A Celtic saviour leads Irish whiskey’s revival

Irish whiskey is regaining its leading role in the whiskey world

PORTLAND, Ore. July 12, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The Irish whiskey industry is storming back after an extended period of hard times.

The Irish have an illustrious history with whiskey; they are credited with inventing it and teaching the art of distillation to the Scots.

During the 19th century, Irish distillers dominated the international whiskey market. They produced more whiskey than Scotland and  exported it worldwide.

In the late 19th century, however, Irish whiskey began a long period of decline that would eventually see the industry reduced to a single distillery complex − the Midleton distillery outside of Cork. The Bushmills distillery, technically in Northern Ireland, is the only other Irish distillery to weather the storm.

In the last three decades, the Irish whiskey industry has undergone a revival. Irish whiskey is now one of the fastest growing whiskey categories in the world. Jameson whiskey, Ireland’s flagship brand, has become the third best-selling blended whiskey worldwide. From its dark days in the 1980s, the industry now boasts 25 distilleries, either operating or announced.

At the centre of the Irish whiskey revival has been an unlikely player − [popup url=”http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]Celtic Whiskey Shop[/popup] in Dublin. As the largest retailer of Irish whiskey in Ireland, and probably the world, the shop also stocks the largest selection of Irish whiskies available anywhere. It is also Ireland’s first, modern specialty whiskey bottler. In 2013, the Celtic Whiskey Shop was chosen “Best Retailer-Single Outlet-Rest of World” and “Best Whiskey Retailer Worldwide” at the World Whiskey Awards. That same year, it was named “Icons of Whiskey International Whiskey Retailer of the Year” by Whiskey Magazine.

The Celtic Whiskey Shop was founded by Ally Alpine, a transplanted Scotsman. Alpine came to Dublin to set up five branches for the British wine retailer Oddbins. Witnessing the beginning of the Irish whiskey renaissance first hand, in 2003, he decided to set up a whiskey shop specializing in Irish whiskey. The store has now become an Irish whiskey institution, organizing both the Irish Whiskey Awards and Whiskey Live Dublin.

Several years ago, Celtic Whiskey Shop expanded into the realm of the specialty whiskey bottlers. Alpine worked with Cooley distillery to bottle single cask offerings, under the Tyrconnell and Connemara labels, exclusively for the shop. The original bottlings were matured in ex-bourbon casks, but Alpine soon switched to using barrels from wineries exclusively imported by the Whiskey Shop. This was the genesis of the shop’s “cask finish, single cask releases.”

After Beam Global purchased the Cooley Distillery, it decided to no longer do custom bottlings under its own brands. Forced to develop its own whiskey brand, the Celtic Whiskey Shop launched the Celtic Cask series. The series has been widely acclaimed. In both 2014 and 2015, it was chosen as the best “non-Scottish Independent Bottler of the Year” by the Independent Bottler’s Challenge.

The Celtic Cask series is up to its 15th bottling. All but one of the expressions was matured in a cask from one of the 50 wineries the shop directly imports. Initially, the shop purchased aged whisky stocks that it finished in a wine cask. Now, it is buying new make spirit from Irish distillers, which it intends to mature exclusively in a specialty wine cask. Alpine continues to snap up whatever stocks of aged Irish whiskey he can find but admits that, “these supplies are getting scarcer.”

The Celtic Cask offerings sell out quickly. Only the number 14 and number 15 bottlings are still available.

Celtic Cask Cuig Deag #15, 70 cl, 46 per cent ABV. Distilled in 1991 Bottled in 2016, 646 bottles. Non-chilled filtered

The Celtic Cask #15 has been matured for 22 years in an ex-bourbon cask followed by 2 1/2 years in a 50+ year-old port barrel from famed producer Quinta de Noval. The source of the whiskey is not disclosed but its taste profile suggests Bushmills.

The whiskey is a deep, rich bronze colour, with a slightly reddish hue from the port cask used to finish the spirit. On the nose, there is a distinctive butterscotch aroma, a consequence of the crystal malt used in the whiskey’s mash bill. This is followed by slightly herbal and dried fruit notes reminiscent of an aged tawny port, along with some candied citrus peel.

The whiskey is drier than on the nose, with a pronounced smooth, creamy texture and noticeable weight on the palate. There is a distinctive cooked and dried fruit element. The port cask influence is unmistakable, but is well integrated with the butterscotch elements of the original malt and produces the classic, spirit-infused fruit cake flavours but drier, without any overt sweetness. There are additional notes of candied orange zest, and tropical spices, including vanilla, ginger and cinnamon.

The finish is long and complex, featuring dried fruit elements with a bit of spice, followed by a pepperiness, more ginger-like than black pepper, and a distinctive butterscotch note at the end. This is an extraordinary whiskey.

Appearance 10/10, Nose 29/30, Palate 28/30, Finish 29/30 Overall Score 96/100

Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. He holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). Bottoms Up is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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