Trends coming out of the woodwork
When it comes to ingredients for drinks, there are some basics that we all know. Grapes make wine, grains make beer and spirits. But an ingredient that is stirring up one of the biggest trends of the moment is oak. And it's not just about ageing wines like traditional Spanish Riojas in oak barrels. In the last few weeks I have been at tastings where wines, whiskeys and beers, some in small, one-off batches, are taking on new and interesting dimensions with the innovative use of oak.
It's like an added seasoning, and we're not just talking French or American oak. It's about the provenance of the barrel. There is a huge market for reusing oak barrels, and whiskeys have been doing this for years. Whiskey starts as a clear spirit, and as it ages, it develops its colour and additional flavours from ageing in an oak cask. For Irish whiskey, Bourbon casks are usually used, so you get a touch of sweetness and char from the American-style whisky that has been aged in the cask before it. Sherry, Madeira and Port casks are also used; these are particularly sought after as they have a unique flavour, and as the supply of them is more limited (they are used for many years before they are sold on, whereas the Bourbon casks are used just once), whiskeys aged in this way are more expensive. In the case of Green Spot Chateau Léoville-Barton, a premium Irish whiskey which is matured in traditional Sherry and Bourbon casks, it has even more layers of complexity added to it by finishing its ageing in the French oak Bordeaux wine casks from the Chateau Léoville-Barton Grand Cru Classée vineyard.
But what if you put wine in a whiskey barrel? This may sound a bit odd, but it's exactly what Jacob's Creek have done with their well-established Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. Jacob's Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon goes through two types of barrel treatment, being aged first in traditional wine barrels, before being finished in casks from Irish Distillers' Midleton Distillery. What you get is additional complexity with a richer, smoother, deeper mouth feel. And it really tastes quite different from the standard Cabernet Sauvignon.
And then there's beer. The team in White Gypsy, the Templemore-based craft brewery, have started conditioning their beer in a specially-designed, l,000-litre oak barrels made from a blend of American and French oak, with the draft beer then being stored in the traditional way in smaller wooden barrels. While in the newly-opened microbrewery and gastro pub, Urban Brewing in Dublin's CHQ, the Carlow Brewing Company are brewing once-off pilot beers on site with small batches being aged in oak.
The biggest launch in the last few weeks was the opening of the new Slane Distillery, where Lord Henry Mountcharles and his son Alex Conyngham have partnered with Brown Forman, the US company behind Jack Daniels, to build a stunning distillery in the 250-year-old stables and grain stores. It's open to the public seven days a week and also includes a tasting of their triple-casked whiskey. Aged in three different types of cask: new American oak, seasoned casks that have been used for Tennessee whisky, and Oloroso sherry casks, the whiskey has a smooth complexity with toffee notes. Production of whiskey in the new distillery has started and the use of estate-grown barley and water from the River Boyne ensure that it is rooted in its terroir. There are also plans to launch a single pot whiskey and a single grain whiskey in the future.
As part of Taste of Cork Week which runs from 16th to 22nd October, Ballyvolane House is hosting a 'Meet the Makers' Tour, Chat and Lunch with Antony Jackson and Justin Greene, the distillers of Bertha's Revenge Gin; Scott Baigent, the brewer at Eight Degrees Brewing; and Daniel Emerson, the cider maker of Stonewell Cider on 18th October. In Sophie's in Dublin, Jacobs Creek Double Barrel are hosting a special dinner with one of their wine makers, Trina Smith on 3rd October, and whiskey fans will find some good reductions at SuperValu's whiskey sale which runs until 18th October.