Provenance: Wicklow, Glendalough Valley (Ireland)
Typology: Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Ageing barrels: 12 years in ex-Bourbon, 1 year in virgin Mizunara
Added coloring: N/A
Owner: Glendalough Distillery
Average price: € 80.00
Official website: www.glendaloughdistillery.com
I return to the blog after a break with what I hope is an interesting tidbit: an Irish whiskey finished in Japanese oak casks. And what an Irish! This Glendalough was nominated for none other than World Best Irish Whiskey at The Spirits Awards in 2017.
Officially established in 2011, Glendalough was the first Irish craft distillery to take an innovative approach to traditional island spirits production. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to drink the old 13-year-old all in ex-Bourbon, but the reviews at the time weren’t particularly spectacular. Instead, this new version that completes its final year in Mizunara casks is the current celebrated top of the range and one of the most impressive Irish whiskeys I have ever drunk.
I trust I don’t need to refresh your memory too much on the production diversity of Irish whiskeys compared to Scotches (or rather, I’m relying on Google to be your friend), and I’ll immediately go and describe to you this elevated scion of the Green Isle.
Distilled three times in a traditional Irish pot still, this whiskey is however made from 100% malted barley, which is quite unusual given that for ancient reasons (obviously tax reasons) Irish whiskeys are made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley. In short, in addition to rare Japanese oak casks, Glendalough has tried to resurrect an ancient recipe that has been abandoned for several centuries.
But what about these casks? Well, as well as being rare and expensive due to its centuries-old life cycle, Japanese oak has some particular characteristics: it’s very delicate, damp, porous, and can only be used as a virgin, so it yields a lot of lactones and vanillins that enrich the spirits it contains with particular notes of coconut and exotic fruit that must be properly integrated into the alcoholic texture.
Let’s see what happens when this thirteen year old Irish boy encounters these precious Mizunara casks that is made to order by a historic producer in Hokkaido (and what determination, it’s really hard to get them away from Japanese distillers, especially at this time of production boom!).
It offers a lovely golden colour with some amber highlights. As stated above, there are no indications of possible chillfiltration and added colouring, but I personally think both are absent (and several other reviewers have had the same impression).
The nose begins with strong vanilla, honeyed, and exotic fruit tones, but after a bit of aeration reveals a complex construction of essential oils of citrus, orange blossom, bergamot, and at the end even a characteristic odorous tip, difficult to identify precisely, but more or less falling between resin and sandalwood. And we are already well satisfied in terms of expectations!
But it’s in the mouth that it really stands out. On the web it’s reported everywhere that Jim Murray said of this whiskey that it offers “the longest milk chocolate note in the history of Irish Whiskeys”. I, not being a fan of it, fortunately didn’t hear it so starkly (apart from the fact that I couldn’t find the original quote, so I am naturally suspicious of it). As for me, on an already remarkable toasted base of dried fruit, I perceived a series of dizzying taste trajectories in the return of the citrus, floral, and balsamic notes present on the nose, to which are added intriguing spicy notes of coconut, almond, an almost smoky trait of incense, and the final appearance of an intense hint of cocoa bean enveloped in honey. Here, perhaps this delicious final trait is what others call milk chocolate. For me, however, it’s clearly divided into two moments: one drier and toasted, the other softer and more enveloping. In the end, however, it’s a truly unique dram.
Beware, however, that this isn’t an easy product: both because of its price and its complex palate structure, it’s a whiskey that requires attention and a desire to experiment, because it really concedes little to the most distracted.
Be warned, be saved!