Today we have a guest post from a member of the San Francisco Whisky Club. He wished to remain nameless – we think he might be a spy. If you’re interested in writing for us about a subject or a whisky (or even a rum) close to your heart, just let us know.
Much has been written about the emergence of a new age of Irish Whiskey. Whilst Irish whisky sales are on an upward trend and have been for some years we are not quite at the new dawn just yet.
A brief synopsis of history tells us that approximately a hundred years ago Irish Whisky was the favoured drink across the globe. Hundreds of distillers small and large produced a very high quality spirit that was exported to the UK, the US and other markets. However revolution and independence from English rule along with Irish distilleries refusing to supply America during US prohibition, new technologies and UK taxes all combined to decimate the Irish whiskey industry to just 3 fully operational distilleries. The survivors being Bushmills in Northern Ireland, Irish Distillers in Cork (which amalgamated Dublin distilleries such as Jameson, Redbreast, Green Spot, Powers alongside Midleton) and later founded in 1987 Cooley Distillery in County Louth.
Cooley was founded by Harvard Business Graduate John Teeling. He saw an opportunity in the industry as the main rivals were producing a quantity not quality based product and he believed he could produce a higher quality product. Teeling distilled and matured thousands of casks over the next few years before he ever received any sales contracts for his whisky. He also introduced the first peated Irish whisky brand Connemara which used natural peat from the bog lands of Connemara, West Ireland. Connemara and its 12 year became a successful worldwide brand as did much of Cooley’s other whiskies and Teeling sold the distillery in 2011 to Beam Inc. for $95m. John Teeling along with his sons have since established the first new Distillery in Dublin (Teeling Whisky Co.) since those torrid times of shut downs in the 50’s and 60’s and have begun distilling single malts and pot still whiskey. Exciting times ahead.
Cadenhead’s of Scotland, one of our favourite independent bottlers took a shine to Cooleys casks and have featured at least 14 bottlings over the years. This particular bottle forms part of their 175th Anniversary celebrations and is hence one they rate very highly. A 1992 vintage, just 174 bottles exist and this is bottled at Cask Strength 51.3%, matured for 25 years in an ex-Bourbon barrel.
As I sip and take notes on this whisky I remind myself what a treat it is to enjoy a cask strength Irish whisky. As I mentioned earlier we are not quite at a new dawn yet. There has been an explosion of new Irish distilleries in the past decade which is fantastic as this will hopefully push Irish Distillers (owned by Pernod Ricard) and the other major distilleries to increase their quality. These new distilleries however, need some time to produce a decent product. At least 10 years! Many of them have unfortunately resorted to pushing out lower proof whisky sourced from Bushmills or Cooley. Old tired casks much of the time. I understand running a distillery is a costly business however it’d be much more preferable for them to produce a gin or a craft beer until their casks are matured and I worry this will hurt their reputations.
Back to the whisky in hand… It is also interestingly a ‘single malt’ as opposed to the traditional Irish ‘pot still’ (a blend of malted & unmalted barley, triple distilled). That fact alone allows me to compare it more to Single malt scotches. With its peat smoke it really does remind me of a lighter yet more fruity Ardbeg, which is no bad thing in my book.
Cadenhead’s Cooley 1992 25 year old – review
On the nose: Leather, Cuban cigars, old cologne, honeyed barley notes. A sweet barley. Sour fruit, smoked limes.
In the mouth: Lovely mouthfeel. Not thin yet not Clynelish thick but somewhere in the middle. First notes are pine green, grapefruits and yuzu fruit. This develops into pineapple, green apple skins and Thai chile pepper. Finish: Juicy fruit gum fades long with the pepper and heat. This has some bite to it!
Definitely one to please the bitter and sour parts of the palate. Not all fruit… which will challenge some beginner palates out there. One of the most interesting Irish whiskies around and very enjoyable as an aperitif.