Park, Glenrothes, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie and Girvan Grain distilleries. In 2008, he purchased Glenglassaugh Distillery on behalf of overseas investors, refurbished it and brought it back into production after 22 years. He has spent more than 40 years working with Scotland’s most famous whiskies and now specialises in providing technical advice to start-up distilleries. Jennifer grew up living beside many of the Scottish distilleries which her father managed and has been surrounded by the whisky business all of her life.
Liam Ahearn’s family have been living and working on Ballindoney Farm in Tipperary for two centuries. A mixed farm for several generations, in more recent times the focus was purely on tillage, with 165 acres of barley, wheat, oats, and grass, and seven acres of GLAS wild bird cover. The Ahearns are also something of a political dynasty, with Liam’s mother Theresa having served as a Fine Gael TD for the Tipperary South constituency from 1989 to 2000. She died of cancer in late 2000, aged just 49. At the time of her death she was both a member of Fine Gael’s National Executive Committee, and the first-ever female trustee of the party. One of her four sons, Garrett, is now a Fine Gael senator. Liam also happens to be a senior engineer with Cork County Council, meaning that between them, he and Jennifer had expertise in growing barley, planning law, construction, distilling and – perhaps most importantly – taxation (Jennifer’s thesis in college was on the Economic Impact of the Scotch Whisky Industry). It seems almost inevitable that they would build a distillery.
The plans for a farm distillery were lodged in 2015, but there were plans in 2018 for a distillery as part of a local hotel development which did not come to fruition. In 2020 Tipperary Boutique Distillery came on stream on the family farm near Clonmel. It is not well sign-posted, and unless you have the postcode, chances are you will not find it. Coming from the south you climb through the mountain pass known as The Vee and are rewarded with the sight of a vast patchwork of greens that make up the Golden Vale. After drifting through the pretty village of Ardfinnan, the roads narrow, grass starts to sprout in the centre of the road and you find yourself one thin layer of asphalt away from being on a boreen. Down this winding path is where the farm and distillery are based. The distillery itself is housed in a large, modern steel shed, cut into the fields of barley that surround it on one side, with an old farm shed now repurposed as whiskey maturation warehouse on the other. The warehouse holds approximately 300 casks without any palletisation, but is well off capacity. The shed is also black, meaning high temperatures; maturation improves, but evaporation increases.
The water for the distillery comes from a well fifty yards into the adjacent field, the concrete cap marked out with a traffic cone to stop it from being toppled by combine harvesters (it still gets hit). It is very much a farm distillery, and has the feel of a proper agricultural endeavour. They don’t do tours – despite being close to beauty spots such as The Vee, the iconic Rock Of Cashel, and Cahir Castle – as with footfall comes any number of costs in terms of health and safety, and right now, the focus is on making whiskey. They have a 200kg mashtun and four stills, made by Hoga in Portugal, the largest of which is 1,000 litres. They can put out 16,000 litres of pure alcohol per annum, or two barrels a week – thus the ‘Boutique’ in their name. They also have a tiny bottling line in another part of the distillery.
Jennfier had a steep learning curve as, despite growing up around distilleries, she had no experience of running one. Her father, based in Perth in Scotland, oversees the processes – she has twice-weekly conference calls with him to discuss the finer points of making whiskey – ph, temperatures, fermentation – while her mother has a small licenced still in their house which she uses to research new gin recipes, which Jennifer then replicates in Tipperary using neutral spirits which they buy in from elsewhere. Their own Tipperary Farmhouse Gin – distilled in a still named Brigid – is selling well (Jennifer points out that gin is so incredibly easy to make in comparison to the lever-pulling nightmare of whiskey making) and they also made a bespoke gin for the five-star Cashel Palace Hotel.
Stuart Nickerson’s connections in the industry also helped with the setting up of the distillery – Irish Distillers were able to give advice and help with troubleshooting. Jennifer says she is considering studying distilling but time is not something she has a huge amount of. She covers the distillery logistics, the accounts, she is a brand ambassador, distillery spokesperson, and she carries out 20% of the production rota in the distillery. She and Liam also became parents 18 months ago. So bagging that certificate in brewing and distilling might be a way off yet.
The whiskeys they released have had two strands thus far – under the Tipperary Boutique Selection brand they brought out a range of sourced single malts from Cooley and Bushmills et al. They released two widespread sourced expressions – Watershed is a non-aged statement single malt, and Knockmealdowns is a 10-year-old single malt. They released a few more single malt expressions in Europe: The Rising (an 11-year-old single malt) and some single casks exclusive to the UK, Germany, and Austria.
