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Killowen Bonded Experimental Series

In the not too distant past I introduced you to Killowen Distillery, a place small in dimensions but exceptionally lofty in ambitions, ran by the super passionate Brendan Carty. It’s a distillery that I and many other Irish whiskey fans are very excited about. Brendan’s passion for what he does is contagious and after a visit to the distillery or just some time in Brendan’s company, it is hard not to buy into his ethos. To get a measure of the man why not watch this second Killowen tasting at Belfast Whiskey Week in the video below.

As things stand, we have around a year and a half to run before any new make distilled onsite can legally be called whiskey. So, to pay the bills Brendan has had to do what many others in a similar position have had to do… diversify.

In that regard, Killowen sells its own produced Gin, Poitin and now Rum. On top of that they have branched out into the hard seltzer market…. a sin we can forgive them for in the future I’m sure as long as it keeps the lights on. On top of that, they have sourced whiskey from other distilleries and put out their own blends from these stocks called the Bonded Experimental Series which allows Brendan some valuable experience playing with casks and vattings before releasing his own spirit in 2022.

These blends all essentially follow the same path: 75% grain whiskey from Cooley stocks, 20% double distilled malt whiskey from Cooley stocks and 5% triple distilled in Bushmills… although Brendan was allowed to put that specific wording on the label…. apparently, that’s too transparent for the IWA, something that the guys at JJ Corry have fallen foul of too.

The single grain and single malt whiskies are initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being blended together and then spending some time in sherry casks. Then this is married with another ex-bourbon single malt before a final finish in the wood of Brendan’s choice.

So far Brendan has used ex-Dark Rum, ex-Txakolina wine, ex-Tequila cask, an ex-Islay cask and ex-Pinot Noir with a Stout Cask finish to soon be released too.

To date all these releases have cost £80 for 50cl bottles at natural cask strength with no chill filtration or artificial colouring. In fact, Brendan generously leaves the cask char in the bottles for you to enjoy too.

Of the first five releases, I personally bought the Jamaican Rum cask and Txakolina cask finishes with the other three reviewed here being generously shared as samples from Killowen directly.

For a final flourish, I’m also reviewing the Belfast Whiskey Week Festival bottling. A 10 year old cask strength Bushmills distilled in 2008 and bottled in 2020. Although it says 10 years on the label it’s actually over 11 years old. This was matured in ex-bourbon casks before a final finish in a Jamaican dark rum firkin for 4 months. This bottle cost me £100 and was one of 111 bottles.

Killowen Jamaican Dark Rum Finish – review

Bottled at 54.9% abv and an edition of 348 bottles.

Colour: light gold.

On the nose: A floral freshness with grain driving the nose. Vanilla, gorse in bloom then tropical fruit – pineapple and guava before some pepper spice and a hint of oak.

In the mouth: A sweet arrival of Demerara sugar and candy floss. Vanilla, tropical fruit notes again with candied bananas, mango and pink & white nougat. Black pepper and oak char provide a counterbalance with a note of charred chicory towards the end. The finish is of decent length with caramelised sugar and lingering oak spice.

Score: 6/10

Killowen Txakolina Acacia Finish – review

Bottled at 55.75% abv, this is an edition of 490 bottles.

Colour: pale gold.

On the nose: quite closed at first…then stone fruit-driven – unripe peach and nectarines. Some cut white grape with vanilla and orange syrup. Chamomile, talcum powder and mild baking spice plus a touch of raisin in the background.

In the mouth: Not as fruity as the nose – there is peach, grape and green apples present but it is very waxy and mineral-driven. Chalky with mouth-puckering dry spices – pepper, clove and some dried tobacco leaf. Some lemon sherbet zestiness in a short finish along with dry garden herbs.

Score: 4/10

Killowen Tequila Cask Finish – review

Bottled at 55.4%, this resulted in an edition of 388 bottles.

Colour: bright gold.

On the nose: Grain forward, floral and fresh. Beeswax, spearmint and a light polish note. Fresh lemon peel and agave, butterscotch, sultanas and tinned peach.

