Boann Distillery

Boann is one of Ireland’s newer distilleries, nestled in the Boyne Valley just south of Drogheda. The distillery sits in a former car dealership making it possibly one of the most aesthetically pleasing distilleries in the country, with wall to ceiling glass surrounding the entire building showcasing the gleaming copper pot stills within.

Boann Distillery is the brainchild of the Cooney family, who are by no means newcomers to the Irish drinks industry. They have built an extensive portfolio of products across several drinks sectors over the years, and now they have turned their gaze to the creation of their own whiskey, gin, and beer in Co. Meath.
What I love about the Cooneys, is that they take the term “family business” to another level. Almost everyone within their organisation is family, from management to marketing to sales everybody is family in one way or another and they all seem more determined than each other to make Boann a big success.

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The Cooney family. Source: boanndistillery.ie

The pleasurable aesthetics of the distillery are also continued inside. Its not only the pot stills that are designed to be eye catching but the rest of the distillery floor has been designed to be a welcoming space to distillers and visitors alike. They’ve gone the extra mile to create a great looking distillery, which when opened is planned to host thousands of visitors a year. Distillery equipment can be quite cold and industrial but Boann have managed to make their distillery floor a warm and welcoming space, that looks over the colourful fields of rapeseed planted right outside the windows. For example, the mash converter and the mash tun are both clad in Irish oak which complement the exposed oak ceiling beams very well and the distillery floor must be the only one in the world that boasts Italian marble!

Looks don’t make a distillery, so whats the operation actually like? 
Simply put, its exciting but incomplete. The stills are the heart beat of any whisk(e)y distillery and as can be seen in the photo below the Boann stills are in place but their lyne arms (pipe bringing vapour from top of the still to the condenser) are waiting patiently to be attached. That’s it. That’s all that’s “incomplete”, now onto the “exciting” bits.

Distilleries take great pride in designing their stills, the shape of the stills and angle of the lyne arm are going to be major components in the type of whiskey that they produce.
So when the guys in Boann were designing their stills they decided that they wanted to take inspiration from the old Dublin distilleries that helped make Irish pot still whiskey so renowned. Thus they designed squat and bulbous pot stills, which you can see below, with descending lyne arms. Not only this but they have specially commissioned these stills to have nano-reflux inducers, increasing the copper contact within the stills to six times that of a traditional still. Using these stills the Cooney family are hoping to create hearty Irish pot still as well as a range of full bodied single malt whiskeys. I think it is great to see another distillery specifically design its set up to create quality pot still Irish whiskey. I personally can’t wait until these stills are fired up and we get the first look at the liquid future.

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As if the nano-technology stills, floor to ceiling windows and marble floors weren’t unique enough, the team at Boann have also decided to add another feather to their cap of doing things their own way by putting the maturation warehouse right beneath their feet! They’re going to be using the space right under the stills to mature the thousands of barrels of whiskey that they will produce every year! Adding to the visitors’ experience, the guests of Boann distillery will be able to journey into the bowels of the building and see, feel and most certainly smell the whiskey ageing in a menagerie of casks, such as bourbon, sherry, burgundy, marsala, Tokaj (wine from the Torkaj region in Hungary or Slovakia) and many more.

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Artist’s rendering of the maturation warehouse below the floors of Boann distillery.

What about the present I hear you ask?
Well presently they are in the process of releasing their own range of single malt whiskeys called “The Whistler”. The range will consist of a seven year old (a.k.a. the blue note), a ten year old and a seven year old cask strength. I had the privilege to try these new expressions, while in the distillery and here’s what I thought.

 

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The spirits are coming from another distillery but the guys in Boann have transferred them into oloroso sherry casks where they have spent the last two years maturing away. This makes for a seriously long sherry finish for current standards and it really shows through beautifully in the whiskey.
The Irish market at the moment is currently awash with independent brands but in my opinion “The Whistler” series is seriously one to look out for.
I will make special note of the 7 year old Blue Note, which was definitely my favourite and I would not be surprised to see it rack up some serious awards in the years to come.

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The Whistler single malt whiskey range.

The guys at Boann have serious drive to make the distillery a big success. I think that they’ve definitely got the ambition and the experience to make something good there! This is a project that I am particularly excited to see begin. So I’m definitely gonna keep an eye out for!

Sláinte

The Galway Whiskey Trail

Currently we are going through a second golden age for Irish whiskey. A few years ago there were only 4 distilleries on the island and next year we are expecting to see nearly 30 in operation. Irish whiskey is no longer playing to the stereotype of the “fighting Irish” or just a simple additive to make caffeine alcoholic. The Irish whiskey industry is forging a its place in the global marketplace. It’s synonymous with traditional craft, high quality, smooth and palatable whiskey and this reputation has seen the sector grow by double digits for the last few years.

