This marks the first award for an Irish Whiskey Society bottling and one can only imagine that it will not be the last. It is great to see the society getting international recognition for their amazing whiskey because the Marrowbone Lane project was one that demanded a lot of hard work, determination and love for the spirit of Ireland.
The project was the brain child of current Society President, Peter White. He had a vision to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Easter Rising by re-creating the type of whiskey which was consumed in 1916. The project took nearly four years from concept to completion, but I think it’s safe to say that it was a great success!
To create this commemorative bottling, Peter enlisted the aid of author Fionnán O’Connor and one of Ireland’s top whiskey collectors, Willie Murphy. Together they created a sub-committee within the Irish Whiskey Society, which was charged with creating a liquid brief for the project. Essentially, this brief was used to describe the exact style of whiskey that they were hoping to replicate. Unfortunately, it would be completely impossible to exactly replicate whiskey from 100-years ago, without the same stills, mash bills and water sources, etc. Although, they were hoping to use this brief to aid them in their search for a whiskey as close to the 1916 pot still as possible.
Liquid brief in hand, the sub-committee approached Irish Distillers/Midleton Distillery, who are the only distillery in Ireland with aged pot still spirit at the moment. As such they would be the only distillery that would be able to bottle a whiskey similar to that of the spirit that would have been consumed in 1916 Dublin.
Thus Billy Leighton, Master Blender of Midleton Distillery, drew samples from three different casks, which on paper came close to the liquid brief. These samples were brought to Dublin where the full committee of the Irish Whiskey Society had the “arduous” (a.k.a. amazing) task of sampling each of them. The committee were charged with choosing the sample which they felt best reflected the style of whiskey from the period.
The sample they chose was an 11-year-old single pot still whiskey, which it had spent its first 7 years of its life in ex-bourbon barrels and then the remaining 4 in a first fill ex-oloroso sherry cask.
Now, to be true to the historical side of the liquid brief, ex-bourbon barrels shouldn’t have shown their heads (pun intended). Bourbon barrels didn’t exist in Ireland in 1916, in-fact, they only came into limited use in Ireland in the 1950’s with Irish Distillers becoming more widespread in the 1960’s.
To be true to the history the whiskey should have aged in ex-sherry or wine barrels. Unfortunately, choosing a single cask sherry barrel today wouldn’t have been an option for this bottling. This is because the casks today are simply of too good quality. Sherry barrels in 1916 would have been used over and over again before they would have been used to age or transport whiskey. The wood and sherry influence today would be too overpowering and would not produce the type of whiskey that the society were searching for. Thus a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry produced the closest style of whiskey to that of 1916 Dublin pot still.
Thus Marrowbone Lane was born. This is an absolutely phenomenal whiskey. The official tasting notes which were composed by Fionnán, read as follows:
Nose: Sherry, but not the sweet, pungent sherry of many modern malts. Musky old sherry distorted into something drier, more leathery, and less immediately inviting by the pot still mustiness and liquorice once sported by the genre hallmarks. Beneath that, a bass clef robustness of earthy distillate driven oils, cloves, shoe polish-y resins and herbal moss all strangely stained by the oloroso glaze.
Palate: Like an old traditional Dublin pot still with a touch of the pub’s house sherry tipped in. Classic pre 70s too dry for dried fruit apricot, old polished floorboards, and sherry stained leather like the musty linoleum over a spicy base so thick that even its irrepressible spices feel a little too heavy for spice. Large sip advised for texture.
Finish: Not so much long as mouth filling. Oils, resins, and a slight sherry echo. The finale, like the palate, is all about weight and that weight is unapologetically cut with the prickles of its own residual oils.
The bottling takes its name from the distillery owned by William Jameson & Co (insert above). This distillery, which was situated on Marrowbone Lane, was considered one of the “big four” distilleries in Dublin and was occupied by volunteers during the Rising, making it a very fitting name to remember those that fought in 1916.
If I was to be honest, I was very surprised that this phenomenal whiskey did not command a higher accolade in the IWSC. I mean, this whiskey really is in a league of its own. I voiced this opinion with members of the society at a recent tasting and I was reminded that this bottling IS very unlike anything else on the market at the moment, which may be its downfall. No heavy pot still distillate like this has been put on the market since the illustrious Jameson 15 hit our shelves in the year 2000. The judges in these awards would most likely not be accustomed to the viscous and spicy palate that this amazing whiskey holds. It certainly breaks right through all of the marketing barriers that demand Irish Whiskey to conform to a “smooth” palate and light taste.
I believe that this complex piece of liquid art deserves every bit of gold thats out there but perhaps the Irish Whiskey Society will just have to be pioneers and light the way for more viscous and heavy pot still whiskey in the future.
Either way, this was a great result for the society and its historic bottling. If you didn’t get a chance to try the Marrowbone Lane for yourself then perhaps there will be a bottle on display at the President’s Tasting in November, who knows?
If you would like to be able to subscribe to future bottlings and become a member of the Irish Whiskey Society check out www.irishwhiskeysociety.com. Furthermore, if you are just interested in finding out more about the society there are chapters in Dublin, Cork, Galway and the South East.