Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Islay meets Ireland

Just before leaving Ireland, I stumbled upon a new whiskey in the Dublin Duty Free. A nice lady was offering free samples of Ireland's only peated whiskey--the Connemara Whiskey. Being a great lover of Scottish Ardbeg, I decided to give it a try. (And honestly, would I ever turn down a free sample anyway? I'd taste Absolut Mango if they were giving it away, and that stuff is just crap!)

Well, what a delicious whiskey the Connemara is!

I was curious to know more, but the sample-pouring lady didn't know many details about her whiskey. So, I picked up a bottle, and gleefully brought it back home with me, purely to investigate, you understand?

Returning stateside, I started to research this fine whiskey. The first thing I learned was that the Connemara Whiskey is named in homage to the Connemara region, not actually distilled there. As the website eloquently describes:

Named after one of the most famous regions in Ireland, Connemara is one of nature's masterpieces. The rugged Atlantic coastline and majestic mountains blend with the rain-soaked peated bog lands to create a landscape of unique natural beauty.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey captures the beauty of this region while reviving its traditions.

The distillery actually lies between Dublin and Belfast, just south of Ulster, in Cooley, County Louth. This is just about one hundred miles due south of the famous Ardbeg distillery, the Irish Sea between the two, of course. So it is natural that there would be a similarity in their styles.

So, having visited Bushmills, I knew that most Irish whiskey was thrice distilled (in contrast to the Scottish distilling twice). Did Connemara follow the Irish custom, or the Scottish? Personally, my preference was for twice-distillation, as I thought there are subtle flavor elements lost in the third distillation, though it does yield a smoother, quicker-drinking whiskey. But which method did Connemara use?

It was here that I wished I had known about Connemara before our departure from Dublin on day one of our trip. It would have been relatively easy to stop by for a distillery tour on our way up to Belfast, and this would have been a very unique tour, I'm sure, being the only peated whiskey in Ireland.

Failing to visit the distillery, I decided to send an email using their website Contact Us form. Usually, sending an email through a Contact Us form is like sending it through a black hole. But in this instance, I got a very nice email back the very next day from Jack Teeling. The owner of the distillery is a John Teeling, so Jack must be a close relation. Regardless, it was excellent to get a personal reply:

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your enquiry and glad you discovered our Connemara. We
actually double distill all our whiskeys.

Irish whiskey, throughout its history, has been distilled many different
ways - single, double, triple distilled. We focused more on what our
whiskey would taste like rather then sticking to any template of
distilling. By double distilling we maintain the natural flavour from
our raw ingredients so while it still retains the smooth, sweet taste
normally associated with Irish whiskey but has its own distinct
character from drying the malting barley over the peat fires.

The best way I have heard Connemara described is "Islay meets Ireland"
as it combines the best of both - the smokiness associated with a Islay
Scotch whisky and the sweetness and smoothness of an Irish.

Thanks for your interest and I hope you can get your hands on some
Connemara in the US (if you can't let me know as it is available).

Best Regards
Jack Teeling

Well, that was my definitive answer, and a good one it was. They double distill because it tastes best. I like it--a purist's answer.

So, here's to my new favorite whiskey! The Connemara!

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