We are currently seeing 600,000 visitors a year arriving whiskey tourism and that is forecasted to grow to 800,000 in the medium term according to the Irish Whiskey Association. Dublin is currently the Mecca for Irish whiskey tourism with the Old Jameson Distillery attracting the majority of spirits tourism in the country. Although, in Ireland itself, you would be forgiven in thinking that no-one outside of the industry has noticed a thing. It seems that whilst the industry is going through a renaissance Irish publicans aren’t catching on. City centre pubs still consider a bottle of Jameson original juxtaposed by a bottle of Paddy a “diverse” whiskey selection.

Although, one city that has been taking big steps to rectify that by facilitating whiskey tourists with knowledgable bar staff and decent menus is Galway city.

August 14th, marks the official launch of the “Galway Whiskey Trail”. The trail is a publican lead initiative to promote Galway’s ties with Irish whiskey through education of bar staff, improved bar menus and whiskey events all across Galway. 10 bars and 1 off-licence are directly tied with the trail and they have been busy training their staff on all facets of Irish whiskey for the last couple of months. Those associated with the trail are bolstering their whisk(e)y selections with choice brands from around the world. Don’t worry the big names of Irish whiskey aren’t hogging all the limelight of course. The craft distilleries, such as Glendalough and Hyde whiskey, are also getting their fair amount of shelf space giving the consumer great selection.

Stone plaque presented to each establishment on the trail
Stone plaque presented to each establishment on the trail

The launch is featuring events all across the city, culminating in the official opening of the trail by Master Distiller Brian Nation and Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett. They are visiting every establishment on the trail to initiate each one individually. Each establishment will be presented with a stone plaque that identifies the establishment as a member of the trail.

Don’t be fooled in thinking that the trail is lined up to be a one hint wonder either. With a website about to be launched, it will be listing tastings, talks, pairing events, historical, cultural tie ups all throughout the year with each venue scheduled to host a minimum of two events per year. Advertising will also appear in the airports and hotels across the country, highlighting everything the trail has to offer. My big hope is that there will be a fair bit of invention to mark venues apart so that it won’t just be whatever roadshow rolls in from IDL or Beam Suntory and is claimed as an event. But I have big hopes that this ground up initiative takes flight and fares much better than the long outdated “Irish Whiskey Trail”. Hopefully, since this is a collaborative initiative, the publicans will encourage each other to ensure the trail a big success and draw in a fair percentage of those 800,000 tourists a year. I’ve been assured that several of the pubs have events in the pipeline and new kids on the block ‘An Pucan’ have already confirmed three events before the end of the year.

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Barry Crockett and Brian Nation induct An Pucan whiskey bar.

Already positive side effects can be seen within the city. Bars and restaurants that are not affiliated with the trail are strengthening their whiskey menus in anticipation of the tourism that the trail may bring the city. Its looking like Galway might be on track to be the next big thing in whiskey tourism.

So, I will wait with eager anticipation to see what Galway has to offer in the coming months. Perhaps the trail will become a template for future initiatives promoting Irish whiskey across the country. Who knows perhaps in time we will see a Belfast or midlands trail!? Or better yet, how about a Dublin version?

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this isn’t just a flash in the pan, but only time will tell.

Sláinte

Dair Ghaelach – The New Big Investment?

Dair Ghaelach (which means “Irish oak” in Irish) is the new release from the Midleton pot still range. A premium pot still release that has been matured for 15-22 years in ex bourbon casks finished in virgin Irish oak for ten months.

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This is the first time in a very long time that Irish Oak has been used to finish Irish Whiskey so this is most certainly an interesting release. Ten oak trees were felled from Ballaghtobin Estate in Co. Kilkenny, from here the trees were numbered and sent to Spain to be quarter sawn into staves before being made into 48 unique Irish oak barrels. They are then medium toasted before being shipped back to Cork to be filled and rest until the premium spirit is ready. The distillate was tasted once a week, every week to ascertain whether or not the whiskey had reached its finishing point, after the ten month mark it had completed it’s journey. Bottled at cask strength and individually numbered by batch, bottle and more importantly tree they are now on sale for €260 in Ireland. Each tree having its own affect on the final taste of the whiskey so every release has its own characteristics. The general tones are well balanced, subtly flavoured with chocolate, caramel and toasted notes complementing the Irish oak tones very well.

There have been several exciting releases from IDL in recent years with their pot still Midleton range; Midleton Pearl, Midleton 30 and Barry Crockett legacy to name a few, but none have had the individualism that these individually numbered releases have in Dair Ghaelach.

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Having a complete collection of Midleton very rare back from the initial release in 1984 increases the total value than just the sum of its individual parts, boasting a juicy price tag of €50,000 on the second hand market. The word on the street is that IDL are pegging this new release as the next big investment. They are releasing this line tree by tree as not to flood the market all at once, apparently. Already they are seeing collectors rushing to purchase each new tree as it has been released in an apparent bid to compile a complete set. At a whopping €2,340 for the nine bottles (supposedly the tenth tree was used for parts where needed), it is true that very few will even be able to compile the full collection but will there be the high end desirability for this whiskey down the line? Midleton Very Rare investment has paid dividends after 30 years. This could be some long game investment that not every Joe bloggs could afford. Although, this seems to be a major talking point of the new release and perhaps these premonitions of increased desirability due to a complete set will come true, who knows for certain.

