“This has been the most nervous I’ve been about a release I would say! In my previous history working in Scotch whisky, you were adding extensions to the existing lines. But with Dingle, it’s a coming-of-age dram that’s putting our marker down on who we are. People have been waiting to see what direction we’d go in. It’s a big step for the distillery and for me. This is not just another whiskey on the shelf, it’s a statement”.
Graham Coull has spent more than 25 years in whisky. He joined William Grant & Sons as bottling manager in 1994, before becoming distillation manager for the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie distilleries. Most notably, he spent 14 years as distillery manager and master distiller of Speyside distillery Glen Moray. Since 2019 he’s been the master distiller for Dingle Distillery. So the release of the brand’s first permanent whiskey is a big moment for him. Particularly as anticipation was high.
Fans of gin will know Dingle as the creator of a Dry Gin named the World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards, but it’s what the Kerry-based brand has brought to the table in Irish whiskey that’s truly revealed its potential. By putting together one of the most popular and acclaimed ranges of small-batch spirits, the distillery demonstrated an ability to craft its own winning whiskies using manual distillation and an impressive wood programme with quality first-fill ex-bourbon, Pedro Ximénez, Oloroso, and Port casks.
Standing out from the crowd
So folks have been eagerly waiting for the first core release from Dingle. Particularly as Dingle Single Malt represents a continuation of its policy of being one of the few Irish distilleries to produce expressions made entirely with its own spirit. Coull attributes the lack of third-party-bottlings to the background of the directors, who previously created their own brewery and pub business doing everything from start to finish, as well as the gin’s success generating enough capital and accolades to enable them to stay on track.
“We’re proud that’s part of our ethos,” says Coull about the approach. “It keeps things simple which is good because Irish whiskey is a bit confusing at the moment. Our spirit is never out in the marketplace being produced or presented in a different way. Like it or lump it, what’s in our bottles is what Dingle is”.
Whiskey purists also appreciate the rarity of trying spirit made from a manual distillation process. It’s rare to see such a lack of automation, particularly in a new distillery, and speaks to a romantic ideal of what craft whiskey should be about. “I’ve been in the whisky industry since 1994 and it reminds me of then, and it’s probably even more basic than that!” Coull says.
“Everything is hand and eye coordinated. There’s no intervention with any real technology. So you’re listening to the sounds, reacting to the smells, and using your eyes for the distillation cuts. We even do the old-fashioned water test at the beginning of distillation which most places have phased out. It’s definitely not a perfect science, but it’s nice to have that hands-on approach because if you have too much automation, you can lose touch with what you’re doing and you don’t pick out the subtleties of any changes”.
As well as the manual mashing, Dingle Distillery makes use of wooden fermentation vessels that feed into the three bespoke copper pot stills, a 5,000-litre wash still and two progressively smaller spirit stills designed by John C. McDougall. These ensure maximum copper contact so a bolder character is retained even after the classic Irish triple distillation, which typically makes a lighter, clean spirit. “We get this oily, earthy element and a creamy mouthfeel to our new-make this way, as well as a rich, fruity profile that we retain by taking a very final small spirit cut in the very final spirit stills,” Coull explains.
The Dingle way of doing things
The distillery has always made a point of explaining its production process as one of quality over quantity, and that Dingle Whiskey is a product of its environment. Localised well water is used for dilution. The climate for maturation is singular, because Dingle itself is a pretty unique place. “It’s very difficult to prove or disprove whether much comes from the climate and the water,” Coull admits. “But we know Dingle has got a mild, damp environment that’s great for maturing whiskey. The spirit matures all year round. What I’m used to in Scotland is it probably stopping in October and starting again in March because the temperatures dip so low. I always say ‘if the grass is growing, the whiskey’s maturing’, and grass pretty much grows all year round in Dingle!”
