Whisky v Whiskey, Scotch v Irish, double distilled v triple distilled…
The list goes on and the arguments are endless. However, what if there was the option to have both? This isn’t a riddle nor a rhetorical question; this is, in fact, Killowen’s latest endeavour: the Dalriadan, a blend of Scotch and Irish whiskies. Confusingly, this re-ignites the “is it Whisky or Whiskey?” spelling debate. For clarity, I will use whiskey as my term of endearment, as this is made in Northern Ireland. Some may criticise this heinous act, but just envisage the light and fruity notes of an Irish Single Malt and a peaty Islay’s distinct flavour and profile combined.
They say history repeats itself, and this is true in this case; Bruichladdich previously partnered with Ireland’s Cooley distillery to blend single malts from both distilleries. Unfortunately, the Scotch Whisky Association quickly acted and forbade the practice of mixing malts from different nationalities. That bottle is considered by many as rare and probably unrepeatable until now.
Phil introduced us to Killowen back in October last year, to their humble distillery, and to their infectiously enthusiastic owner, Brendan. The Experimental series was reviewed by Phil a month later with variable results, but still some clear positives. I then covered the delectable “Cúige” poitìn back in July to show what Killowen can really do.
Killowen have certainly not rested on their laurels, and their output of bottles shows no sign of ending, either. An 11-year-old tawny port bottling and three batches of their Rum and Raisin concoctions have raised Killowen’s game.
Their next revelation, the Dalriadan, is an exciting concept. For those who aren’t aware: Dalriada, founded by the legendary king Fergus Mór (Fergus the Great) in the 5th century, was a Gaelic kingdom that encompassed the western seaboard of Scotland and the north-eastern corner of Northern Ireland, on each side of the North Channel. Although the kingdom of Dalriada ultimately failed, the relationship between Ulster and Scotland remains one of striking historical intimacy; the 1606 independent Scottish settlement, the plantation of Ulster, and the legend of Finn McCool are all examples of a turbulent, cozy, and sometimes genial history between the two.
Brendan himself is a bit of a fable teller, and some of his releases have that side to them, but the Dalriadan represents something more than just novelty. The countries that make up Dalriadan are arguably the two countries that have produced the greatest uisce beatha ever. Coming up with the concept and having impudence to carry it out demonstrates Killowen’s boldness and enthusiasm for innovation.
The whiskey was released on Friday, 3rd December, when I was fortunate to taste the liquid with Brendan and a few others on the evening. What’s so refreshing about Brendan and Killowen, and was evident during the tasting, is their passion. Each release, especially the Dalriadan, embodies their values and principles. Their transparency, pricing (we will talk about it), enthusiasm, and innovation are typical of putting the customer first.
On the topic of price: generally, Killowen price their whiskey around £50 to £60 for a 50cl bottle. This may be pricey for some; that’s understandable, I get it. But, consider that Brendan runs Ireland’s smallest distillery in his dilapidated shed. There’s just no way he can compete with others on the island if he prices lower or bottles bigger.
This release may have come as a shock to many; £115 is a lot of money, especially given the time of year. You also enter the market at that point with some serious competition. Still, again, the pragmatic among us will understand that a barrel of Bushmills and a barrel of Caol Ila will come at a high cost. Brendan alluded that he should have priced the bottle closer to £150, but such is his humility that he did not want Killowen’s following to pay that much, thus taking a serious cut to his profit margin.
The Dalriadan, if you haven’t already gathered, is a blend of 40% double distilled peated malt, originating from the Caol Ila Distillery (aged entirely in ex-bourbon Hogsheads) and 60% 11-year-old malt from County Antrim, Northern Ireland (presumably Bushmills), finished for three years in Oloroso butts. The result is a cask that has yielded 386 bottles, bottled at the cask strength of 57.5%. This edition is part one of a two-part series. The release is predominantly sold out, but you may be able to find a bottle here or there.
Killowen The Dalriadan Part 1 – Review
Colour: Pale gold.
On the nose: At this point, the 60% Bushmills has the edge. The lightness and fruity notes are prevalent; the freshness of lemon sherbet – akin to that of a lemon Dip Dab – and the refreshing notes of lemon sorbet also laced with burnt pineapple are also perceptible. No trip to the sweetshop is complete without some fruit salads, of which there is an abundance here. The sweetness is subtle and not overwhelming, but the balance comes with the Caol Ila Islay influence. Certainly, notes of crispy, smoky bacon, fried pancetta, and freshly sawn wood give it that trademark Islay nose.
In the mouth: The sweetness carries on again but varies. There’s dried mango and apricot, more lemon and a big dash of honey stirred in for good measure. Again, the Caol Ila comes knocking and the characteristic smoke, peat, and tobacco ash (or Irish turf fire as Brendan describes it) come through nicely. Where the whiskey really tickles my taste buds, though, is the spice that comes through beautifully too. Pepper and a little sprinkling of cinnamon powder certainly give it a bite. The finish is most definitely long and warming, but bizarrely there is a powdery texture to it, certainly by no means a bad thing, especially with the herbal heat from the peppermint and black pepper. It’s complex, has depth, and is exciting.
That is an extraordinary dram. If someone blindfolded me and gave me the whiskey to drink, I’d have eventually concluded that it was an Islay. My hesitance to state that would have been due to the freshness of the sweet notes that came through perfectly, making me consider it something else.
The truth is, the most predominant note in the liquid is the smoke. Still, unlike other Caol Ilas or the Ardbegs, it’s not overpowering. The balance between the two is very good, and the notes of each component are interesting to pick out. The balance is the key in this type of whiskey. For me, it doesn’t feel like the Irish and Scotch are trying to fight each other… it feels like they’re complementing each other. The result is a fusion of richness, lightness, fruit and smoke.
I will confess that my love for Northern Irish whiskey is enduring, and a peaty Islay dram is my Scotch whisky of choice, and therefore this was always going to entice me to open my wallet. With the intention to support a “smaller” business, Killowen were bound to get my money.
For those who are Scotch “through and through,” or Irish “till they die,” give this one a punt. I’m sure you’ll find a new, enjoyable dimension to your favourite dram you didn’t think possible. So, here’s Sláinte to the past, and to the next 1,400 years.