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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Adam O'Connell

Reviving a classic Irish whiskey distillery with Tullamore D.E.W.

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s…

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s stewardship.

The first thing you see when you enter the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery is a copper phoenix. It was adopted as the symbol of the town in 1785, a decade after Tullamore was seriously damaged when the crash of a hot air balloon resulted in a fire that burned down around 130 homes. It’s the emblem of the local sports clubs. There’s a bar in town called The Phoenix. Symbolically it’s the perfect image for the Irish whiskey brand to evoke, as it knows a thing or two about rising from the ashes.

The original Tullamore distillery was built in 1829 by the Malloy Brothers – Michael and Anthony Malloy. After passing through the family for a couple of generations, the business was left to Daniel Edmund Williams to run. “Williams joined the business in 1862 as a 14-year-old boy and by the time he was 25, in 1873, he was the general manager,” says John Quinn, the global ambassador for the brand. “Over the next two decades he proceeded to buy out the owners and began producing a whiskey that became famous and the famous ‘D.E.W. ‘was added, a play on Williams’ three initials and the word ‘dew’”. There’s an air of Willy Wonka about Williams. He added a bonded warehouse and bottling plant to the distillery, and transformed the town bringing modern amenities like electricity, telephones and cars, as well as opening over 20 pub-grocery shops. He even coinined the immortal slogan “Give Every Man his Dew”. “He was an iconic man, an iconic individual. It inspires us and it would inspire anybody,” explains Quinn.

Although the brand initially thrived, by the beginning of the 20th century it was barely surviving, a fate that affected most Irish whiskey distilleries due to a number of reasons. “The rebellion in Dublin that generated independence for Ireland also led to an economic war with Britain, which meant access to the likes of Canada, Australian, India and Britain was blocked. That coincided with the Prohibition in the US so the market was closed to Irish whiskey exports. Then, with the second world war, the American soldiers eventually based themselves in Britain and got a taste for Scotch,” explains Quinn. “Probably the most significant event, however, was the development of blended Scotch. The distillers of Ireland fought hard against its introduction and this inability to move with the times caused the Irish whisky industry to almost collapse. Combined with the financial difficulties that came with the new Irish state after independence a lot of the distilleries struggled, particularly as the overseas business had virtually gone completely. By the 1950s most of the distilleries in Ireland were closed”.

Tullamore D.E.W

John Quinn has been working with the brand since 1974, so he’s seen it all.

Tullamore Distillery held on until 1954 until it had to shut its doors. But the brand didn’t die off. It was sold to John Powers & Son in 1960 and six years later the Dublin distillers merged with two other Irish distilleries to form Irish Distillers. In the 1970s, Irish Distillers closed their existing distilleries and consolidated production at a new distillery built in Midleton, County Cork. In 1994, Irish Distillers sold the brand to the C&C Group before it was acquired by the owners of Glenfiddich et al, William Grant & Sons, for €300 million in 2010. At which point, Tullamore D.E.W. was still without its own distillery, with every expression released under the brand’s name being sourced from Bushmills and Midleton Distillery.

William Grant , however, had other ideas. It put plans into motion to build a new state-of-the-art distillery in Tullamore.”When William Grant took over we heard talk of building a distillery but I kind of refused to believe it because I’d heard it all before. People used to say ‘if we sell a quarter of a million cases, we’ll build a distillery’. We got to 600,000 cases, still no distillery. There was a commitment to build the brand but not to build the legacy!” says Quinn. “When William Grant took over I can remember the joy of talking to people who were also interested in whisky and history and legacy. A lot of people are getting into Irish whiskey trying to make money. With the Grant family, it’s in their blood and they genuinely are passionate about it. When you’re part of a company that lives and breathes whisky, it’s different”. 

Quinn actually first realised that William Grant was serious about the project while managing a ladies football team. “One of the players needed a lift to the game and said ‘I’m sorry I’m late but I had to finish a report I was writing’. She was a ground engineer writing a report for a whisky company and said it was looking at building a distillery. Immediately I knew who she was talking about,” Quinn recalls. “Lo-and-behold, a month or two later we got an announcement that the distillery was to be built in Tullamore. It was the greatest thrill of all time for me because I’m the longest-serving Tullamore D.E.W. person at that time in the business. I’m like a child in a toy shop when I go down there because having spent 40 something years in the business I’m now six years with our own distillery and it’s still a novelty that I can’t get over”.  

Tullamore D.E.W

The delightful new Tullamore Distillery.

After an initial €3 million investment upgrading the visitor centre (housed in the old distillery’s warehouse that closed in 1954), William Grant spent €35 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Tullamore, which opened in 2014. Initially it had the capacity to produce up to 1.8 million litres of pot still and malt whiskey per annum using four pot stills, but provision was made for the installation of a further two pot stills in the distillery, which doubled this capacity to 3.64 million litres. Following an additional €25 million investment, a grain distillery with a gigantic three column still and bottling plant were added in 2017. That spend brought total monies invested over the past eight years to €100m. “We now employ over 90 people locally and we have great facilities now for innovation, for trialling, for working on different casks and finishings,” says Quinn. “We even brought over Tom, the original distiller from 1948-54 who had emigrated to New York City, as the guest of honour. He got the keys that were lent to us by the Williams family to reopen the distillery”. 

The installation of a grain distillery means that the distillery can now produce all three components (pot still, malt, and grain whiskey) of its Tullamore Dew blended whiskey on-site, which matures in six warehouses filled with close to 300,000 casks. It’s the only triple-distilled blend, grain to glass Irish distillery. “We’re very proud of that. It’s the key thing about our brand that we distil three kinds of whisky, malt, pot still and grain, and each of those is triple-distilled [the grain in the column still]. That gives us a whiskey that’s complex, approachable and unique. There isn’t a lot of whiskey made that way,” says Quinn. “Pot still is a very interesting component in that it gives a viscosity and oiliness to the texture of the whiskey. It’s an iconic style in Ireland so it’s important that we have it in our blend and we’ll hopefully release a pot still whiskey in the not too distant future, which will be exciting. A single pot still won’t have been made in Tullamore in a long time, it would have been 65 years.” 

Another blend is the Tullamore D.E.W. XO Caribbean Rum Cask Finish, which finishes its original blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskeys in first fill Caribbean rum casks which previously held Demerara rum, while the brand also has a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old single malt in its portfolio, both of which were produced at Bushmills. At the visitors centre, you can also pick up the Tullamore D.E.W. Old Bonded Warehouse Release, which Quinn describes as “a variation of our original whisky with more pot still and sherry cask, it’s a big seller at our visitors centre because you can’t buy it anywhere else”. Excitingly, there’s more to come. “We’re in a process of innovation and we will be launching new expressions this year. They probably would have been launched sooner if it wasn’t for COVID-19, but we will have at least one, if not two expressions, coming certainly between now and next April. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more about them because there will be a big reveal and launch,” Quinn explains.

Tullamore D.E.W

The old warehouse was converted into the brand’s visitor centre

Tullamore D.E.W has the distinction of being the only distillery in Ireland that uses Irish winter wheat as its grain, which is considerably more expensive than say French corn, a more commonplace choice. “I remember when the grain distillery was being built and the project manager suggested it and I said I would love it to use Irish wheat rather than French corn if it’s possible! The thinking behind it at the time was that Girvan [grain distillery owned by William Grant] works with wheat and so our guys were happy to work with wheat from an engineering point-of-view, but for me, it was fantastic because it’s another part of our story which is interesting and different,” says Quinn. “Being environmentally conscious is still high on our agenda even with a pandemic going on. We have a distillery where the grain is all Irish and where the movement of your spirit from your distillery to the warehouses and from the warehouses into a bottling hall is just there beside you. It gives us an efficient carbon footprint statement. There’s no other distillery in Ireland that’s doing that. We’ve got three types of whiskies, all of them being matured on-site and all of them using Irish grain and all of them being matured and bottled in the same campus”. 

Part of this consideration to act responsibly and ensure provenance meant that William Grant also built a water pipe to receive the water from the Slieve Bloom Mountains as part of the construction of the distillery, which is 14 kilometres away. “The water coming from the mountains is probably softer but mostly we wanted to ensure that we had our own supply of water, rather than taking it out of the town supply or from underground even from wells below the distillery,” Quinn explains. The consideration for the local environment extended so far as to plant plants in the distillery grounds in order to facilitate a bee corridor and use a patented William Grant engineering department system called ‘thermal vapour recompression’. “Essentially it reuses the latent heat built up around the condensers to fire up the stills again so we don’t need nearly as much energy to run them, so it improves our efficiency by another 17% beyond what it would have been. I’m very proud of that part of our business. We’re just lucky that we’ve got this site big enough and the company had the vision to do everything on one site”. 

Tullamore D.E.W malt and pot still whiskey is distilled in handcrafted copper stills that were modelled on the original pre-1954 Tullamore stills, which are actually on display at the nearby Kilbeggan Distillery. “The engineers showed me the designs of the stills before and I thought ‘why is all this familiar to me?’ They told me they found the old designs and we’d gone to Forsyths in Scotland and asked them to make the stills’. That speaks to the importance of heritage and legacy and history in the business,” Quinn says. In keeping with the spirit of innovation, Tullamore D.E.W also brought back the art of coopering to its distillery for the first time in six decades. The brand’s cooperage currently employs one cooper who previously worked in Cognac and for William Grant in Scotland before he came to Tullamore. The plan is to hire an apprentice in the near future. “At first we didn’t think having our own cooper would be essential, but as time went on and the more casks that we put out, we realised we needed to have our cooper man on-site doing all this work’,” Quinn says. “It’s brilliant because it completes the whole picture”.

Tullamore D.E.W

The handcrafted copper stills were modelled on the original pre-1954 model

Tullamore D.E.W is certainly going to be putting those skills to good use as the brand has never shied away from experimenting with cask types, which the Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish expression demonstrates. “The Scotch whisky people I talk to do have a degree of gentle jealousy that there’s flexibility in Irish whiskey to play with different casks that they don’t, or least until recently certainly didn’t have. We appreciate that we need to hold onto some of the traditions and not throw everything out, but that we don’t need to hamstring ourselves completely”, Quinn explains. “We’ve got great flexibility to do all sorts of cask finishing, which gives us an opportunity to offer expressions that might not otherwise have been available and therefore Irish Whiskey becomes really interesting. And we need to be interesting because we need people to be talking about it, you know?”

That conversation has been helped by the formation of the Irish Whisky Association in 2014, according to Quinn, who believes that the organisation gives those in the Irish whiskey industry a sense of common purpose and an understanding of the threat of not doing it right. “We’ve developed quality standards and technical and verification files with a view to geographical indication to help define what the category is. It brings us all together and gives everybody a chance to do well so the industry can continue to thrive and grow, employ more people and encourage a tourism industry that we haven’t had” Quinn explains. His ultimate aim is that it becomes sort of second nature to talk about ‘Irish’ when you talk about ‘whiskey’. “I remember a time when we had to remind people that there are other whiskies beyond Scotch and American. When convincing people that Irish whiskey has heritage, quality and flavour was a real challenge. You have to be careful that we don’t get complacent and what we definitely don’t want is the new smaller distilleries to fail and for us to find ourselves with closed distilleries again in Ireland. We want everybody to succeed and I can’t see any reason why anybody would want other than a thriving business”.