They also used their own Ballindoney barley to contract distill in places like West Cork Distillers and Great Northern Distillery. There have been a number of those releases, which come with a QR code that leads to information on the field, the barley, the weather and the maturation of the liquid within.
Their own Tipperary Boutique Distillery whiskey is not at legal age and is some time off being released just yet. They mostly make double distilled single malt but they also do triple distilled pot still whiskey, the latter throwing out Jennifer’s efficiencies which bothers the accountant in her.
The dilemma they face in terms of pushing out to new markets (they already sell to 12, with half of those taking up most of their sales) is that they make small amounts and feeding new markets could see them caught short. Sourced whiskeys are becoming harder and harder to come by and more expensive. They are boutique by design, and by necessity.
It feels like Tipperary Boutique Distillery is older than it is – I remember meeting Jennifer and Liam at Whiskey Live in 2016 or so and talking about their plans. Over the last five to ten years, numerous distilleries on the island of Ireland have been planned and built. Most with great fanfare and headlines and profiles of the people behind them. But whiskey is a long game. It still feels like this journey is only just beginning. However, to build something with value, with meaning, to create a legacy and a business which celebrates and sustains the land, takes time. In whiskey, just like any part of life, there are no shortcuts.
Review: Single cask – SMOB0018. Rioja wine finish bottling.
Distilled from their own Ballindoney-grown spring olympus barley, grown on their railway line field. Sown 15th April 2016 and, 135 days later, on the 28th August 2016, it was harvested; yield was 8.45 tonne/hectare, harvest moisture was 18.5%, drying moisture was 13%. Arrived in Inverness for malting 24 May 2017 and was malted on 5 June that year.
This liquid was distilled …. elsewhere. It doesn’t say anywhere on the website or the label but I am going to assume Great Northern Distillery. It arrived at the distillery 16th June 2017; fermentation of 3,250kg malted barley started 19th June with Distilamax yeast and lasted 76 hours to a 11%ABV and 1.12 original gravity.
Distillation started 22nd June; finished 23rd June. Cask was first-fill Rioja and it took 175 litres. The cask was sourced from Bodegas Faustino in Spain, which owns about 650 hectares of vineyards in some of the best areas in La Rioja. Over the last few years, the winery has incorporated new, environmentally-friendly grape growing practices to make the vineyards increasingly sustainable. Bodegas Faustino is one the leading exporters of Gran Reservas and has been making Rioja wines for centuries. This cask has given the whiskey a red tinge and (obviously enough) wine notes on the palate. The cask was filled on 28th June 2017 and disgorged 1,373 days later on 1st June 2022. Bottled at cask strength of 51.5% ABV, 262 bottles were produced, all bottled and labelled in Tipp.
The glass is made by Dekorglass in Poland, and the cardboard presentation box is made in the UK by Beamglow. Both of these items are recyclable. The labels and box were designed by Craig Mackinley of Breeze Creative in Scotland. And finally, the most important detail – I got this for free.
Official tasting notes are as follows:
Nose is full of dried fruits – raisins, sultanas and a hint of candied oranges.
Mouth: sweet and surprisingly fresh with citrus, cherries and almond notes
Finish: medium long, chocolate cherries linger.
The big question here is how much closer to a 100% Tipperary Boutique Distillery-made product this is. How much control would you get at GND, how much input would Stuart Nickerson have over the process? The label says approved by Stuart Nickerson, but no distiller is named. Maybe it’s an irrelevance, as GND is a massive powerhouse distillery and what Tipperary are making will be a completely different animal – all small stills, hand-pulled levers, tiny batches. Some of their sourced output is excellent, but that is really only a credit to wherever it was made. This whiskey is nice – no denying its youth, but rich and smooth.
There is still the actual Tipperary Boutique Distillery whiskey to look forward to in a few years, but it will still be a decade or so before it is at that ten years plus sweet spot. It’s hard to get a sense of what journey’s end looks like for Tipperary; its location and its ethos suggests that selling up isn’t part of the plan. In a category with many distilleries built exclusively to flip as soon as possible to satisfy investors, this one is very much a family affair.
Few aspects of the whiskey industry make our eyes roll like marketing. A side effect of being exposed to far too many breathless press releases filled with bunkum, it has come to be seen as part of the whiskey business rather than whisky industry; it’s about hustle, not grind – sales, not substance. Among the nerds there is respect for the craftspeople who make the liquid, who manage the casks, who blend and bottle. But the marketing department? Does anyone ask about them when doing a distillery tour?