But with large distilleries all over Ireland and the word putting out limited releases on almost a monthly basis will the Dair Ghaelach stick it’s head above the parapet and become an icon like the Very Rare range before it? I’m cautiously doubtful, at its ultra-premium price point but that’s just the opinion of this man.

That said, this does not detract from the ingenuity that this represents coming from IDL. Adapting for the ever evolving Irish Whiskey market, showing the world that we can create premium, delicious whiskey that is not simply a combination of ex-bourbon and ex oloroso sherry casks we see so often. IDL are doing great things and I look forward to seeing the Dair Ghaelach fight for its place in the big leagues and perhaps see a close relative make its way from Midleton sometime soon if it does!

Whether or not sinking your wages into this new project from Midleton I am very excited to see for myself first hand what the new Irish oak finish evokes on the taste buds and also what other interesting ideas Ger Buckley and the other four masters in Midleton come up with in this new spirit of innovation (no pun intended).

So all that remains is to ask…. Do You think that all nine trees are worth collecting? Am I way off the ball here? Or perhaps you might fight my corner with me? Either way I’d love to hear opinions on the matter so comment and let me know!

Whiskey Wankers: Irish Whiskey

So we held our monthly tasting session last night so I’m going to post a quick round up and review of the bottles as well on a separate post. The theme of the evening was Irish whiskey, both pot still and single malt.

IMG_5389The Whiskey Wankers is a group of students from the east coast of Ireland that get together once a month to try some seriously good whiskey. We chose the name based on a not for profit whiskey group that I bartended for in Vancouver called “The Whisky Wisemen” seriously cool guys. Pursuing better knowledge of whiskey while raising money for charity. Check them out http://www.whiskywisemen.com/ . When I returned to Ireland I wanted to continue what a cool idea that was. We thought of stealing the name for ourselves but we realised that a group of twenty something year old students would sound like absolute wankers with a name like that. So we cut out the middle man and here we are today!

The buy in: set amount each month. 40 beans. Cheaper than a night out in Dublin. (fact) WAAAAY more fun than a night out in Dublin. (subjective fact).

I, with the best knowledge in the group, choose the theme of the meetings, set the line up, collect the money, buy the bottles and set up the tasting. I let them know the theme in advance but not the particular bottles. This stops people trying to cheat with the tasting notes (look better in front of the girls a.k.a. “whiskey wenches”…. they didn’t like being called “wankettes”).

SO ramble over…

We began our pot still journey with the infamous Mitchell & Son’s Green and Yellow spot. We continued our journey with one of my favourite pot stills, Redbreast 12 year old and completed the evening with Connemara single malt out of Cooley.

We had a mix of newbies and long time whiskey fans last night and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised that the outright favourite was Connemara. I thought the pot still spice and its fruity flavours would win over the attendees but as they say like everything with whiskey “it depends”.

My main goal of the evening was to develop the groups awareness of the distinct Irish distilling method and show them exactly what Ireland had to offer. We’re nothing but a group of students in our twenties looking to try something different.

In the end I think it worked quite well. I began with a blind tasting, testing the groups nose and palate without the aids one gets from knowing their drink. Went down quite well and I certainly think that if I employ this method again I have learnt a lot about what I should have put in and things I can leave out. So we all learned a bit!

Over all we got to nerd out on different cask types and discuss different aspects of the production process which was cool. Everyone got very merry. The bottles this morning are hurting as much as our heads.

We laughed, we learned and drank some seriously good whiskey.
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Tl:DR: Group of wankers met up and drank really nice irish whiskey.

Abelour A’Bunadh – A Review

So with all the talk of Quarter Cask and A’bunadh convincing so many staunch anti-NAS fanatics I felt like I ought to give this at least a try! Had this dram in the lovely Albanch bar on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Abelour A’bunadh – Batch 47. 60.7% Abv

Nose: ripe fruits, strong alcohol presence, raisins, candyshop sweetness, light honey comb.

Palate: Bright open with wood spice, warm, sweet sherry, demerara sugar, hints of marshmallow (Maeve’s input).

Finish: Sharp lingering spice, wood spice, sweetness, marshmallow again. Medium length.

Score: 82/100.

For a oloroso sherry casking I was pleasantly surprised that the taste wasn’t overpowering. Maybe in my mind the story behind A’bunadh was hyped up quite a bit but my opinions are I’d have it again, probably wouldn’t buy a bottle of it though myself.

TL:DR: A’bunadh was good. Nothing amazing. Over hyped.Abelour