Cocktails have become a key part of this conversation and Tullamore D.E.W as a brand has embraced this culture, filling its website with recipes. This is something Quinn never thought he’d see in an article about whiskey and the fact that cocktails have become such a key part of the conversation is a pleasant surprise for him. “Did I ever think I would see myself talking about cocktails? No! But it’s great to hear bartenders responding to the different elements in the blend. I love that they can pick out the sweetness from the grain whiskey, the spice that’s coming from the pot still, the fruit that’s coming from the malt and then make something special with it. It’s this blend of thoughts, cultures and ideas that make us all interesting people and an interesting brand”. 

Tullamore D.E.W

Tullamore D.E.W is Ireland’s second-biggest whiskey brand and its future is bright

Interesting though they are, in the current climate it’s harder than ever to predict what the future holds for Tullamore D.E.W. and Irish whiskey. Prior to the pandemic, it was on course to sell a million and a half cases this year. “If you had asked me this in December my answer would be that I see a very bright future for Irish whiskey, particularly in places where we’re really small and relatively unknown. In Latin America or Asia for example, where there’s a very strong Scotch culture, we’re trying to help people understand that this is a really interesting category and country. Our business is dominated by Europe and North America, so these markets are an incredible opportunity for us as a category,” Quinn says. “There’s potential there and I hope we’ll have an industry where there are lots of Irish whiskey distilleries with different flavour profiles and everybody will have a place in and will be living from a vibrant industry platform that talks with confidence and nobody worries about mothballed distilleries. That’s what I’m hoping, that’s what I dream of and that’s what I envisage. For the last 15 years, we can say that that’s certainly been the trend line”.

The Tullamore D.E.W. range is available from Master of Malt.

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Citadelle: Cognac’s renegade gin

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a…

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a gin in the first place, the 18th-century recipe he based it on and his patented brand of gin distillation.

Given that he runs his own Cognac, rum and gin brands, you might think it’s hard to pin down Alexandre Gabriel. But, in my experience, the restless innovator is always happy to make time to chat about booze. Before I ask a question, he informs me he’s just spent the morning planting juniper trees at the Bonbonnet Estate and that he hopes the juniper and lemon supply for Citadelle Gin will be totally self-sustainable within five years. He’s been planting juniper berries since September 2017, inspired by the fact that the south west of France was known for its juniper berries during medieval times. He then explains that as someone one grew up on a farm he’s attached to the idea of growing what he needs, organically, of course. He already grows his own grapes for his Cognac.

In the midst of this discussion, Gabriel moves onto the topic of expansion, explaining that his other hobby is architecture. “We are expanding the distillery at the old estate at Bonbonnet. We do everything ourselves. The stonemasons are the guys who fill the barrels at Maison Ferrand. We’re putting nine pot stills in, old Cognac stills that I found that date back to the 1950s and ’60s and we are refurbishing them as we speak. Right now we are using our Cognac stills off-season to distil Citadelle,” he explains. I still haven’t actually asked a question at this point. “We are going to be able to use an economical system for our cooling water. Instead of using an inverter to cool it down and waste energy, we’re going to use warmer water and install long pipes so that we reuse that water in our greenhouse to grow the lemons that we need for Citadelle. More juniper berries, more stills, more experiments”. 

We’re ten minutes in and I already know this is going to be a productive interview. But you don’t expect any less from Gabriel, as you’ll know if you’ve read our previous features on Pierre Ferrand and Plantation Rum. Today, however, the focus is on Citadelle Gin. In my opinion, it’s his most intriguing brand. Why? Because it’s a premium French gin brand that was released back in the ’90s. It’s hard to put into context now given gin’s boom in the last decade how crazy you would have sounded pitching this idea. Gabriel remembers the feeling well. “It was like a moon landing! There was nobody on the gin planet. In 1996 I thought the world was waiting for an artisanal delicious gin. It was not!”

Citadelle Gin

Drinks maverick Alexandre Gabriel and his locally-grown juniper berries

In the early days of Citadelle, Gabriel recalls a group of students proposing to do a business case on the brand. Naturally, Gabriel accepted, hoping their acumen would provide some insight. Their analysis? “There is no way this can work,” Gabriel says, laughing at his own expense. “This kept happening. I remember our importer in America looking at me like I must have gone mad. A French gin?! This decision was made purely out of passion and it was almost disastrous to our business. I have made many mistakes and I hope I am going to make less,” he says. “It looked like Citadelle wouldn’t work because it was out of time and it was financially painful. But, in the end, the two wrongs became a right. Now there is a new gin every week, right!?”

Citadelle Gin didn’t thrive so much as survive in the early days, slowly building a reputation and fan base for its fresh, clean and delightfully mixable profile. Gabriel is particularly grateful to the influence of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. “In about 1997/98 Adrià was on TV. He said that Gin and Tonic is a gastronomic act and a beautiful aperitif and that you should use a great gin. He whipped out a bottle of Citadelle. We were like ‘wow’. That made a difference,” Gabriel recalls. “This guy is the one that put the Spanish Gin and Tonic, which conquered the world, on the map. He really did, I was there and I saw it, and he never took credit for it but he really did. Then in the US, the New York Times wrote a beautiful piece in 1999 called something like ‘Citadelle storms the gate’. It was half a page and that was a big push for New York. Every bit counted for us”. 

But before the days of trying to convince customers to give French gin a try, Gabriel had a much bigger stumbling block. He had to convince the authorities to give French gin a try. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations stated that the brandy can only be distilled between November and March. After that stills must be locked up and put into hibernation for seven months. From the outside, that might seem perfect.  The region’s copper alembic stills and distillers have six months of the year free to distil something else and you don’t have to waste money creating a new distillery. But nothing’s ever that simple, as Gabriel found out quickly. Distilling gin in Cognac stills wasn’t simply frowned upon, it was outright banned. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) had never received a request for this to change and probably never thought anybody would ask. But Gabriel is not one to follow conventional wisdom or pay much heed to what he believed were antiquated laws.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin was ahead of its time and its creation was plagued with roadblocks

What followed was a struggle in which Gabriel lobbied to make his gin, arguing that there was historical precedent for this act. Extensive research uncovered that historically gin was produced in pot stills over a naked flame, which is exactly how Cognac pot stills were designed. “I don’t know about you but when I am pissed at something I work even harder! France is a very bureaucratic country. I was told there’s no rule that allows me to do this, but I was much younger and rebellious in nature and I said there’s no rule that says I cannot”, he said. Eventually, “after five long years, I finally received the AOC approval to distil gin in Cognac in 1995!” 

Gabriel’s keen interest in history also led him to an 18th-century French distillery that inspired the Citadelle name and influenced the profile of the gin he would eventually make. “I tried to absorb everything I could about gin. I’ve always been attached to the idea of revitalising artisanal spirits that are a part of French heritage. We know the ancestor of gin was inspired by the Dutch, but at the time the Netherlands was a huge area that included parts of France and Belgium. I hired interns, I still do this a lot, to go through all the archives in the main cities. One day they discovered in a church an archive with a whole documented history of every parchment about the first official genever distillery in France,” Gabriel says. “I still have all the copies. It was established in the citadel of Dunkirk in 1775 on Louis XVI’s authorisation to smuggle gin to the UK. The distillers, Carpeau and Stival, used 12 copper pot stills to distil their gin and multiple botanicals like exotic spices alongside juniper berries. It was actually transported in barrels too. We uncovered some of their recipes. It was an inspiration and I thought the name was cool. Luckily it was not patented anymore!”

While some inspiration for Citadelle Gin came from this historical booze, Gabriel already had a style in mind: a classic profile that was fresh, thirst-quenching and most importantly juniper-forward. Good thing he’s growing so many of his own. “I wanted Citadelle to be fully integrated with many other elements that give it a rich mouth-feel and a great complexity. The apex of the triangle would be the juniper berries, the second element being citrus, lemon with a little bit of orange in our case and then the third element is the warm wind of exoticism, in our case nutmeg, that true gins should have,” says Gabriel. “We’re lucky because the Cognac stills have a very low swan neck which extracts a lot of the essential oils of the botanicals and it gives you a viscosity effect that balances the freshness of the product and the citrus-feel. I knew I would get that luscious effect from the distillation methods, it’s very slow, that’s the only downside to it”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin is created thanks to progressive infusion, a patented technique

Citadelle Gin is crafted using a unique technique called progressive infusion, which Gabriel describes as being a similar process to making tea, except you brew different elements at different times in the teapot. In the case of Citadelle Gin, the elements refer to the botanicals: French juniper berries, orris root, French violet root, Moroccan coriander, almonds, Spanish lemon peel, Mexican orange peel, angelica from North Germany, Indian cardamom, Indian nutmeg, cassia bark, Sri Lankan cinnamon, Mediterranean fennel, African grains of paradise, cubeb from Java, Chinese liquorice, cumin, French anise, and savory. “Each botanical is infused in neutral alcohol of French wheat for different lengths of proof and time, according to its aromatic function,” Gabriel explains. “While some require a strong degree of alcohol and a long infusion such as juniper berries, others infuse better in a weaker degree of alcohol, in a shorter time like star anise”. 

The infusion process lasts three to four days, during which the botanicals are added in successive steps while the degree of alcohol diminishes. “We lower the ABV with pure water, the same water that we use to bring down the ABV for Cognac, in which all the mineral elements have been eliminated through the reverse osmosis process. At the end, once the 19 botanicals have been infused, the ABV is about 30-35%. We set 20% of the infused spirit aside before sending it to the distillery and we infuse three extra botanicals, yuzu, cornflower and genepi from the Alps,” Gabriel says. “We then take the infused spirit to the distillery and we distil. Since the spirit has already been distilled at least three times, we only have to do one distillation. We do not keep the heads, we keep the heart and a large part of the seconds as well”. 

This atypical process of progressive infusion is actually a patented technique, something which Gabriel had never thought of doing until a figure within the government recommended it. “There’s a lot of pride in the French gastronomy and we were told our process should be recorded as a French method. Also, if we did it we could be involved in the French research and development programme,” he explains. “This afforded me the chance to hire a young guy from my village, Nicolas, who did a PhD thesis on the terroir of the Cognac. We’ve given this guy training and it’s been great to have him on my side since then. By the way, the patent is fully open, I’m not gathering any money from it. If you want to use it, it’s Patent No. 17 58092”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Réserve was one of the first aged gins of the modern era

The process of creating gin clearly still excites Gabriel more than two decades later. The potential to explore an array of aromatics that were different from the ones I grew up with is very attractive. But also, look at the regulations on how Cognac is made. It’s 23 pages long. With gin, it’s more like a page or half a page, so the only real limit is your imagination which is very exciting when you come from the Cognac world. I am trained classically in Cognac so I am playing Bach, if you will, so when I make gin it’s like getting to play rock’n’roll or jazz instead. That freedom is wonderful,” Gabriel explains. “When we made Citadelle Réserve we aged it in acacia barrels, a style my grandfather taught me. But if I do that in Cognac… I’d be looking at five months! Yet, we know that classic Cognacs from the 1900s were aged in chestnut barrels thanks to English archives. It’s illegal now. Crazy right?”

He first released Citadelle Réserve back in 2008. Once again, this puts him ahead of the curve in the craft gin game, as there weren’t many aged gins around back then. But Gabriel is quick to clarify that it wasn’t his idea. Instead, it was inspired by another round of research into the history of gin. “I’m ashamed to say, it didn’t come to my mind until I was reading this old document from the archives about gin being shipped gin in barrels. It was really late at night and I immediately ran to our barrels and started pouring gin in a Cognac barrel,” he explains. “It was the first revival of the yellow gins that I know of. Some people followed suit, but it’s still very niche as a category”. 