Except, marketing is everything – tone, mood, voice, ethos. A world without marketing would be a grey one indeed – every brand has a story, an arc, every product has a spin-off storyline within that universe, and marketing is what brings it all to life.
In Irish whiskey we have – according to Dr John Teeling – more than 700 brands and 42 distilleries, so we have an overabundance of marketing; endless stories about celebrating heritage of or paying homage to some ancestor or place or historical incident. Most of these whiskeys came from the same few places, and may or may not have a non-disclosure agreement in place which prohibits identifying the source, so marketeers are left to fill in the blanks with superficial swirls of the mists of time. And people – ordinary, normal people, not obsessives – love it. Irish whiskey is selling in huge amounts in the US, so all that storytelling is paying off.
But among the 42+ distilleries we do have operating on the island of Ireland, there are many who are doing some wild, creative things, but nobody knows because they don’t push the message out. It’s a crowded market populated with noisy non-distilling producers shouting about heritage, so you need to speak up to be heard.
It often feels like West Cork Distillers’ affordable, accessible whiskeys didn’t get the love that others in the category do – perhaps there was a reverse snobbery, that they weren’t seen as exclusive or expensive or elusive enough. They are, after all, priced well below their competitors – their NAS single malts with a variety of finishes all retail for less than forty euro, their standard blend is €26 and their cask strength blend is €46.95. These are everyman whiskeys, widely available and affordable. Maybe that is why they never really stood out, or maybe WCD’s ingredients business and third party sales took up all of the time and energy that would otherwise be spent building their own brand. But it would appear that they are entering a new phase.
The first sign that things might be changing was a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling of a seven-year-old Irish single malt released under the not especially cryptic name of Let’s Go West! Given the age and the fact it was a ‘County Cork’ distillery, there could really only be one source – West Cork Distillers. There was a confidence in the release – this was an age stated bottling that would go out to serious whisky heads. In a piece written for the SMWS magazine Unfiltered, Lee Connors interviewed the master blender at WCD, Iven Kelleher, who explained how their spirit was traditional, with fruity elements, but with cereal and biscuit notes not normally associated with the category (there is loads of great nerdy distillation info in the piece so it is well worth a read). So WCD got the SMWS seal of approval, despite the relative youth of the spirit. It showed a confidence on the part of WCD and a willingness to show the whisky world what they are about.
The second sign that changes are afoot in Skibb is that West Cork Distillers now has a marketing department, headed up by Sinéad Gilbert, who spent 12 years with Irish Distillers Limited, most recently as their global marketing manager. The Clonakilty native joined WCD at the start of September and has much to work with – a great story, considerable amounts of mature, varied stock, and that wonderful west Cork aura.
Aside from all this, there is also the fact that WCD are booming – according to this piece by Seán Pollock in the Indo, in 2021, WCD reported pre-tax profit of more than €4.5m, up from €1.3m the previous year. So they are in rude health, despite missing out on one of the biggest Irish whiskey brands in the last four years. Recent court filings between MMA fighter Anton Lobov and his former friend and business partner Conor McGregor over the profits from the Proper No. Twelve whiskey brand revealed that Lobov initially worked out a supply contract with WCD, and that the Notorious whiskey branded bottle McGregor brandished at the Floyd Mayweather post-fight press conference was entirely produced by WCD.
Per the Indo, under the deal Lobov had worked out, McGregor would retain 100pc ownership of the brand and the company incorporated to sell the whiskey, with profits split on a 50/50 basis with the distiller. No investment capital was required. Lobov claims that shortly after the launch, he was sidelined in the project, the source distillery was changed to Bushmills (the grain element which allegedly makes up the bulk of P12 comes from Midleton), and ultimately McGregor went on to launch the fastest growing Irish whiskey brand in the world, and was then bought out by the parent firm in a deal worth millions. So an opportunity missed for WCD, or a bullet dodged, depending on your own particular views.
Off the back of all this comes two new whiskeys from WCD; one a five-year-old single pot still bottled at 43%, aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, composed of a mash ratio of 66:33 malted versus unmalted barley. The first distillation was completed in the ‘Rocket’, WCD’s pot still designed and built by the team in West Cork from an old boiler from a hotel. It is known to be the ‘fastest pot still in the world’ – although I’m not sure their new marketing team will be keen to push that message out when slowing food and drink production down is the ethos of the day. On that note however, the second and third distillation is slowed down so much that a second intermediate still was added along with a second spirit still.