Aside from the manual distillation of its own spirit, Dingle is also known for using excellent, first-fill casks. It’s a pricey, bold choice but, when done right, it pays off. Not least by becoming a USP in a crowded market. “We have to look to the future. There’s 30 to 35 other distilleries coming in behind us,” explains Coull. “We’re not the biggest. We’re not the most efficient. So having great casks has always been critical. That’s not to say that we won’t refill casks, but I’ll keep them in the background for older Dingles”.
He says the key to ensuring the quality is consistent is only dealing with tried and trusted cask brokers he knows from years of sourcing casks and building relationships. This not only means he can ensure the standard of the wood and spirit it previously held is high, but the way the casks are handled between the source and the distillery is proper. If they’re not freshly emptied and shipped quickly, you can ruin a cask quite quickly, Coull says.
A bright future
It’s this considered and honest approach that brought Coull to Dingle in the first place. Nabbing someone with his CV was a coup for the young distillery, but once he saw the quality that had been laid down and an opportunity to make his mark and build a brand from the ground-up he couldn’t resist. Coull says family ownership also makes a big difference, as they tend to take longer-term views with their distilleries. “It’s their baby and they will see it through”.
The family’s commitment has been demonstrated by the promise of a multi-million-euro upgrade to Dingle Distillery that will create at least 60 jobs, improve the visitor experience, and eventually double the capacity of the facility, which was originally a sawmill. “If anybody’s ever visited the distillery they’ll know it’s purely a shed with distillation equipment and a few transport containers inside, which become the shop and the bar area. It’s probably had its day so it is time to invest. It’s not going to be a designer distillery by any means, it will still have that rustic edge, but we’re aiming for something that will be fit for visitors too”.
Looking forward, Coull says the batch releases won’t stop just because Dingle now has its own permanent single malt. Every year around 10-15,000 bottles of something new will arrive, with some interesting wood finishes and single casks tipped, as well as 100% bourbon-matured bottling that will present the clearest picture of Dingle’s distillery character. Some Irish peated whiskey is also on the way in the next three or four years and Coull promises it will appeal to fans of the category as it will not be a subtle ‘Irish peat’ by any means.
Dingle Single Malt review:
But, before we get to all of that we’ve got our New Arrival to enjoy. So, here’s the skinny. The whiskey is about six-to-seven years old. It was triple distilled and then matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry (61%) and ex-bourbon (39%) first-fill casks before being bottled without chill-filtration. There were 50,000 bottles produced in the first run, so this is not something only collectors can get their hands on, and there’s been a big aesthetic change to a more eye-catching packaging. It’s worth mentioning that at just over £50, the price point is lower than the previous batch releases and is very competitive, which means this is a whisky that you can drink and buy again. So far, we’re ticking some good boxes.
The most important thing remains what’s inside the tasting glass, however, and I’m delighted to say I love it. It’s a tremendously assured first addition to the core range, a whisky with all the poise, elegance, and moreish qualities of a go-to dram. You would guess it’s a good 10-12 years old considering how intensely beautiful and full-bodied the sherry and bourbon notes popping up all over the place are, as well as the first-class integration, particularly as PX can overwhelm. But this didn’t at all. It’s a testament to taking your time and doing things right.
You can purchase Dingle Single Malt from Master of Malt (that’s us!) now.
Dingle Single Malt Tasting Note:
Nose: A creamy, mellow, and supple mix of vanilla, posh dark chocolate, sherried dried fruit, and the prickling of aromatic spice from anise, clove, and nutmeg. Throughout there’s toffee, homemade apple pie, toasted almonds, and lime zest with hints of mint and marzipan.
Palate: More of that indulgent caramel, vanilla, and chocolatey goodness (this time orange chocolate) with raisins, espresso, apricots, and some black pepper in support. There’s also some hints of rhubarb crumble, black fruit, red wine, and black tea as well as acacia honey, leather, and brown sugar underneath.
Finish: Rhubarb and Custard boiled sweets, sticky toffee pudding, a little more lime, and dried fruit.