Isn’t social media a wonderful thing? At times it can cross
boundaries and connect individuals across massive distances with the mere swipe
of a finger or double tap. Mainly around whisky, I end up having conversations
with enthusiasts across the globe about bottles, distilleries or just pointing
them in the right direction. Occasionally, we may even meet if they are on a
pilgrimage to Scotland.
In terms of distance the Whisky Barrel is situated in the
delightful Fife town of Cupar, which is ironically just up the road from where
I live; no we’ve never met. Their website has a sizeable presence and
assortment of the latest and rarest releases. Our paths have crossed on social
media (mainly Instagram), where they’ll tease everyone with bottle photographs
of new arrivals. I’ve no doubt over the years pushed a few customers their way
with my reviews that are devoid of commission links. I don’t need commission,
nor does this site exist to generate funds via click bait or fake news. Conversations
instead are to be had online and 2017 marks a special anniversary for the
Whisky Barrel, as it’s their 10th birthday celebration.
In true Fife fashion they’ve decided it’s the perfect excuse
to open some whiskies and commemorate the milestone with a series of exclusive
releases throughout 2017. What awaits remains a secret, but for their first
bottling, those Whisky Barrel types have thrown a curve ball into the party mix
by bottling an Irish whiskey. This is a genre I rarely cover or consider at
Whisky Rover, mainly because it’s lackluster from my experiences. I have noted
recently a stampede from various bloggers to sign up to pledge allegiance to
several new Irish distilleries in the hope they’ll be treated to a VIP trip.
That’s their prerogative and the main interest I have with the Irish sector is
the forthcoming game changer that Waterford promises to deliver. Premium Irish?
Is there such a thing? With their focus on the core ingredients it promises to
change a few perceptions based on my tasting of the some of their new make;
article forthcoming soon.
For the record my father is from Northern Ireland and I
spent many a fine holiday in and around Bushmills, which seemed to be family
tipple of choice and a lovely distillery to visit. Despite this
heritage, whiskey has not caught my attention although it’s certainly on an
upward curve nowadays. I see it as something vastly different to Scotch in
general and more for the tumbler brigade and those seeking their Irish roots
through a mundane concoction.
We used to joke, or actually still do, regardless of
whatever Irish whisky you purchased it was probably from Cooley’s. For a while,
very few distilleries were in operation and the rules the Irish operate within
allow a more American approach where liquid is bought from a central facility
and then bottled as something else. Ultimately it makes a mockery of the whole
craft approach and traditions that the canny marketers latch onto. At least
what we have here is a Cooley given it was distilled in 2003, with the
distillery opening in 1987, and is very reasonably priced from the Whisky
Barrel. Nowadays owned by Beam Suntory, the distillery is responsible for a
series of products including Connemara, which I find quite enjoyable for its price
My own experiences with Cooley are limited, with the most
vivid being a couple of Scotch Malt Whisky Society casks that they were trying
to shift at over £300 a bottle a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, after
tasting the contents I felt nearer £30 would have been more appropriate. Still,
what we have here is younger in comparison being bottled at 13 years of age. It
has spent the majority of its life in a bourbon cask, before being finished in
a sherry hogshead for 2 months upon the request of the Whisky Barrel. So this
certainly on paper is a finish, rather than a double maturation and the aim
will have been to give a luscious undertone and reddish appearance to the
Bottled at 52.7% by the Creative Whisky Company, cask number
200501 resulted in an outturn of 180 bottles. It’s still available as I type this and my sample initially came via the Whisky Barrel although I have a bottle share incoming.
Colour: hazelnut wood
Nose: even with such a short finish, there's a noticeable redness to the whisky sitting alongside your caramel and apple. There's a floral flourish almost rose-like but more subtle, then a rhubarb and rubbed brass concoction. Cinder toffee sweetness and a touch of ginger. Then, right at the back a vegetative herbal quality best summarised as tarragon and basil remnants in the glass. With water and a little patience I felt more nutty flavours arose with a touch of strawberry.
Taste: now this is rather surprising! I'm talking about the oozing texture and that touch of oiliness. It's a thick, robust whiskey with more redness and sugary sweetness. There is a touch of tartness midway through that revives on the cusp of the dry cranberry finish. Elements of dark chocolate, cinnamon and all-spice all drift happily by. Water takes off the edge but delivers a ground coffee presence with a rich treacle toffee and a hint of rubber.
Overall: as the sherry cask is a hogshead rather than a butt, there's been more interaction over a shorter space of time. I wasn't expecting the chewy texture on the palate. Nor the boldness of the flavours within. A before and after comparison would have been really interesting. However despite my lowly Irish whiskey expectations this has turned out to be a pleasant surprise indeed.
The next release in the Whisky Barrel 10th Anniversary series is a 30-year-old grain from the closed Dumbarton distillery and I'll be reviewing it later this month. My mind is prone to speculation and I did wonder if the Whisky Barrel have conceived their anniversary bottlings almost as a defined tasting. Say, 5 or so releases, slowly increasing the character leading us towards a heavy beast of a whisky at the summit. That's my imagination, but it would be pretty cool if this turned out to be the case in reality, as this is a rather promising opener.
Labels: cooley, exclusive malts, featured, sherry hogshead, whisky barrel