The second release is a seven-year-old single malt, again given the same distillation treatment in the Rocket et al, then matured in Bodega Olorosso casks from the Tolerina Rodriguez bodega in Cadiz, Spain for four years and further aged in first fill bourbon barrels for three years. Bottled at 46%, and again both are non-chill filtered and natural colour. And a final very crucial point: there is a recommended retail price of €49.99 for the pot still and €55 for the single malt. In Irish whiskey, those prices are outliers.
After milling my way through both bottles I can say that I favour the malt; the Cork Whiskey Society who had a tasting with WCD pre-launch seemed to prefer the pot still. At the RRPs you could buy both for a whisper over a hundred. I would write a review but given that I own nine casks of WCD (four malt, four SPS and one grain) it really does feel like a conflict of interest. This isn’t a pump and dump scheme.
However, if you are in the market for a festive tipple or you are looking for something for the whiskey lover in your life, these bottles are affordable, boldly age-stated whiskeys from a distillery that seems to be finding its voice.
In Cork Airport’s duty free there is a large screen showing adverts for Midleton distillery’s single pot still collection. The smooth-talking gent hosting the videos lavishes the Cork whiskeys with praise, and assures us that Midleton’s single pot still collection is the ultimate expression of the art.
In the decade since those videos were created, their host Peter Mulryan has had something of a change of heart. The author, producer, and presenter may have been the face of Midleton’s single pot still whiskey in 2012, but in the years since he has become one of the most vocal critics of what he sees as Irish Distillers Limited’s reformation of the definition of single pot still. He could have spent his time criticising from the sidelines, using the skills he honed in his decades working in the media to gradually force change. But instead of words, he chose action (and also words, but mainly action).
Mulryan put his money – and the money of his investors – where his mouth was and chased his dream of being a distiller. He chucked in his job with Ireland’s national broadcaster and opened a distillery – first in a lock-up in a rural industrial estate in west Waterford, then expanding to a converted hardware store in the sleepy village of Ballyduff a few miles away. It turned out that Mulryan and his team – several of whom worked on those single pot still videos with him – were quite good at distilling, as the Blackwater Distillery spirits have won multiple awards. The team are also quite good at business, as they landed massive supply contracts with supermarket giant Aldi. But Mulryan never softened his tone about the technical file, the State document which lays down the laws on Irish whiskey, and specifically, how to make single pot still (SPS) Irish whiskey.
Having written five books on Irish whiskey, Mulryan was well placed to point out what he saw as inaccuracies in the technical file, saying that he could find no historic mashbills which complied with the document’s requirement that the mash for SPS must contain a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley, with up to 5% of other cereals such as oats and rye added if required.
Writing on his distillery’s blog, Mulryan seethed about Midleton’s SPS whiskeys: “The official Redbreast website is even more confident: ‘this is the traditional way of making Irish whiskey since the 1800s.’ Except of course it’s all a load of horse manure. These whiskeys are not a reflection of anything, except perhaps corporate sleight of hand and a lack of oversight. If truth be told, the ‘tradition’ being celebrated here goes all the way back not to the nineteenth century but to October 2014.”
In numerous posts he used the phrase stolen heritage, gushed about traditional single pot still whiskey and its wild and varied mashbills, and worked with whiskey historians Fionnán O’Connor, Charlie Roche, and Will Murphy in digging up as many as he could. Mulryan then set about proving that SPS – the old, bold SPS as opposed to what he framed as the more modern, corporate IDL version (which he gives fair credit to as an excellent whiskey, it should be noted) – was a viable commercial product rather than a dusty relic reflective of palates now long dead. In a post on New Year’s Day 2020 he explained how between February and September 2019 they distilled more than 100 different SPS mashbills, the majority traced back to a specific distillery, date, or both, from 1824 to 1955. The recipes came from ‘just after the 1823 Excise Act (the foundation of the modern industry)’, right through the Victorian Irish whiskey boom.
“We’ve distilled outliers featuring 40% wheat, and 38% oat, but mostly that range of ‘other grains’ settled comfortably in the 20% – 25% band, with oat being predominant. All mash bills contained barley and malt, and all featured either oats, wheat and rye. Some have all five elements. However, not one of these real single pot still mashbills is compliant with the current Technical File. That’s not how we planned it, it’s just one of those awkward facts,” he wrote.
If this seems like a lot of work, you might well be right, as Mulryan added: “We could have spent 2019 churning out single malt, or compliant SPS, but we chose not to. As a result we only ran at close to 50% capacity. It was an expensive exercise, but we can now safely say there isn’t another distillery in the country/world that has dug into the SPS category as deeply as we have.”
