It feels like every week I blog about another Irish whiskey, risen from the ashes, rejuvenated and relaunched. Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about here again; a brand that reaches back as far as 1776, went through heartache and tragedy, only to be relaunched nearly a hundred years later. Belfast Distilling Company’s sole aim is to restore a legend, and they don’t come much bigger than McConnell’s.
It seems that in every Irish whiskey success story, each aspiring distiller starts off life as a wine merchant, such as Hugh McConnell did, until his untimely death, after which his sons, John and James McConnell opened up Cromac Distillery on the southern side of the River Lagan due to the demand and success of the spirit. Two fires within 10 years of the distillery opening certainly put a quell to the immediate production, however, McConnell’s dogged spirit and undeniable resilience kept them in production until prohibition put an end to its operations. It should be noted that this was something which put an end to more than just McConnell’s.
McConnell’s sole aim since its hiatus has been to ‘restore the legend’, and it certainly feels that they are on the way to achieving that goal. After releasing their 5-Year-Old green blend, it’s safe to say that their popularity has been noted, and along with their infectiously engaging brand ambassador, Sarah, they’ve have been taking the notoriously competitive blend market by storm. Their plans extend to building a world-class visitor experience within Belfast, a distillery-baren land, within the Crumlin Gaol; a smart move given the tourist attraction aspect.
What’s striking is that McConnell’s have not sat on their laurels as a whiskey powerhouse of history. They are striving to ensure they compete once again at the top spot. After achieving a gold medal award at the San Francisco Worlds Spirits Competition 2022, a master medal award in the Irish Blended Whiskey Category at the recent DBSB Spring Tasting 2022, expanding its reach in North America and securing deals with covering the UK, Europe and Canada, it’s fair to say that they are not sitting on their hands.
What strikes me most is how seriously they take their responsibilities as custodians of such an iconic brand. There are small nods to history; the spelling of whisky, the label focusing on Erin’s harp, and the iconic Irish green branding, all adorned across arguably one of the nicest bottles on my shelf. These are small things, but when you enter a competitive market, they mean a lot.
Anyway, on to the whiskey itself then. It’s a sourced blend of approximately 40% Irish Malt and 60% Irish Single Grain Whisky. It is aged for 5 years in 1st fill select Bourbon barrels for 5 years and then finished for around 6 months in oloroso sherry casks. It’s non-chill filtered and has no indication of added colouring. The ‘Green’ blend was specifically chosen to attempt to replicate the historic whiskey, I’d assume this is the same blend for this whiskey. This sample and picture was generously supplied by Phil over at Causeway Coast Whiskey after McConnell’s recent release, a big thanks indeed.
Price: £47.50 on Irish Malts (plus £17.95 for P&P if you live in the UK…)
Nose: A real hefty dose of syrupy prunes and fruit cake laced with blackjack sweets. There’s a nice, underlying sweetness to it too, giant strawberries, aniseed, apple turnovers and red liquorice also jump out. There’s also subtle undertones of mustiness, leather and a gentle warming of nutmeg, but it’s intriguing as it is unusual.
Palate: More sweetness kicks in, this time with lashings of cherry compote on top of christmas cake. slight warmth to it too, think mild chili flakes on milk chocolate, it has the creamy texture too. Lots of honey sweetness, marzipan all with a custardy undertone with burnt sugar.
finish: Lack of a lengthy finish, some warmth and more sweetness but fades too quickly.
First up, let me state how encouraging and exciting it is to taste new whiskey coming to the market from such a historic brand; I got the same feeling when tasting Dunville’s for the first time. I know people may be put off with the score but let me explain. Check out our scoring scale, the 5 affirms that I quite like this and would consider buying a bottle, the .5 accentuates that. It’s not a 6 because I can’t say for sure that I would definitely buy a bottle: for that price point, there is just too much competition; Redbreast 12 is c.£45, Dingle Core release is the same price and Dunville’s Three Crowns is £10 cheaper, alternatives that strike a serious conundrum.
The whiskey is good; sourced blends are becoming more and more reasonable and a fantastic alternative to generating one’s own spirit and waiting for that magic 3-year-point. I particularly liked the range of flavours of this whiskey. Whilst it lacked some depth and finish, it’s a good example of a sherried Irish whiskey that can certainly hold its own. I’ve been let down by blends in the past and this is certainly miles ahead, you can tell that passion, work-ethic and professionalism have all played their role in creating this whiskey.
But fair play to McConnell’s, in their own words, they are, “showcasing a great Belfast tradition that is alive and flourishing once again.” Once they are settled in the Gaol, I am sure great things will follow.