Dunville’s – a brand envied across the island of Ireland and further afield – is releasing some fantastic liquid, and soon will be producing some of their own.
There have been some Dunville’s reviews before from Phil and me, re-iterating and re-emphasising our praise of Echlinville continuously producing whiskey that not only conforms to Dunville’s legacy and tradition, but tastes pretty good, too.
Dutifully, I have purchased every bottle of Dunville’s since its release. This is partly due to the fear of missing out, though I genuinely like the whiskey inside the bottles. Why have I stopped buying the most recent releases? In a word: price, amongst other things. This isn’t solely a Dunville’s issue. It’s an issue rife throughout the whiskey market and further afield, with only a few humble distilleries pricing whiskey relatively reasonably.
There are many variables to this, one in particular that I have to bring out for the sake of fairness. Four of the five new Dunville’s that I will taste and review are procured via third parties, i.e. those that have bought the cask, bottled it, and priced it how they see fit. Palace Bar, Dublin, CarryOut, Killarney, Celtic Whiskey Shop, and Hi-Spirits limited have all released a single cask Dunville’s, with the fifth (third release chronologically) being Dunville’s release of the Belfast Whiskey Week (BWW) single cask bottling.
Pricing issues are nothing new to Dunville’s. Phil reviewed the Port Mourant bottling and scored it relatively low for a Dunville’s, partly because of the liquid… although I wouldn’t be surprised that the score takes into consideration the price, despite it coming with a beautiful mirror and box set.
So, how much are we talking about then? All five releases – the 12-year-old Belfast Whiskey Week, the 14-year-old CarryOut, Killarney, the 18-year-old Hi-Spirits bottling, the 19-year-old Celtic Whiskey Shop bottling and the 20-year-old Palace Bar Dublin bottlings – will cost you just short of £1,000. Unsurprisingly, I bought the cheaper bottles, but I did gasp at the Palace Bar Dunville’s pricing (£300) Celtic Whiskey Shop (£256) and the Hi-Spirits bottling (£220).
I don’t think anyone blames them for pricing so high; Dunville’s are currently very well-liked, and everyone wants a piece of them. Even Dunville’s PX cask BWW bottling has increased by £10 in price compared to the other 12-year-old cask strength PX bottlings, presumably due to the effects of a pandemic ridden market.
When Echlinville, proud custodians of the Dunville’s brand, relaunched the icon, they produced a manifesto of the company and how they would “capture the spirit” of Belfast and restore it to its place among the world’s best whiskies. Comparatively: in 1883, a bottle of Dunville’s Irish Whiskey could be bought for 4 Shillings and 6 Pence. Fast forward around 150 years, and that equivalent value is around £14.89 today.
Clearly, the single cask releases are nowhere near this price tag. because it’s an entirely different whiskey to the one then. To be fair, the price of their 1808 bottle isn’t far off it. I state this quite tongue in cheek. Let’s be honest: not one distillery is offering a bottle of whiskey for anywhere near this price. So, what has changed? Pretty much everything. Inflation has risen astronomically, associated costs, labour, materials, costs of wars and global pandemics; everything has an effect. What I’m trying to get at here is the cost of a Dunville’s bottling is almost pricing proper fans out of securing a bottle, with some now opting for samples via third parties.
If you want an indication of how fair the pricing is, then look at the popularity of the bottles. The Palace Bar and Celtic Whiskey Shop bottlings have not sold out yet on last check. Whilst this might not be disconcerting to the average drinker, it’s worth stating that the PX 12-Year-Old cask strength releases sold out in around 3 minutes each time they were released; even the release of their BWW bottling broke their website, leaving fans having to run the merciless gauntlet of a ballot to try and secure a bottle. Sure, the new bottles are extremely limited, but it’s a plunge even for a relatively well-off person to part with that sort of money.
Furthermore, the release strategy has been questionable. At the same time as the BWW, the release of five whiskies has seen even the frugal of us all watching the moths flutter out of our wallets. Again: not the fault of Echlinville, who are powerless to control this, but the issue is concerning.
Now that we’ve talked about the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the good stuff. Dunville’s appear to go from strength to strength (pun intended). Bottle after bottle, they’re producing at a steadfast rate. They’re growing too. In the last few months, they’ve relaunched ‘Old Comber’ and sold out the initial outlay, making fans impatient and yearning for more. They’ve also acquired Matt D’Arcy Irish Whiskey, another famous Co Down whiskey lost to the ages. Echlinville now has an enormous responsibility as custodians of these renowned and distinguished whiskies; hopefully, this is something that cements their position as one of the best distilleries on the island.
I recently found myself as a fortunate recipient of an “Echlinville Warehouse” box as part of BWW (I’ll try not to give too much away, as the box will follow in a separate review). In my opinion, significantly, something that demarcates a brand is their ability to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different. For Dunville’s, Sherry finishes (PX and a few Oloroso) plus a few Palo Cortado casks have been a core finish. However, seeing that a forthcoming release of Port and Moscatel bottlings following the samples in the BWW pack has made me seriously excited and anticipating great things for this brand.
