Cooley Distillery Whiskey Tasting
Members of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers (IGS) were treated to a special guest presentation and tasting of Irish whiskies on Wednesday 27th October 2010 at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Training Bar based in Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin. This guest presentation and special tasting of the whiskies was presented and demonstrated by Mr. John Cashman (New Business Development, Cooley Distillery PLC ) and Mr. Noel Sweeney (Master Blender – Cooley Distillery). The training session was broken into three sections. In the first section John Cashman formerly of Irish Distillers Ltd presented an introduction on the history of Irish whiskey and the historic brands that Cooley have resurrected in recent years. Listed below are some of the main points John made in this presentation;
History of Irish Whiskey and Historic Brands which Cooley have resurrected – John Cashman
Distilled spirits were always used for medicinal reasons and in a lot of respects they still offer medicinal benefits today Distilling takes it origins from about;
• 1810 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the perfumery of King Zimrilim employed a method for isolating scented oils of flowers and plants to make hundreds of liters of balms, essences and incense from cedar, cypress, ginger and myrrh every month. These were used to embalm the dead and for spiritual, medicinal and cosmetic purposes
• 800BC – Arrack known to have distilled in India, the Chinese were distilling a beverage from rice also by 800 BC.
• 3rd Millennium 374BC – Aristotle is born and later in his life he writes of distilling in his ‘Meteorology, he suggested the possibility of spirit distillation when he wrote: “Seawater can be made potable by distillation as well and wine and other liquids can be submitted to the same process.”
• A 4th century scientist named Zosimo of Panoplies an Egyptian alchemist wrote of a retort he had seen in Memphis, Egypt, that he described as a ‘pelican’, suggesting an ovoid body with the head and long beak indicating a dome and descending condenser pipe. Zosimo and his sister Theosebeia went on to invent many types of stills and reflux condensers.
• It is that from AD 4 onwards, alchemists in China, India, Arabia, Egypt and Greece were using distillation to make turpentine, cure diseases or prolong life with medicines, or to create powered cosmetic for eyes that they called al kuhl, from the word kohl, which is the word alcohol is derived creating also perfumes from flowers.
• 6th Century AD – Irish monasteries spread the distillation skills around Europe, perhaps Irish monks had encountered the art in Sicily or Andalusia or though their ancient trading links with the Phoenicians.
Mr. John Cashman (New Business Development, Cooley Distillery PLC). Selection of Cooley’s Famous Irish whiskey’s
In the rein of the famous Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Cork presented Sir Walter Raleigh with a huge barrel of Uisce Beatha, which the Queen loved and decreed this spirit would be officially used for all official banquets. The Irish were gathering a reputation for making good spirits and the phyloxera outbreak across Europe drove sales and interest in Irish whiskey, ironically nowadays when you consider today that less than 2% of the World’s spirits produced are Irish whiskies. John Clement Ryan (formerly of Irish Distillers Ltd, who’s great grandfather was John Power) tells a story that Joe Kennedy (father of John F. Kennedy – former US President) informed John Power about the likely abolishment of the prohibition order to give Powers the first opportunity to corner all the US markets, Powers declined the offer and Joe gave this information to Johnny Walker (Scotch) immediately after prohibition this Scotch whiskey cornered every shipping port across the USA and the rest is history.
Four major events contrived to undermine and eventually diminish Irish whiskey sales (a) 1840: Temperance movement gathered huge interest in their campaigns against drinking, (b) New method of Coffee still – silent still developed by Aeneas Coffey (Excise Officer) noticed on his travels around the Irish countryside the crude inefficient methods adopted to distil and set about developing his Coffee still offering it to the Irish distillers first they declined but the Scottish distillers did not and subsequently they thrived with this more efficient method, (c) Ireland’s internal problems: Irish independence struggles, leaving the British Empire contributed to losing this major market and (d) Prohibition USA (60% of spirits sales in USA was Irish whiskey, everyone tried to illegally copy the whiskey, remember when you watch old Western movies the whiskey in the bar would have been Irish.
