Ireland is producing whiskies at an unwavering rate. Most recently, brands such as Dunville’s, McConnell’s and Old Comber, to name a few, have enjoyed a renaissance with Irish Whiskey fans basking in their former glories.
Another brand to have re-ignited Irish whisky’s phenomenal boom is Matt D’Arcy Irish Whiskey. There are bold claims, mainly coming from those hailing from Newry, that Matt D’Arcy’s and Newry whiskey is some of the oldest, if not the oldest in the world after being chartered by King Maurice McLoughlin in 1144 A.D and endorsed by Turlough Luineach O’Neill in 1575 A.D. This all comes from the fact that it is proclaimed that Newry essentially had to be rebuilt following a devastating fire caused by a whiskey distillery in 1600, such was its popularity in the town.
Matt D’Arcy was born in Carlingford in 1791 and joined the whiskey business, partnered by Caulfield and Thompson, in 1817, which was then based at Caulfield Distillery, Dromalane. Such was the popularity and craze surrounding the whiskey that in 1884, fifty cases of D’Arcy’s ‘Four Star’ Newry Whiskey were offered for sale in Melbourne, an indication of its reputation at the time. Revivalist and entrepreneur Michael McKeown has described the epiphany that led to the restoration of the Matt D’Arcy brand. As he and his wife went for Sunday lunch in 2015 at Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant near Carlingford, he noticed an old gilded mirror on the wall advertising Hand in Hand Irish Whiskey Newry. “At that very moment at the age of sixty-nine and all of six weeks retired from a succession of innovative businesses, I saw my destiny: the revival of Old Newry Whiskey.” said Michael.
Michael is ambitious, to say the least. During one of the most unpredictable and unstable periods in business history, the global pandemic was not enough to get in the way of launching their whiskey. Marketing their whiskey as ‘super-premium,’ not only are they launching two flagship whiskies to start their journey, but their launch is also part of a £7.3m investment in the original Newry site of the Matt D’Arcy Whiskey Company, with plans for an on-site distillery, restaurant, Victorian bar and international visitor centre. Having acquired the ‘Old Distillery’ site in Monaghan Street, Newry, in October 2020, and the adjoining property at Corry Square, a revised application has been submitted to Building Control. The result is awaited before drawing up and issuing final tendering documentation. Exciting times ahead indeed.
Their introduction into the Irish Whiskey world has been immense. Their 10-year-old and 17-year-old won multiple awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with the 17-year-old single malt taking Best Irish Whiskey in a blind taste test. During their launch in April last year, Michael even travelled to Dublin to restock the Celtic Whiskey Shop’s online store – which was then Matt D’Arcy’s only active listing. The first few weeks of business had seen brisk online sales and home deliveries to housebound tipplers, and the first consignment sold out sooner than expected, an indication of people’s thirst and enduring love for this brand.
The real statement of intent is Matt D’Arcy allying with the Echlinville distillery from June this year. The partnership will now see Echlinville mature, bottle and market Matt D’Arcy Old Irish Whiskey and grow the brand in the global Irish whiskey market. Matt D’Arcy is in great company; Echlinville has reawakened Dunville’s Irish Whiskey and the Old Comber brand most recently. Echlinville knows from first-hand experience the hard work, passion and dedication that goes into restoring a historical name like Matt D’Arcy. In doing so, they are sure to respect and celebrate the brand’s proud heritage.
The whiskey itself then. The 10-year-old port cask finish is a blend of grain and single malt whiskey. The blend is then aged in Port Casks. Bottled at 46%, it is non-chill-filtered and costs £45 a bottle from Echlinville’s website, or if you want a fancy box that comes with it, it’ll cost £55.
So let’s get down to it:
Nose: honeydew melon, peaches, proper Turkish delight (the real deal from Turkey), Parma violets, Murray mints, milk chocolate, some honey, some slight spice- nutmeg. Strawberry jam.
Palate: creamy mouthful right away! More chocolate, but darker this time around, much more spice too, lots of cinnamon and cloves. Sweet cake, like a Victoria sponge.
Finish: lots of heat and warmth. The 46% probably seems about right for it; anything more might be too complex—black pepper to finish.
A nice dram! Nicely combining grain and malt whiskies, this blend is innovative. Lots of flavour, notes and complexity throughout. An excellent start from a spirited, back-from-dead brand! The price is probably slightly high for a whiskey of this age. Still, I suppose the market has become saturated with whiskies at this price point and going lower than anyone would probably seem counter-productive and less profitable and also could damage the image of a premium brand.