Anyway, on to the whiskey. This is an assortment of different aged expressions from 14-year-old right up to 20-year-old. There are finishes of Oloroso, PX and Madeira, and a difference in price from £120 up to £320. It’s a serious collection. All of these whiskies have been sourced with no indication of their origin; Echlinville’s own spirit is still only around seven years old.
Dunville’s Palace Bar, Dublin Single Cask No 1639 – Review
20 years old; PX cask finish. 55% ABV.
On the nose: Freshly baked boozy Christmas cake, cinnamons, cloves, and poached plums. Then comes a real sweetfest of orange skittles, thick-cut orange marmalade and bitter dark chocolate 85% or so. There is also hints of fruit cake and more Christmas associated cherry chocolate liqueurs.
In the mouth: A big spicy blast of Christmas that certainly hits you with masses of cinnamons and cloves. Toasted malt loaf with jam on top, some slight pepperiness to it as well. Spicy cherry compote. Lots of dried fruit, sultanas. Lots of Sherry influence. Fisnihes long.. like really long and warming. There’s a natural fullness to the finish. The cherries, for me and still prevalent at this stage and keep on coming. Some remnants of the cinnamon spice hits you and stays with you throughout.
Dunville’s BWW Single Cask No 1303 – Review
12 years old; PX cask finish. 57.2% ABV.
Colour: Deep copper
On the nose: Spicy Christmas cake this time around with a big helping of dried cranberries. There’s a beautiful sweetness to this; it reminds me of strawberry dib dab and rich Tiptree raspberry jam.
In the mouth: Lots of elements to this complex whiskey. Lots of fruit comes through initially with fleshy peaches and nectarines with a hint of cherry pie. Then comes the spice with plenty of cinnamon. The Christmas cake is more pronounced than in the palate. Then there is the sweetness from the boiled sweets. On the finish, lots of warmth and spice, slightly peppery and fiery.
Dunville’s Celtic Whiskey Shop Single Cask No 1636
19 years old; Madeira finish. 53.2% ABV.
Colour: Rose Gold
On the nose: A beautiful nose consisting of peaches, vanilla and Sicilian orange cake. The sweetness then slices through with striking notes of toffee popcorn, caramac bar, sticky toffee pudding, Jaffa cakes and midget gems.
In the mouth: Lots more sweetness from the toffee this time around, but it’s combined with lots more fruitiness to it too, like toffee apples. More lemons and oranges come through this time as well. There’s a slight nuttiness to it too, hazelnuts and walnuts especially. Never have I picked out toffee as prevalent as this in a whiskey. The finish is really thick and oily, lots more sweetness that makes your tongue sing. It lasts long and just keeps on going.
Dunville’s Hi-Spirits Single Cask No 989 – Review
18 years old; Oloroso finish. 55% ABV.
On the nose: Lots of sweetness initially on the nose including fizzy cola bottles, zesty lemons, nectarines and stewed apples. Then comes the dried raisins and sultanas with a touch of oak.
In the mouth: An initial spicy blast of cinnamon again laced with a helping of black pepper in there too. The sweetness then cuts through with Lemon Tarte Tatin, mince pines and a dose of cherry compote. Long and warming through to the end. Lots of spice and a hint of fruity sweetness.
Dunville’s Carry Out Killarney Single Cask No 1699 – Review
14 years old; PX cask finish. 57.7% ABV.
On the nose: The strongest in terms of ABV thus far, and it’s rampant on the nose. Lots of fruit with red apples, stewed peaches, pears, plums and oranges. Then a good helping of sweetness from the fizzy cola bottles, marzipan and dark chocolate. The nose finishes with more classic sherry pervaded Christmas cake and ginger.
In the mouth: Cinnamon, cherries, some white pepper, raspberry jam, apricots, fruit cake, boiled sweets, drumstick lollies and coke. Lots of warmth from the spice, more peppery notes. It goes on for quite some time given the ABV.
As a Malt contributor, I have to consider every aspect of the whiskey when scoring them. I know I will probably get some stick for the score given to the Palace Bar Dunville’s. However – for me – the fact of the matter is that it is too expensive for what it is. If it retailed at around a hundred pounds less, then it would probably score higher. However, I think that the BWW bottling is a better whiskey and has more elements to it and comes at a fraction of the cost. But, again, if I’m fastidious, £10 extra for a bottle that retails typically at the £110 mark, for presumably the inclusion of a presentation tube is a bit bold.
The Madeira cask finish is a lovely addition and one I would like to see incorporated in some form in the core range. Again, the price is steep, but the whiskey is excellent. I would have anticipated a higher score for a lesser priced liquid.
The CarryOut, Killarney single cask is yet another fine example of what Echlinville can do with a PX cask. The pricing at £140 is again on the higher side, especially for a 14-year-old, but you do get a ‘limited edition’ Glencairn. But I suppose for the CarryOut franchise, acquiring this sort of bottling is an expensive venture for them and one they surely would try to recoup on.
Pricing is an issue and always remains one, especially as companies start to try and recoup the money lost in an unforgiving pandemic; that’s just common sense. Echlinville has done well to compensate the customer by also releasing very reasonably priced whiskies such as the Old Comber, a 7-year-old port cask whiskey that initially retailed for £45. I think that we as fans accept that there will be expensive whiskies that tip the scale in terms of price.
*Picture and samples courtesy of Jonathon Ramirez.