Up to 1966 six distilleries in Ireland survived and Irish Distillers Ltd was formed, entering into the 1970s is were Cooley enters the storyline, Mr. John Teeling was now studying in Harvard University in the USA and wrote a paper on the demise of the Irish Distilleries, writing this paper he realises an opportunity and in 1987 as the Irish Government started selling off the old raw distilleries which had been previously used to produce raw alcohol from for example potatoes to help the fuel supplies. John with a couple of investors bought the distillery at Cooley and started to resurrect the old Heritage brands of Irish whiskey
Treatment of the Process and the Factors and influence that shape the different flavours of Irish Whiskey – presented by Mr. Noel Sweeney (Master Blender Cooley Distillery)
Noel Sweeney has a strong background in the pharmaceutical industry he started his distilling career in the 1980s making spirits like ‘Smirnoff Vodka’, he continued his work with Gilbeys for 9 years in the laboratory heading up the quality assurance teams and rising through the ranks, he witnessed the meteoric rise of Baileys which drove demand for silent spirit in his area. After moving to Galway to take up another role in the industry he was approached to provide analytical equipment for spirits and wines for Cooley’s Alan Chappy and Billy Walker, Cooley had adopted their distilling expertise from Scotland which included double distillation techniques. In 1989 he decided to take up a position with Cooley, Noel stated that within distilling you take samples every 15 minutes (looking for oily samples), making whiskey is all about balance and consistency. Cooley’s malt is sourced from Southern Ireland, they also purchase their maize from the South of France (unfortunately you cannot produce maize in Ireland because you need 100 frost free days), each batch of maize will have an IP (Identity preserved) number this allows traceability right back to the farm, area and actual seed, compared to most US produced maize’s which are genetically modified the difference is huge.
Noel stated that the first bottling of Cooley whiskey was in 1993, another blender Jimmy Lange (who worked with Chives) helped develop the blend for Tyrconnell Single Malt Whiskey. The wood used in the barrel and the size is crucial this was a steep learning curve for Noel and the team when produced Cooley’s first whiskies in 1993 (using old Bushmills barrels, they didn’t really work out), the whiskey produced today would be different because the woods used now have changed. Age in older whiskies these will give you more length in the finish, more complexity will last longer in the mouth feel and aftertaste. The three most important factors of tasting whiskey are the nose, the taste and the finish, you should be able to taste the whiskey in your mouth after you have drank the whiskey. Adding older whiskey helps improve the overall whiskey and adds more dimension.
Noel stated that all Cooley whiskies display flavours of honey-sweetness, vanilla, citrus-lemon, some oak and malt-raw material (in essence when you taste Cooley whiskey, sweet fruity honey citrus flavours). Noel maintains that whiskey in Ireland matures better than Scotland (less extremities in temperature, scientifically in the wood nothing happens below 6 degree centigrade, therefore in Ireland the climate is a little more forgiving in the barrel, this changes as you go more south of Ireland). Maturation: the cask is filled up; in the summer only the liquid expands and the pressure of the expanding liquid pushes the whiskey into the wood (they lose 2% per year this way). In the winter the liquid contracts, chemical reactions are ongoing in the barrel all the time, there are over 200 compounds found within the wood some within and some outside the barrel. Once you use a bourbon cask once or twice you will not get too much colour after this time, this is why the new brand extensions use Sherry, Port, Madeira barrels. Remember American oak is different to European oak, the idea behind only using American oak once in Bourbon whiskey was brought about to keep the men in work. Noel also spoke about chill filtration which is a technique used to clear the haze which develops in whiskeys below 46% ABV, above this level you usually will not encounter this problem.
