With International Whisk(e)y Day approaching on March 27, there’s no better time to sip the potent golden liquid. Having enjoyed quite a few tipples, here are some from the rocky coasts, islands and mountains of Ireland and Scotland I consider worth savoring.
Photo courtesy of Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery
Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery, Montrose, Scotland
Farm to bottle operation, the family-run Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery in Scotland has produced its third limited edition Highland Rye Single Grain Scotch Whisky.
Honey bronze in color, aged five years and matured in charred American oak with a finish in Jamaican rum barrels, this smooth whisky has no chill filtration nor added coloring.
The first mature Scotch whisky made with rye in over 100 years, its ingredients are sourced directly from the family farm at the distillery with the crop variety featuring Arrantes Scottish Rye, Viscount Scottish Wheat and Odyssey Scottish Malted Barley.
Interestingly, Arbikie Highland Estate sits on a sea cliff along the east coast of Angus, with records showing distillation dating back to 1794. The Stirling family, John, Iain, and David, carry on a family farming tradition at Arbikie lasting four generations, planting on fertile red sandstone-tinted soil beside the North Sea with the microclimate of Lunan Bay granting longer growing seasons.
Arbikie Master Distiller Kirsty Black describes the aroma of the Highland Rye Single Grain as ripe bananas, grilled pineapples, vanilla ice cream, roasted almonds and toasted sugar with the taste of stewed fruits, demerara sugar, cocoa, grilled pineapples, blackcurrants and cloves.
Photo courtesy of Powerscourt Distillery
Powerscourt Distillery, Wicklow, Ireland
Inspired by the atmospheric bodegas of the Andalusian region of Spain, the Powerscourt Distillery, near the picturesque village of Enniskerry, boasts its oldest release, a 21-year-old single malt Fercullen whiskey, matured in 70 percent bourbon, 20 percent Oloroso and 10 percent PX sherry casks.
Head of whiskey John Cashman describes it as “combining the distinctive dark fruit sherried flavours of the Spanish region with the soft elegance of 21-year bourbon matured malt whiskey, which imparts a beautiful vanilla sweetness to the whiskey.”
He added, “When combined with the dried fruits from the sherry casks and drying spice from the European oak this single malt has an amazing depth of flavour and complexity.”
Powerscourt Distillery, a classic three pot still distillery, started in mid-2018, with the first barrels laid down in August that year when Fercullen was launched. Fercullen is the native Irish name for the old Celtic territory of land stretching from Dublin city across the Wicklow Mountains.
The distillery also produces Fercullen Falls, a blend of malt and grain whiskeys matured in first-fill, ex-bourbon barrels and the grain in a combination of ex-bourbon and new heavy char oak casks. It also offers a special ‘Prestige Cask Programme.’
Wayward Irish Spirits, Killarney, Ireland
In founding this distillery in southwestern Ireland, Maurice O’Connell maintained his family’s links to the drinks industry dating back 600 years when his forefathers imported brandies and wines from Spain.
Named after a popular 18th century Irish leader Daniel O’Connell, whose passionate oratory earned him the nickname ‘the wayward Irishman,’ the distillery is located on Lakeview Estate on the shores of Lough Leane, the largest of the Three Lakes of Killarney.
Special among its offering is its first Single Pot Still Whiskey entitled the ‘Coming of Age Release.’ After being distilled, it’s matured initially in ex-Bourbon casks for three months, a further 40 months in ex-Premier Cru Bordeaux NEOC barrels, with 10 per cent finished in ex-peated casks for three months. It is then cut over six months to ensure integration and smoothness, with no color added and minimally filtered (no chill filter).
As for taste – expect cherries on the nose, rich honey and a hint of smoke.
O’Connell said “the microclimate in the region, half-jokingly referred to ‘four seasons in one hour’ with daily temperature variations, enhances maturation as the whiskey moves in and out of the wood. Made from our own barley, it is matured here on the Estate.”
Gortinore Distillery, Waterford, Ireland
This distillery in southeast Ireland aims to create what it terms “a fusion of Irish and American whisky traditions” with its brand, Natterjack, named after the only toad native to Ireland.
