Mike recently talked about the need for something smoky and Scotchy due to the nights closing in and the temperature dropping. Well, on the countdown to Christmas, now I find myself reaching for something slightly sweeter and spicier each time I go to my whiskey cupboard. With the newest Killowen raising its head incessantly; I always oblige.
Off the back of two very successful batches of the Rum & Raisin 5-year-old, Brendan and his team at Killowen have not stopped to produce whiskey and have gratified the ‘Kult’ by yielding the 3rd batch. Batch 3 of the R&R went on sale nationwide on 28 October, and whilst they didn’t sell out, the rush and commotion to get one was deafening. Somewhat unfairly, Killowen also released a special Dark Rum Peated Cask (which I covered in another review here), and the R&R was probably overshadowed as a result. However, I have no doubts it will be hard to find one soon.
Killowen have been on a bit of a mad journey. In particular, I admire Killowen and Brendan’s humbleness and willingness to admit that they can’t compete with the bigger brands (even though I think they can). This has resulted in Brendan outsourcing some of his gin to Lidl stores in Ireland and producing poitìn for Bootleggers in Belfast. I believe that this has been a significant coup for them; the word is out there now that Killowen makes delicious whiskey, gin and poitìn.
Most recently, Brendan has jetted off to American, presumably with promoting his products in mind. It’s a tactically astute plan. Minnesota, where he is visiting, is slowly becoming a popular bourbon state. However, this has prompted some anguished Kult fans to agonise over whether some Killowen whiskey releases may only be available in the states soon. With an average outrun of 345 bottles per release, fans are right to be apprehensive. Even the Two Stacks whiskey franchise, with their product of ‘Dram in a Can,’ produced at Killowen’s distillery, has even made it as far as Hamad international airport in Doha, Qatar. The appeal is undoubtedly out there, and Brendan and Killowen are revelling in it.
The Kult goes from strength to strength too. Most recently, Killowen held a small and intimate ‘Kocktail’ evening hosted by Brendan and Shenda O’Hare for members of the Kult. Kult day outs on the Mourne Mountains have also become a familiarity, with a routine pit stop at Killowen for some well-deserved Irish coffees. It’s clear Killowen are evolving, innovating and basking in their prominence.
Like the first and second batch of the R&R, the third batch sits at a salubrious 55%. It’s a 5-year-old whiskey that has been finished in dark rum and PX sherry butts. The batch yielded a relatively impressive 990 bottles, considering Killowen’s size. Interestingly, this will be Killowen’s last edition of the R&R before they move onto a brief six-year-old edition and then onto a five-year-old malt of different stock.
Rum and Raisin Batch 3
Nose: A wonderful concoction of sweetness and spice. My choice for the lead up to Christmas was justified, as this is Christmas pudding in a glass. There are lots more elements to it too; banana bread, birthday cake, leather and cigar box essence make this an exciting nose. Then there’s a layer of fresh sweetness with mangoes and coconut becoming evident.
Palate: Molasses are really unmistakable here, with clear influence from the dark rum cask. The sweetness endures, rum and raisin ice cream, and Quality Street penny toffee chew come through nicely. There’s a very clear Caribbean steer too, with coconut, vanilla and Caribbean medleys throughout.
Finish: It’s back to the Christmas cake, more spice comes through this time, and the warmth is very palpable.
Small batch distilleries don’t get up to Batch 3 producing poor whiskey; there’s clearly a reason behind it. As Brendan’s and the Kult’s popularity rises, so does the quality of the spirit, and release by release, Killowen are becoming well renowned in the whiskey circles. With enterprises in the Middle-East and soon also in America, Killowen are likely to seriously upscale their production; supply and demand in its finest form.
The whiskey is very good, no doubt about it. Brendan’s biggest trait for me, other than his ability to produce unprecedented mash bills, is his cask management. What he has been able to produce with a dark rum and PX sherry butt cask has been nothing short of innovative. Sure, there will be comments about the price of the bottle and the amount in the bottle (50cl), but how else is a company, as small as Killowen supposed to compete otherwise?
Whilst I will mourn the end of this very successful batched release, I look forward to the next whiskies that Killowen produce. Looking back at the Killowen Belfast Whiskey Week box article, and re-visiting some of the samples, I can’t help but feel excited for the future.