This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional!
Brendan Carty is an architect by profession but he got the idea to start his own distillery from visiting small producers in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. “I tried two year old whisky from Belgrove and it was as good as 21 year old Redbreast,” he said. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2017, he set about making his dream a reality.
He acquired a derelict stables at Killowen near a megalithic tomb in County Down and fitted it with ultra-traditional equipment: two direct-fired stills, a 1,000 litre wash still called Christoir and an 800 litre spirit still called Broc (after the Irish for badger), and worm tub condensers. This set-up, unique to Ireland, “creates an amazing flavour, another layer of complexity,” according to Carty. He began filling casks a year and half ago, the aim is to create a traditional single pot still whiskey. Although Carty’s view of what is traditional doesn’t chime with those formulated by the Irish Whiskey Association, so he won’t be able to call it as such. His mash bill consists of about 30% oats, rye and wheat, the Geographical Indication (GI) only allows for 5%, 30% unmalted barley and 40% malted barley. According to Carty, the 5% came at the instigation of Midleton which at the time the rules were created was the only distillery making single malt still whiskeys like Redbreast and Green Spot. In the past, the non-barley component was much higher. Furthermore, Killowen uses peated malt (GI rules do not allow for the word peated to be on the label of single pot stills releases) and only distills twice. According to Carty in the past: “Irish whiskey was more double than triple-distilled and more often peated than not. To turn our back on that heritage is absurd.”
His whiskey comes of age in a year and a half, we’re sure it’s going to be well worth trying. Meanwhile, there are various gins and a poitin to try. The latter, made with an unpeated single pot still mash bill, he’s particularly proud of, describing it as “full of flavour, you get the influence of the direct flame, the Maillard reaction, giving an oiliness and full body.” He has also released some blended whiskies as part of the Bonder Experimental Series and as you might imagine these are proudly unconventional right down to his transparency about sourcing liquids.
As per IWA rules, he’s not allowed to say which distilleries go into the blend so instead he says where the distilleries are located. The whiskey we’re looking at this week consists of Irish single malt and grain whiskeys, matured separately in bourbon casks, before being blended and aged in a sherry barrel, then married with a bourbon-aged Irish single malt in a Spanish wine cask. The grain came from County Louth so we can assume it’s from Cooley and the malt from County Antrim so it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out that it’s from Bushmills Distillery. Carty told us that he did try to buy some from Midleton but it “doesn’t sell whiskey to small producers.”
The Spanish wine cask used is not straightforward either. It formerly held Txakolina. Pronounced something like ‘chakolina’, this is a very dry, slightly sparkling wine, not dissimilar to a vinho verde, that comes from the Basque country. It’s just the thing to drink with mountains of seafood. But that’s not the end of the craziness, because the ends of the wine barrel were swapped for virgin wood Acacia. This is one of the areas where the IWA is relaxed giving producers the kind of freedom when it comes to cask that would cause the SWA to have kittens. Finally, it was bottled with a 10 year old age statement at cask strength, 55.4% ABV, with no chill-filtering. In fact, according to Carty, no filtering of any kind. Only 490 50cl bottles have been filled.
There are other whiskeys in the series including one finished in an old Islay cask and a Tequila barrel bottling. So, lots of exciting things going on at Killowen. We are expecting great things from the first whiskey distilled in-house.
Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Sweet white fruit, with peach, nectarine and grape, with ripe pear, citrus peel and subtle oak spice.
Palate: More fresh pear accompanied by greener notes now, with dried kitchen herbs, oaky vanilla and dried apricot.
Finish: Hints of lychee, grapefruit and more ripe stone fruit, with more wood spice returning on a lengthy finish.
Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey is now available from Master of Malt.