Sunday, 22 February 2015

New Release - Dunville's - Very Rare 10 year old

A while back you may remember I brought you all an exclusive regarding the re-emergence of the Dunville's Irish Whiskey brand and this was promptly followed up by a review of the "Dunville's - Very Rare", which was the first bottling to be released under the title of Dunville's in nearly 60 years.

To recap quickly I feel it is important, for those who haven't seen the original update, to quickly go over again where this re-emergence has come from.

Around the start of June 2013 a distillers licence was granted to Echlinville Distillery, which is situated on the Echlinville estate in the small town of Kircubbin, County Down, Northern Ireland, and with this it became the first Northern Irish distillery to receive a licence for over 125 years.

It is this very distillery, under the owenership of Shane Braniff, a businessman from the local area, who is also responsible for bringing you the Feckin' Irish Whiskey brand, that has got it's hands on the "Dunville's" brand and they are intent on reviving the great memory of Dunville's by producing a top quality product to sit in it's bottles.

Echlinville itself has big ambitions for it's own spirit and a quick look on their site shows that they are producing single malt and pot still whiskey, which seem to be maturing in a variety of casks, and the first releases of this unique whiskey should be with us by 2016.

In the meantime though, and as seems the norm, we have these releases of Dunville's appearing, not only to seemingly get the money rolling in, but also for, in my opinion, another more honest reason.  I get a genuine sense that Shane Braniff has a very real desire to get this once great brand back to where it belongs, not as a stop gap, until the distillery's own whiskey is released, but as a high quality product to stand proud in it's own right on the same shelves.

Whilst the ambition is there, and I wrote previously of my excitement of seeing the brand back in our off licences, there was, in my opinion, an initial let down with the first release of the Dunville's - Very Rare.

Not to dwell on it too much I shall simply say that I felt as though it was a rushed release with little substance and little care seemingly put into the finished product and it really showed when tasting.

A final point I also noted in the previous review was - "I fully understand the need to get the brand out there with this initial release but I feel if they are to release other bottlings, prior to their own spirit being matured, then, cost permitting, they should secure some matured whiskey that will really start to add a touch of quality to their brand."

Well, I must be clairvoyant.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to meet Shane Braniff where I received a bottle of what, apart from a slight change in labelling, is to be the next release of Dunville's - Very Rare and I have to say they are certainly going in the right direction.

This new release is a Irish malt whiskey that will be hitting the shops with an age statement of 10 years old.  Obviously not from Echlinville itself, the spirit has been obtained from elsewhere but "finished" by Echlinville in their warehouses on the County Down coast.

The finish is in the form of PX casks in which the whiskey has been rounded off for about a year and the added quality doesn't stop there.

This new release also benefits from a higher bottling strength of 46% and has not been chill filtered.  On speaking to Shane Braniff he is quick to point out that they do have a chill filtration unit on site, so to bottle this whiskey without the use of this facility is solely down to a desire to obtain that higher quality that the brand deserves.

I've included a picture of the label as it sits at the moment to give you an idea of how it will look when it hit's the shops.

As I mentioned there are a few last minute changes planned for the label, but once finalised the whiskey will be released with a price point of just under £50.  Considering the first release was £29.99 I feel an extra £20 for the extra quality mentioned is a fair amount.

Whether the whiskey itself is worth £50 remains to be seen but on initial taste I can say that there is certainly a lot of potential and I look forward to really getting into the bottle with the hope of positively reporting back soon that Dunville's is now hitting the heights it should be.

Until next time,



Friday, 6 February 2015

An Evening With Bushmills Master Distiller Colum Egan

Previously I have spoken, with great sadness, at the lack of genuine whiskey events taking place in this wonderful city.  Apart from the Hudson Bar's whiskey club and a small number of other excellent establishments, that simply boast a fine selection of whiskey, there really isn't that much to get your teeth into.  

That was until the Merchant Hotel, situated in Waring Street, Belfast, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and announced their first ever "By The Fire" event.

Being blessed with a sumptuous interior the Merchant Hotel has the perfect setting to host top quality whiskey events and what better way for a Northern Irish hotel to kick things off than by hosting the master distiller of Northern Ireland's most famous distillery, Bushmills.

For, in my opinion, the small price of £25 you were able to guarantee yourself an evening of "whiskey tasting and informative discussion" with Colum Egan himself.

Tickets in hand, my girlfriend and I made our way down to the hotel and entered through the magnificent entrance to be directed towards a side room.  Upon walking into the venue for the evening it was clear that my previous thoughts of the hotel having the perfect setting were spot on.  Lush decor and elegant lighting provided the backdrop to what was going to be a truly intimate tasting.

To kick things off we were treated to a fine cocktail reception but unfortunately I missed the the name of the delicious citrus liquid that cleansed the palate perfectly in anticipation of things to come.

We then took our seats and surveyed the delights that had been laid out in front of us.  Five Bushmills' drams were ready and waiting: Original, Black Bush, 10yo, 16yo and 21yo.

Naturally the first of the night was the Original and this was an ideal whiskey to get us going.  Lighter and smoother than I remember, this allowed all those present to get their bearings and also allowed Colum to guide us into what was more of an engaging discussion between himself and tasters rather than a typical masterclass.

Questions flowed and Colum was not found wanting.  The answers were delivered with a real air of confidence and insight that would have taught even the most experienced drinker a thing or two.

As the "Original" was finished off a number of hotel staff swooped in and provided us all with small plates of Canapés to be enjoyed as food pairings for each of the remaining four samples and the match ups were as follows:

Black Bush - Foie Gras
10yo - White Chocolate Fudge
16yo - Blue Cheese
21yo - Dark Chocolate Truffle

Each was absolutely delicious!!

