With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few days to a category of whisk(e)y that is slowly gaining the respect that I feel it deserves. And that is Irish whiskey! The Irish whiskey industry is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. New distillers are beginning to open their doors, bringing new ideas to the table and crafting a brighter future for a country that was once regarded as the very best in terms of whiskey production.
With that said, I thought it would be fun to highlight unique bottlings from some of the lesser-known Irish whiskey brands that I feel are worthy of our attention.
First up – Glendalough. Glendalough carries the title of “Ireland’s first craft distillery”. They offer everything from whiskey to a wild botanical gin to the ancient Irish spirit known as poitin. As a new distiller, they are doing what just about every new distillery must do to get things going: distill and bottle what they can while sourcing older whiskey from another distillery. I am a big fan of their original 13 Year Old single malt. While they did not distill the liquid itself, I thought it was a great cask selection and an overall enjoyable whiskey that was bottled free of chill filtration or artificial colorant.
This month Glendalough is releasing two new iterations of their single malt, both with rather unusual finishes worth mentioning. Now full disclosure Glendalough was kind enough to give these bottles to me and as you can see in the photo, they are freshly opened. While I rarely offer opinions of whisky under these circumstances, I thought I’d at least share my initial impressions of these two rather unique whiskies given that the holiday is just around the corner. (Continued in comments below)
Glendalough 13 Year Old Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Puncheon Barrels (46% ABV): Mizunara is a delicate, porous and rather expensive wood found only in Japan. It’s commonly used by Japanese distillers as an “accent” component to single malt whisky matured in American and Spanish oak, adding a beautiful layer of sandalwood, coconut and a rather mystical aroma akin to incense. This Glendalough has spent 13 year in American oak before being finished or “aced” in Mizunara. The result? A very clean and floral aroma of freshly cut grass, moss, vanilla and what reminds me of medical gauze. It’s an earthy, multidimensional dram that commands a bit more attention than the previous 13 Year Old. The mizunara is present throughout the entire experience so if you like that type of oak, I have to think you’ll enjoy this whisky.
Glendalough 7 Year Old Finished in Black Pitts Porter Barrels (46% ABV): Well it’s not the first time an Irish whiskey has been finished in beer barrels but it may just be the best version to date. At 7 years old, the flavors have had plenty of time to develop into something interesting while the whiskey’s character has retained the sort of vibrancy that makes younger whiskey fun. The finish is in my opinion, perfectly executed, almost to the point where the marriage between the two casks seems dare I say “natural”. It’s a bit more bold and warming than the 13 Year Old, which to me fits the profile of the type of whiskey I would order in a dark Irish pub.
So to sum it all up, the 13 Year Old Mizunara Finish is the more interesting of the two. It’s the type of whiskey that enthusiasts will likely want to snatch up and spend some time with. Just so you know – I’ve never been crazy over Mizunara personally but I understand why a lot of people are. It’s a different experience that I think is worth having at some point along your own whisk(e)y journey and this is arguably the most affordable entry point. The 7 Year Old Porter finish is, in my opinion, the unsung hero of the duo. It has much of what I look for in a young Irish whiskey meaning it’s vibrant, well balanced, and it offers a bit of complexity without taking itself too seriously. I like that. I didn’t expect to lean in that direction when I opened these two bottles but what can I say, Ireland is full of surprises lately.