But Blackwater’s main business was always making, not sourcing. During the pandemic they started a taster’s club where they experimented with spirits and flavour, sending out packs to fans with new spirits in each. They continued to win awards, and the technical file – once seen as the stone tablets of Irish whiskey – is about to be reopened for edits and adjustments, a move welcomed by Mulryan.
Much like their county neighbours Waterford Distillery, Blackwater have used a lot of highfalutin words like terroir, provenance, and grand cru (even their slogans are similar – Waterford’s motto is ‘where barley is king’ while Blackwater have ‘let the grain reign’). They both like a bit of sabre-rattling at ‘the big guys’ (neither are exactly little guys), and both have a lot of raw attitude. Mulryan’s jousting in the media even went so far as to claim that, unlike many others, he wasn’t in the whiskey business to make loads of money, something which may come as a shock to his investors.
All of this brings us to Blackwater’s first whisky (sic, natch), which comes to us burdened with great promise and even greater expectations. With typical bombast, the new releases come with a huge amount of detail on the liquid, but also have a hardback pamphlet titled A Manifesto For Irish Pot Still Whisky. Per the press release:
The Manifesto release is limited to just 1,000 numbered boxes, each containing 4 x 200ml single cask Irish whiskies. (Priced €250 & Delivery). Inspired by mash bills (recipes) from 1838, 1893, 1908 and 1915, this is a unique opportunity to taste the whiskies enjoyed by previous generations. Each one is different, representing a distinct time and a place. The whiskies in this Manifesto release cannot be labelled as pot still Irish whisky, nor can there be any allusion to it on the label; even though historically that’s exactly what these four whiskies were.
The four samples – and my notes on them – are:
Dirtgrain Irish Whisky, Mash Bill #38 – 40% Laureate Barley, 40% Costello Wheat, 20% Gangway + Laureate. Aged in Apple Brandy Cask. 47.1% ABV – this one packs a punch. I drank these out of sequence – ie, I went by number rather than the layout here – and this one hit hard, big wallop of flavour, presumably from the cask. Raises the issues about using different casks in these samples – what is creating the different profiles here, the grain or the wood? Maybe the mashbills would shine most at new make stage?
Dirtgrain Irish Whisky, Mash Bill #93 – 46% Laureate Barley, 35% Gangway + Laureate, 15% Husky Oat, 4% Peated Laurate Malt. Aged in Sherry Cask. 43.1% ABV – deepest colour of the four, sherry cask, mashbill from 1893, and a bit o’ peat, always an extra string to the bow of a young whisky. Mulryan makes the case that age does not always equate with quality, but I think a lot of people selling young whisky would make similar claims. I do think there is a cut off point beyond which whisky, like the rest of us, becomes a little less vibrant, but I think the youngest age for decent whiskies that I have had is about six years old.
Dirtgrain Irish Whisky, Mash Bill #08 – 50% Gangway + Laureate Malt, 35% Laureate Barley, 15% Husky Oat. Aged in Bourbon Cask. 45.3% ABV – a light gold colour, the palest of the lot, it slithers out of the test tube like syrup. A startling viscosity. Citrus, candied orange peel, Juicy Fruits. Reminds me of a young Aultmore I have, despite the mashbill. Good youth, no rawness – but not a long finish.
Dirtgrain Irish Whisky, Mash Bill #15 – 40% Laureate Barley, 30% Gangway + Laureate, 15% Husky Oat, 12% Costello Wheat, 3% Performer Rye. Aged in Rye Cask. 44.2% ABV – nose hard to dig out, palate also taking a while to present. Official notes say orange blossom and dark chocolate; for me there is more that malty flavour from dog biscuits – don’t pretend you’ve never eaten one. Rye cask here so a pop of spice. Pleasant if a little nondescript.
So what to make of this – I like the moxy. I like the manifesto and I’ve put it to the testo, and while the whisky is young, all hold promise. But that isn’t the same as saying that you should run out and buy this. But I’m not a whiskey nerd – I like the stuff, and I love tasting these whiskies, but this is not aimed at fairweather friends of Irish whiskey like me. The full Dirtgrain package is €250, featuring four 20cl bottles of the samples above, along with Mulryan’s mashbill Necromicon, and can be purchased now. There will be another batch next year, and the year after, and after that Blackwater will transition to more traditional releases. A taste of the past, that looks to the future.