Dunville’s proudly fosters and promotes its ‘Spirit of Belfast’ motto, and it’s no wonder why. Dunville’s has such a rich and treasured history with the city from the early 1800s when the iconic brand was created. From its early, esteemed reputation to its much-lamented demise, Dunville’s has always been synonymous with Belfast. So, when one of Ireland’s finest whiskey emporiums, the Friend at Hand, wanted to collaborate with the revived Dunville’s brand to produce a single cask, my pulse was undoubtedly raised, my palms sweaty, and my wallet fearful.
Dunville’s have quickly earnt a reputation for exceptional single casks. I’ve reviewed them before, and excluding the pricing issue, they’re almost flawless. I sometimes felt that a ‘connection’ was missing with their casks and the collaborations typically had no discernible ‘link’; for example, CarryOut and the Celtic Whiskey Shop are all great whiskies but with no connection to the brand; the Friend at Hand certainly fits that bill. The Friend at Hand is a quite unique whiskey shop, off-licence, whiskey museum (whatever you want to call it) utterly dedicated to Irish whiskey. The shop has been mentioned on the Water of Life before, but again, you must visit it if you haven’t been. Fortunately, I did not have to call to get my hands on this one; Echlinville’s personable Brand Development Manager, Séamus Óg Birt, graciously gifted me a Dunville’s selection box, of which this was one of 6 drams.
This is Dunville’s first Single Cask collaboration with a Belfast-based venue. Paul O’Hare has carefully selected the liquid for The Friend At Hand from the casks in what seems like an ever-expanding and diverse Dunville’s warehouse. Anyway, Paul O’Hare is said to be the owner of the Friend at Hand, Willie Jack’s, ‘young apprentice’, and I can’t help but feel that serious responsibility was put on him to select this iconic single cask collaboration. Did he do his master justice in his selection? Answers at the bottom… The Friend at Hand has already produced some exquisite single casks, with collaborations with Redbreast, Powers and Midleton, with the owners showing clear intent and know-how; this was always going to be a match made in whiskey-soaked heaven.
The whiskey itself has been named the ‘Grosvenor reserve’, which is in tribute to Belfast’s Grosvenor Road, which was the inaugural site of the Royal Irish Distilleries and the subsequent birthplace of Dunville’s Irish Whiskey. A fitting tribute, given that the distillery had a capacity of over 2.5 million gallons per annum at its peak, making it amongst the largest in the country. I talked about the importance of a ‘connection’, and it feels that with this single cask, Dunville’s are re-establishing the love and prominence within the city’s historic whiskey quarter.
Unfortunately, Dunville’s will always raise an eyebrow regarding some of the pricing of their whiskies, especially when the most frugal of us are refusing to spend wildly. However, I do think that this release has been priced more modestly. It’s a single cask, it’s a 21-year-old sourced whiskey, it’s Irish, and it’s arguably Dunville’s most exclusive release. For example, the Temple Bar release is priced at £490 and is a year younger; the Friend at Hand is a snip considering.
So, the whiskey itself. Cask 2058 “Grosvenor Reserve” is a 21-Year-Old Irish Single Malt finished initially in an Oloroso Sherry Hogshead with a second finish in a Pedro Ximénez Sherry Casks (no indication of the time of either maturation) and bottled exclusively for The Friend At Hand. This Single Cask release of 324 bottles at cask strength 53.8% ABV is only available in-store at The Friend At Hand. A quick note on the packaging, with its royal green labelling: it’s simple, effective and quintessentially Dunville’s.
Price: £275. You will only be able to buy this at the Friend at Hand: the store operates a strict policy of only being able to purchase the bottles from the shop itself.
Nose: This is a typical Dunville’s single cask nose for me; absolute sweet-fest. Initially, fizzy cola bottles, red liquorice and giant strawberries are on the nose. After a short time in the glass, the fruitier notes are accentuated with sultanas and boozy raisins fit for a Christmas cake very evident. There’s an abundance of stoned fruit with maraschino cherries and poached plums, all covered with a dollop of thick-cut orange marmalade.
Palate: The sweet-fest continues; this time, it’s fizzy cherry Tangfastics and warm Vimto. The heat gradually transforms beautifully into a concoction of cinnamon, cloves and a dusting of nutmeg. The spice is not overpowering whatsoever and reaches its ceiling with a smattering of black pepper. The texture is enthralling; dark chilli chocolate makes this much more interesting and complex; it seems to get better with time in the glass.
Finish: There’s more heat, combining with the texture to give a fierier ginger snap culmination. The sweet notes are still unmistakable, and I can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic with drumstick lollies and boiled sweets giving this a very noteworthy, sticky, sweet finish.
This is an excellent whiskey and one of the best I’ve had recently. As a proud countryman, this collaboration makes me happy- in my opinion, it’s the one link that’s been missing for Dunville’s, and to re-ignite that has put them in good stead for future releases. The whiskey itself has a perfect balance. The sweetness is lovely, and it’s already a firm favourite for someone with a massive sweet tooth. However, it’s clear that you just can’t have sweet whiskies; therefore, they’ve ingeniously incorporated some lovely spice in there too. It’s not overpowering but gently counteracts some of the sweetness and develops it into a delightful concoction. Dunville’s have one hell of an eye (and a nose!) for sourced whiskies and subsequent cask management.
I have to say that Dunville’s have really pulled it out of the bag with this release; it’s the best Dunville’s I’ve had yet. All things considered: the highest age statement to date, perfect collaboration with the Friend at Hand, the quality of the liquid and the exclusivity of it all make this one heck of a release, in my opinion.
I’m already planning my next trip to Belfast with a stop at the Friend at Hand well overdue. The last two times I have been, I bought the Redbreast FAH single cask and the Power’s FAH single cask. I wonder what will happen upon my next arrival?
Disclosure: As stated, the sample that informed this article was provided to the Water of Life team by Echlinville free of charge. Echlinville has not had any other input into this article, nor has the Water of Life team relinquished any editorial control.