Acacia wood was just a starting point for Gabriel’s cask experimentations. At Maison Ferrand, you’ll find barrels of wild cherry woods, chataignier (chestnut) and murier (mulberry), as well as French oak having contained Pineau de Charentes or Cognac. All have been used to make editions of Citadelle Réserve, and spirit from all these wood types have been blended in the egg. What egg? The huge wooden egg on site. No, seriously. It’s a patented wood receptacle in which aged Citadelle Gins are blended, making it the first and only gin in the world to use this method. “We call it ‘the ovum’. When I saw this egg I fell in love. It’s a slow and constant blending process designed to integrate the different wood essences,” Gabriel explains. “At 2.45 meters high and with the help of natural convection, the gin inside is in a state of perpetual motion, reducing oxygenation, and preserving the palette of aromas and evaporating volatile aromatic components”.

Citadelle Gin

All hail ‘the ovum’

Gabriel’s desire to explore and test the limits of gin led to the creation of the limited edition Extreme Collection. The first was Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin, made with caramelised Caribbean brown sugar that was aged in the barrel with its cask-aged Citadelle Réserve. Wild Blossom followed, a gin inspired by his mother’s love of herbal infusions that was distilled wild cherry blossom petals and aged in cherrywood casks for five months. “They keep me sane. Take ‘Saisons of the Witch’, which I made by roasting my juniper berries and distilled it with the other botanicals to create a slightly smoky, roasted pepper gin. We sell it only on the estate and we made a few hundred bottles, but I love it,” Gabriel says. “Right now I can tease that we’ve got a new aged gin expression on the way and, also some breaking news, we have a gin maturing in 100-litre vats made from juniper berry tree. All this crazy stuff that I’m having fun with is all part of that new frontier of gin! Then 2021 will be the 25th anniversary of the launching of Citadelle, so the 25th anniversary will come with some surprises as well”. 

The freedom of distilling gin does have its drawbacks for Gabriel, who’s very passionate about gin being a juniper-forward spirit in profile. “I disagree with people just adding the flavour of fruit into a gin. I am older now, I have learned to be respectful. I know the flavoured and coloured gins are growing extremely well, but that’s a direction that I’m not interested in. To me, it is to gin what the marshmallow-flavoured vodka was to that category. We have to be careful as producers because it can dirty the name of gin,” Gabriel reasons. “I’m a purist that way. I have been cautious of exploring and pushing boundaries, even though I am usually considered the guy who is always pushing things. But an approach that is motivated by purely commercial goals is a problem. We are confusing people. We have to be careful that gin isn’t looked at as a different category. The real definition is that gin is a spirit with the dominant flavour of juniper berries”.

Despite his reservations about the flavoured category, Gabriel remains optimistic that gin has got a very exciting future. “Gin has been around for a long time and has gone through a renaissance, a revival that I would never have expected in 1996. But there is still a great interest in gin that’s not going away too quickly. I know England and Spain were the precursor and have been crazy about it for a while but the French are just getting started,” Gabriel says. “People are really excited about gin because of the possibilities that the producer, and therefore the drinker, can explore. That’s the beauty of gin”.

Citadelle Gin

So how to use Citadelle Gin? Gabriel has a few thoughts: “I love a G&T and with Citadelle it’s incredible, but my little sin is actually a Gin Reserve with just a glassful of dry Curaçao,” he says. “Not the blue stuff, we make an original curacao made with real orange. I also love a gin martini with a great vermouth like Dolin and of course I love a French 75”. My advice would be to explore and experiment. It’s what Alexandre Gabriel would do. 

Citadelle Gin Tasting Note:

Nose: Bright, piney juniper is at the forefront, with warm citrus from orange and coriander in support alongside some green cardamom and fresh flowers. In the backdrop, there are deeper, spicy notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and grains of paradise, which are joined by a slight nutty quality and the sticky sweetness of liquorice. 

Palate: The juniper is front and centre once more, but it’s joined by spice from cracked black pepper, the floral sweetness of Parma Violets and a savoury, woody quality. It’s a rich and full-bodied palate that features orange peel, cumin, star anise and cardamom throughout. 

Finish: Dry and a little peppery at first, the finish then develops with plenty of aromatic baking spices, fennel, more liquorice and a sweet hint of angelica.

Overall: A complex, intriguing and well-integrated gin that does a particularly good job of balancing floral and spicy notes.

Citadelle gin is available from Master of Malt.

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Showcasing the value of vermouth with Vermò

What’s the best way to champion the vermouth category to a new audience? Make your own delicious vermouth, of course. Like Vermò. A once sidelined drink is having a moment….

What’s the best way to champion the vermouth category to a new audience? Make your own delicious vermouth, of course. Like Vermò.

A once sidelined drink is having a moment. New producers are emerging. Vermò is one of them. The brand’s name is a combination of the word vermouth and the Roman expression ‘Mò’, which means ‘now’ and was said as a call to take advantage of every moment to the fullest. Which is apt, because while vermouth has a rich history and is a versatile drink, it’s only recently that consumers are gradually becoming aware of its delights and potential. For the creators of Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso, Ettore Velluto and Jorge Ferrer, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Like many drink businesses, Vermò started with friends who asked “why not?! Velluto and Ferrer became close while studying in Barcelona together, eventually becoming flatmates as Ferrer worked with Jack Daniels and Velluto plied his trade at a consulting company. But they began to notice that vermouth was becoming increasingly popular in the city. Sharing a love of the drink and a desire to found their own brand, they decided to take a leap of faith. “In the beginning, it was just for fun. We were thinking of something we could do together and we were passionate about this industry. We started dedicating our weekends to writing a business plan and trying Italian, Spanish and French vermouth,” Velluto explains. 

Growing up in Spain and Italy respectively, Ferrer and Velutto recall a time when it was commonplace to see their grandparents’ generation drinking vermouth. But they both also felt that they witnessed it skip a generation. “I remember my grandmother always having either a bottle of vermouth in the house. It used to be in the culture of the Spanish people, when we said we were having an aperitivo, we meant vermouth,” says Ferrer. “In Spain, we are now seeing the revival of the category and young people are drinking vermouth more. But the first time my parents had vermouth at home was when we started the brand”. “It’s the same for Italy”, adds Velluto. “It’s a product that was rooted in tradition. My grandfather and people his age would meet to drink vermouth. Everybody had a bottle at their place. But it jumped a generation. The product almost disappeared”. 

Vermò

Vermò founders Ettore Velluto and Jorge Ferrer

While Ferrer and Velutto shared a romantic connection with vermouth, they understood that Italy and Spain had different approaches to creating and drinking vermouth. Instead of simply picking one, they were motivated to create a drink that brought together Italy and Spain.“We wanted to create a vermouth brand that was different from the ones already in the market. We liked the characteristics of Italian vermouth and the relaxed and more easy-drinking approach of Spanish vermouth, which is enjoying a new wave of aperitivo culture,” says Velluto. “Many vermouths had a really classic look and feel, and also a classic taste. We wanted to break away from this with a more contemporary approach and design,” Ferrer comments. “We felt that the image and the identity of the brands were really old fashioned. The label reminds of a 200 year ago origin story or a different time and we didn’t think that was appealing for a younger generation”. 

After a period of researching and working on a business plan, Ferrer and Velutto decided against distilling their own vermouth. This would have proved too costly and difficult, so instead, they chose to build a brand and work with an established producer. While they chased down leads across Italy, from Rome to Tuscany, the duo experimented. This process of trial and error was educational as Ferrer and Velutto understood exactly what they wanted. They knew they needed a distinctive brand that would appeal to their generation. They also knew that their ideal vermouth was fresh and acidic and not overly sweet. However, Ferrer and Velutto also came to realise that creating the best possible product meant being loyal to the traditions and origins of vermouth and embracing the classic side of the production. They wanted to make Vermouth di Torino.

Commercial production of vermouth in Turin dates back to the end of the 18th century, but while Vermouth di Torino as a style has possessed a geographical denomination since 1991, it wasn’t until 2017 that a law was created by The Vermouth di Torino Institute (an alliance of 15 brands) to define its production parameters. It states that Vermouth di Torino is “an aromatised wine obtained in Piedmont using Italian wine only, with the addition of alcohol, flavoured mainly with artemisia from Piedmont together with other herbs and spices’. “When you are Italian, vermouth is from Turin. If you want to make respectable vermouth, it has to be a Vermouth di Torino. We were nobody, the power of having that status and being produced by a great vermouth producer was so important,” says Velluto. “A great brand without a great product is nothing,” adds Ferrer.

Vermò

Vermò is made at the family-owned La Canellese distillery

While researching for the perfect partner, Velutto found La Canellese, a distillery in the heart of the Piedmont region that dates back to 1890 and has been owned and run by the four generations of the Sconfienza since 1957. “It was in a book by Fulvio Piccinino, a major expert on vermouth worldwide, and he talks extensively about the different brands and also different producers,” says Velluto. “We went there and bought the sample we had and explained extensively how we saw the product and that we wanted to take what we had and make it lighter and fresher”. 

An array of samples were sent to La Canellese with differing levels of alcohol, sugar and spices before a tasting was held and a winner picked. The relationship was good but not without pushback. “They accommodated us a lot. They let us play, but they are traditional to the point that they did block some of our ideas! We respect them and always take their advice into consideration because they are one of the key players in the world for vermouth. But if they feel uncomfortable we know that we are doing something right; because if they feel too comfortable, we are not on the right path,” says Ferrer.  

All this experimentation, collaboration and hard work turned into Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso. Velutto explains that the process of creating it all starts from the spices. “We buy spices that are already dried but still intact which La Canellese grind in an old hammer mill they have always used. The traditional method of infusion calls for cold extraction. Hot extraction is faster but more aggressive on the spices so we prefer to take things slowly. An alcohol solution is dripped on the spices and subsequently drained away in a continuous cycle for twenty days,” he explains. “The infused solution then sits for a further ten days to allow all of the sediment to settle, which is then filtered so you can mix it together with wine, sugar and alcohol in a huge iron silo. We cool the silo which makes all the sediments that were not already filtered go to the bottom of the silo and then after 20 days in the silo, you filter it again with a hydro filter to get a clear liquid solution. We bottle it and wait for 20, 30 days more to let the liquid rest and settle in the bottle. So the whole process is three to four months”.

Vermò

Vermò is a Vermouth di Torino Rosso, a historic style of vermouth

Wine must be at least 75% of the total volume of vermouth and typically this consists of white wine or a mistelle, a  partially-fermented white wine to which brandy has been added to retain sweetness from unfermented sugar. Vermò was made using the former, all Italian white wine and always with a percentage of Trebbiano and Chardonnay because these wines have the profile that Ferrer and Velluto desired. “We wanted a product that was less sweet and had more acidity and fresh delivery. La Canellese had a lot of recommendations for the types of grapes we should use to create the product that we wanted to have, We agreed with La Canellese that Chardonnay was a good choice as it gives the product these characteristics” says Velluto. “We also settled on Trebbiano because it is a classic vermouth wine and the grapes grow in the on-site vineyards”.