Founded by Aidan and Lisa Mehigan, it is located on an old woollen mill on the River Mahon and houses three traditional copper pot stills and aging whiskey casks. Led by master distiller, Jordan Via, the distillery is retrofitted into a 150-year-old building.
Its whiskies, with innovative bottle labeling, are aged in ex-Bourbon barrels and finished in virgin American oak selected onsite in Kentucky. Triple distilled, it has a smooth, almost creamy palate of orange, spice, cedar and notes of tobacco. Its special cask strength variety is bottled at 63 percent. Orange and char come to the fore, against a backdrop of malt, a suggestion of cloves, grounded by butterscotch and earthy oak.
Ballykeefe Distillery, Kilkenny, Ireland
This artisan distillery is a family operation headed by couple, Morgan and Anne Ging, who trace their unbroken farming lineage as far back as written records exist in a region known as ‘Ireland’s Ancient East.’
After 25 years of research and painstaking effort, they turned a dream into a reality and diversified their farming enterprise by adding a single estate ‘field to glass’ distillery six years ago. Built in 2016, Whiskey production began in 2017 with a Single Pot Still, followed by Single Malt and Single Rye. In terms of sustainability, the grain is produced on the farm and by-products of distilling are fed to livestock.
Its Single Malt Irish is distilled in Italian handcrafted copper pot stills from 100 percent malted barley, with each bottle taken directly from a single cask. Expect an intense surge of fruit, sweet licorice and malt with apple dominating, supported by tropical fruits, tarte tatin, marzipan and cloves. Its Pot Still displays a burst of orange peel and dark chocolate, then a surge of spice with notes of licorice, cloves, cardamom and a hint of soothing menthol oil.
Rademon Estate Distillery, Crossgar, Northern Ireland
Award-winning Rademon Estate Distillery was founded in 2012 by husband and wife team, Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong, within an historic 500-acre estate in county Down, Northern Ireland dating back to AD565, with an original house from 1667. It features a vintage courtyard, cottages, a workers bell, and an imposing obelisk.
Whiskey-makers for over seven years, it’s double-distilled Shortcross Rye and Malt edition has been created on copper pot stills including one of the smallest on the island of Ireland and aged in a combination of chinkapin oak and ex-bourbon barrels with a mash bill of 100 per cent Irish malted rye and barley. An innovative addition to its product line is small batch Irish poitin with a nose of fresh fruit salad and palate of sweet and light green undertones and blackberry crumble.
Dingle Distillery, Kerry, Ireland
Ireland launched this February a national holiday in honor of Brigid, the ancient Goddess of fertility and with perfect timing, Dingle Distillery in Kerry has released its triple-distilled Lá le Bríde Single Malt honoring the ancient Celtic celebration of Imbolg, the beginning of Spring. Matured in bourbon casks with a rye cask finish, Lá le Bríde expresses light, sweet aromas of honey, raspberries, biscuits, icing sugar, and butterscotch. On the palate, it’s rich in spice, herbs, caramel, and ginger, with a touch of mint, brought to a close with a toffee and spiced fruit finish.
Dingle Distillery was conceived by Oliver Hughes, Liam LaHart and Peter Mosley and launched in 2012. It also has a ‘Descendants Cask Programme’ for connoisseurs to invest in – the whiskey created by Master Distiller, Graham Coull, maturing for eight years.
Clonakilty Atlantic Distillery, Cork, Ireland
Located at the waterfront in Cork, southwest Ireland, the Scully family, founders of Clonakilty Atlantic Distillery, have farmed this coastal land for nine successive generations over 300 years.
Barley is grown on their farm in the shadow of the Galley Head lighthouse, and the distiller’s belief is that “pure clean air transported across thousands of miles, from wild Atlantic storms, to tranquil sea mist and soft rain, provide a freshness unspoilt by human intervention.”
