Happy St Patrick's Day! A day of the year dedicated almost exclusively to drinking. Obviously the real reason we celebrate St Patrick is something to do with a stick turning into a tree... and snakes... and... what's that? Oh yes please, I'll have a Guinness.
Now, drinking on St Patrick's day isn't just about Guinness and Baileys, but also about Irish Whiskey. Here at Wandering Whisky our focus is normally on Scotch, however on this day it seems appropriate to reach for a drop of Irish, and don't forget to add the lesser-spotted “e” to WhiskEy when doing this! After all, Ireland is considered to be the first place in the British Isles for distilling to have taken place, and during the 19th Century Irish whisky even outsold Scotch!
Irish whisky has always been associated with a lighter character, more in keeping with the some Speyside and Lowland Malts and the East Coast blends of Scotland, however there is a new player from Kilbeggan Distilling Co that is trying to change all that. Enter Connemara, “the only Irish peated single malt whiskey in existence today”, as it proudly announces on the bottle. It seems strange that a country so famous for it's un-farmable marshes that the Saw Doctors so romantically described as, “The
soft and craggy boglands”, didn't use peat as a means of drying their malted barley until recently, but finally here it is!
Appearance: Very, very pale. On first pour it's hard to be convinced that this is a 12 year old whisky, and it seems that the American oak barrels in which it was matured were far from first-fill. I'm assuming that this is to pull the focus away from the wood and keep the spotlight on the peat smoke.
Nose: Instantly sweet, with the smoke wafting in on top. I'm surprised by the woodiness considering the colour. I rub a bit on my wrist to smell and find myself reminded of a hay liqueur I had in a village in Austria, with cedarwood and a touch of linseed oil lingering underneath. There is definitely an esthery quality about it. Water seems to add to this, and brings out the very fruity sweetness of a children's sweet shop – green astro belts and pear drops with a woody must lingering behind, and then of course the smoke.
Taste: A very musty, yet pleasant biscuity layer along with a lot of woodiness and then that hay flavour making itself present again making me think of cow barns and cricket pavilions. When I add water, the sweetness on the nose isn't there in the mouth, and there is something slightly underwhelming that's developed in the biscuit, leading me down a path via Rich Teas to something that reminds me of the disappointing sensation I had as a child of chewing on a lolly stick and realising that there is no more flavour to be had here.
Finish: Once I swallow I smack my lips and the woodiness that I detected previously on my wrist returns, but it's a fairly short finish and the cow barn pops into my head a final time on the way out.
While it won't be knocking Lagavulin off my shelf in a hurry, all in all, I was pleasantly surprised, especially after having seen the colour. I think this whisky could learn a thing or two about maturation from the likes of younger spirits such as Kilchoman, but there's definitely a place for a peated Irish whiskey, and I'm glad Connamara has made that leap of faith. Now pour yourself a glass, pop on The Green And Red of Mayo, and think about all the lovely Guinness you're about to have. And the Baileys. And the snakes.