Northern Ireland has pretty much been a one whiskey country; Bushmills has produced and sold its own whiskey here since 1608. Others, such as Echlinville, have their own spirit surpassing the legal whiskey age, but hesitantly hold it in casks as Northern Irish whiskey lovers wait with bated breath. I’m forever harping on about new and upcoming Irish distilleries popping up all over the place; well, Northern Ireland has a fresh, audacious, critically acclaimed bunch ready to take that mantle.
Shortcross whiskey is made at the picturesque Rademon Estate Distillery, Co Down and is another to add to the county’s growing legacy having begun distilling back in 2015. Having described themselves as ‘obsessive’, Fiona and David Boyd Armstrong initially set out making gin before producing whiskey. Their appetite for success came after their popular gin was a hit with consumers. Their obsessiveness shows no bounds, having been influenced by various mash bills, fermentation, distillation, and maturation techniques. They are determined to maximise flavour and ensure they are vying for the Northern Irish whiskey top spot.
Shortcross have not wasted any time either. Their whiskey is the first Irish Whiskey to be wholly distilled and released by a new Irish Whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland since the 1920s and the first whiskey to be released outside of the Old Bushmills Distillery since the closure of the Old Comber and Coleraine distilleries. Most recently, they have caused some dismay amongst Irish whiskey lovers by pricing their inaugural release (a 5-Year-Old Single Malt) at £300. Although having won ‘Best New Irish Whiskey 2021’ at the Irish Whiskey Awards last year, the justification is still far-off. Maybe it’s the fact they’re trying to dissuade the opportunistic flipper; a brand new Northern Irish un-sourced whiskey would be an attractive investment.
Fortunately, their second release, which I will review, is a fraction of the cost at £65. It’s a non-aged statement (expect less than 7-year-old) and is created with a unique mash bill of 100% Irish malted rye and malted barley (undisclosed but confirmed as 30-50% malted rye and the balance malted barley) and aged in a combination of virgin chinkapin oak and ex-bourbon barrels. It is non-chill filtered, all-natural colour and carries an ABV of 46%. It’s double-distilled, which is a nice nod to history but undoubtedly contemporary in its approach and boldness.
A quick note on their bottle and packaging. A sucker for quality designs and marketing, I’m impressed by Shortcross and this bottle. Given the outrage over the packaging of another remastered 50cl, 15-year-old whiskey recently released, I thought I’d give praise where it’s deserved, and this certainly gets it. The bottle is embossed with Shortcross’ logo and name (see picture), and the red label with gold fringing certainly stands out. The little details like the logo and name etched into the cork and the inside of the box it came in, decorated with Shortcross’ symbol, make all the difference. In an age where money has to go far, I think Shortcross has done well here.
Cost: £65 – direct from Rademon Estate website
Nose: First off, there’s a light aniseed note that’s quite prevalent, which then fades into red liquorice and some shoe polish. There’s also a lovely sweety fruit mix, with pear drops and parma violets almost cut by the freshness of satsuma oranges and unripened plums, real zing and pop on first encounter stuff. There’s also a little spice involved; some cinnamon, nutmeg and a little black pepper give it an abundance of notes.
Palate: A lovely feel to the mount, feels very thick and viscous, a real ‘mouth-coater.’ The fruity notes are absolutely still there, mixed with the dry spice give it much more roundness; it’s like stewed apples or plums and spiced vanilla bean custard. The satsumas mentioned above then change to Seville marmalade. There’s a creaminess to it, which gives way to milk chilli chocolate, giving an exponential warmth throughout, characteristic of rye but certainly taking on elements of that malt component. Lots of cinnamon and cloves heading into the finish.
Finish: The warmth carries on for a fair while—lots of black peppercorns and cinnamon throughout. The finish is certainly on the more medium to the long side, which given the ABV, is graciously received.
I’m literally drinking history here: the first Northern Irish whiskey to be distilled and released since the 1920s. This is a proud moment for me, and I’m happy to say that Shortcross’ whiskey does not disappoint. Having only drank a handful of Rye whiskeys, this is characteristic and more. Whatever the combination of Rye and Malt, I feel there was a masterstroke. The layers in this whiskey are seriously impressive. Given the nature of the wood maturation, there was always going to be spice, but the virgin chinkapin gives it such an edge, whilst the bourbon almost calms it down and accentuates the sweet and smooth notes. Lots of fruity goodness, but certainly in the latter stages of the palate, the cream and oil take centre stage.
I have to say that this grew on me with every sip, and it did open up as time went on. I always get a fair idea of the score after the first sip, but this whiskey gained another point after the 4th or 5th sip; it takes time, but it’s certainly worth it.
The next few years will be massive for Irish whiskey, with the likes of Echlinville, Killowen and others set to release their own whiskey. Shortcross has given itself a head start with this, but the competition will be rife as time goes on. More of the same, please.