The drinks market is becoming more and more contested and congested, competition is rife, and consumers expect value for money at every level. Distillers, blenders and bottlers have to become more innovative, inventive and imaginative in their production. New-make spirit, poitín and vodka are all solutions to the ever-changing requirements of the public; Bulcán is the latest remedy.
In December, the Water of Life team had the pleasure of hosting Brendan Carty, Master Distiller at Killowen distillery, for a bit of Q and A, on the inception, progression and resurrection of poitín and all things Killowen. Brendan proudly publicised his creation of Bulcán, a poitín, which some lucky few, including myself, were able to taste as part of a unique event. Those that read my previous article on Micil’s poitín will be aware that Irish poitín has an infamous history in Ireland, having gained somewhat of a notorious reputation of being an illicit spirit whose production was illegal from 1661 to 1997. The publicising of poitín has truly been inescapable. Its prominence has been noted on Amazon Prime’s ‘The Three Drinkers’ series. Its availability on the shelves of Tesco and its production via several distilleries has quickly promoted awareness of such an irreplaceable liquid and something woven into the tapestry of Ireland’s rich drinking history.
So, what is Bulcán? Those who know Brendan know that his affection for Irish fables and mythology is evident, as showcased by some of his releases (Stone Soup, Cuige, Dalriadan). Bulcán rather poignantly is Irish for ‘blow to the head.’ It’s based on an Irish satirical comedy in which a rather unsuspecting man goes drinking for two days and subsequently gets chased by an ogre and two demons. The fact that this spirit is produced at 67.9% is a testament to the fable, hopefully not an indication of the resulting chase. Bulcán was actually the drink before poitín, consumed at funerals and wakes. It’s not common for distillers to put spirit out that strong; however, due to its “oiliness and viscousness”, because the oat content, the spirit is extremely drinkable, even at such a high ABV.
Bulcán has been quite the endeavour for Killowen and Fionnán O’Connor. The mash bill of 50% malted oats and 50% malted barley, both 100% smoked, required Brendan to upscale his smoking shed, not to mention the rate and volume of poitín production. Killowen have already coined the year “2022 – the year of Poitín,” which has already seen their latest release, Stone Soup (a turf smoked, 10-week-old poitín matured in PX sherry casks) quickly sell out and nearly double in price on auction websites.
This edition is part 1 in a 2-part series; the latter being rested in pinot noir casks
Nose: The nose opens up with a real earthiness and oak wood hint to it. It’s incredibly complex but oozes balance with the earthy notes of cigar box and turf and sweetness from the toffee and sour skittles. There’s even some savoury to go with an already multifaceted dram; German rye bread and burnt sourdough make this seriously captivating.
Palate: The palate is extremely wide-ranging. Initially, there’s a subtle sweetness of aniseed and liquorice; then it’s superseded by the spice bomb, which drops of cinnamon, cloves, star anise- take your pick! All of this is underpinned by the smoke that cuts through it effectively, leading to the luxurious cream-filled notes of milky espresso and dark chocolate.
Finish: the spice continues throughout, and it’s genuinely never-ending. It’s more black pepper and cinnamon dominant with another helping of aniseed for good measure.
Brendan and Fionnán have the right to be proud here; this spirit is special. The depth of the notes, constantly fluctuating between sweet, spice and savoury, is something seldom experienced. You’d think that the range of flavours unhinges it, but it’s quite the opposite. The smoke and creamy notes are the perfect solution, which in themselves add more attractive notes
What’s really important here is the rebirth of an icon. Bulcán, like Poitín and pot still whiskey, faded away and was lamented as a result. The culture, history and sophistication of Irish spirits are so essential and deserves unwavering attention and care, much like what Brendan and Fionnán are doing. These mash bills are ancient manuscripts, they’re glimpses into centuries ago, but most importantly, they’re symbols that are now enduringly transcribed into the future for Ireland.
Disclosure: The bottle that informed this article were provided to the Water of Life team by Killowen free of charge. Killowen have not had any other input into this article, nor has the Water of Life team relinquished any editorial control.
First off….in full disclosure I was gifted this by the lovely people at Killowen which as Brendan and Co already know doesn’t mean I’ll be kind or not tell you my honest thoughts of their products.
Nose: Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis, stewed rhubarb and lemon zest. Freshly baked sourdough bread. Copper, petrichor and creosote. Eventually sweet peat smoke makes itself known. Water allows the peat to come to the fore more forcefully. Smoked butter, dulse and camphor.
Palate: Not surprisingly this is a little hot at first sip thanks to that massive abv. A lovely oily mouthfeel ensues. Creamy & sweet on arrival. Barley sugar and clotted cream. Nectarine and blackberry. Then a hit of pepper spice, copper, flint and burnt peat embers. A real earthy quality too of dead leaves and a damp cellar. Water highlights lemon and chicory, clove, wild mint and tarred ropes.
The finish is long with tobacco ash, tart citrus, sweet orchard fruit and flinty minerality.
This really should dispel the myth that wood contributes the majority of flavour to an aged spirit. This Poitín is an absolute flavour bomb with surprising complexity. There is creaminess and fruitiness from the oats and lovely bready notes from the barley. The peat only really makes its presence known fully when water is added.
It shows just how much flavour can be in a ‘new make’ spirit when it is crafted with care, love and attention to detail. It also highlights that Poitín isn’t just something to get blitzed on, this is a drop to savour and take your time over and warrants your attention as much as any single malt or single pot still does.
Cracking stuff from Killowen and a bottle I’d happily encourage anyone to buy; in fact I have one on order at my local off licence already.