Award-winning whiskies include their Single Grain product matured in ex-bourbon casks for 10 years then for a further two years in ex-Bordeaux red wine casks to give a rich, smooth taste with aromas of sweet red berries and flavors of strawberries, honey and vanilla and a finish of wood spice with crack pepper.
The Eclinville Distillery, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
Known as ‘The Spirit of Belfast,’ Dunville’s Distillery in Belfast dates from 1808 and was a leading whiskey producer in the Victorian Age. Revived by The Echlinville Distillery a decade ago, it won ‘Ireland’s Best Whiskey’ at the Irish Whiskey Awards and twelve prizes at the World Whiskies Awards.
Dunville’s PX 10 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey is aged for 10 years and finished in top quality Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry casks. Bottled at 46% without chill-filtration. This clean malt is interspersed with vanilla panna cotta, dried tropical fruits, clove, oak spice and a lingering of PX sherry. Its aromas comprise apricots, grapefruit and toasted almonds opening to fresh green cooking apples, apple tatin, lightly spiced calvados caramel creme and a dark fruit compote.
Photo courtesy of Sailor’s Home
Sailor’s Home, Limerick, Ireland
Built by local officials in 1856 in Limerick, a stone’s throw from the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean, Sailor’s Home has now been transformed into a distillery. Here master whiskey maker Jack Ó’Sé, has created what he terms ‘The Explorer Series.’
Among the brands, namely Journey, Haven, Horizon and Caravelle, is Stormchaser, a triple-distilled single malt whiskey aged in virgin oak and ex-Bourbon casks with two intensely different but complementary cask finishes – craft Irish stout barrels and Madeira casks. Its nose comprises cocoa, bittersweet hops and roasted malts and its taste is of subtle spice, espresso and dark chocolate notes, creamy vanilla and orange peel. Its finish has treacle and hints of dark fruit.
Photo courtesy of Sliabh Liag Distillers
Sliabh Liag Distilleries, Donegal, Ireland
Located in the historical festival town of Ardara overlooking Loughrosmore Bay, Sliabh Liag Distillers led by James and Moira Doherty brings an ancient artisan tradition back to the Irish northwest.
Among its whiskey brands, its yellow-gold colored ‘Midnight Silkie’ is the smokiest blend in the collection, with four triple distilled single malts and a triple distilled peated single malt at its heart. Five single malts aged in sherry, Bourbon, oloroso red wine, virgin oak and imperial stout casks, are blended with non-chill filtered for richer character.
Its nose is described as having a rich muscovado sweetness with pipe smoke, sandalwood and orange zest with a taste initially of intense molasses with pipe ash, raisins and sultanas boiled with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Then toffee apples, toasted drying oak and tobacco.
Photo courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery
Ardbeg Distillery, Isle of Islay, Scotland
For over 200 years, according to the distiller owners, Ardbeg whisky has been made on the small, remote Scottish Isle of Islay. And among the more contemporary brands is its 10-year-old peaty, smoky single malt. Produced on the Kildalton coast of the island, after distillation, the spirit is placed into American bourbon barrels, where it remains for a minimum of ten years before individual barrels are blended together to create the finished product. No chill-filtration is involved.
Light gold in color, its aroma is described as “a burst of intense smoky fruit escaping into the atmosphere of peat infused with zesty lemon and lime, wrapped in waxy dark chocolate giving way to the natural sweetness of the malt.” Overall, it is a lighter take on the Islay style, with some slate minerality and honey and a sweet, floral element.
Slane Irish Whiskey, Meath, Ireland
Launched on the grounds of an historic castle an hour’s drive from Dublin, Slane Irish Whiskey’s triple-casked blend combines grain and malt whiskeys through the distinctive flavors of three casks, with some of the barley grown on the castle grounds. Alex Conyngham, his father Henry and stepmother Iona started the distillery before partnering with Brown-Forman eight years ago.
The triple cask blend has notes of vanilla, banana, butterscotch, dried stone fruits and subtle baking spice. The finish has lingering hints of dry fruit and caramelized wood sugar. The distillery, also a live music venue, also produces Slane Special Edition and Slane Batch Proof whiskies.