Presently, Irish whiskey is developing its methods, flavours, processes and strategy to retain its position as the most sought-after whiskey globally. Ironically, Athrú, a brand name meaning ‘change’ specifically chosen to embody the transformation of Irish whiskey, is fixated on producing luxury single malt spirit in the competitive age of great distilleries, a change from distilleries attempting to reproduce or recreate traditional Irish pot still whiskey.
Dave Raethrone conceived Athrú in 2014 after discovering a vast warehouse in the very picturesque setting in the hazelwood forest in Co Sligo. An idyllic setting for a “world-class”, single malt distillery, the Lough Gill distillery boasts ‘state of the art’ equipment, energy capture technology and an ability to produce over one million litres of alcohol per annum. There is a quaint and fascinating emphasis on the location, an area immersed in folklore and mythology, something which Athrú aims to absorb into their philosophy and process. It has spiritual significance too, being surrounded by seven cairn topped mountains, including Knocknarea, where Queen Maeve, the warrior queen, is reputedly buried, standing facing her enemies, spear in hand.
What’s interesting is that Athrú isn’t too concerned with the traditional Irish pot still and an attempt to replicate their own version; their emphasis remains solely on producing 100% malted barley, single malt whiskeys. This is a philosophy I can get behind and certainly endorse being a fan of Bushmills and Dunville’s, both front runners in single malt Irish whiskey.
Recently I was rather fortunate to win a competition that gifted me and two others of my choosing a pack containing Athrú’s latest trilogy release, Odyssey; three 17-year-old sourced whiskey finished in various casks. This is the second in trilogy releases, with the ‘Creation’ trilogy being their inaugural release. Athrú also has a small-batch release and a single cask offering that make up a small but attractive liquid portfolio. The prize also consisted of a Zoom tasting which, orchestrated by Athrú Founder Dave Raethorne, enabled the audience to get a taste (physically and literally) of the new trilogy. The tasting also included Head Distiller Ollie Alcorn taking the virtual spectators through the Lough Gill distillery, describing the process, and demonstrating an evident passion for their trade.
As everyone who reads my reviews acknowledges, I’m a stickler for pricing, and whilst sometimes I expect a heftier price tag for a more exclusive release, I’m not sure these whiskies warrant the price tag. The pricing is still to be confirmed, but the previous trilogy sold each 14-year-old whiskey at £125. Given that these are 17-year-old whiskies, matured in arguable more premium casks, the price, disappointingly, is only going to go one way. Anyway, on to the whiskies themselves to make up some ground.
Before we delve into the whiskies, it’s important to note that these are not the finished product. They’re expected to go on sale this summer when they turn 18, so overall notes and subsequent scores may change if I purchase one.
Notes compiled by myself and Robert G (@a_drop_of_the_irish).
1. 17-Year-Old Single Malt, finished in PX and Tawny Port Cask.
Nose: lots of tangy sweetness initially consisting of a concoction of green and red apples, with some fizz from sweetshop favourites; cherry cola bottles. The more subtle sweetness comes through also, with caramel and toffee giving a creamier feel.
Palate: yet more fruit and fizz, this time emphasising strawberry laces and flat cherry coke. The texture is healthy and robust, with dark chocolate giving it a wholesome feel. There’s a lovely heat generated by some ginger, black pepper and cinnamon.
Finish: more heat, coincidentally turns into a bit of a spice bomb towards the end, the cinnamon and ginger dominant with cloves also coming through. The texture becomes quite dry but remains long and very delectable.
I found some spice, zest, and green apples on the nose—almost a tingling sensation when having the first whiff. Sipping, my first thought was that here was more of the tingling, almost cider-style sensation. Somewhat it felt as if the whiskey was carbonated and alive. The body of the whiskey offered plum fruits and some pepper. The mid-sip had a sweetness that wrestled off towards a bit of dryness at the end.
2. 17-Year-Old Single Malt, finished in Muscat Cask
Nose: another trip to the sweetshop with giant strawberries, pear drops and wine gums adding some serious nostalgia and appetising aromas. There’s also a beautiful floral aspect with rose petals and heather being prevalent, balanced alongside freshness with red apples throughout.
Palate: Much more sweetness again, but two different elements. There’s a subdued herbal aspect provided by the Murray mints, sandalwood and tobacco, and a dominant tropical sweetness from pineapples, candied lemons and sherbet. Lots of depth and an evident influence from the cask maturation.
Finish: some gentle heat generated from ginger and yet more sweetshop sweetness, this time from liquorice. But the finish is medium length and thoroughly absorbing.
This whiskey reminded me of Teeling’s Stiggins’ fancy rum cask on the nose. I guess I made the connection from the apparent grilled pineapple scent that mingled with notes of heather. On the palate, fruity and some sweetness. Perhaps some pears appeared mid dram. For me, this faded away with a lingering sweetness.
3. 17-Year-Old Single Malt, finished in Sauternes and Peated Casks
Nose: a lovely fruity assortment of canned peaches, red grapes, and plums give the nose a ripeness and sweetness. The nose is laced with lashings of honey and some marmalade too; an exciting combination, making taking a sip inevitable.
Palate: Many dried fruits come through compellingly with dried raisins and apricots. There’s a slight bitterness too, with dark chocolate and coffee beans giving good depth and variety. The peaty notes almost effortlessly balance the sweetness, bitterness, and slightly creamy texture, adding a smokey and enticing note.
Finish: lots of warmth with an addition of mocha coffee and black pepper. Towards the end, there’s more smoke—an interesting, medium-length finish with depth, variety, and allure.
Honey sweetness and some citrus on the nose from this one, which was my favourite dram on the evening. I found rich complexity on the palate with toasted oak, nuts, vanilla, and sultanas. The dram finished an excellent tasting session with a kiss from apricots and honey.
As you will no doubt agree, some solid scores there. I really enjoyed the variety of casks used, which subsequently produced three very different, beautiful expressions of Irish single malt whiskey. Such complexity, depth and variety for each one, they are all worthy of their place in this new trilogy produced by Athrú. My favourite of the evening is the PX and Tawny Port cask, a well-balanced and sweetness which, as Robert described as it being ‘alive’, can only invoke some serious affection towards this dram.
I’m not so convinced about the pricing. I’d imagine the final pricing for each will be somewhere between £150-200, which for an 18-year-old whiskey (likely to be when bottled) is excessive. However, I caveat this with knowing the premium that must be paid now, for everything included. I can only imagine the price of the casks sought, the sourced whiskey, the exquisite artwork proposed for each whiskey, not to mention all of the running costs of their distillery. I get that Athrú are marketing themselves as a ‘luxury’ brand, but that doesn’t always have to mean that consumers pay luxury prices.