The Palace Bar, in my opinion, is one of Dublin’s finest Victorian public houses. Nestled on the busy corner of Fleet Street, leading to Temple Bar, The Palace Bar has been delighting Dublin’s imbibers for the last two centuries. Opened in 1823 this establishment was operated by the Ryan family until its assumption by the current proprietors, the Aherns, in the 1940’s. This has been the watering hole of choice for many literary greats throughout the years and has had a long and deeply entwined history with whiskey in Dublin.
Like many other pubs in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds, the Palace Bar would have served its discerning customers, some of the best of what Dublin’s distilleries had to offer. Dublin pubs were intrinsically tied with the distilling industry. The strength of the relationship between distillery and public house heavily influenced what was poured. Dublin pubs were known for being Powers’ Bars or Jameson Houses, loyalties were fierce and a bar’s whiskey quality usually reflected the strength of the relationship that they had with the distillery that they were buying from. The bar would take receipt of a cask and they would proceed to bottle their own house expression of their source distillery’s whiskey.
So, it is not surprising that the Palace Bar has a long history with its own whiskey expressions. As was common of the era bars would have received the whiskey in cask and bottled the spirit themselves. In the 1930’s George Ryan, the proprietor at the time, bottled his own house whiskey from one of Dublin’s big four distilleries. In the 1950’s this tradition was continued by Will Ahern, the current proprietor’s grandfather. Alas, this tradition could not survive the 1960’s as the loan surviving distillery group consolidated into Irish Distillers and ceased all bonding projects with all wine merchants and public houses. Some stocks survived into the 1970’s although, this is the decade where we see bars’ own brand whiskeys disappear. Although, not forever.
Almost forty years after the last Palace Bar whiskey was bottled, this tradition was revived by the Palace Bar’s current owner, Willie Ahern. 2012 was the year that saw Palace Bar whiskey grace the shelves once more, when their 9-Year-Old was released. In the coming years, Willie would go on to release 3 more expressions of his own brand whiskey, which would include a 12, 14 and a non-age statement expression.
I sat down with Willie to discuss what it meant to consumers and the Ahern family bottling their own brand whiskey once again. He told me how people would travel from far and wide to try their whiskeys. People were enthralled by the idea that they could come to this bastion of Irish whiskey and delight their palates with a tipple not to be found anywhere else. He had visitors from across Ireland, the United States and even Australia who all had heard the tales of the Dublin bar that was reviving in-house whiskey expressions.
In a moment of reflection, Will shared how he started to feel disillusioned with the idea of own brand bottlings after the flood gates of Irish whiskey opened. Thousands of new brands flooded the market and Palace bar whiskey simply joined the ranks of all the other independently bottled whiskeys out there. He had brought out his own whiskeys because it was intrinsically tied to the bars history and it was something that consumers enjoyed. He knew that if there was ever to be a fifth Palace Bar whiskey it would need to be something that would stand out from the crowd and be a real treat for consumers.
Willie gave me an insight into his operation and informed me that Redbreast is the Palace Bar’s long-standing recommendation for those wishing to explore the world of Irish whiskey. The bar has had a historic connection with the Gilby’s Wine Merchants, who were the creators of the brand and Willie explained how it made sense to approach Irish Distillers in a bid to purchase a single cask from these Irish Whiskey giants. He told me that he has “always had a grá” (love) for the red stuff and while this operation took two years from idea to delivery, it was worth every moment. The Palace Bar is once again a Dublin pioneer, as they are the first Dublin pub to have their own in-house cask of Redbreast since bonding contracts were ceased in the 1970’s.
Willie believes that it is something that will once again set the Palace apart from other Dublin institutions. He believes that they have found something incredibly special with this cask. The process of selecting cask number 19831 was a difficult one. He jokingly explained the arduous task that was, the sampling of numerous casks from the warehouses in Midleton, in order to evaluate and choose the perfect whiskey to once again bear the Palace Bar’s name. Willie assures me it was a difficult process weighing up the pro’s and con’s of each of the casks but I remain assured he secretly had a lot of fun doing it.
So, what is the whiskey you ask?
Well, cask 19831 is a 17-Year-Old Cask Strength, Single Cask, all sherry butt matured Single Pot Still Whiskey. The whiskey is bottled at 59.7% ABV without any chill filtration, although there is no word on caramel colouring. The cask yielded 540 bottles at cask strength and it is available to be purchased from the bar by the taoscán or bottle.
The bottles will retail for €350 a piece or €25 a measure.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Willie Ahern, last Wednesday, to sample this single cask Redbreast and to see what all the fuss was about.
Tasting Notes by Matt Healy, Chief Editor of Potstilled.com.
Tasting Notes at Cask Strength.
Nose: Rich and decadent candied stone fruits, tied beautifully with a bouquet of marzipan, almonds and undertones of creamy, dark chocolate.
Palate: It has a warming palate with the signature pot still spice. Almonds come through once again, and stone fruits burst onto the palate with a luxuriously creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: The finish is extremely long and ever evolving. It has a decent mouth prickle with soft tones of sultanas finishing out the rear.
Tasting Notes with addition of water.
Nose: Marzipan, vanilla, and rich toasted oak come to the fore. These are coupled with light wood tannins, and a beautiful biscuity undertone.
Palate: The addition of water subdues the pot still prickle but the mouthfeel is utterly creamy and mouthcoating. The palate then opens up with beautiful fruit forward flavours. There are sultanas, raisins, almonds and a soft menthol undertone, which is very interesting.
Finish: This whiskey has lingering wood notes, the tannins are more pronounced at lower alcohol levels, which slightly claws at the tongue with toasted wood notes. The fruit from the palate lingers with some juicy raisins and a intriguing hint of red apple.
Unsurprisingly, Willie is delighted with the newest addition to the Palace whiskey family. He informed me that he is delighted with the real rich fruit forward flavours, and the recognisable pot still spice in the whiskey. It represents a truly unadulterated Irish pot still whiskey.
Willie let slip that he loved the idea that this whiskey would be reminiscent of the wine cask matured Dublin pot still that his grandfather would have been drinking when the pub first came into the family, in the 1940’s. If you find yourself in need of sampling Dublin’s newest single cask whiskey, it is available from the Palace Bar from today.