Cooley Distillery – Tasting Notes and detailed product information
Whiskey tasting (its very personal), it’s a versatile drink, try it neat first, then add water equally to reduce the liquid to 20% ABV this enhances the taste flavours also. Taste profiling amongst whiskey tasting is similar to wine or beer tasting. Noel suggested that you should always start as follows;
1st Start with – Grain whiskeys
2nd move to – Malt and Grain whiskeys
3rd move to – Malt whiskeys
Lastly – move to Peat whiskeys
All Cooley whiskeys are double distilled this is crucial in relation to Irish Whiskey production. Remember ‘there is no such thing as bad Irish whiskeys just better ones’(Noel Sweeney, Cooley)
Greenore Single Grain Whiskey (40% ABV) Single Grain 8 Year Old (Cost approximately €35)
The only bottling of Single Grain Irish Whiskey and one of a handful of such bottling in the world. For example of the 104 distilleries only 4 produce grain whiskey. Greenore is predominately made from corn giving it a silky smooth sweet taste.
Grain spirit is made with maize or corn and flavoured with malt, when the maize is being cooked in the distillery the odour is reminiscent of corn flakes and warm milk. Nose: Soft, sweet corn, delicious hints of bourbon, Taste: Rich, soft oils, melt in the mouth grain and just a hint of barley for good measure, Finish: Crisp up as the oak returns.
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey (40% ABV) www.kilbeggan.com
From the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, Kilbeggan is a blend of the finest grain and malt whiskeys producing a beautiful sweet taste and malty finish. Nose: Sweet caramel, vanilla and toasty wood aromas, Taste: a soft silky smooth entry leads to a sweet golden raisin, caramel and peppery spice flavours, Finish: a creamy vanilla and toasty wood finish.
Very approachable whiskey flavours of vanilla, chocolate, almond also identified in this whiskey.
Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey (40% ABV) Single Malt www.tyrconnellwhiskey.com
An ideal malt whiskey, very approachable ideal for Ladies coming onto malt whiskey
Named after a historic race horse won a legendary race at odds of 100 to 1. Tyrconnell is a well balanced Single Malt with a unique fruity bouquet and delicate dry finish. Nose: Full and fruity aroma with a citrus spiciness, Taste: A tang of oranges and lemons with a strong malt presence that balances well with the oily sweetness. Finish: A long finish with the malt becoming more dominant. For me personally this was my second favourite whiskey of the evening.
Connemara Peated Single Malt (40% ABV) Peated Single Malt www.connemarawhiskey.com
Peating whiskey has been around for a long time Peat is a smokeless fuel so efficient, at Cooley they lightly peat the malt (medium peating) totally different to for example to Islay malts like Laphroaig (which uses heavy peating).
Created by drying malting barley over peat fires Connemara revives one of the ancient distilling traditions of Ireland and imparts a distinctive smoky flavour to the whiskey. Nose: smoky peatiness balanced by hints of honey and dried fruits, Taste: silky smooth with a honey sweet start, followed by malt and fruit flavours giving way to the full bodied peat, Finish: Long and glorious with golden honey notes and a deep peat finish.
My personnel favourite whiskey of the evening, what a finish, so long and full of vibrant flavours a real little treasure.
Locks (8 Yr Old), Kilbeggan (15 Yr Old), Kilbeggan, Greenore (8 Yr Old). Tyrconnell – Sherry / Madeira / Single Malt
Cooley Distilleries – Speciality Brand Extensions
Greenore 15 Year Old
Nose: soft, sweet corn, delicious hints of vanilla, honey and oak, Taste: melt in the mouth richness, silky smooth honey start combining with fresh almonds and spices, a hint of barley for good measure, Finish: warm honey taste lingers in the mouth with a dry finish.
Kilbeggan 15 Year Old
Nose: creamy and spicy followed by succulent honey sweetness, Taste: sweet fruits and vanilla tones compliment the rich malt flavour, Finish: hints of toffee emerge in the long oaky finish.
The Tyrconnell Whiskeys listed below all contain the same Tyrconnell whiskey it’s the wood that only changes. The reason for the different woods offers the whiskey different complexities, Cooley also used rum casks but they didn’t work out. This investment in the Sherry, Port woods is expensive they can cost up to £300 each. Cooley initially put Tyrconnell into Port & Madeira casks for 3 months and the Sherry cask for 18 months (needs longer to gain the flavour required).
