County Down in Northern Ireland has a distinguished and famous history. From the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, it housed no fewer than seven distilleries. Old Comber and Dunville’s were just two who set the bar impressively high. Lately, revival seems to be the key theme of Irish whiskey, but new ones are being established and are trying to make a name for themselves. One of those competitors is Hinch Distillery, which aspires to be well beyond ‘the ordinary’, and has the ambition to be creative well beyond ‘the easily achieved’.
Hinch distillery officially opened its doors on 31 Mar 2021, making them one of the newest distilleries in the business. They say they have been inspired by the distilling traditions and skills that were exchanged during the constant travel and exile of Irish and Scottish men and women across the Irish Sea over the ages. There’s also a nod to the future and potentially the modernisation of the business by creating “very distinctively richer and bolder in character” Irish whiskies.
Having not had the chance to visit the distillery yet, it is undoubtedly on my list. On the face of it, it’s a very new and modern distillery that maximises traditionalism. As is much the hype these days (and rightfully so), it’s a grain to glass distillery, which, of course, is fantastic, and for me as the buyer, it’s something I’ve considered when buying a whiskey. They use water from Silent Valley in the Mourne mountains and traditional Irish mashing processes. So what’s not to like?
Refreshingly, Hinch is reasonably open about their whiskey being sourced, but with their own spirit being distilled in 2020, there’s a lot to look forward to for this distillery. Their core range consists of 5 bottles ranging from a small-batch bourbon cask to a single pot still. There’s even a premium release of an 18-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot cask finish from Cháteau De La Ligne in Bordeaux, France, presented beautifully in a gift presentation box. The distillery has even dipped its fingers into the gin pie, and quite successfully too. However, its latest range, “Craft & Casks”, is a partnership between the distillery and Irish Craft breweries to create beer barrel-aged whiskies. Ever since Killowen aged their poitín in beer firkins, I’ve been intrigued and fascinated to try more whiskies as part of this new trend, and this range certainly fits the bill.
The three releases include an imperial stout finish, Irish red rye finish and a rye export stout finish. Due to availability, I will sample and review the imperial stout finish, which uses casks that aged craft beers at the Whitewater Brewery in Co Down. The whiskey was subsequently aged in the craft beer casks for a minimum of 12 months. Whitewater Brewery actually received the ‘Golden Fork’ from the Great Taste Awards for their stout, named the ‘Kreme dela Kremlin.’ It’s a 10.5% ABV Imperial Russian Stout made using a selection of premium malts, hops and maple syrup, then aged in a whisky cask with an average score of 4.2 on untapped. So it’s a proper stout, critically acclaimed and certainly ticking the ‘modernisation of Irish whiskey’ box.
So, this is a stout cask finish, for which the stout was finished in whiskey… As with all of Hinch’s releases to date, it’s a triple distilled whiskey sourced from elsewhere. There’s no indication of an age statement, nor is there an indication of colouring or chill-filtering. It has an ABV of 43%, and I picked it up at my local off-license for £29. I have not seen the other two releases for sale. Otherwise, I would be scrutinising them as well! A quick note about the bottle; I am indeed a fan. It’s modern, striking and stylish.
Nose: Some sweetness comes through quite nicely. There’s a subtle toffee, but it’s intermingled with banana, making a solid aroma of banoffee pie. Some spiced vanilla too, almost Madagascan-like. The fruitiness and texture almost lend themselves to a bit of pineapple upside cake, and then the milk chocolate comes through, giving it a creamy texture and adding to the silkiness.
Palate: There’s an immediate burst of toffee and caramel, which reminds me of a toffee crisp bar with caramel sauce. Vanilla custard and some cinnamon dusting give it a comforting warmth too. There’s also a slight liquorice hint at the back end and nearly at the finish, adding to the heat.
Finish: short-medium finish with a bit of warmth. The sweet tones of caramel and toffee continue throughout the finish and give the tongue a little tickle for good measure.
I’ll be honest; my first impression of this whiskey was average, which was a little disappointing for my taste of favouring stout cask finishes. But I will always go back for another taste just in case I get it wrong. And on this occasion, I think I have. The second visit was a lot more amicable than the first. Straight away, the nose delivers that subtle softness and depth of flavour and then the desert type sweetness just dominates the palates, which for me, is perfect!
I really enjoy trying these ‘craft’, ‘series’ or whatever you want to call them. Irish whiskey is going through such a modernisation that these new finishes are most welcome. Hinch’s collaboration with Irish breweries also shows the versatility of the brand, but also the Irish alliance with breweries to create something fantastic.
I know that others may not like this, or that it may not be to their taste, but if you like stout cask finishes, you won’t get much better for the price. Now to try and find Hinch’s others!