You’ll have noticed there’s a recurring theme here, that Ferrer and Velutto were very resistant to making saccharine vermouth. Naturally, Vermò has got quite a low sugar content. This was always an important issue for Ferrer and Velluto as they felt this was the key to create a more accessible type of vermouth. “We found too many vermouths were too sweet or thick. People like vermouth because of the low ABV, the flavour profile, the aperitivo culture, and that you can pair it with food, but they would have just one glass because it was too heavy. We wanted to do something fresher,” says Ferrer. “We wanted to focus on deriving the most amount of flavour from the botanicals to make vermouth that goes down quite easy – which is good for us and good for the consumer as well!

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the Vermò recipe is its botanical content. A total of 31 botanicals were used, a blend of ingredients that was decided upon after much experimentation. “We knew the kind of taste we wanted and initially went to La Canellese with 15 or 16 botanicals in mind. But to balance our recipe we added many things, including spices that we didn’t know about at first!” says Velluto. “Obviously our recipe is a secret so we can’t reveal all of it, but we can say there are spices like cinnamon, galangal, white pepper, elements like vanilla, some great citric freshness from lemon and some lovely bitterness from botanicals like aloe, as well as three different kinds of wormwood, Roman wormwood (artemisia pontica), Alpine wormwood (artemisia vallesiaca) and absinthe wormwood (artemisia absinthium), all grown in the Piedmont region as is required for a Vermouth di Torino”.

Vermò

Vermò has worked extensively with bartenders to create bespoke serves

When it is ready, Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso is bottled at 17% ABV and is ready to be consumed. The question is, how? Historically, vermouth in Italy was consumed with soda and in cocktails, like Negronis and Americanos. In Spain, the culture of cocktails is less strong and a lot of people drink vermouth neat. So, what should you do with Vermò? Easy: both. “We wanted to make vermouth that people would appreciate and often the best way to do that is to serve it neat or with some ice. Vermò really changes when you serve it this way, it opens up some other flavours, usually the fresher ones like the cardamom or lemon,” Ferrer explains. “But we also knew that we needed to have a product that was suitable and that worked really well with cocktails because, in the end, half of your advocacy is going to come from bartenders”.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that the brand has worked extensively with bartenders to create bespoke serves such as the El Don, Vermò Cobbler and Mary Anne. But if you’re intrigued by Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso and want to give it a try, a good place to start would be with the drinks you already know. It’s hard to go wrong with the classics. “It’s great in Negroni because it gives Vermò a fresher and citric taste and with whisky, it’s a really good match the lower sugar content gives more space for the spirit to be at its best. So we would especially recommend you try it in a Manhattan and Americano,” says Velutto. “A lot of cocktail bars go for the Americano and we never complain about it!” adds Ferrer.

While the early signs are promising and vermouth is reaching a wider audience with every passing year, there is still a lot of work to be done for brands like Vermò to reach its potential, something Ferrer and Velutto know all too well. “Bartenders are interested, but vermouth is still not at the stage where there’s a consistent premium consumer. There’s been growth and a lot of new brands coming in, but so many will disappear because there’s too much competition,” Ferrer admits. “What’s against us is that most consumers don’t really request a specific vermouth. When people order a gin and tonic, often they will say a brand of gin they want. It’s the same for whisky. With vermouth, you ask for a cocktail or a style, but not necessarily a brand name. There’s a lot of education to do with the consumer”. 

Vermò

Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso is available at MoM Towers.

For now, Ferrer and Velutto are doing what they can to spread the word . “We’re trying to grow in different countries. In January we reached the US. Unfortunately, everything stopped with Covid,” Velluto says. “We were doing a competition that would elect the best under 30 bartender of Italy, so we approached that side of marketing and are trying to engage younger bartenders as we are a younger product”. The approach was certainly working prior to the lockdown, with the UK pleasingly registering as Vermò’s biggest market. Velluto and Ferrer agree that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “Nobody has said ‘no’ to the product in two years!” Ferrer remarks. “In the beginning, the expectations weren’t high because nobody knew who we were and we didn’t have a big company behind us, so we surprised a lot of people. They could see that we were passionate about how it is made and that we had to risk our money and time to bring the product to the market. The industry thankfully is very kind and helped us a lot, but our rationale was always that the product will stand by itself”. 

You can purchase Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso here.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Cosmopolitan

A simple vodka sour with a hell of a reputation. This week we made The Cosmopolitan.  The story of The Cosmopolitan cocktail is similar to many classic drinks. Nobody is…

A simple vodka sour with a hell of a reputation. This week we made The Cosmopolitan. 

The story of The Cosmopolitan cocktail is similar to many classic drinks. Nobody is quite sure who invented it. Nobody is quite sure who popularised it. Its had various incarnations through the ages and it can seriously divide opinion. The latter is particularly true of this technicolour treat, which has had its fair share of controversy over the years. But when made well is all kinds of delicious. Like pretty much all drinks, to be honest. And who doesn’t want to drink something very tasty?

While there’s no certainty over when The Cosmopolitan emerged, there are five very different serves all carrying the Cosmopolitan name to be found in Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars, a book that dates back to 1934. One recipe, a variation of a Daisy cocktail, has a familiar blend of berry, citrus and white spirit. Ocean Spray, the cranberry juice brand, also created a drink called the ‘Harpoon’ in the late 60s that combined cranberry juice with vodka or rum, lime cordial and soda in an effort to attract adults to drink their brand. But the debate over who came up with the classic recipe of vodka, cranberry, fresh lime and Cointreau and where the name originated still goes on. 

One of the widely recognised theories is that Neal Murray, a bartender at the Cork & Cleaver steakhouse in Minneapolis made the drink in the autumn of 1975. Murray combined a Cape Cod and Kamikaze, adding triple sec from the Kamikaze to vodka with cranberry and lime. A regular supposedly remarked, “How cosmopolitan” when first tasting his creation and Murray carried a business card that claimed he invented The Cosmopolitan. Another story credits Cheryl Cook, head bartender at The Strand on Washington Avenue in Miami. Cook created a cocktail based on Absolut Citron vodka after it had just launched, adding a splash of triple sec, a dash of Rose’s lime and enough cranberry juice to create a distinctive pink hue. The name came from a March 1989 copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine which featured an article on The Strand and the hostess titled ‘The Maître d’ is a Ms.’ and it’s said that Sex and the City’s costume designers Patricia Field and Rebecca Weinburg were regulars of hers.

The Cosmopolitan

For a simple drink, The Cosmopolitan has sparked a lot of debate

What makes the tale of The Cosmopolitan so complex it’s not just the creator that’s up for debate, but so is the bartender responsible for cementing the cocktail’s recognised recipe and establishing its immense popularity.  John Caine is often said to be that person. He came across a version of The Cosmopolitan in Cleveland at a bar called the Rusty Scuppe which was influenced by a drink popular with the gay community in the 1970s in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where a huge amount of cranberries were grown. The drink consisted of vodka, triple sec, Rose’s lime juice and a splash of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and when Caine moved to San Francisco in 1987 to work at Julie’s Supper Club, he introduced it there, where they sold like hotcakes. Caine has remarked that “people said I invented the Cosmo. I just transported it”.

Others claim that the internationally recognized version of the cocktail was created by Toby Cecchini. Cheryl Charming, author of 16 books on cocktails and bartending, found in her research that Melissa Huffsmith-Roth also played a key role in this particular story. Huffsmith-Roth learned about the drink from Patrick ‘Paddy’ Mitten, who she worked with at Life Café, Manhattan. Mitten made an interpretation that was popular in San Francisco during the late 70s and early 80s and says he served Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker. When Huffsmith then worked at The Odeon in Manhattan in the late eighties, it’s said she altered this version while feeling experimental and used Absolut Citron as a base, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and cranberry juice. Things become cloudy again, though, as Cecchini says that it was he who reformulated the cocktail at The Odeon after he was introduced to a drink being made with rail vodka, Rose’s lime juice and Rose’s grenadine. He then made his own spin with Absolut Citron, which he combined with cranberry juice and Margarita ingredients. 

However, some credit bartender Dale DeGroff, who was described in The New York Times in 2015 as “one of the world’s foremost cocktail experts”. He came across the Cosmopolitan at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco in the early to mid-90s and created his own spin at the Rainbow Rooms, Manhattan, with the signature addition of a flamed orange twist garnish. Madonna was photographed with one there and DeGroff was mistakenly named as the man who invented the drink, despite never claiming to do so himself. In his 2002 book, The Craft of the Cocktail he clarified that he was not the inventor, but did say that he popularized a “definitive recipe that became widely accepted as the standard”. It’s very difficult to know where the credit should lie where The Cosmopolitan is concerned because there are so many competing stories, but I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all the people mentioned so far at least had some role in contributing to what the drink is today.

One thing that’s for sure, is that The Cosmopolitan’s popularity went to another level in 1998 when the HBO television series, Sex and the City debuted. It was based on the eponymous column written by Candace Bushnell in the New York Observer, who previously described Cosmopolitan as her ‘signature drink’. As Carrie Bradshaw was her alter-ego, it was only natural that she similarly imbibed. This effect propelled the Cosmopolitan to its own stardom parallel to the show and “let’s have Cosmos!” became the order of its heyday. This cultural dissemination meant the drink becoming a common sight in bars and it’s ascent coincided with the vodka-based domination of cocktail culture at the close of the 20th century.

But despite it playing its part in helping to catalyze a new age of cocktail drinking, in the new craft cocktail boom The Cosmopolitan became the kind of drink that a new wave of bartenders rallied against. Prohibition-era serves and spirit-forward drinks were preferred and pushed sweet, colourful and populist drinks to the side. The Cosmopolitan was too simple, too lacking in texture and flavour and fundamentally suffered from a lack of perceived ‘cool’ and authenticity. This was compounded by Sex and the City’s disastrous big-screen appearances. Cecchini describes becoming known among bartenders as “the asshole who invented that pink drink that we are now enslaved by”. The ‘Let’s have Cosmos’ line became a parody. Mad Men became the show to order cocktails from. Its bubblegum pop reputation has meant that The Cosmopolitan is no longer something that people order regularly, in the same way that people don’t wear double denim or listen to Billy Ray Cyrus without irony. 

There’s now something of a notion that a self-respecting bartender won’t touch a Cosmopolitan. But we will. Because it’s an important part of cocktail history and a drink is ultimately about what’s in the glass. In the case of The Cosmopolitan, that’s a light, refreshing and fun serve that’s perfect right now if you want to feel a bit glamorous in the house. So, let’s make one. 

The Cosmopolitan

You can garnish The Cosmopolitan in a number of ways. The lime wheel is an effective and simple choice.

The Cosmopolitan is often made with citrus vodka but I prefer using a regular vodka, which is also commonplace. When it comes to your choice of vodka, it’s worth noting that you don’t need to splash out, the trick is to economize while still using something quality. I chose Ephemeral Vodka because it’s got a clean flavour profile that’s ideal for mixing but is rich enough to still add weight and texture. I’ve also used Cointreau because there’s a reason the classics are classics, folks.

When it comes to cranberry juice, I recommend the unsweetened kind, (I’ve gone for Ocean Spray as a nod to its history with this cocktail), which makes it a slightly drier drink and the measurement provided gives the cocktail that elegant pale pink hue. If that’s not to your taste, adjust accordingly. The lime juice should be fresh, so get squeezin’. For the garnish, I just popped a lime wheel on the rim of my glass, but an orange peel or twist also works well, as does flaming them in the style of DeGroff. It’s worth filling your glass (typically a Martini glass, but you can also use a coupe or this delightful creation) with ice and water to chill it prior to making your cocktail.

