Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Here Comes "The Quiet Man"

"The Quiet Man" Blended Irish Whiskey
In recent times it has been no secret that Irish whiskey is back with a bang.  Sales are on the up, big style, and with this we are seeing a flurry of new and planned distilleries all over the island of Ireland.

My interest is obviously heightened when one of these distilleries is planned for my home province of Ulster, in the North of Ireland, and this brings me on to Niche Drinks who are located in Derry City, Co. Londonderry.

Niche Drinks was set up back in 1983 and since then they have been producing cream liqueurs, Irish coffee, and "ready to drink" cocktails for their retail partners in Ireland, the UK, the USA and Europe.

As a direct result of this well established business they have also managed to build up long standing relationships with some of the most successful Bourbon producers.

Fast forward to 2015 and now Niche Drinks are planning to build the first whiskey distillery in Derry for 200 years.  This £15 million project is set to begin later this year and is to be located in the Campsie area, on the outskirts of the city.

Once up and running the plan is to produce a triple distilled malt whiskey that will be "as traditional and as authentic as possible".

In addition to the distillery, which will be named "The Quiet Man Craft Distillery Co. ltd", Niche Drinks have, for some years now, been buying and maturing grain and malt Irish whiskey, both new make and already partially matured.

This whiskey has been bought to allow them to release their own range of Irish whiskey named "The Quiet Man" or "An Fear Ciúin".

Through the aforementioned relationships, with the Bourbon producers, they have already secured ongoing supplies of barrels and it is into these barrels they are filling their bought new make and partially matured whiskey.

The plus point here is that the bourbon barrels they are using are all first fill and therefore will impart some serious flavour into the spirit they have.

They also have some sherry casks in which they are already maturing some 4, 5 and 8 year old malt whiskey.

To bring this altogether, in perfect harmony, Niche Drinks have acquired the services of experienced Scotch whisky blender Billy Mitchell and are currently putting 4 employees through the "Diploma in Distilling" course run by Heriot Watt University.

"The Quiet Man" 8yo Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The Quiet Man whiskey range will be released with two expressions - a NAS blend and an 8 year old single malt with both expressions being chill filtered, although managing director, Ciaran Mulgrew, does state that future single cask bottlings will probably be released at cask strength and obviously without chill filtration.

They are also working out a detailed recipe so that they can make a seamless transition when it comes to Niche Drinks starting to use their own whiskey once fully matured in years to come.

When it comes to the naming of the brand Ciaran Mulgrew has an excellent story behind this, in case you thought whiskey names were plucked out of thin air -

"My father was a bartender who worked for over 50 years in bars around Belfast.  Sometimes he would bring me into work with him and so I grew up loving the sounds and smells of the bar, the craic, the laughter, and the smell of the beer and the whiskey.  Especially the whiskey.

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father.

In 50 years as a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories but, like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales.

My father, John Mulgrew. 'The Quiet Man' or, as they say in Irish, 'An Fear Ciúin'."

From being in contact with Ciaran, hearing what he has to say, and seeing what they have planned, I have to say I'm very excited about this project.  They are moving into this venture with an already good knowledge of the drinks industry and by combining this with expert whisky knowledge, from Billy Mitchell, and focussing on delivering a top notch product, they should be hitting the heights in no time.
I like that they are using only 1st fill bourbon barrels, to mature the spirit they have already bought, and if the new releases of "The Quiet Man" are to move seamlessly into the era of their own whiskey then they could have some serious standards to maintain.
Being a malt whiskey distillery I am looking forward to seeing how their own spirit matches up against the other north coast powerhouse - Bushmills and in simpler terms I am just overjoyed that the northwest of Ireland is starting to put itself on the map in terms of Irish whiskey.
This is further backed up by the plans in Donegal for Sliabh Liag Distillery (pronounced Slieve League) but that is for another update.
Well there you have it, keep your eyes peeled because "The Quiet Man" is coming to a bar near you.
Until next time,



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The "Spirit of Dublin" is Flowing Again - A Tour of the Teeling Distillery

Towards the end of April I was lucky enough, as part of my membership with the Celtic Whiskey Club, to get the chance to have a behind the scenes tour of the new Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years.

Located in the very heart of Dublin, a mere 30 minutes walk from Connolly station, the €10 million Teeling Distillery & visitor centre has found it's home in an old market square named Newmarket, an area that, in years gone by, was closely associated with brewing and distilling.

When speaking to our host for the day, master distiller Alex Chasko, it is clear how important it was for the distillery to be located in the centre of Dublin as he casually jokes how the international marketing budget has been blown on acquiring the central Dublin site and, whilst the comedy is obvious, this, for me, highlights a deeper feeling that this distillery would be nothing unless it was deep in the heart of Dublin..... after all how else could they claim to be reviving the "Spirit of Dublin"?

Further reason can be found when browsing Teeling's website as they point to the history of the Teeling family as far back as Walter Teeling, who first set up a craft distillery, in Dublin, way back in 1782.  They go on to state that this commenced a 230 year tradition of distilling for the Teeling family, which is being carried on by Jack and Stephen, the latest generation of Teeling's, who are "forging a bright new future for distilling in Dublin and for Irish whiskey".