Although we had a set list of whiskeys, that were in a regular order, the questions touched on all aspects of Bushmills, and each of their whiskeys, in random order. 

While discussing the 21yo we were informed that this age was selected as it resonated perfectly with a "coming of age".  Colum continued by touching on stock control and the work that has to go into ensuring that the 21yo, and all expressions for that matter, are continuously released to the same high standard year on year.

As Colum spoke you got a true sense of passion and pride with his number one priority appearing to be the task of producing all Bushmills whiskey in the same manner that it has been produced for 100's of years.  This, he says, is his belief why Bushmills has stood the test of time.

We moved onto discussing the 16yo and, not for the first time, it was described as possibly being "pound for pound, the best whiskey in the world".  Whether this is a marketing ploy that has been slowly circulating around the whiskey world, or a genuine feeling from everyone who samples the 16yo, it is obvious that it does display a serious amount of brilliance for a relatively small price.  I have, at certain times, seen this as cheap as £30 in Sainsbury's.

While discussing all of the whiskeys on show we discovered that, generally speaking, the 16yo and 21yo are more or less completely made up of whiskeys of that age whilst the 10yo contains a certain amount of 13yo.  

As the night ticked on we inevitably got onto the hot topic of the last few months...the change of ownership.

For those of you that have been living in a whiskey void it was announced a few months ago that Diageo were relinquishing their control over Bushmills to further their interest in the tequila market.  The new owners are to be Jose Ceurvo who bring with them a feeling of a family run business with the focus going back towards craft and quality.

As we spoke of the exciting times ahead Colum was quick to praise Diageo and their internal investment citing a figure of £50 million that had been spent in the 9 years they were in control.  It is obvious that Bushmills has benefited from the Diageo ownership but in a time where whiskey companies are expanding their portfolios it seems the right time for Bushmills to get a new lease of life.

A feeling was talked about that Bushmills was about to go from being the small fish in a big pond to a rather large fish in a small pond thus allowing the focus to be on the spirit they produce and the people who make it.  As highlighted in a recent article in "Whisky Magazine" the people of Bushmills know their whiskey and know what works so, for god's sake, please let them do it.

As the discussion progressed there was a great sense of hope and excitement of what the future might bring, with murmurings of possible innovation and new ideas coming to life, could we be on the cusp of seeing some absolutely stunning whiskey coming out of Bushmills?  

In my opinion single casks would be a good start and, after my personal tastings of recent Celtic Cask releases, I know fine rightly that some interesting cask finishes wouldn't go amiss either.  I live in hope.  What is clear though that any new styles, or releases, that may appear, are still a few years away.

As the night finished off we ended on a touching note.  Having enjoyed our time with Colum, and the delicious Bushmills drams, we were cordially welcomed into the Bushmills family.

After the event we moved into the main bar where the bar manager took the time to gain valuable feedback from those involved and inform us that more events are in the pipeline with the next possibly being a visit from the mighty Midleton.

I know one thing is for sure, as Belfast grows, and moves forward, events like this are imperative to it's success.  When events like this take place, and more specifically whiskey events, it can only but improve consumer knowledge and bring many more into our already growing Belfast whiskey family.

Many thanks to Colum and The Merchant Hotel for an excellent evening.

Until next time,



Wednesday, 4 February 2015

New Release - Redbreast - "Mano a Lámh"

One of the many ways I am looking to improve this blog, as the year goes on, is by starting to provide you all with some of the latest news coming out of the Irish whiskey scene and this seems like the perfect time to kick things off after receiving a fresh press release yesterday from Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard.

Those of you who were keeping tabs on trending topics yesterday will of course know that this was in relation to the latest release from Redbreast Irish Whiskey.  

"Mano a Lámh", meaning "hand in hand" in Spanish and Gaelic, is the representation of the close relationship that has been forged between Midleton Distillery and the collective of artisans in Spain, who have crafted the distillery’s sherry butts for more than 20 years.

As detailed in the press release, oak is felled in the forests of Galicia, north-west Spain, and then crafted and seasoned by some of the country’s most prestigious family businesses. 

The Antonio Páez Lobato Bodega in the South crafts the oak into casks, which are then seasoned with Oloroso sherry for two years at the prestigious Páez Morilla Bodega in the nearby sherry capital of the world, Jerez.

The freshly seasoned sherry butts are then shipped promptly, during the cooler winter months, to Midleton Distillery where they are then filled with new make pot still whiskey.

While the core Redbreast range is matured in a combination of American bourbon and Spanish oloroso butts, Redbreast "Mano a Lámh" revels in this signature sherry style by bringing together whiskeys which have been matured exclusively in first fill Spanish oloroso sherry casks, imparting distinct, rich, fruity flavours and a full body.

Limited to just 2,000 bottles, and priced at €65 Redbreast "Mano a Lámh" is non-chill filtered, bottled at 46% ABV and is available exclusively to members of "The Stillhouse" from this month.  For more information be sure to visit  

Redbreast "Mano a Lámh" tasting notes by Billy Leighton, Midleton Master Blender

Nose: Very deep dried fruits, raisins and sultanas with the more earthy tones of fig, dates and prunes. The sweetness is from the fruit and balances perfectly with pot still spices such as dill and black pepper, and the contribution of the toasted Spanish oak.
Taste: Silky smooth and deceptively sweet, full of rich, ripe, dark fruit with the leisurely emergence of the signature spices.
Finish: The rich fruit slowly gives way to the perfection of the Spanish oak.

In months to come I shall give you my own opinion on this fine sounding whiskey as my bottle is already bought and hopefully on it's way.

Until next time,