I’ve been absent from Malt recently, and for that I apologise.
I feel my contributions will remain sporadic in the near future, too. However, submitting this article will no doubt help with the flow of future articles. I have a decent excuse; I’ve taken a new job. As with any new job, it requires the full commitment of my bandwidth to achieve success. I’m about three times as busy as I was four months ago. I’m not really monitoring the various whisky chats, so feel a little out of the loop. I’m even drinking less Scotch! I’m very grateful for Taylor keeping in touch, and those other whisky friends who reached out during this busy period. Had something more serious been going, those touch points could have been critical.
Malt has not been too far from my thoughts. A business trip to Atlanta, Georgia brought me in contact with some tasty whiskey from ASW in the form of Fiddler Union. I also discovered deep fried pickles, attended a Hardy concert, and a fantastic open mic night at Eddie’s Attic, but could not get an article over the line. I detect in drafting this paragraph I’ll be losing the sympathy of some readers.
I suspect I’ll lose the remainder of your sympathy from here on. I’m in Kerry, Ireland, for another business conference. Whilst it’s challenging during the day, the complimentary bars each evening represent a fantastic opportunity to explore the broad range of Irish whiskey that has been booming in recent years. Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Gold Spot are pot still distilled at the Midleton Distillery, Dublin and are great quality, with the yellow being my favorite. The entry level output from Powers, the Gold Label, is a blended whiskey, sells for just €30, and tastes delicious, whereas the John’s Lane release is fully pot still distilled also at the Midleton facility.
To help facilitate business and networking, we were invited to the new Killarney Brewing and Distilling facility a short distance from out conference venue. Parent company KBD owns both Killarney Brewing Company Ltd and Killarney Distilling Company. It was founded in 2013 by Killarney men Tim O’Donoghue, Paul Sheahan, and their Chicago-based business partner, Liam Healy, who has family connections in Kilbrean, Killarney. Both businesses operated separately before being brought together in the new 62,000 square foot facility.
This American connection is certainly brining a North American influence to the business. On arrival, the brewery and distillery looked… well, like a distillery. It had a few of the modern architectural features that are typical on most new distilleries. The stone walls reflect the mountains of the Killarney National Park and Gap of Dunloe, which the distillery overlooks. The large glass windows displayed the new copper pot stills and stainless steel brewery vats. However, the biggest surprise was inside: designed as visitor attraction, events venue, and restaurant first, and industrial distillery second. As an attraction, Killarney Distillery is incredible.
There is a hint of Disney-fication in that there are fake aged whiskey casks in racks, everything new looks old, and the gift shop is huge. However, there are a lot of clever features such as multiple small bars of different styles for break-out tastings, and the chef appears to be excellent. The staff are incredibly attentive, and the famous Irish hospitality was there in spades.
Whilst some distilleries have an add-on visitor experience, this visitor centre is front and centre. This style of venue is more familiar in the USA than here in Europe, and – whilst unfamiliar – it is a welcome change. It’s a clever approach that makes the most of the fantastic location, including a panoramic outdoor rooftop terrace. Importantly, this will provide a strong revenue stream from the expected 100,000 visitors a year whilst their own whiskey is maturing, helping bridge the funding gap, in addition to the usual cask ownership programmes. The team will also continue to brew the beers by which the business was originally built.
There are three copper pot stills which will be used to distil both single malt Irish whiskey – which uses exclusively malted barley – and Irish Whiskey, which uses malted barley, unmalted barely and a mix of other grains such as oats and maize. Eventually the business will focus on the Irish-American connection and export to the USA.
To bridge the period between opening and releasing their own whiskey, the Killarney distillery team have sourced some whiskey from Cooley Distillery. The Killarney 8 year old Irish blended whiskey is a blend of column distilled maize spirit, grain whiskey, and column distilled malted barley spirit, also given the grain designation. It’s triple distilled and blended by famous Irish distiller and blender Noel Sweeney. The whiskey is aged for seven and a half years in bourbon casks before being finished for six months in Imperial Stout casks that has been brewed at the original Killarney distillery, which is a nice touch. The Stout is in the classic Irish style, being more bitter than sweet. It is presented at a good strength, at natural colour, and non-chill filtered.
Killarney 8 Year Old Blended Whiskey – Review
Finished in Imperial Stout Casks. 46% ABV. €80.
On the nose: Sooty butterscotch, blossom honey, vanilla fudge, very sweet.
In the mouth: Sweet and spicy initially, then big juicy orchard fruits including peaches and some red apples, malty notes, vanilla, and heather honey. The stout is most prominent on the finish which has a dark roasted malt note.
This is very pleasant whiskey, the use of their own casks to finish the sourced whiskey gives great authenticity to the story of the whiskey, and adds a complexity that elevates this whiskey. It’s not going to set the world alight, either. But it’s absolutely respectable as a placeholder until their own spirit arrives, though the price is a little spicy.