The New Wave of Irish Whiskey
In 1987, there was only one producer of whiskey in Ireland. Since then, 37 new or refurbished distilleries have come online in Ireland, 30 of them in the past 10 years, and around 22 of those since 2015. It’s a new golden age for Irish Whiskey. With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, it seems like a good time to examine 4 whiskies I recently tasted from West Cork Distillers, in Munster Province (the southwestern part of Ireland).
West Cork Distillers bills itself as the distillery built and run by the people, for the people. It was founded in 2003 by three childhood friends from the village of Union Hall: two fishermen and a former distillery manager. The distillery is located in Skibbereen, which means “little boat harbor.” Although the village appears land-locked, it is in fact known for its access along the River Ilen to the sea, at Baltimore, twelve miles away.
West Cork Distillers is particularly known for having upset Irish whiskey-making convention by introducing a peated whiskey among its offerings. The peat is harvested in the Glengarriff bogland near Skibbereen. However, this peat is not used to toast the grain, as with Scotch, but to char the inside of the barrel. The result, I found, is a whiskey smoke far more subtle and pleasant than some of the massive peated Scotches.
West Cork Small Batch Single-malt 8-year old Irish Whiskey – about $36.
This is West Cork’s introductory malt. It has a lot of different aromas and flavors going on, with very obvious caramel and yeasty notes. Less obvious are the eucalyptus, honey, and orange notes, but they are there. The complexity is pretty surprising for an 8-year old whiskey, and on the end of the palate, I even noted some chocolate and a note of soapiness (sounds awful, but it’s not unusual in whiskies, and one ends up enjoying it).
West Cork Bourbon-Cask Blended Irish Whiskey – about $24.
The orange/marmalade flavors in West Cork whiskies are a recurring pattern. This whiskey had quite pronounced aromas of coconut, orange, marmalade, and some eucalyptus, but the palate really brought out the Blender’s finesse, with a vanilla creaminess and a much more subtle, softer alcohol strength. Without a doubt, this is the best value in the lot.
West Cork IPA Cask-matured Irish Whiskey – about $35.
The IPA in question is, indeed, India Pale Ale, hailing from the Blacks-of-Kinsale Brewery, near Skibbereen. Very soft alcohol, but with pings of heat that let you know this is still a powerful drink. Again, the orange motif, with an unfortunate very slight note of baby-aspirin on the very end. On the other hand, the big fruitcake spiciness counteracts this minor discordance with flair. Also has some creaminess on the palate, as well as biscuity, honey flavors that really round out the whiskey nicely.
West Cork Glengarriff Series Peat-charred Cask Single-malt Irish Whiskey – about $40.
I really loved this whiskey. The peat is present in no uncertain terms, but it blends in with the other aromas and flavors so finely that it remains but one element in a well-integrated mix of biscuit aromas with a touch of by-now-trademark orange, followed by flavors of caramel, butter and honey on the palate. A really lovely whiskey.