Tyrconnell Madeira 10 year old
Colour: rich amber glow, Nose: unique combination of orange/mango fruits and marzipan sweetness, Taste: silky sweet taste with hints of spice accompanied by raisin, fruit notes and honey, Finish: long warm finish.
Tyrconnell Sherry 10 Year Old
Colour: deep and rich, Nose: a complex nose with sherry, honey and citrus apparent, Taste: a smooth, creamy, full bodied flavour emerges with hints of sherry and nuts, Finish: slides into a long oak finish.
The dry Olorosso cask used here gives a unique flavour; this was my 3rd favourite whiskey of the evening.
Tyrconnell Port 10 year Old
Colour: deep antique cooper colouring, Nose: intense fruit with a hint of spice, Taste: sweet taste of rich fruits, very soft spices and fruity cocoa, Finish: beautiful lingering oak finish.
Connemara 12 year Old
Nose: expressive aroma with a vibrant presence of malt and peaty smokiness, Taste: smooth, melodious taste with a superb mix of fruit and peat, Finish: strong spice bites in the finish that dominates but doesn’t overwhelm the delicious creamy peatiness.
Sweeter lighter, Christmassy cake flavours also detected from this whiskey.
Coonemara Cask Strength
Nose: strong and concentrated smoky peatiness, Taste: strong aggressive start with a big peat surge that combines with complex combination of fruit, peppers and chocolate, Finish: astonishingly long and glorious finish with peat clinging to every corner of your mouth.
Mary O’Callaghan (President IGS) thanks Cooley Distillery. Tasting and Food Pairing – sampling of a selection of Cooley Whiskeys and Cheeses
Gubeen Mature (soft Goats cheese) paired with Greenore Whiskey (8 Year Old), the sweetness of this lighter goats cheese works very well with the Greenore grain whiskey.
St. Iola (soft goat’s cheese) paired with Tyrconnell Single Malt Whiskey. The soft gluey texture of this slightly citrus goat’s cheese ideally pairs with Tyrconnell, IGS President Mary O’Callaghan suggested that a drizzle of honey over the cheese would enhance the flavours further.
Bluebell (hard Goat cheese) paired with Tyrconnell Madeira 10 year Old 46%abv, this hard crumbly goats cheese works well with the Christmas spices of the Madeira matured Tyrconnell. The whiskey has a crisp finish when enjoyed with this crumbly cheese.
Knockanore (smoked cheese) paired with Locks 8 Year Old, a lot of smoke, fruitness and sweetness of the Locks whiskey suits this smoked cheese. A real flavour burst.
Crossier (blue cheese) paired with Connemara cask Strength 57%abv, the salty sweetness of this blue cheese ideally suits the peatness and sweetness of the Connemara whiskey. What a way to conclude this food and whiskey pairing, a real treat and so insightful in relation to future possible pairings and combinations with the whiskeys of Cooley.
Noel and John also chaired a question and answer session regarding all aspects of the whiskey making process and history and background to Irish whiskey this session was most interesting. John also reminded all members present of Cooley’s ongoing industry commitment and support which also includes on-site training and new whiskey menu configuration . On behalf of all the members and council of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers (IGS) we would to thank John Cashman (New Business Development, Cooley Distillery), Noel Sweeney (Master Blender, Cooley Distillery) and David O’Síocháin (Account Director, Pembroke Communications) for organising such an excellent training session which everyone found informative, entertaining and most enjoyable. We look forward to many excellent training sessions like this one with Cooley Distillery in the future and as our President Mary O’Callaghan stated on her speech we shall speak and promote the Cooley Distillery brands with pride wherever we travel, work and educate. Long live Cooley and their excellent whiskeys keep the good work up because all looks good for the future of The Independent Spirit of Ireland, Slainte.
James Murphy MSc (Hosp Mgt), MA(Ed), M.I.G.S,