If you want to experiment with different variations, you can use Absolut Citron Vodka as your base as many have before, or add some simple syrup if you’ve got a sweeter tooth (you shouldn’t need any more than 10ml). Equally, you can lengthen a Cosmo with 60ml of good Champagne and if you drop in a dash of Maraschino Liqueur to this recipe, you might just be the kind of maverick badass I can get along with. Enjoy!

The Cosmopolitan

The Cosmopolitan in all its glory.

Recipe:

45ml of Ephemeral Vodka

20ml of Cointreau

20ml of cranberry juice

20ml of fresh lime juice

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

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Midleton Distillery announces new master distiller

Irish Distillers has confirmed that Brian Nation will leave his role and that master of maturation Kevin O’Gorman will replace him as master distiller at Midleton Distillery. There’s BIG news…

Irish Distillers has confirmed that Brian Nation will leave his role and that master of maturation Kevin O’Gorman will replace him as master distiller at Midleton Distillery.

There’s BIG news coming out of Ireland today, as one of the most coveted positions in world whiskey has changed hands. Midleton Distillery has a new master distiller: Kevin O’Gorman. The Cork native, who is a technology graduate from The University of Limerick and holds a diploma in distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, replaces the outgoing Brian Nation, who has held the role since 2013. 

Those are some shoes to fill. O’Gorman is being charged with protecting the heritage of the world’s most famous Irish whiskeys. While also ensuring that the quality of all new pot and grain distillates produced at Midleton doesn’t drop. Oh, and with handling future innovation. I thought I had it hard writing intros for The Nightcap when Sam Smith isn’t available. 

But O’Gorman should be more than up to the task, as anybody who has worked with Irish Distillers in recent years (just the once or twice for me) will know already. He’s been with Midleton since 1998, initially working as a distiller under the tutelage of master distiller emeritus Barry Crockett. Maturation then became his primary focus, honing his skills under then master of maturation Brendan Monks before assuming the role himself following Monks’s retirement in 2007. You’ve probably admired his work already if you’ve enjoyed new brands like Method and Madness and brand extensions in the Jameson, Redbreast, Powers, Midleton Very Rare and Spot ranges. Essentially, he travelled the globe sourcing quality casks from renowned cooperages, while overseeing the maturation process across the portfolio. Which sounds like too good a role to pass up, until you remember he’s going to master distiller for Irish Distillers.

“Since starting my career in Irish Distillers in 1998, I have been lucky to learn from masters like Barry Crockett and Brendan Monks about the intricacies of the whiskey production, from grain to glass,” O’Gorman says. “Of course, Brian Nation and I have also worked very closely together on distillation and maturation for the past 10 years and he will be missed by all his friends at Midleton Distillery. I am excited to use my experience to drive the sector forward by producing innovative new whiskeys that will delight whiskey fans over the coming years.” 

The wonderful Brian Nation, meanwhile, will leave to join the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company, which is set to open its distillery in Minneapolis next summer. The distillery was founded by cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy, who want to honour the family’s Irish-American heritage and take inspiration from Irish whiskey, so Nation should be right at home. We’re very excited to see what he does and wish him all the best. We heartily enjoyed your work. If you fancy inviting over at any point, we’re there. Just so you know. In case it ever comes up.

“As I step down from the position of master distiller, I am struck by what an incredible honour it has been to hold this role,” he commented on the succession. “I have been fortunate to work with a fantastic team at Midleton for the past 23 years and have experienced enormous change, development, and innovation, from the recent expansion of our distillery to the development of new distillate styles in the Micro Distillery. I am delighted to see Kevin take on the role of master distiller. I know that, under his leadership, the quality and reputation of Irish Distillers’ portfolio will continue to flourish long into the future”. 

Hear, hear. We look forward to seeing what O’Gorman does with all things Midleton. I think it’s fair to say we can all look forward to a lot more delicious Irish whiskey in the future.

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Grander: Panamanian rum born from Kentucky roots

Grander Rum founder Dan DeHart may have been born in the bourbon capital, but that didn’t stop him creating an authentic new Panama rum with the help of a legendary…

Grander Rum founder Dan DeHart may have been born in the bourbon capital, but that didn’t stop him creating an authentic new Panama rum with the help of a legendary blender…

Dan DeHart is a native Kentuckian. Growing up he knew people in the bourbon industry and was always infatuated with distillation and the spirits world. “It was a big part of my life,” he said, “but I was really an outsider looking in who always wanted to become part of the spirits industry. I instead joined the corporate world, but often I would look back on the spirits side and wonder how I can really jump into this”.

While DeHart is an avid bourbon drinker, he developed a fondness for rum and grew frustrated with the perception that it was simply a cheap party mixer and that it couldn’t rival whisky in terms of pedigree and profile. “I was amazed to find that there is rum out there that I could enjoy like my bourbon, neat, over ice or in a great cocktail. The versatility of it drew me in and opened a Pandora’s box for me to jump into the rum world,” DeHart says. “I’d really wanted to get into the spirits business but I hadn’t found my calling. This was it. I realised that, particularly in the US, there was a great opportunity to create a high-quality rum and begin to educate people that there is a whole other world of rum out there”.

Grander Rum

DeHart launched Grander Rum back in 2015

The first big step for DeHart was to decide if he would found a distillery or focus on making a brand and partnering with a distillery. “That was really a fork in the road for me. I went back to Kentucky to do a distilling course to educate myself, gain an appreciation for the craft and understand what level of commitment it would take to go down the distillery route,” DeHart said. 

Ultimately he decided on the brand building route and founded Grander Rum, the first expressions of which were launched in 2015. As fishing enthusiasts will know, a grander is a marlin that weighs more than a thousand pounds and is considered quite the catch. DeHart chose this name as he felt it best reflected his brand. “They’re one of the most beautiful fish out there and my aim is to produce a beautiful rum and a 1000lb marlin is quite uncommon and I like to believe that I am taking an uncommon approach with my rums,” DeHart said. “Also, these fish are typically found in tropical/subtropical climates which of course is where sugarcane is grown and they are independent. The fish do not roam in schools and are more likely to be found on their own and I wanted my company to be perceived as independent and not beholden to a big house, which gives us leeway to chart our own course”.

Grander Rum

The road to Las Cabras Distillery is lined with sugarcane

What followed was a period of trial and error, sampling a multitude of rum styles to find his desired profile. DeHart settled on the lighter, sweet-tasting Spanish style-rum, which is usually produced in column stills. “I felt that allowed me the most versatility for what I wanted to do. That style provides a really good basis that was accessible and would give me a lot of options to innovate”. 

Now all DeHart needed was the perfect partner, which he found in the Las Cabras Distillery, a Panamanian rum distillery located in Herrera, about a four and a half four drive from Panama City and home to an abundance of sugar cane fields. DeHart was impressed with the quality of the sugar cane, which grows in volcanic soil fed by rivers stemming from mineral-rich mountain springs and that the Las Cabras Distillery was able to harvest it locally and converted it into molasses on site. The distillery also ferments its molasses using an in-house strain of yeast cultivated from pineapples, giving it a unique profile, before the spirit is distilled in column stills to 94-96% ABV and then cut to 75% ABV when it enters the barrel. “When I visited the distillery and I tried the distillate they’re making, I found that they were creating some really great stuff. The rum itself was exactly what I was looking for,” says DeHart. “I call it a single origin rum, which means that it’s 100% Panamanian. Everything is done on the site, from harvesting the sugar cane, to distillation, maturation and bottling”.

Grander Rum

The fermentation tanks at Las Cabras Distillery

The distillery is housed in a former sugar mill that dates back to 1919. Its ownership changed hands a number of times and by the mid-nineties, it was a neglected warehouse overgrown with grass, which covered, among other things, a copper column still with a small medallion inscribed with ‘Cincinnati 1922’, made by the American Copper & Brass Works in 1922. A fortuitous chain of events meant that when Carlos Esquivel, eventual CEO of Don Pancho Origenes Rum and whose family owned the building, began working with master blender Francisco ‘Don Pancho’ Fernandez to found a rum brand, Don Pancho told Esquivel that he could create rum at this site. Today the distillery has four different sized independent column stills that produce light to heavy distillate and the facility produces its own brands, including Caña Brava Rum.

Don Pancho is famous figure for rum enthusiasts. Born in Cuba in 1938, his first forays into the rum business were labouring in the sugar cane fields and learning from his father, Don Antonio Fernandez Castro, who worked in wine and spirits. Don Pancho’s career in Cuba lasted 35 years and saw him earn a degree in microbiology and become an expert in creating Cuban-style rum for brands like Matusalem and Havana Club. When Pernod Ricard acquired the rights to distribute Havana Club in 1993, Don Pancho moved to Panama, initially to work for Ron Abuelo. Now at Las Cabras distillery, he creates products for a number of brands. “He has a tremendous amount of experience, he’s a very gentle, sweet individual and to see him at work is always so interesting,” says DeHart. “Whenever I go to Panama to approve a new batch of Grander Rum, if I feel I need to make changes we’ll go sit in his office and discuss it and he can rectify things so quickly thanks to his experience. It’s amazing to see that process”.

Grander Rum

Carlos Esquivel, Grander Rum founder Dan DeHart and Don Pancho

While DeHart looked to Panama to create his rum brand, he didn’t forget his Kentucky roots.  The core range of Grander Rum is an 8 Year Old and a 12 Year Old expression. The former is matured in first-fill American white oak ex-bourbon barrels and the latter is aged in refill American white oak ex-bourbon barrels with some sherry seasoning, which is why the 12 Year Old is actually lighter in colour and has more distillate profile, which is unusual for the older spirit (“I love the fact that the 12 Year Old is lighter than an 8 Year Old and that this confuses people,” DeHart admits). The majority of the barrels DeHart sourced were from Heaven Hill, but he’s also worked with Woodford Reserve and a barrel manufacturer in Kentucky. “It is such a great industry because the folks and families in Kentucky are so nice and some of the most down-to-earth people you’ll meet. They’ll bend over backwards for you. I’m a small player, who asks for maybe 20 barrels from someone like Heaven Hill compared to the truckloads they usually do, so they’re very generous with their casks,” says DeHart. 

Ageing your rum in Panama means you contend with the tropical climate, which sees the angels help themselves to 10-12% of the spirit in the first year and eventually to 3-4% annually. But DeHart welcomes the challenge of tropical maturation. “Grander is 100% Panamanian rum and this is part of it. The evaporation can be brutal, we had a cask finish that was just eight months long and we lost about 10%, so you have to be very mindful,” says DeHart. “An issue you can have with aged rum is that they can be too woody and I’ve sampled a number of rums where the wood is overbearing, so there is a fine balance. Not living in Panama means that keeping tabs on maturation is important. I’ve got some peated casks and it’s crazy how quickly the peat seeps into the rum. The key is understanding how you can play with these flavours without destroying your base rum”.

