Tag Archives: Connemara

Connemara Turf Mor

Connemara Turf Mor Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
58.2% ABV/116.4 Proof
50+ Euros
Currently available in the UK, Germany, Benelux, and Ireland

What the Distillery Says:
Turf Mor is the latest and 2nd edition to the Small Batch Collection series of Connemara. The first was the highly successful Connemara Sherry Finish, of which sales are now deplete and the product is retired. By bottling it at cask strength with no chill filtration we get a truly phenolic taste experience while still managing to retain Connemara’s distinctive smooth taste. Turf Mor is the Peatiest expression of Connemara with over 50 ppm phenol level. It is a limited edition bottling with less than 20,000 bottle available.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Peat and smoked meat. It reminds me of my buddy Sam’s smoked beef brisket. (I’ll have to ask him what wood he uses) There is also a good bit of fresh apple and a hint of freshly grated ginger.
Palate: Very smokey on the palate but in a different way. It’s more actual wood smoke rather than peaty like an Islay. I’m thinking that is because it’s less briny. Surprisely dry with hints of sweetness.
Finish: Sip it slow and the heat mellows to a smooth warmth that sticks with you. It leave that wood smoke lingering behind.
Comments: I really liked this much more than prior experiences with Connemara. I think it’s a mildly complex dram that offers a different take on smokey whiskey. A very nice warm you up dram on a cold night.
Rating: Stands Out

What Matt Says:
Nose: First hit with a caramel sweetness, then overpowered by peat that swirls around more floral notes (rose petals) and notes of green grain and grasses.
Palate: Peat and tall grasses that coat the mouth.  It seems trite, but it’s very “Irishy” with a boat load of peat.
Finish: Peat and a little bitter with touches of oak around the edges.
Comments: I’ve never been as enthralled with Cooley as the rest of the whiskey writers.  I think everyone is just excited to have another player in the game.  I can sympathize.  I’m a huge supporter of independents and micros as a concept even if I’m not thrilled by the product.  Cooley brought us the first peated Irish whiskey in quite some time and now they are going after the super peat market with Turf Mor.  In some ways this is a success.  I tried it next to the standard Connemara Peated and I have to say that its miles ahead.  Even at cask strength, it is very drinkable.  The nose is intoxicating.  With water, there is a caramel roundness that helps to tame the peat and other vegetation.  However, I find a rawness to this whiskey that I often find from Cooley.  It says to me, “let me sleep a little longer.  A few more years in oak and I’ll be less cranky.”  I’m going to rate this a “Stands Out,” but with a caveat.  It’s not my style.  Turf Mor stands out because there is little to compare it to in it’s category.  How does it rate against the peat monsters from Scotland?  It depends on if you are talking about one of the complex and amazing ones or one of the one trick ponies.  Ultimately, it is distinctly Irish and cannot be directly compared to a Scottish whiskey.
Rating: Stands Out

Overall Rating: Stands Out

We’d also like to thank Rachel Quinn at Cooley and Megan Hurtuk with Gemini for providing us with samples for review.

Póg mo thóin and call me Paddy!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I lead a tasting of Irish whiskeys last weekend.  Planning an event like this turned out more difficult than I expected.  With tasting classes on rye, bourbon, and single malt Scotch under my belt, I thought Irish would be a breeze.  There are only four distilleries to choose from after all.  Ah, there’s the rub.  Four distilleries, but dozens of styles and expressions.  How do I choose?  What makes something uniquely “Irish?”  John Hansell posed this very question on WDJK last week.  I’ll let you read through what his readers had to say.  Ultimately, it was decided that Irish whiskey is spirit distilled from grain and aged in oak for a minimum of three years within the confines of either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.  That is quite a broad definition to be sure.  All that you’ve heard about triple distillation, no peat, and pot still* are tradition not law.  Many people say that Cooley completely changed the game.  That’s true, but Midleton produces quite a variety of whiskeys themselves (pure pot stills, blends with and without pot still components, single malts, etc.)  Even the folks at Bushmills don’t stick to the “traditional” recipe of pot still + single malt = blend.  This was troubling because I wanted to pick very “Irish” whiskeys, while staying away from Bushmills White Label and stock standard Jameson.  You can see why I had difficulty coming up with a tasting menu.  With Richard’s help, here’s what I ended up with:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt (Bushmills) – Using Irish barley, triple distilled and aged for at least 10 years in “mostly bourbon casks,” this whiskey felt very “Scotch-y” to many of us.  I was particularly reminded of Auchentoshen.

Redbreast 12yo (Midleton) – Arguably the most uniquely Irish selection, Redbreast is one of a very few pure pot still whiskeys commercially available.  Unanimously the favorite of the tasting, this dram was praised it’s unique character and liveliness.

Paddy Old Irish Whiskey (Midleton) – A favorite among the Irish in the audience, Paddy surprised many of us.  Many an Irishman cut his whiskey teeth on this one.  Paddy is composed of a high percentage of single malt and a small amount of pot still.  This gives it a malty, caramel character with just a few hints of the green barley poking trough.  Personally, I was impressed with the complexity this dram offers for the value ($35 for a liter).  Careful though, this one has a somewhat hot finish that turned some people off.

Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey (Midleton) – Tullamore Dew is a blend of single malt, pot still, and grain alcohol.  It is one of the smoothest whiskeys around.  Smooth, but not all that complex.  Those of us who grew up with it have a fondness for this easy drinking dram, but the rest of group wanted something a little more aggressive.

Greenore Single Grain Whiskey (Cooley) – Made completely out of corn, double distilled and aged in bourbon casks for eight years, its no surprise that Greenore tastes very much like bourbon.  I am particularly remind of some of the micro-distilled bourbons (I’m looking at you Tuthilltown).  Several attendees described this as fermented corn flakes.  It was kind of a toss up as to who thought that was a good thing.  I enjoyed it for what it was, but it’s not very Irish to taste like bourbon.

Connemara Peated (Cooley) – Ah, our only peated whiskey.  Some have called Cooley a Scotch distillery that happens to be in Ireland.  This dram is the source of that statement.  I feel the peat in this dram is overstated, creating a somewhat boring peat monster.  There is none of the complexity you will find in its Scottish cousins.  For the group, the peat freaks were mostly with me and the peat haters disliked this one immensely.

There you are, three of four distilleries represented (can’t get actual Kilbeggan yet as far as I know).  I predicted that everyone would fall in love with Redbreast and I was right.  I have yet to find someone who does not enjoy it.  The second most popular was harder to gauge.  I would say there was a pretty even spread.  I don’t know if we learned anything about Irish whiskey, but we did have a good time.

*Pot still whiskey is whiskey produced in a copper pot still from a mash of both green (unmalted) and malted barley.

-Matt

Fad Focus #1: Peat

Whisky, like most things goes through phases. Some of these phases are more macroeconomic like the historical boom and bust periods for whisky sales and their impacts on production and distillery openings and closings. Other phases tend to seem more like fads.

fad – noun
a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group

– Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

Fads are not necessarily a bad thing. All fads aren’t the equivalent of a polyester leisure suit. In whisky fads tend to be inroads to innovation. This blog will be my first in a 3+ part series discussing the various fads in whisky that have come and gone. Today’s focus will be the continued “peatification” (I just made that word up) of whisky in recent years.

What is peat you ask? Peat is an accumulation of decayed or decaying vegetation that typically forms in damp regions that can be cut, dried, and used for fuel. When it comes to whisky, peat can be used in peat fires to dry malted barley that will go into making whisky. At a very basic level this tends to impart a smoky flavor most prevalent in Scotch. Peat taken from coastal areas may also impart a salty or briny flavor in addition to the smoke.

In years past Scotch was easily categorized by its use of peat. Today the degree of peat used in Scotch production varies widely by region and distillery. Islay tends to be known as the powerhouse region for producing peaty whiskies but peat branched out. Connemara Irish Whiskeys use peat and tend to taste more like Scotch than their Irish brethren.

How do we measure how peaty a whisky is? Peat levels are measured by the phenol level in parts per million, usually abbreviated as “ppm”. Phenols are organic compounds imparted on the malted barley when peat is burned to dry the barley. The higher the ppm level is, the more heavily peated the whisky.

So you may be saying “thanks for the history lesson but this has gone on for decades, why is this a fad?” Well, using peat isn’t. The degree to which we’re seeing peat used is. A long time ago in a whisky industry far, far away whiskies were all easily categorized and labeled. Irish was triple distilled and unpeated. Speyside had very little peat (0 to 10ppm lets say). Islay whiskies were heavily peated (20 to 30ppm lets say). Campbeltown and Highland whiskies fell somewhere in the middle. In this land of yore the Speysides were deemed the most desirable because they were easier to drink without all that peat and more closely resembled the famous blends that sold so well. This is partly how brands like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet became the powerhouses that they are today. The more peaty stuff was relegated to aficionados and blends.
Jump a head a few decades and Scotch started seeing a boom in interest. With the boom came the desire for new and differentiated experiences. Those peaty whiskies started getting more attention because they have a more robust flavor.

With me so far? Good because this is where things start to turn the corner. As the push towards peat accelerated we started seeing distilleries releasing peatier and peatier whiskies. At first these whiskies came from their peatier stocks that may have gone into blends before. However, soon they started making their whiskies peatier. From out of nowhere Bruichladdich comes out with Port Charlotte at 40ppm and Ardbeg blasts out with whiskies like their Uigeadail release. Now peat is really kicked into high gear. Then last year Bruichladdich came out with Octomore at whapping 131 ppm.

Let me just say that I like peated whiskies. I like them a lot. Some of my absolute favorite drams are very peaty. But it’s seems that we’re getting to the point where we’re kicking up the peat notch more and more just for the sake of doing it.

I liken it to hot sauce. I love spicy food. I love hot sauce on just about everything to some degree. But there are sauces out there that take the heat to such an extreme that they sacrifice flavor. I worry that Scotch may head in that directions. 131ppm! When will the madness stop?

– Richard