Those following this website for a while will know that Brendan Carty, the driving force behind Killowen distillery, has branded 2022 “The Year of Poitín”. Killowen has been releasing a variety of poitíns to make sure 2022 can live up to that title, including the Bulcán Part 1 and 2 in April. Dave has already reviewed Part 1, but I’ve now got my hands on the Bulcán Part 2, so it’s time to see what the other half of this release is like.
When side by side, it’s clear that some thought has gone into making the Bulcáns into a matching set: the inversion of colours between the two labels is a simple but clever and attractive way to package the two halves of the release. The slight colour of the Bulcán Part 2 also stands out. This is courtesy of the ten weeks it has rested in Pinot Noir casks; enough to give it the slightest tinge of amber.
As with the Part 1, the Bulcán Part 2 is made from a mash bill of 50% peated barley and 50% peated oats. This is attributed to Fionnán O’Connor’s ongoing research into historical mash bills, in this case revealing the traditional makeup for the spirit of choice for wakes and funerals, consumed to honour the dead and drink to their memory.
Given that the Bulcán Part 1 seriously impressed Dave, it’s time to see if the Part 2 lives up to the same standards.
Killowen Bulcán Irish Poitín Part 2 of 2 – Pinot Noir Rested
Mash bill 50% peated barley, 50% peated oats.
67.5% ABV, rested in Pinot Noir casks for ten weeks
£60 (The Umbrella Project) – 50cl bottles
Nose: Rich, sticky sweetness. There’s pear drop sweets, condensed milk, ripe pear, and a hint of tangerine. There are also darker, earthy aromas too: rye bread, damp rolling tobacco, a touch of smoke, and a very delicate peatiness.
Palate: A real blow to the head. The initial sweetness of grape, pear, coffee creams and golden syrup is quickly swallowed by a tide of spice and heat: chilli, aniseed, clove, pepper, liquorice, all spice.
Finish: Once the wave of heat has subsided, there’s a pleasant lingering warmth with smoke, black pepper, a touch of peat, malt, and golden syrup.
Opinion: I feel like I should preface everything I say in this section with a warning: this is absolutely not the poitín to offer to the uninitiated. Anyone looking for a bottle that will help them discover the world of Ireland’s most traditional spirit had better look elsewhere. This is powerful, powerful stuff. Happily, Killowen makes a much more reasonable 48% ABV that is far better suited for this purpose.
The evolution of flavour across the palate is incredible. On the first sip, you’re lulled into a false sense of security by sweet and fruity flavours, unaware of the overwhelming wave of spice and heat that is soon to blow the top of your head off. That the nose gives no clue to this impending ambush doubles its effect. The result is an astounding complexity: this is an extremely interesting dram. Those wanting to explore some of the lighter flavours are advised to add a little water: adding just a few drops really smooths out the spice, allowing proper examination of the more delicate notes and revealing some peaty ones too. With or without water, the finish is exactly what you should expect from a 67.5% ABV poitín: full, lingering, and delicious.
It’s worth mentioning that the 10-week limit on resting poitín in casks seems particularly absurd when trying the Bulcán. There is no basis in history on this limit: it comes merely from a nervousness amongst the established names in the industry over the emergence of another spirit which might have been able to compete for their market share and which they did not fully understand. This suspicion of poitín is clear from the technical file’s insistence that the term “rested” is used rather than “aged” or “matured” – these are words reserved for whiskey. However, the Irish spirits industry’s landscape is vastly different from when the poitín technical file was written. With poitín having enjoyed impressive growth alongside whiskey, the time is now right to revisit this time limit and associated restrictions. I, for one, would love to try a version of the Bulcán that had aged long enough for the wood to really begin to take effect.
The Bulcán packs a real punch in the form of its high ABV and its sheer concentrated flavour. It’s another knockout from Killowen, and I can’t wait for the release of the next batch.