Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
Irish whiskey has been no exception when it comes to growth due to the unprecedented interest in and demand for whiskey in the past decade. While bourbon specifically has enjoyed a huge influx of interest, allowing for the creation of dozens of new distilleries, Irish whiskey has only more recently become increasingly popular. Irish whiskey experienced a growth of 6.9% between 2021 and 2022 and is expected to almost double in value from 2019 to 2027 . While this is a boon to existing Irish whiskey distilleries, it has also allowed for the creation of new distilleries, such as Clonakilty.
Clonakilty was founded in 2016 in a coastal Irish town by the Scully family, who had farmed the land for 9 successive generations. Likely out of their deep ties to the land, Clonakilty emphasizes sustainability, including using grain from local farmers to distill their alcohol, minimizing their carbon footprint, using electricity from renewable sources, using recyclable packing materials, and even planting trees and wildflowers to promote pollinators and wildlife.
The expression up for review here today is a limited release of a seven-year-old Irish Single Malt whiskey (i.e. a mash bill of only malted barley) which was matured in ex-bourbon casks, and then finished for seven months in casks of Garrison Brothers Balmorhea barrels. Garrison Brothers is one of Texas’ oldest modern distilleries. They had a rough beginning when the owner, Dan Garrison, tried aging whiskey in the summer heat but lost much of it due to casks cracking and breaking under the intense heat of the sun. After using thicker wood staves, the resulting bourbon tends to be thicker than it’s Kentucky counterparts due to a higher angels’ share.
The Balmorhea expression is a six year aged bourbon that uses two separate oak barrels in the aging, resulting in a very thick and oaky, yet sweet, bourbon. “The Balmorhea barrels bring a distinct finish to the whiskey compared to what we normally find from American Oak,” says Oisin Mulcahy, Head Distiller of Clonakilty Distillery.
The use of these rich bourbon barrels to finish the Clonakilty is an exciting prospect. I often find that single malts whiskeys aged in ex-bourbon casks still lack the rich caramel and charred oak flavors I love in bourbon. While ex-bourbon cask aged single malts typically have notes of vanilla and additional sweetness, I have wondered if a richer bourbon (like the Woodford Reserve Double oOak or Stagg whiskeys) would create a correspondingly richer single malt expression.
There is some truth to that theory in this whiskey, with bourbon notes being easy to identify, and which last thickly on the palate. However, I’m still not going to stop my search for something richer.
Tasting Notes: Clonakilty x Garrison Brothers 7-Year-Old Irish Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged seven years. Finished in Garrison Brothers Balmorhea barrels. 117.6 proof (58.8% ABV). $69.99/750ml.
Appearance: Translucent yellow with a tint of orange.
Nose: Wood and spice manifesting as oak, cinnamon and nutmeg. Thicker notes of bread and bacon arise as well.
Palate: Strong notes of leather and dark chocolate are immediately apparent, with some salinity as well. The longer it stays on the palate, the more bourbon notes of caramel, toasted oak, and cloves richly coat the tongue. Cereal notes of gravy and biscuits last to the finish with a hint of iodine.