Grander Rum

Grander Rum maturing in a Heaven Hill cask

DeHart’s approach to Grander is about experimenting with different styles of cask, such as the Rye Finish expression launched last year, or the peated barrels from Scotland he’s working with at the moment, and testing to see if there’s a marriage happening between his rum and the cask. “Logistically it’s not easy, because I’m buying a small number of casks, sending them down to Panama, which is costly, to do my evaluation of testing and innovation. But I’m very fortunate to have a distillery that’s so collaborative and accommodating,” he explains. “I get very excited because I have this unaltered distillate from Panama over which I can establish my own style so I can innovate and bring out interesting expressions. I make rum that’s really interesting to me, I’m not trying to chase someone else’s idea of what they think a great rum is. That’s what Grander is all about”.

Another aspect of Grander that rum fans will warm to is DeHart’s insistence on transparency. The 8 Year Old and 12 Year Old, which were bottled at 45% ABV, were filtered through cellulose plates, but there’s no chill-filtration or added colouring, flavouring or sweeteners. “I have no problem with rums adding colouring, but it’s important the consumer is informed about what you’re selling them. I wanted to inform people of how Grander was made, I’ve got nothing to hide and I don’t want to hide anything. Transparency is really important if rum wants to compete in the super-premium category, which in the US is defined by price point. If somebody is spending that kind of money they deserve to know what they’re getting,” DeHart says, who also made sure his core range of rums has age statements, “I was attracted to the idea of putting an age on it, again because taking an authentic approach is important to me”.

Grander Rum

Grander Rum is bottled without chill-filtration or added colouring, flavouring or sweeteners

While making rum that had enough quality to be enjoyed neat was always an ambition of DeHart’s, this didn’t stop him from embracing cocktail culture. DeHart recommended a few serves for those who want to get mixing, all of which you kind find here. His favourites are a classic Daiquiri and an Old Fashioned, which makes sense for somebody who loves rum and bourbon. I’ve made both at home myself and can confirm they’re delicious.

We end by discussing what the future holds for Grander, which is mostly going to be DeHart continuing to build his brand. “The goal is to expose more people to Grander and hope they fall in love with it. It’s incredibly fulfilling to know you’ve created a product that somebody enjoys”. DeHart is also focused on continuing to innovate within the Panamanian rum category, particularly with casks. However, when we discuss the possibility of any other spirits becoming part of the Grander roster, DeHart is typically honest. “That door is open. Never say never,” he says. “I do look at spirits and other styles of rums, but right now my focus is working with Panamanian rum. There’s a lot of work to be done with the distillery in Panama and lots of things I can still do with casks. I’m really excited about the products I have finishing in Panama right now. Down the road, who knows, there may be some other spirits I do as well…”

You can purchase Grander Rum right here.

Grander Rum

Grander 8 Year Old Tasting Notes:

Nose: Baking spice, red chilli and black pepper create a spicy base from which classic bourbon sweetness emerges, mostly vanilla sponge, butterscotch and a touch of orange peel. The cask notes make way for more distillery character with time in the form of dried fruit, cane sugar, roasted pineapple and a slightly grassy element.

Palate: Darker and fruitier on the palate: more cooked pineapple, dates, baked apple and orange oil. Earthy vanilla pod, salted caramel and dark chocolate are present throughout, while grated nutmeg adds a lovely touch of aromatic spice.

Finish: Golden syrup, tropical fruit and toasty oak spices linger.

Grander Rum

Grander 12 Year Old Tasting Notes:

Nose: Through creamy vanilla and waxy orange peels there’s heaps of tropical fruit, notably mango, fried banana and pineapple juice. Bourbon oak, sweet spices and gingerbread are all present underneath along with hints of parsley, dried earth, old-fashioned cola, cassia and chocolate mousse.

Palate: It’s a sweet and mouth-coating palate filled with rummy goodness. Treacle, crème brûlée and candied ginger come first, then coconut cream and sweet vanilla. Rich, thick slabs of toffee appear in the mid-palate with another tropical medley, this time guava, pineapple and passion fruit. The back-end of the palate is very juicy.

Finish: Buttery biscuits and manuka honey keep things sweet as a prickle of fiery spice appears on the finish.

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More Deals of the Day this weekend!

Another weekend, another round of delightful deals. We’re back with even more bargains. Which is very handy with Father’s Day coming up… Last week we brought back our Deals of…

Another weekend, another round of delightful deals. We’re back with even more bargains. Which is very handy with Father’s Day coming up…

Last week we brought back our Deals of the Day for the weekend. But that wasn’t a one-off, this is a series. Which means that right now you can find all kinds of spirits with cracking savings here, all of them just waiting to be delivered straight to your doorstep after just a few simple clicks. Fancy a show-stopping bottle of classic whisky? Click. You’ve got one. Desire a new gin to broaden your horizons? Click. It’s in the basket. You can even make a clicking sound as you do it and make it more fun. The world’s your oyster. Except your oyster is filled with delicious booze, not gross sea goop.

deals of the day this weekend

Chivas Regal 18 Year Old

If you know anyone foolish enough to think that blended whisky is some kind of inferior product, then slam this beauty down in front of them and laugh heartily. A serial award-winner and a favourite of bartenders and connoisseurs alike, Chivas Regal 18 Year Old was created by master blender Colin Scott and includes over 20 single malts from around Scotland.

What’s the deal?

It was £58.95, now it’s £46.95.

deals of the day this weekend

Hendrick’s Lunar Gin

One for the summer evenings, Hendrick’s Lunar Gin is another winner from the well-respected gin brand. It was made by Hendrick’s master distiller Leslie Gracie, who was inspired by a moonlit evening tending botanicals in the hothouse. She created this warming, spicy expression that’s filled with notes of soft orange, rosewater, vanilla blossom and lemongrass.

What’s the deal?

It was £34.95, now it’s £29.95.

deals of the day this weekend

Dalmore 18 Year Old

Some whiskies are just made to be spectacular gifts. Can you imagine your father figure opening this beauty on Father’s Day? You’d instantly become the favourite child, which is what we’re all in it for, really. The Dalmore 18 Year Old is a spectacular single malt whisky that was aged for 14 years in American oak, followed by three years in Matusalem sherry butts, before a final year in sherry butts, giving it an impressive rich, fruity and spicy profile.

What’s the deal?

It was £110.00, now it’s £89.00.

deals of the day this weekend

Plantation Isle of Fiji 

Plantation rum is held in high regard for good reason and Isle of Fiji is no exception. A colourful celebration of the stunning island in the South Pacific, it was distilled from Fijian molasses and initially aged for around three years in the tropical climate in bourbon casks. It was then sent over to Cognac for a secondary maturation in French oak for a year. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but there’s a pretty amazing iguana on the label, too.

What’s the deal?

It was £32.95, now it’s £25.95.

deals of the day this weekend

Malfy Gin Con Rosa

This terrific gin from Malfy was built around the delightful Sicilian pink grapefruit and features a hint of rhubarb too. This beauty is tart, refreshing and light but still has a great depth of flavour. It’s smashing in a number of cocktails and should give you a welcome spin on your G&T. It will also look beautiful on any back bar or drinks cabinet.

What’s the deal?

It was £26.59, now it’s £23.59.

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Deals of the day return for the weekend

Weekends are already pretty good. But we know how to make them better. That’s right: the Deals of the Day have returned. Everybody loves a good comeback story. Istanbul. Robert…

Weekends are already pretty good. But we know how to make them better. That’s right: the Deals of the Day have returned.

Everybody loves a good comeback story. Istanbul. Robert Downey Jr. Lil Bub. But how many great comebacks actually save you money? This one does. That’s right, we’ve brought back our Deals of the Days for the weekend. A series of deals on a bunch of delicious booze, all delivered straight to your doorstep!

Obviously you’re already basically salivating at the thought of it, but just to whet your appetite even more, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite bargains for this weekend. Make a note of that. This isn’t even all of the deals we’re doing. There’s more to be found here.

Deals of the day

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

There are a lot of people who will fondly remember their first sip of Ardbeg 10 Year Old as the moment they were converted to the wonders of the powerful and peaty dram. This is Islay whisky as you want it, full of coastal air, smoke and more. Today, incidentally, is Ardbeg Day, so you should head to its distillery page to see what else is on offer… Spoiler: there be hella deals. 

What’s the deal?

It was £42.45, now it’s £33.95.

Deals of the day

Roku Gin

We’re big fans of this delightful Japanese gin from legendary spirit-maker Suntory, as you can probably tell, and for good reason. Alongside traditional gin botanicals like juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander and cinnamon, this beauty features six Japanese botanicals including sakura leaf, sencha tea, sansho pepper and yuzu peel. What does all this mean? Amazing G&Ts. Seriously, so aromatic and balanced. Get involved.

What’s the deal?

It was £29.49, now it’s £24.99.

Deals of the day

Doorly’s XO Rum (40%)

How does a great deal on a rum teeming with notes of dark chocolate, toffee apples and oaky spices that was created at one of the most revered and historic distilleries in the world sound? We already know the answer to this one. Who could resist? Doorly’s XO Rum is one of those bottles where you just want to throw away the cork and enjoy with your friends. Shoutout to the excellent bird on the label. I appreciate that.

What’s the deal?

It was £33.83, now it’s £26.83.

Deals of the day

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old

The legendary Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky has got a reputation for making all kinds of excellent whiskey and Eagle Rare 10 Year Old is no exception. Indulge yourself with this well-aged Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey and you’ll be enjoying notes of toasted oak, flamed orange peel, maple syrup, oily walnuts, red fruit and vanilla. The multi-award-winner for good reason also features another excellent bird on the label. This is quite the line-up for fans of birds on labels.

What’s the deal?

It was £36.99, now it’s £28.99.

Deals of the day

Larios 12 Botanicals Premium Gin

Did you know that the English are not the only gin-crazy folk in Europe? The Spanish love their gin, and globally Spain ranks among the big players in gin consumption year after year. It’s no surprise when they have a gin as good as Larios behind every back bar and on every supermarket shelf. Check out what all the fuss is about.

What’s the deal?

It was £21.47, now it’s £16.47.

Deals of the day

VIVIR Tequila Añejo

VIVIR Tequila wants to be part of the conversation that treats Tequila seriously and to do that you need to make seriously good Tequila. Luckily for VIVIR, that’s exactly what it does. The Añejo was distilled from Highland Weber Blue Agave which is cooked traditionally in clay ovens, and the spirit was matured in ex-Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey casks for 18 months.

What’s the deal?

It was £39.95, now it’s £29.95.

Deals of the day

Jura 21 Year Old Tide

Arguably the big hitter of our weekend deals, Tide is a 21-year-old single malt released as part of Jura’s Aged Vintage series. It was twice matured in American white oak bourbon barrels and then hand-selected virgin American white oak casks before it was bottled at a hefty 46.7% ABV. You can expect notes of gingerbread, allspice, buttery caramel digestive biscuits and tropical fruit. It also comes in a pretty funky presentation box, which is always a bonus.

What’s the deal?

It was £149.95, now it’s £99.95.

Deals of the day

Grant’s Cask Editions – Rum Cask Finish

If you want a less decadent dram that you can put to good work in a number of cocktails, then we recommend Grant’s Cask Editions – Rum Cask Finish. Master blender Brian Kinsman created this expression to add some spice and fruit-forward deliciousness from the rum casks to the classic Grant’s character. It really works. 

What’s the deal?

It was £20.95, now it’s £15.95.

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Get a head start on Father’s Day!

Father’s Day is on the horizon and you know it always comes around too fast. Get ahead of the curve by sorting out a brilliantly boozy gift that can be…

Father’s Day is on the horizon and you know it always comes around too fast. Get ahead of the curve by sorting out a brilliantly boozy gift that can be delivered straight to his home.

