Our drinks writer picks five standout whiskeys from this weekend’s Whiskey Live Dublin
Whiskey Live Dublin returns this weekend with its usual promise of free samplings from over 80 whiskey producers (including each of those featured here today), plus bookable masterclasses from some top distilleries (whiskeylivedublin.com).
Added to this year’s heady mix are cocktail samplings and food pairings, a pop-up shop from the event’s organisers, Celtic Whiskey Shop, and a Dream Dram Bar from Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder selling 1cl tasters of rare whiskeys. If you’re attending, a word from the wise: don’t forget to spit!
Spitting whiskey isn’t generally to be encouraged, certainly not in polite company when someone offers you a dram of their finest malt or best pot still. And nor is it typically encouraged at trade or consumer tastings, somewhat surprisingly to us wine writers, who are all about the spitting.
As the UK-based drinks writer Adam Wells writes in an excellent article on the topic (see malt-review.com), in the wine world, spitting is an integral function of tasting.
“In wine,” Wells writes, “not using spittoons is almost anathema. Spittoons are there. You spit in them. You get to taste more wine. You don’t fall over. The formula is surprisingly satisfying.” In contrast he recalls “the looks of shock-laced affront on [whiskey] brand ambassadors’ faces as a mouthful of something expensive and august makes its way into the portable sink.”
He was even physically accosted and lambasted at one whisk(e)y show for “disrespecting the whisky”. The arguable paradox is that the more you spit, the greater your capacity to respect the whiskey — and to remember the experience with clarity.
Tasting alcohol and drinking alcohol are very different activities: one is for primarily analytical purposes, the other for pleasure and leisure. Of course tasting can be very enjoyable, and it’s possible to conduct a sensory analysis of a great whiskey while also sipping and swallowing (aka drinking) it — but do so repeatedly over a three-hour session at a whiskey show with hundreds of great bottles to taste, many of them at cask strength, and things can get fuzzy, fast.
At a show like Whiskey Live, carrying a paper cup as a discreet personal spittoon to empty into the official spittoons allows you to be selective in your spitting/sipping strategy. Thank yourself later as you indulge in something memorable at the Dream Dram Bar such as the bold and complex Bushmills Causeway Collection 1995 Marsala-finished Malt (typically €410 per 70cl bottle).
Clonakilty Single Batch Double Oak Finish, 43.6pc, €52
Aromas of perfumed sandalwood, earthy pepper and fragrant vanilla with toasted nuts and ripe fruits lead to a punchy ginger-hot palate in this flagship of Clonakilty’s Cask Finish Series, a blended whiskey finished in virgin American oaks plus European oak casks that have been shaved, toasted and re-charred by master coopers. A promising start from this family-run coastal distillery by eighth generation farmers: it will be interesting to taste their pot still whiskey distilled from their own barley, once it’s ready for release.
Celtic Whiskey Shop, Mitchell & Son, clonakiltydistillery.ie.
Slane Special Edition, 45pc, €40
Marking 40 years since Lord Mount Charles cranked up the volume at Slane Castle, this fully-amped version of Slane’s signature blended whiskey (triple-casked in sherry casks, seasoned oak and virgin oak casks) ramps up the virgin oak influence: think vanilla butterscotch aromas with gingerbread and dried fruit flavours. Slane Distillery, Molloys.ie.
Jameson Crested x Eight Degrees ‘Original Gravity’, 45pc, €50
A blend whiskey with a good heft of pot still presence, finished in Irish oak barrels previously used for barleywine from Eight Degrees Brewing, this is a smart gateway for Jameson drinkers into a sipping whiskey, with notes of milk and dark chocolate, toasted nuts and subtle fruit. Celtic Whiskey Shop, O’Brien’s Wine, Mitchell & Son, Molloys, Martins, jamesonwhiskey.com
The Liberator Tawny Port Finish Malt Whiskey, 46pc, €65
From Killarney’s Lough Leane where descendants of Daniel O’Connell grow barley for their single estate whiskey, this third batch blend of tawny-finished 2015 Great Northern Distillery Single Malt with 25pc 2006 Cooley Single Malt is lovely — Batch 4 is released this weekend. Celtic Whiskey Shop, neighbourfood.ie, waywardirish.com
Tullamore D.E.W. 12 Year Old Special Reserve, 45pc, €48
An impressively balanced blend of pot still, malt and grain whiskeys aged in bourbon and sherry casks, marrying notes of bright citrus fruit, sweet clove spices, milk chocolate biscuit, dried fruit and nuts: this is good value for its complexity, and a nice option for Red Breast fans looking for something new. O’Brien’s Wines, Drinkstore, Molloys, molloys.ie