Driving due southwest from my hometown of Coleraine past Letterkenny, through Donegal Town and on towards the surfer’s paradise of Bundoran eventually you will find yourself in Sligo Town having wistfully wiled away around 3 hours of time in the process. It’s a very pretty drive so the time passing goes pretty much unnoticed.
A further 2 miles outside lies Lough Gill and the newly commissioned Lough Gill Distillery set in the estate of Hazelwood Demense (coincidentally an area that inspired the W.B. Yeats poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree). Originally home to the Wynne family from around 1722 until 1923 it’s fair to say the once stately premises have seen better days.
In the late 1960s a nylon yarn factory was built behind the estate house which was then acquired in 1987 by the South Korean firm Saehan Media who made videotapes there (Gen Zers may want to Google what a videotape is).
The estate was purchased by Hazelwood Demense Limited in 2014. Founded by Irish investor David Raethorne the plan was to restore the house but also build a whiskey distillery onsite. Planning permission was granted in early 2016 to repurpose the former factory into a distillery and associated warehousing with construction on the project beginning soon after.
2017 saw Italian company Frilli commissioned to install a 1 million LPA whiskey plant on site which should produce around 7,000 barrels of whiskey per year. The fermentation vessels arrived late 2018 with the grain handling system and three copper stills (15,000 litres, 12,000 litres and 7,500 litres respectively) arriving in 2019. Distillation began late 2019 under the watchful eye of Head Distiller Ollie Alcorn.
Lough Gill distillery will produce only triple distilled single malt with barley sourced from Wexford as the distilleries ethos is in doing one thing exceptionally well. I suppose only time will tell as to whether that lofty ambition is lived up too.
Athrú itself is an Irish Gaelic word that means ‘change’ or ‘alteration’ and I suppose that’s quite a fitting name considering the history of the distilleries setting and the various changes that have occurred onsite over the years.
While we wait then for their own spirit to mature, those behind Athrú have followed in the footsteps of many others within the Irish industry by sourcing already mature spirit and then adding their own twist by finishing it in different casks. Athrú have gone out on a limb to differentiate themselves further from other competitors by calling on industry darling Billy Walker (yes, he of Glendronach and now GlenAllachie fame) to help with the secondary maturation (I can hear Jason murmuring already… ’not more Walker taint?!’).
According to the Athrú website they plan to release 3 trilogies over the next 3 years of finished Irish single malt whiskey (is it possible they are massive Star Wars fans too?) each limited to 6,600 bottles per release and each finished in unique and different casks.
The first trilogy is called The Creation Trilogy with the artwork of the boxes and bottles reflecting a foundational story related to the creation of Ireland itself. We have the Annacoona, Knockarea and Keshcorran (being reviewed today). All are 14 year old single malts with different finishes.
The Annacoona is matured in bourbon casks for 11 years with a 3-year finish in a combination of PX and Oloroso sherry casks and tells the ill-fated Celtic myth of Diarmuid and Gráinne. The Knockarea is matured for 11 years in bourbon casks and is then finished for 3 years in Oloroso casks. It tells the legend of Kessair, Noah’s granddaughter who travels from Kush to Knockarea to escape the final wave of The Deluge. Finally, there is the Keshcorran, aged 11 years in bourbon casks with a 3-year secondary maturation in Hungarian Tokaji casks it retells the myth of Irelands first High King, Cormac.
All are bottled at a healthy 48%. Try as I might I could find no information as to whether they are chill-filtered or coloured. They retail for around £125/€140 per bottle, although in the essence of full transparency the good people of Lough Gill Distillery reached out to Malt and sent me this bottle (bottle 5191 of 6600) gratis. Of course, this comes with the usual caveat that a positive score is not guaranteed… that always depends on the liquid.
Athrú Keshcorran 14 year old whiskey – review
Colour: Bright Amber.
On the nose: Honeysuckle, Parma violets, barley sugar, ripe green apples and pears. Peach, vanilla, cinnamon and oak spice. Time brings pineapple and citrus oils as well as some toffee notes.
In the mouth: A sweet and fruity arrival – pineapple, lychees, tangerine and fresh apricot. Honey, marzipan and ginger spice overlay the green apple and pear notes. Time brings milk chocolate; nutmeg and a really mild chilli note. The finish is of medium length with orange, mild white pepper and lingering tropical fruit.
This is one of those nice instances where the palate is better than the nose! This is a really solid whiskey that actually shows more flavour development on the palate than the nose, which is ever so slightly restrained. The Tokaji Casks definitely impart sweet tropical notes onto the base Cooley spirit.
I do think that it is a touch expensive at £125/€135, even with the excellent presentation, and so a point has been deducted for value. The finish is a little too short for my liking too, had it been longer it would have bagged an 8. But if you like tropical fruit-laden malt, I think this will be right up your street.