Upon arriving to the front of the distillery it is clear that they have gone all out on presentation with beautiful blue / grey stone, large circular windows, to represent the ends of barrels, and a modern entrance where the eye moves up to take in a pagoda style peak to the roof.

At the time of visiting the distillery was most definitely still in "building site" mode but we are reassured that the doors should be open to the public during these first few weeks of May with the visitor centre fully operational by June.

As we walk into the building we are brought through what will be the reception area and into the heart of the distillery, where we find all the operational equipment. 

Getting a peek inside the lauter tun
With plans to make both pot still and single malt whiskey we are first shown their modern day milling machine which mills all grains wet, not only to reduce the dust caused by this process, but to also allow the milling machine to handle the unmalted barley required for pot still whiskey.  The unmalted barley can be extremely tough and milling the grain wet allows it to be ground up much easier.

Moving across the room, past the combination of metal and wooden washbacks, we arrive at the three gorgeous looking stills.  Constructed by the Italian company Frilli Impianti, the wash still is 15,000 litres in size with the low wines still and spirit still being 10,000 litres and 9,000 litres respectively.

Two of Teeling's stills
When looking at the stills it is obvious that the necks are on the short side, leading one other tour participant to enquire if Teeling were deliberately looking to produce a heavier style spirit? 

Alex was able to clarify this perfectly by firstly pointing out that it was mostly down to the restrictions offered by the distillery roof that necessitated the shorter necks (the distillery is not a new build but a renovated warehouse). 

He continued though to explain how this will not force them into to producing a certain style of spirit as they will have greater control of the heating process thus allowing them to create as light, or heavy, a spirit as they wish.

The innovation does not stop there as Teeling have installed not one, but two receivers to collect the "heads and tails" of each distillation.  The reason for this, as explained by Alex, is to play around with flavour profiles that they may find to be in the first stage of a distillation as opposed to the end of the distillation, and vice versa.

As highlighted in a recent press release, the Teeling Distillery has already produced the first whiskey spirit to be distilled in Dublin for 39 years but don't be getting excited just yet.  Alex was quick to point out that, once the builders have finally left, they will probably take a year to simply "get to know" the equipment they have installed.

They are going to take this time to carefully understand what works and what doesn't.  They shall play around with quantities, length of fermentation, style of spirit, style of distillation, and so on, until they are happy with their process.  Only then will we start to see the "Spirit of Dublin" going into any sort of wooden cask.

Once fully operational they are aiming for a capacity of 500,000 litres but Alex suggests that they may have the capability for more and the last bit of glorious info, we are treated to, is that they also have plans to produce a peated pot still whiskey!!

Cask style snug
With the operational side of the distillery covered we are brought back into the first floor visitor area where there shall be a tasting bar and shop.  Once provided with a sample of Teeling whiskey visitors shall be able to relax in a cask style snug, with the circular windows, mentioned earlier, looking out onto the front of the distillery.  It is this attention to detail that, in my opinion, will put this distillery & visitor centre at the forefront of tourist experiences.

To end the tour we are brought onto the balcony of the distillery, which commands impressive views over the Dublin skyline.  Here we are treated to the alcoholic part of our tour which takes the form of two samples, of something special, that will soon be available to everyone.

The whiskeys we are treated to are of the cask strength, single cask variety and there is more to this than just simply giving us a treat as there are plans to have these casks in the visitor centre to allow fans the chance to "bottle their own" Teeling whiskey.

Sampling on the balcony
The first sample was a 16 year old single malt which has been fully matured in a rum cask since being distilled in 1999.  Now, while a windy balcony was not the ideal place to get any real tasting notes down, I can say that this was rum and raisin ice cream gone mad whilst being incredibly smooth and deliciously sweet.  This is definitely one I shall be coming back for via the "bottle your own" scheme.

The second on show was an 11 year old single malt which was matured, for the majority of it's life, in a bourbon barrel before being finished, for around 14 months, in a white burgundy cask.  This is a different beast altogether with huge notes of white grape, a little white wine vinegar and a bigger sense of overall fruit.  This is also extremely dry on the finish and will be a favourite to many but, for me, the rum cask wins the battle.

As we finish off our samples we were informed about a possibility of Teeling producing their own version of the much talked about Jameson "Caskmates", coming as a result of a collaboration between Teeling and Galway Bay Brewery.

Galway Bay recently released an aged stout that had been matured in some of Teeling's small batch rum barrels, the question is definitely "what now for the barrels?" and I can only hope, having tasted the success of the "Caskmates", that Teeling give this experiment a try and treat us all to their fine style of whiskey with some deep stout flavours.

With this the tour came to an end and I left the distillery to make the journey home with the thoughts and excitement of what lies ahead for the Teeling Whiskey Co.  They have already hit the ground running with innovative finishes to fine Irish whiskey and with an excellent distillery, to further build their reputation around, I can only see a bright future on the horizon.

I can only hope that other up and coming Irish distilleries take serious note and strive to achieve as much as Teeling are aiming for.  There's no doubt that this is only the start of the journey, and there's a long way to go, but one thing is for sure... "The Spirit of Dublin" is flowing again.

Until next time,



Huge thanks to "The Celtic Whiskey Club" and "The Teeling Whiskey Co." for the wonderful experience.