When I designed the Irish Whiskey Trail, I wanted it to be a true reflection of excellence and good news in Irish Whiskey and Irish Whiskey Tourism. People sometimes ask me why I always seem to be enthusiastic about the whiskeys and venues that I review? Why do I never criticize or highlight products or practices in the Irish Whiskey World. The reason is very simple. I only write “Good News” stories. Here’s why.
Like other whiskey bloggers and writers, I am privileged to be invited to many whiskey launches and other whiskey related events and venues. These experiences add to my knowledge and this growing knowledge allows me to write about and share my experiences and opinions with those of you who read my blogs and articles. Most people read such stories to be entertained and informed about what is good in the world. For example, suppose that you are a friend of mine living in a city or country that I have never been to before. When I call you for advice before I visit, I don’t ask you where the really bad restaurants are in your town. I ask your advice on the ones that are stand-out, unusual and worth visiting. That’s why I only write about good news here. If I don’t like a particular whiskey, distillery, bar or venue, I don’t criticize them. I just don’t write about them. If I like something, I tell you all about it in my blog or article so that hopefully, you too will get an opportunity share and experience it yourself. I’m a whiskey blogger and commentator. Who am I to risk damaging some person’s or some distillery’s hard work or reputation because of my own personal tastes or opinions.
And that is also what Irish Whiskey Day is all about. One day (3rd March) where we celebrate all that is best in Irish Whiskey through our:
- Our annual Irish Whiskey Trail Awards celebrating our 20 best Whiskey Tourism Venues in Ireland. The 2018 Irish Whiskey Trail awards will be announced at 00.01 Hrs Irish Time on 03 March 18.
- Our annual Irish Whiskey Trail “Golden Pooka Awards” for our Irish Whiskey of the Year from a shortlist of 5 new Irish Whiskey expressions released in the previous calendar year celebrates excellence and innovation.
- Our Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year recognizes our top scoring Irish Whiskey Bar from each year’s Irish Whiskey Trail awards.
The 2018 Irish Whiskey Trail 2018 Irish Whiskey of the Year Shortlist (alphabetical order).
Hyde No. 5 – 1860 Single Grain Burgundy Finish
Hyde first arrived on the Irish Whiskey scene a few years ago with initial offerings based like many other new whiskey brands on stocks of Cooley distilled 10 year old single malt Irish Whiskey. The special magic that Hyde brought to the Irish Whiskey World and that set them well apart from their competitors was the way they finished their single malt expressions in a variety of different woods including rum casks. The Hyde tagline “It’s all about the Wood” really came to the fore when they started innovating with the flavour-neutral, blank-canvas that is Irish Single Grain. Here, subtlety is the name of the game and less is definitely more when adding finish to existing maturation. Hyde’s powerful but restrained 1916 Green Label expression was a real iron fist in a velvet glove and was a most worthy and appropriate (the 1916 label was not a factor!) winner of our 2016 Irish Whiskey of the Year Award. Hyde have returned this year with a Single Grain Burgundy Finish. Wine cask whiskey finishing is a delicate operation. The trick here is to add enough finish to influence the flavour, but not to over cook it. Hyde have achieved flavour perfection with this stunning expression which is probably my favourite Single Grain Irish and other Whiskey / Whisky.
Lambay Island Small Batch
Lambay Whiskey is a small family owned brand which was quietly launched last year by the Baring Family who own Lambay Island. Two expressions were launched, a small batch blend of single malt and single grain and a ten year old single malt. So far, it all sounds like a very predictable branding exercise. That is until you discover that Lambay have partnered with the Camus Cognac family from Ile de Ré on the West Coast of France who are famous for their island matured cognacs packed with flavours and noses of iodine and sea spray. Think of Camus as a Laphroaig of the Cognac world. Camus have come on board to offer their expertise and experience of coastal maturation techniques including wet / damp cellar maturation to produce a truly innovative addition to the Irish Whiskey World. Both the single batch and single malt expressions are produced by an approved third party Irish Whiskey distillery before being re-casked in first fill Camus Cognac casks. Selected casks of Lambay are hand shipped to Lambay Island a few miles of the coast of Dublin to further mature in the old solid stone, wave lashed farm buildings on Lambay’s shore. I’ve selected the small batch for this years competition, as I think that the cognac influences are more pronounced here than on the more robust single malt. A super first effort from Lambay who have created not just an innovative cognac finished expression, but also a completely new niche of marine or beach matured whiskey to the Irish Whiskey market. One more point! Lambay’s branding, labeling and genuine brand back story is also quite special and really adds to and reinforces the feel-good factor when you pick up the bottle.