You know it’s only a few weeks until Father’s Day, right? These occasions have a habit of creeping up on you and it’s easy to panic buy and be the child who buys dad another pair of silly socks or branded mug. We sympathise. Father’s Day is arguably the most difficult occasion to shop for. Dads always say they don’t need anything. And that’s probably true. So you need to buy him something he really wants. A bottle of something special may just be your best bet in your quest to remind your dear old dad how much he’s appreciated. Where can you find one of those? Right here. That’s where.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 

Our very own Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set is very much a home-run when it comes to great Father’s Day gifts. It says Father’s Day on it, for a start. It really looks like you made an effort when you buy something like this. Especially as we guarantee there are five 30ml drams of superb whisky from world-class producers in this exclusive set. Plus, right now it’s over 25% off. 

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set Contents:

Scallywag

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company

The ONE Sherry Expression

Colonel EH Taylor Small Batch

Loch Lomond 12 Year Old

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Warming, spicy and utterly delicious, this well-rounded single malt from The Balvenie was initially aged in traditional oak casks before it was finished in casks which previously held a select blend of Caribbean rums chosen by malt master David C. Stewart MBE. Perfect for those who love a good Scotch and for those who want something with a touch of the tropical to mark all this good weather we’re having.

What does it taste like?

Tropical fruits, namely passion fruit, sweet vanilla, apples, mangoes, orange and creamy toffee.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Talisker 10 Year Old 

If sweet maritime peatiness, orchard fruit and pleasant spice sounds like the kind of profile your pops would enjoy, then you’d have a hard time bettering this classic Island dram from the Isle of Skye. Talisker 10 Year Old is one of those classic expressions that’s always got a welcome spot in any good drinks cabinet.

What does it taste like?

Smoke, sweet pear and apple peels, maritime salt, seaweed, peat, black pepper, brine and dry barley. 

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Jaffa Cake Gin

What if your father isn’t fussed with whisky? For those who have something of a sweet tooth, we recommend Jaffa Cake Gin. Yep. It’s a gin made to taste like Jaffa Cakes and even includes the timeless treat in its botanical selection. Now we’re talking. An insanely delicious Negroni awaits. Extra dad points are awarded if they position an actual Jaffa Cake on the glass in the style of a citrus wheel garnish.

What does it taste like?

Zingy orange (marmalade-esque), rich and earthy chocolate, vanilla-rich cake, a touch of almondy-goodness and a solid backbone of juniper. Also, Jaffa Cakes!

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva 

If rum is more your dad’s thing, then you’ll want a good premium expression that boasts a large number of fans and a trophy cabinet like Michael Jordan. Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva is a delightful blend of dark rums distilled from molasses in ancient copper pot stills before being matured in small oak casks for up to 12 years. This Venezuelan treat is delicious served neat or in cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Daiquiri.

What does it taste?

Dark chocolate, vanilla cream, espresso, orange peel, liquorice and sweet toffee fudge.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2008 

It’s hard to underestimate the brilliance of a seriously good bottle of red wine, which is exactly what we have here. This Gran Reserva comes from one of the most famous producers in the Rioja region, Bodegas Faustino and the 2008 vintage was crafted from Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. By law Gran Reserva Riojas have to age for at least five years (two of them in oak). All that time means that by the time you reach for the corkscrew the wine has taken on some seriously complex flavours, which are best enjoyed when paired with roast lamb.

What does it taste?

Rich and subtly oak, but still manages to show off some bright summer fruit sweetness.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Bathtub Gin

If you’re on the lookout for classic juniper-forward gin, you might as well go for a serial award winner. From Ableforth’s comes this year’s World’s Best Compound Gin at the World Gin Awards, Bathtub Gin. It was named for the 1920s Prohibition method of infusing botanicals in a bathtub, but don’t worry, this tastes a little more sophisticated than that. It was crafted with six botanicals using an interesting technique known as cold compounding. The result? An aromatic, rich profile filled with notes of orange citrus, fragrant spices and a good core of juniper. 

What does it taste?

Juniper-rich bouquet, cardamom, orange blossom and cinnamon.

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Creating a legacy with Pearse Lyons Distillery

We spoke to global brand ambassador Conor Ryan to learn about one of the standout brands from the Irish whiskey resurgence, Pearse Lyons Distillery, founded by a self-made billionaire and housed…

We spoke to global brand ambassador Conor Ryan to learn about one of the standout brands from the Irish whiskey resurgence, Pearse Lyons Distillery, founded by a self-made billionaire and housed in a deconsecrated church in Dublin.

If you’re anything like me, planning a trip to a city means you immediately make a note of all the distilleries in the area. When it comes to Dublin, you’re spoilt for choice. The city that once ruled the whisky world is very much back on its feet and is now the home to a number of exciting new projects. But it’s hard to imagine you’ll see a more striking sight across all these delightful sites than a distillery housed in a church, complete with pot stills sitting on top of an altar. 

A short distance from the Guinness storehouse is St. James’ Church, a structure that dates back to the 12th century but has spent much of the last few decades in disrepair. Now, it’s home to the Pearse Lyons Distillery. Stained glass windows and all. I’m a guest of brand ambassador Conor Ryan, who tells me that, despite the distillery’s young age, it has a rich and remarkable history. He was initially brought on board to communicate what he describes as the brand’s “amazing message”. But his role soon expanded. “What I do with them now has ended up being more in the realm of liquid innovation,” Ryan explains. “I do the blending for the whisky, the cask management and the recipes for the gins. I was also involved in the liquid development for a ready-to-drink gin and tonic and worked with the marketing team on the branding”. 

This “amazing message” is rooted in man behind the brand, Dr Pearse Lyons. The Irish entrepreneur sadly passed in 2018 at the age of 73, but not before he had a chance to realise his dream. While he made his money in the animal nutrition industry, Dr Lyons was always a booze man at heart. “He was the first Irish man to get a formal degree in brewing and distilling from the British Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He did his internship in John’s Lane, Powers Distillery in the 70s before it closed down. He then worked with Guinness and after that, he was one of the main engineers that built Midleton Distillery,” Ryan explains. “He eventually went to the USA and his love of brewing and distilling made him curious about the subject of yeast. He did a PhD in biochemistry and yeast & fermentation and then he set up Alltech in 1980”. 

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Dr Pearse Lyons and his wife Deirdre, who painstakingly restored St. James’ Church

Dr Lyons then used the wealth and influence he generated to start his own brewing and distilling empire. “In 1999 he bought the oldest brewery in Lexington, which was closing down. He renamed it into Lexington Brewing and Distilling and made beer first, before then commissioning a distillery over in Lexington on the same site called Town Branch, making a bourbon, a rye and a single malt,” Ryan explains. “Dr Lyons was an innovator. In 2008, we started distilling single malt in Kentucky, the first single malt in bourbon country since 1919. He brought Scottish stills to Lexington and was one of the first people on the Kentucky bourbon trail to distil pot still only because that was his preferred method of distillation. We celebrated our 20th year in Lexington last year and we’ll launch a special edition whiskey to mark this. It’s a 12-year-old single malt, and we haven’t seen any other American 12-year-old single malts”.

Knowing Dr Lyons history, it seems inevitable that we would return to his homeland to make whiskey. The Dundalk man imported two Kentucky Vendome stills, Mighty Molly & Little Lizzie (named in honour of the Lyons family’s distant relatives), to Carlow in 2012, making it the first distillery in Carlow in 200 years and the first distillery in the south-east of Ireland in 100 years (interestingly, it’s also technically the first lost distillery of the new wave of Irish whiskey). But Dr Lyons went about his business without much fanfare, quietly distilling spirits that he could launch when his distillery in Dublin was ready. “When we actually opened our distillery to the public in a site in Dublin, in two of the expressions of whiskey that we had on the market included our own malt,” Ryan says. “It was produced on the stills that are in the Pearse Lyons distillery today, but while they were in a different location in Carlow in O’Hara’s Brewery”.

Dr Lyons made no secret about his dream to create an Irish whiskey distillery in Dublin and was always drawn to the rich history of The Liberties. He presumably never would have imagined this dream would be realised thanks to his old family church. “The first funeral Dr Lyons was ever at was his grandfather’s in that church. We know of nine relatives of his buried in the graveyard there, alongside James Power, the man who founded Powers Whiskey, and many more amazing characters,” Ryan explains. “He has a deep-rooted family connection with the area. Sixth generations of his family have been involved in Irish whiskey, including himself, and five generations before him on his mother’s side, the Dunnes, were coopers who had their own cooperages. His grand-aunt was actually the first female cooper ever registered in Ireland. Incidentally, distillery operations are now overseen by Pearse and Deirdre Lyons son, Mark Lyons., who himself holds a masters in brewing and distilling and a PhD in Biochemistry and has become the 7th generation of his family involved in the Dublin Whiskey industry”.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

The Pearse Lyons Distillery and visitor centre

While St. James’ Church seemed like the perfect location, logistically it wasn’t easy. The church, which was deconsecrated in the sixties, was almost falling to rack and ruin, so there was a huge restoration required. Then, two weeks after Dr Lyons and Mrs Lyons bought the church, it got turned into a national monument. “That turned an 18-month project into an almost five-year project that cost close to €20 million. The church had to be renovated to a point would’ve been the day it was built. Which meant a quarry reopened in Wales to get the exact same slate; a quarry reopened in France to get the exact same limestone and beams for our roof were brought up from South America because there were no trees long enough to do the beams for the roof that was required,” Ryan says. “We’re delighted with what we built. The church itself is an amazing place to see as a visitor attraction. It’s so meticulously done and there’s amazing history in the church itself, and why wouldn’t there be? There’s been a church on that site for nearly 800 years. Dr Lyons used to always say, ‘whiskey is only part of our story’. He always wanted us to ensure we told the full story of the site and that we’re only caretakers of the place”. 

The location of the Pearse Lyons Distillery means that it’s part of the remarkable revival in The Liberties area of Dublin. At one time, close to 40 distilleries were in operation in Dublin, nestled in a one-mile radius better known as the ‘Golden Triangle’. Pearse Lyons Distillery is part of a recent revolution that has seen the likes of Teeling, Roe & Co. and Dublin Liberties all open in the area in the last decade. “The Dublin identity is important as a distillery because there are such strong Dublin connections with Pearse Lyons’ family and the Dublin story is very much ingrained in our history. This area of Dublin used to be the focal point of Irish whiskey back when Irish whiskey was the focal point of whiskey globally, so it’s synonymous with great whiskey,” Ryan says. “It’s an incredible community, we’re all new together, we’ve got a great relationship with everyone. Everybody’s got their own whiskey, everybody’s got a very different visitor experience and everybody works together, to rise together. We’re all in the same camp. We don’t think of ourselves as being in competition with each other, we’re in competition with other categories like rum, Cognac and other whiskey countries. The more unified we can be, the better it will be for everyone”.

