It’s ‘up periscope’ for Irish distilleries

29 August, 2019

I know how wierd this might seem but I often think that the opening of a new distillery is like the launch of a new submarine. It is unveiled in all its pristine glory in a blaze of publicity and fanfare.

Then it sinks below the surface, out of sight, and we don’t see it again until it rises up some time later. In the case of a European distillery, that’s after at least three years.

Ireland has had more ‘submarines’ than most in recent months, and its burgeoning whiskey industry has had extensive media coverage, including a thorough feature in last month’s issue of this magazine.

But most of the focus has been on the number of new distilleries and new whiskey expressions that are coming to market.

And, because many of the new distilleries are still under the water and out of sight, the next few years promise to be very exciting indeed, as scores of fledgling whiskeys are launched.

For me, though, the real story isn’t about the quantity of new distilleries or expressions, but of the quality of them: the huge investment in the distilleries themselves, the quality of the whiskeys that the distilleries have

bought in to represent them as they wait for their own spirit to mature, and the sheer diversity of new whiskey flavours that are wooing a fresh generation of whiskey drinkers.

Let’s put this in context. Not so long ago Irish whiskey was a one-trick, why-fix-what’s-not-broken drink: a triple-distilled, blended whiskey, bottled at 40% abv. But with a new wave of distillers champing

at the bit to explore new Irish whiskey flavours, and the old guard prepared to take brands such as Jameson and Redbreast into new and exciting territory, these are heady times.

It doesn’t always work. Teeling’s Pot Still Whiskey is far too young, sappy and simple to do the category justice, though you suspect that time will change that.

Some of the single casks of Redbreast offered to various Irish bars and retailers are not only expensive but are unbalanced and lacking all the subtlety of the wonderful 12-year-old cask-strength version – no surprise given that a heavily sherried Redbreast single cask is just a sherried whiskey and has none of the finesse that the bourbon cask contribution would normally bring to the party.

But other whiskeys from Teeling, and those from the likes of Powerscourt, Pearse Lyons, and the newly-opened Dublin Liberties Distillery are a revelation.

It’s not just the whiskey, either. Powerscourt is part of the famous luxury hotel resort and estate, Slane is on the estate where the famous castle is, and Pearse Lyons is an old, disused church that is costing its owners a fortune as they restore and renovate a much-neglected graveyard in its grounds.

Meanwhile, Teeling and Liberties are playing a role in resurrecting the poor and shambolic area close to the city walls. The Liberties was notorious but bursting with life, and Dublin Liberties is trying to reflect that – it is a stunning mix of old and new, a Tardis-like distillery where no expense had been spared to bring whiskey lovers the ultimate visitor experience.

Throw in the development of premium and super-premium Irish whiskeys and the slow growth of a secondary and collectible market for Irish whiskey and the category is coming of age – for quality and quantity.

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