In the mouth: honey, vanilla and candy floss initially which takes a sharp turn into a real green, herbal quality with juniper, dried lemon peel and tart Granny Smith apples. A gentle spiciness with a touch of hops and some garden mint. The finish is short but veers on the tart side with lemon and hazelnuts too.

Score: 5/10

Killowen Peated Islay Cask Finish – review

Bottled at 55.4%, this produced 398 bottles.

Colour: straw gold.

On the nose: Sweet vanilla fudge with brined lemons, hemp rope, very mild iodine and a gentle, gentle peat influence. There’s an underlying note of ripe apples and pears too.

In the mouth: A nice sweet arrival – runny honey, cereal grain, clove-studded stewed apples and pears. Again, those salted lemons are there before coastal bonfire smoke comes to the fore. The finish is of decent length with sweet peat intertwined with clove, pepper and lemon rind.

Score: 6/10

Killowen Pinot Noir Cask Finish – review

Bottled at 56% abv, with an outturn of 387 bottles.

Colour: copper blush.

On the nose: apple blossom, some red berries – strawberry and cranberry. Fresh oak shavings, a little solvent note, milk chocolate, almonds and tonka bean.

In the mouth: red toffee apples, stewed blackberries with light red wine notes. Quite a kick of oak tannins with raw clove, ginger spice and nutmeg. The finish is short and driven by woody spice with red berries and hazelnut chocolate.

Score: 5/10

Killowen Belfast Whiskey Week Festival Bottling – review

Bottled at 55.6% abv, this produced 111 bottles.

Colour: virgin pressed rapeseed oil

On the nose: Tropical fruit bomb alert – tinned pineapples, dried mango, papaya, nectarine and ripe red apples. Vanilla and barley sugar. Desiccated coconut, caramel and whipped cream covered bananas. A little grated nutmeg tops things off.

In the mouth: the palate follows the nose – sweet arrival with plenty of vanilla and spun sugar. Pineapple cubes sweets and sweet mango flesh. Fresh nectarines and bananas foster. A nice prickle of oak spice with cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is of medium length with dark rum-soaked raisins and milk chocolate.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

Bar one slip up a pretty decent showing from the lads at Killowen. Let’s review in ascending order, then shall we?

The Txakolina cask finish starts promisingly with a quite delightful nose but the casks dominate totally in the palate leaving it feeling rather unbalanced. If dry, chalky minerality is your thing you may dig it, but it certainly wasn’t to my taste palate wise.

Next up are the Tequila & Pinot Noir cask finishes. Both are solid without being spectacular but at £80 a pop are just too pricey even at cask strength to really recommend earnestly.

The Jamaican Rum Cask Finish and the Peated Islay Cask Finish both up the ante over the rest of the blends considerably. The Rum cask compliments both the floral and fruity nature of the spirits adding more depth on both the nose and palate. The Peated cask actually worked pretty well too with more peat influence noticeable on the palate than the nose but retaining approachability… a peat monster this is certainly not and a good dram to give those who say they can’t work with peat. Both of these would work well as dessert drams… simple enough yes, but sweet and decently balanced between nose and palate on both whiskies.

The undoubted star of the show is the Belfast Whiskey Week Festival bottling. Like all the whiskies presented here today, the price is against. So, they have had to work hard to garner the scores they have, even though I have a soft spot for Killowen as a distillery, I believe my scores are a fair reflection of what they have put out. If the Belfast Whiskey Week bottle was a 70cl bottle, it would have scored an 8. Not the most complex dram I’ve ever encountered, but it is well crafted and eminently drinkable… a bottle I fear that will not last long. Those four months in the Dark Rum firkin have just added a lovely top note to the Bushmills base that works ever so well. Please sir, can I have some more?

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  1. Avatar
    Dylan says:

    Good article as always Phil. Price is a bit much but glad these guys exist and very much looking forward to their whiskey.

    If NI come out of restrictions next week I’ll actually be tasting the peated and the tequila cask as part of an informal whiskey club next week.

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