Diageo Roe & Co
Roe & Co was the name of an historic Dublin Whiskey brand which died out out in the 1940’s. The distillery buildings on Thomas Street in Dublin then fell into the hands of Guinness which is now owned by Diageo. During the mid 1800’s, George Roe and Co was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in Dublin and was also one of the most successful exporters of Irish Whiskey to the USA. Diageo dabbled in Irish Whiskey over the last 30 years after they acquired Bushmills from Irish Distillers. This was a marriage of necessity rather than love and when Bushmills joined the Mexican Tequila stable of Jose Cuervo a few years ago, Diageo were once again out of the Irish Whiskey World. But now they have resurrected the Roe & Co brand and are building a new distillery on the grounds of the original Roe and Co premises, still marked by the iconic St Patrick’s (windmill) Tower in the heart of the Guinness complex in Dublin’s Liberties. Having missed the official launch event, I tasted my first Roe & Co alongside Teeling Brabazon 2 while visiting Sonny Molloys Whiskey Bar in Galway last September (See Picture above). In truth, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, this was supposed to be a “holding” whiskey for a big multinational until the real distillery is built and up and running in coming years. I was expecting an entry level Pooka One “corporate” whiskey, sufficient to secure a brand foothold until the real stuff comes along in a few years. But, boy was I wrong. Someone in Diageo has put an awful lot of thought into their new Irish Whiskey brand. The first clue is the 45% abv . One short of the 46% non chill filter zone, so a deliberate statement of intent here. Predominant use of first fill bourbon casks, so lots of cream, vanilla and orchard fruits. That this is a very finely balanced whiskey, became more obvious when I added a little water. Get it right and the flavours really open up. But just a drop or two of too much water kills it. This is a true sign of an aficionados blend. I also loved the homage to St Patrick’s Tower heritage in the bottle design. The liquid surface in the bottle and blue copper sulphate tinged label combine to mimic the oxidised copper dome of the actual tower. Well done Diageo. Roe & Co is a great example of how a big corporate like Diageo can succeed in this game by letting people who know and care about whiskey run the show. A worthy finalist and an exciting story to watch.
Teeling Brabazon 2
Teeling have come a long way since they won our very first Irish Whiskey of the Year Award in 2013 with their Teeling Small Batch – Rum Finish. It is still one of my “always buy – Must Buy” desert island whiskeys whenever I fly through Dublin Airport.
As with Roe & Co, because of foreign commitments, I missed the launch of the new Teeling Distillery when it first opened and also the launch of both Brabazon expressions. I was on a catch up visit to review their distillery tour one afternoon for the Irish Whiskey Trail and I lingered on in their visitor bar to check out the brace of Brabazons. Of the Brabazon 1 and the Brabazon 2, the 2 really impressed me. I’ve already talked about the use of finishing casks such as rum and wine and how a neutral single grain whiskey may be gently influenced by these casks. Teeling had an early success in this field with their beautifully balanced Californian Wine finished Single Grain. When you take a robust, full flavoured and well aged single malt such as those offered by Teeling, the challenge when finishing is how to avoid a clash of flavours and influences. This becomes all the more difficult when finishing a strong single malt in Port Pipes or Casks where the richness and tannins of the port are ever dominant. What Teeling have achieved here is exceptional. They have skillfully vatted 6 different port aged Teeling single malt expressions to 49.5%. To even think about creating a whiskey of this complexity proves once more that Teeling are a quite special and dynamic whiskey house. The levels of balance and perfection that they have achieved here mark Teeling Brabazon 2 as a truly great and future classic Irish whiskey.
Walsh Whiskey The Irishman Founders Reserve Marsala Finish
2017 has been another great year for Walsh Whiskey. Their Whiskey distillery and Visitor experience are all fully up and running and they have firmly established both the Irishman and Writers Tears brands on the premium Irish Whiskey market. A significant Irish Whiskey innovation milestone which is often overlooked was the creation by Walsh Whiskey of the first ever Single Pot Still – Single Malt Irish Whiskey blends. One of my favourite expressions is the Irishman Founders Reserve which has the full packed flavour of Single Malt perfectly blended with the spicy crackling of Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey. Along with the Teeling Small Batch, The Irishman Founders Reserve is my other desert island Irish Whiskey when passing through Dublin Airport. When Bernard Walsh created his company, he partnered with the Italian Reina family who produce the Disaronno liqueur and who also own Cantine Florio where sweet Marsala wine is matured for 12 years and more in Sicily. Bernard decided to finish an Irishman 12 year old single malt and an Irishman Founders Reserve for one year in Marsala Hogsheads and the result has been spectacular. I have shortlisted the Founders Reserve expression as the Single Pot Still influence does make a difference to me. One other factor swung their place on the shortlist. Some months ago, Walsh Whiskey sent me tasting samples of a 50ml sample of each expression. The really clever bit was that they also included a 50 ml sample of Marsala wine to add context to my tasting and review. Simple, but effective and thoughtful marketing. Well done Guys! Straight away, I was able to reference and search for the Marsala influence in each expression. The Irishman Founders Reserve – Marsala Finish is a wonderful project typical of the real innovation we have come to expect from Walsh Whiskey.
Update… 00.01hrs. on 3rd March 2018 – Irish Whiskey Day.
The Winner of our Irish Whiskey Trail 2017 Irish Whiskey of the Year is Teeling Brabazon 2
The Winner of our Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year is
Sonny Molloys Galway
The Irish Whiskey Trail
Irish Whiskey of the Year
Golden Pooka Award Winners
2013 Teeling Small Batch Rum Finish
2014 Tullamore DEW Phoenix
2015 Powers Three Swallow Single Pot Still
2016 Hyde Whiskey Single Grain
2017 Teeling Brabazon 2
The Irish Whiskey Trail
Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year
Golden Pooka Award Winners
2014 Dick Macks Dingle
2015 Dingle Whiskey Bar Dublin
2016 The Malt Lane / Folk House Kinsale
2017 Sonny Molloys Galway