I feel I need to tread carefully with this review. Irish whiskey is more usually the territory of Water of Life co-editor Dave, and Dunville’s is truly hallowed ground for him. The distillery, which operated between 1808 and 1935, has a status that can only be described as legendary.
If I must tread carefully just reviewing this whiskey, I can only imagine how nervous Shane Braniff would have been when he revived the brand in 2012 at his new Echlinville distillery. With the brand’s reputation, only excellence would have been accepted. If the plethora of awards Dunville’s has received since 2015 are anything to go by, Shane has lived up to the standards set by the previous iteration of the brand.
Indeed, Echlinville has become something of a hub in the current resurgence of Irish whiskey, seemingly intent on setting the record for most brands produced under one roof. As well as Dunville’s whiskey, Echlinville produces Old Comber and Matt D’Arcy whiskies, Echlinville, Jawbox, Weavers gins, Ban Poitin, and the Feckin family of vodkas, gins, and whiskies. However, Dunville’s does seem to be the flagship brand among these.
Given the brand’s success and the attention it has received, I was fortunate to pick up this particular bottle at 2021’s Belfast Whiskey Week. For the uninitiated, BWW is a community-led event and Ireland’s largest whiskey festival. Having been virtual for the last two years, it has attracted a global following, proving to be an excellent opportunity to try a host of different whiskies. It returns in July 2022, and the Water of Life will be covering as much of the festival as possible. For 2021’s festival, Echlinville released a single cask PX sherry finish edition of Dunville’s, limited to 310 bottles and distributed by ballot to those attending the festival’s events.
Dunville’s Aged 12 Years – PX Sherry Cask Finish
Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
Single cask, cask no. 1330, 310 bottles released.
57.2%, finished in a PX Sherry cask.
£125.00 (Echlinville Distillery Website, by ballot, sold out; auction prices from £150-310).
Nose: Christmas in a glass. Strong sherry notes, sticky fruit cake, raisins, plum, fig, orange zest, strawberry jam, and brown sugar. There is a good mix of spices as well, with white pepper, cloves, and Angostura bitters.
Palate: The fruit cake aromas have been joined by boozy Christmas pudding. There are a lot of fruit flavours, from dark cherry and stewed apples to apricot, orange, and nectarine. This is followed by intense cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Finish: The spice gradually fades to leave a sweet, syrupy warmth.
Opinion: This is quite the sherry bomb! It’s rich and intense, with great complexity (and strength) of flavour. The palate is well balanced, and the finish lingers very pleasantly. I would say that this probably isn’t the best for those new to Irish whiskey, and certainly to cask strength Irish whiskey, but that is probably obvious from the price tag. And while I acknowledge that this was the Belfast Whiskey Week 2021 special release, surely the flavours and aromas would have better suited it being brought to the market in December?
I do have two criticisms. Firstly, there does seem to be a slight disconnect in packaging, with the more modern design on the tube seeming quite bland when stood beside the classic and colourful labelling on the bottle. Secondly, the eagle-eyed among you will have probably spotted that the Echlinville distillery was established in 2012, starting production in 2013, which means that the spirit in this 12-year-old bottling must have come from elsewhere. With the re-emergence of Irish whiskey, purchasing spirit from elsewhere has become quite common. However, there seems to be an absolute dearth of information available on this whiskey’s true background. I struggled even to find information on the wood the spirit rested in before being moved to a Dunville’s PX cask. For releases older than Echlinville, the most common origins are Bushmills or Cooley, with the latter being more likely in this case. While this does show that the team at Echlinville certainly know their way around a cask warehouse, it does raise the question of whether this level of quality will remain when they release older spirit from their own stills.
On its own merits, I really enjoyed this whiskey. It is of a high enough quality to justify its price, although I would begin to seriously reconsider this if I encountered it at auction above £200. The fact that the whiskey is so good compounds my frustration at the scarcity of information on its origins. I just hope Echlinville will be able to release something as good when their own spirit reaches this age.