Irish whiskey features as our new arrival for the second week running as Shortcross Distillery showcases what it can bring to the table. It’s our VERY FIRST whiskey from the producers: Shortcross Rye & Malt Irish Whiskey!
Fiona Boyd-Armstrong always wanted to open a distillery at her family home. For most people, that would be impractical. But when you have one of Ireland’s most historic old estates at your disposal, it seems silly not to take advantage. The 500-acre Rademon Estate dates back to 1667 and the original courtyard, cottages, and workers’ bell have been preserved. Now it also has a shiny distillery, complete with a stunning glass still house and decidedly modern visitor centre.
The Lost Distilleries of Ireland
It’s where Shortcross Gin is made by Fiona and her husband David, who were married in 2011. They travelled together the world visiting distilleries across the UK, Ireland, Europe, America, and Asia to learn about the industry. By the summer of 2012, the first foundations of the distillery were laid and then in April 2014 the first hand-bottled and wax-sealed bottles of gin were on sale. But since the beginning, the duo have also wanted to create their own brand of Irish whiskey.
“I started reading some of my dad’s old books and found a book titled The Lost Distilleries of Ireland by Brian Townsend,” Fiona recalls. “I found it captivating that the distilling industry was such a massive industry in Ireland and it literally almost disappeared overnight. I think that knowing that we had lost something so special just lit a desire for me to look to bring back Irish whiskey distilling.”
Going against the grain
Which is exactly what we have today, Irish whiskey. The distillery is well placed to make it. Located in County Down amongst the Mourne mountains, the estate has an aquifer that runs beneath it, providing a supply of quality local water. Fiona says they have found the purity and the minerality of the water to be superb for the mashing and fermentation, and it requires nothing to be removed from it.
Then comes Irish grains. “Using grain from as close to our distillery as possible is all about showcasing what grows on our island and why it is crucial to making fabulous whiskey,” Fiona explains. “As a distillery, we have a big focus on sustainability, so using Irish cereals that aren’t being brought in from other parts of the world is really important to us. And going full circle these spent grains are then fed to our cows. Who are very happy cows.”
For this release, you might be able to guess which grains were used. It’s not to be confused with Malt and Rye, a Method & Madness creation. This mash bill was influenced by the duo’s travels to the US in 2013 where David took an interest in rye whiskey. “When we got home to the distillery David set about trying to put an Irish take on this style of whiskey and settled on a combination of malted rye and malted barley, which is way more fruity and a little less spicy than raw rye,” Fiona says.
Big results from the smallest still
The duo strive to create bright clear worts and fermentation runs for 140-160 hours (over six days at its longest) in stainless steel washbacks. “We want to create flavour, not just alcohol, and we are great believers that we can create flavour at every step of the process from brewing, distilling, and maturation,” Fiona explains. “We allow our fermentations to run long to get a lot of secondary formation, and this creates both flavour and texture that are discernible in our new make and our mature Irish whiskey”.
There’s a choice of three copper pot stills, but this isn’t typical triple-distilled Irish whiskey. Fiona says at heart Shortcross is a traditional malt whiskey distillery that operates double distillation. “Normally we use our 1750-litre pot still from Frilli for our wash distillation, with the spirit run taking place in either of our 1,000-litre or 450-litre pot stills from coppersmiths Christian Carl in Germany”. The latter, which Fiona calls a “copper masterpiece” arrived in January 2013 and was the smallest pot still in Ireland. The still was built to be the best of old and new technology, with two seven-plate enrichment columns.
The small size is no accident. Its design ensures a lot of reflux, assisted by the fact that every still is fitted with ascending lyne arms to help to dial up the fruit and floral notes in the spirit. All the cut points are done by taste so that Fiona and David can select the right character for the spirit, and they aim to bottle their malt and pot still whiskey at no younger than five years old. But Fiona adds that “at the end of the day, whiskey can be good at any age, you just have to design the process and select the casks to deliver the character you want at a given point in time.”
The Shortcross style
For the distillery’s wood programme, both first-fill bourbon and virgin oak casks are used predominately, but there are other varieties being experimented with. Maturation takes place at bonded warehouses that form part of the distillery. One of the things you’ll notice about this release isn’t just the mashbill, but the virgin Chinkapin oak used to help age it. Fiona says it’s “such a special wood”. She explains: “rather than focus on vanilla as the main flavour, like what you get with standard American oak, Chinkapin gives rich notes of sweet almonds and dark fudge that are just fantastic. As a team, we are fascinated by the influence of wood and virgin oak in general and have been doing a lot of experimentation in this area.”
An inaugural release came out last year and picked up some shiny medals, but Rye & Malt is the first commercial release. There’s now a stock of Shortcross pot still and peated Irish whiskey that’s over five years old, with the latter reaching nearly seven years now. As part of the recent Belfast Whiskey Week, people were invited to taste the peated malt at cask strength and Fiona says the feedback “blew us away”. She says we can expect it to be rich and smoky as it starts at 55PPM, but at the same time “it’s a really well-balanced whiskey.” As for the Irish pot still, that’s all about the spice and dark leather and tobacco notes. “All in all, we have some really exciting things to come,” Fiona teases.
Shortcross may be a new kid on the block as far as most whiskey fans will be concerned, but I think they’ll soon know its name very closely. The way they make whiskey is all Shortcross and no shortcuts (ok that was bad, come back to me). It’s independently owned and operated, with Fiona and David having all the creative licence to follow their hearts and heads to craft the whiskey they want to create while doing it in a way they enjoy. Fiona says they are a part of everything, from idea to planning to release. “We are a small whiskey distillery and launching our own whiskey into the world is a momentous occasion and one we are very proud of,” she adds.
Shortcross Irish Whiskey Rye & Malt
So, what we have here is a whiskey that was distilled, matured, and bottled at the family-owned Rademon Estate Distillery in County Down. The unique mash bill consists of 100% Irish malted rye and malted barley, the wash was double, not triple distilled, and aged in virgin Chinkapin oak as well as ex-bourbon barrels. Oh, and it was bottled non-chill filtered with all natural colour at 46% ABV, with Fiona remarking that they are “great believers in letting our Shortcross Irish whiskey being its natural self.” Now, doesn’t all of that just float your boat?
It does mine. This has personality and promise. It’s a touch raw in places and needs some time to breathe, but once it does it’s rich, creamy, and has some complex rye spice without that overtly chewy and dusty quality you can get from American rye. It’s a really interesting whiskey, with this beautiful marmalade note in particular that I love. I’ll readily revisit Shortcross whiskey again. I suggest you get to know it yourself.
Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Orange chocolate, coffee fudge, dried apricot, vanilla, and some toasted almonds in support with a sprinkling of sweet baking spice.
Palate: Heaps of homemade marmalade on brown bread, so vibrant and clear I can almost taste the little bits of orange peel. There’s also dark honey, aromatic ginger, and some green apple sharpness.
Finish: Soft and supple, with more creamy fudge and orangey goodness that drifts away a touch too quickly for my liking.
You can buy Shortcross Irish Whiskey Rye & Malt right here, right now.