Inside the Pearse Lyons Distillery, I found one of the most polished and presentable distillery floors I’ve seen in this job. Flanking me as I walk around are stained glass windows, which depict four stories associated with the art of the cooper, Irish whiskey and St. James, as well as the Camino de Santiago. But the most striking detail of all is the stills, sitting proudly at the centre of the church on the altar.  Mighty Molly, the wash still, was designed with a neck and ball configuration to assist in refining the spirit character, while Little Lizze, the spirit still, is somewhat unusual as she has four rectification plates installed in her neck to further purify and refine the spirit. The stills that we use in the church today are genuinely unique to Ireland. We have our own inclusion in the Irish whiskey technical file because of Little Lizzie’s swan neck and rectifying plate. They allow the distilling team to create a different type of spirit because they’ve got control to produce a different liquid through flavour differentiation and the temperatures that they bring it to,” Ryan explains. What they create is a single malt new make that Ryan says is as good as he’s ever tasted from anywhere. “It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s got a beautiful, clean freshness to it, but I suppose what makes it different is the balance of the malt flavours with higher fruit notes, it really does stand apart,” he says. 

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Mighty Molly and Little Lizzie, taking pride of place on the altar

Milling takes place elsewhere and the grist is broken down to specification, but every other stage takes place at St. James’ Church, from the mashing and fermentation to the distillation. “Our brewhouse is a little bit unusual, it’s like a craft beer set up than what you’d see in the bigger distilleries. We ferment in steel first and then we put the spirit into our Oregon pine open washbacks. Our wash goes into the stills at about 7.5% ABV and then we distil slowly enough for the size of the wash,” Ryan explains. “When it comes off the back of the still and we’ve taken the heads and tails off, it’s about 72-74% ABV, which we then bring down to a cask strength of 62.5% ABV”.

The Pearse Lyons Distillery matures its whiskey using an enviable resource, barrels imported directly from its sister distillery, Town Branch in Kentucky. “We’ve got access to incredibly fresh barrels because when they’re disgorging in the US they let us know and we bring them over straight away. We use the ex-bourbon from Town Branch, as well the ex-rye ex-single malt and, most interestingly of all, two different ex-beer barrels,” Ryan says. “It’s fantastic when we use our Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, which has a huge cult following in the USA, because when I tell people who are craft beer drinkers what some of our whiskey was aged in they can relate to it straight away. It’s basically an Irish red beer that’s been rested for 40-60 days in a refrigerated warehouse in B1 barrels and to freshly decanted bourbon barrels. We also do our Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout, which have a heavy, dark, roasted chocolatey, burnt and almost smokey note. The beer barrels add nice diversity to the range”. 

All Pearse Lyons whiskies are bottled at 43% ABV (it was previously 42% ABV, as you’ll see with some of the bottlings on our site) with no chill-filtration or additional colouring (there are tasting notes for all of them are at the conclusion of this feature). The entry-level expression of the Pearse Lyons range is Pearse The Original, a blended Irish whiskey that contains malt whiskey produced in the distillery’s own stills. “When we opened up in 2017 we brought out The Original, which initially was a no age statement ‘three to five-year-old whiskey’. The proportions of it were that it was 36% malt and the remainder was grain. Half of that malt was aged in Kentucky bourbon stout barrels and the other half was aged in bourbon barrels, as was the grain,” Ryan says. “The whiskey now has a five-year-old age statement and the malt is the same percentage so it’s quite a malt-forward blend and the inclusion of the stout gives you a slightly smoky wisp. It’s also very citrusy and beautifully crisp, it’s a real aperitif style whiskey and it goes superbly well with sour cocktails. It also pairs beautifully with food, like a soft goat’s cheese or even cold white seafood like a crab tian or something like that”. 

Pearse Lyons Distillery

How many distilleries inside a church have you been to?

Also in the core range is Distiller’s Choice, again a blend of several malt and grain Irish whiskies, which was a category winner for Blended Irish Whiskeys 12 Years and Under at the World Whiskies Awards 2020. “Distiller’s Choice is your more atypical blended Irish whiskey. It contains seven to nine-year-old whiskey with our own malt in it and sourced grain, so its 38% malt and the remainder is grain whiskey. The malt that’s used is a combination of whiskey mature in Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale barrels and bourbon barrels that were finished in sherry, while the grain is a combination of some that were only aged in bourbon and some that were finished in sherry,” Ryan explains. “We wanted to create diversity within the range, we know that every palette is different”.

One of the most interesting whiskeys in the core range is Pearse Lyons Founder’s Choice, which was created to honour Dr Lyons and bring together his two creations from across the pond. “It’s supposed to bridge our Irish whiskey with the kind of sweeter flavour notes that Dr Lyons was working with at the Town Branch Distillery in Kentucky. It’s a 12-year-old whiskey, but we weren’t distilling 12 years ago so it’s probably the one that we’ve put our least personal stamp on as this is a fully sourced liquid. But every drop was re-casked into Town Branch barrels to make sure that even if we didn’t distil it, we had it in our own barrels at least. When we brought out that whiskey in 2017, it would’ve been in Town Branch barrels for a minimum of three, three and a half years at that stage,” Ryan explains. “The barrels were all B1 and B2 bourbon barrels that we decanted, recast into first-fill bourbon barrels again, which gives it a huge vanilla influence with crème brûlée and custard notes. I’ve tasted sourced whiskies from all different brands and it’s an important part of the evolution of Irish whiskey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I could tell our whiskey separate from other bourbon-barrel-aged expressions, because Town Branch bourbon contains a rye element and that extra spice comes through in our Founder’s Choice, with ginger and clove”.

The distillery also released a limited edition bottling, The Cooper’s Select, named in tribute to the vital job coopers do and owing to Dr Lyons own personal connection with the craft. It’s is a no-age-statement blend of grain and malt Irish whiskey that was aged in bourbon barrels and then at about four and a half years, that was vatted together and then it was refilled into first-fill oloroso sherry hogshead. “When it came out it was teetering anywhere between eight to nine years old from when we started and finished bottling. It’s an exceptionally wooded whiskey, as you’d guess for a salute to Pearse’s family heritage. Dr Lyons wanted to almost bring people into a full immersion of the barrel. So when you smell it and taste it, you get a profile of caramelised orange, burnt treacle, toasted wood and lovely rich sherry notes. It was a real sit at home, delve into it and give it time whiskies,” Ryan says. “Sadly, it was a limited edition that’s pretty much finished now. The Cooper’s Edition was the first Irish whiskey in living memory, certainly, we can’t identify another one, where someone made a blend and then they aged the blend. Instead of bringing together your component whiskies to create a blend, Dr Lyons created a blend and then aged it for three and a half to four years before releasing it. He always looked to do things differently, to set us apart”.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Dr Lyons’ legacy is secured

Arguably the most significant release from the distillery was the Pearse 5-Year-Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey in 2018, which was the first five-year age statement Irish Whiskey to appear from a new distillery in the whole of Ireland in more than 25 years. Presented in 4,000 individually numbered bottles, this limited release was the first showcase of the distillery’s own spirit in its entirety. “This was a whole new whiskey DNA coming onto the Irish whiskey market, a whole new bloodline. We made sure that this was not a very casked wood flavour for the whiskey, we made sure that it was more of a spirit-forward whiskey because it was more important that we were showing people our distillery character, a new and different flavour profile. Subsequent versions will have a more wood influence to show how the spirit interacts with wood,” Ryan says. “The quality of the spirit, its crispness and maltiness are amazing. There are so many fantastic fruity, citrusy notes with this beautiful clean, fresh malty backbone. There’s a lemon drizzle note that always sticks out to me and you’re going to get spirit-based spices too. There’s a lovely toasted wood spice in the whiskey without it being overpoweringly oaked.”

The future for Pearse Lyons Distillery is clearly very exciting and we’ll watch with interest as its considerable stock of ageing whisky reaches maturity. But it’s future isn’t all whisky. The Ha’penny Gin School is due to open on the distillery grounds, housed in a newly restored early 20th Century townhouse. “People will be able to distil their own unique gin across two-hours, with help from in-house experts who will guide guests through the history of gin. There’s also a sensory experience to enjoy while you choose your botanicals before you’ll be able to put your miniature copper pot-still to work,” says Ryan. “While they’re bubbling away, local food will be served and paired with a Ha’Penny Gin and Tonic. Once your gin is distilled, you can seal the 70cl bottle before adding a personalised label ready to take home”. On the cards is also an Irish hard seltzer. “We’ve seen over the last two years the rise of the hard seltzer in the USA, it’s taken the place by storm. Our edition is made in a similar fashion to those in the US and we’ll have two flavours, a pineapple punch and a peach fizz. The brand is called Flying Flamingo. It’s going to be 5% ABV and it’s going to be under 90 calories, vegan-friendly, gluten-friendly and just a really clean, crisp drinking experience,” Ryan adds.

Current global pandemic aside, Dr Lyons couldn’t have picked a better era to reignite his Irish whiskey journey. “The leg work has been done, the money has been spent and we arrived as everyone was becoming aware that Irish whiskey exists. The future is increasing the international appreciation of Irish whiskey as a category and, even in the countries where you’re known, developing more customer base. But the interest is going in such a positive direction,” Ryan explains. “We’re creating great whiskey, being innovative and offering new flavour profiles. Our innovation and releases demonstrate that we’re trying to offer something new to our customers and the whiskey market as a whole”. With the distillery that bears his name, Dr Lyons has made his mark and secured his legacy. Credit where it’s due, it’s a bloody tasty legacy.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Pearse Lyons Original tasting note:

Nose: Honey toasted oats, lemon sherbets and dry grass lead. Toasted oak and dry nutmeg aromas arise among mellow malt, sweet spearmints and vanilla elements.

Palate: Crisp spice trickles through milk chocolate and caramel shortbread. A hot flash of spearmint emerges among ripe apples and dry oak.

Finish: Creamy vanilla and buttery malt linger.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Pearse Lyons Distiller’s Choice tasting note:

Nose: Through oily barley and double vanilla bourbon ice cream, there’s stewed apricots, wet grass and touches of fruitcake. Subtle spices percolate throughout.

Palate: Complex fruit notes come from white grape and tinned pear, while a creamy element continues to sweeten things, developing into rhubarb tart and custard. There’s a suggestion of black fruit and ripe malt on the mid-palate among cooking apples and dark caramel.

Finish: The finish dries slightly with a chestnut-like note and hit of clove spice.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Pearse Lyons Founder’s Choice tasting note:

Nose: Crackles of woody tannins lead among buttered toast and rich vanilla. Orchard fruits add depth in the backdrop.

Palate: The fruit develops to become ripe and juicy against big oak notes and prickles of nutmeg underneath. Butterscotch adds a complex sweetness throughout.

Finish: The oak spice tingles away in a composed, long finish.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Pearse Lyons Cooper’s Select tasting note:

Nose: Rich and refined, there’s hazelnut buttercream, flamed orange peel and traditionally Sherry notes of raisins, dates and figs initially. A hint of toasted oak and star anise linger underneath.

Palate: Milky coffee and dark chocolate lead with plenty of juicy citrus, dark fruits and gingerbread.

Finish: Sweet stewed pineapple lingers alongside a touch of vanilla.

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Pearse Five-Year-Old Single Malt tasting note:

Nose: The nose is light and malty and filled with notes of citrus peels, dusty apples and fresh oak. Touches of marshmallow, green grass, golden syrup and vanilla ice cream add depth among wood spice, almond pastries and sticky toffee pudding.

Palate: Full-bodied and fruity, the palate begins with plenty of orchard fruit, mostly honey-drenched pears, as well as vanilla and toffee. There’s some oiliness and metallic elements among hints of dried herbs and darker fruits, which mingle with black pepper and clove spice.

Finish: Candied fruit, baking spices and more of that vanilla sweetness lingers.

 

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