They say that anniversaries come around at a break-neck speed, but it’s almost like the opposite is true for Irish whiskey. Recently, we have seen distilleries release their own liquid, for example, Shortcross, Copeland or even elements of it within other spirits, like Echlinville. But this release from Killowen seems quite historic. Arguably, few craft distilleries have generated quite the hype that Killowen has.
Since Killowen’s own whiskey celebrated its third birthday back on 26 Apr 2022, whiskey fans have been patiently waiting. Well, the mantra is that good things come to those who wait, and thankfully, Killowen has finally released both Casks 001 and 002. Having proved extremely popular (over 3000 applied), a ballot system was deemed the fairest way to divvy up the liquid in the cask. At a yield of just 232 bottles for cask 001, many people would be disappointed. Thankfully, yours truly was successful in the ballot for cask 001. I also graciously received a sample of cask 002 and can therefore divulge the details of Killowen’s first two endeavours. The casks represent a watershed moment for Irish whiskey and a culmination of many things; “hard work and drive borrowing from great historical minds such as Fionnán O’Connor, a growing interest in local produce and a self-determination in Irish whiskey after many misguided decades.” The unorthodox method of a long-drawn-out production is said to have acknowledged Irish whiskey’s past in an adventurous and contemporary manner.
The popularity was such that those successful in the ballot subsequently crashed the website trying to buy their whiskey first. Additionally, the distillery had the unpleasantness of others trying to offload their unique passcodes and buying multiple bottles with multiple personas. We will surely witness the bottles showing up on auction sites soon. In all honesty, who can blame them; this is a historic whiskey, and one collectors and flippers alike will be salivating over.
The Barántúil, Irish for ‘Authentic,’ is described as a contemporary acknowledgement of authentic Irish whiskey tradition. Unfortunately for Killowen and the whiskey purists, the whiskey is branded as a ‘mixed mash bill.’ Due to specific legislation, it has to be called this. However, the general consensus remains that this is one of Northern Ireland’s first pot still whiskey in decades. The whiskey is three years old, and it is refreshing because it’s described as “authentically and unashamedly.” This reminds me of the Peter Bignell philosophy of older whiskies not necessarily being better, something which Brendan has epitomised through the likes of the Rum & Raisin releases. Cask 002, however, is denoted as a Single Pot Still whiskey.
A quick note also; the packaging, including bottling for the release, is superb. Given that this is a craft distillery, they have gone the extra mile. The new bottling is sleek and stylish, and the open box with accompanying information regarding everything about the whiskey is refreshingly but typically Killowen.
Killowen Cask 001- PX cask using a traditional mash bill
The enclosed leaflet within the superb presentation is wholly transparent and gives the following details. The mash bill for this whiskey has nostalgically been written in bags; 3 bags of unmalted barley, seven bags of smoked malted barley, two bags of oats, one bag of wheat and one bag of rye. It has been matured in 120-litre PX Sherry casks which initially arrived wet with 5 litres of PX sherry in them. A subsequent rinsing of 40 has “prevented overpowering.”
Price: £149.95, no longer available. Expect an annoying appearance at auction.
Nose: Initially, there’s a lovely note of slightly burnt, buttery fruit loaf, including a light vanilla note, but then everything is heightened by the spice on the nose, including lots of cinnamon, peppermint and a dose of aniseed. Then it’s all cut with a note of stale smoke which brings the nose together expertly.
Palate: The spice carries on, but this time is a more textured spice with chocolate ginger snaps generating a slight heat. This is then joined with cinnamon lozenges and a nutmeg dusting. Again, the real star of the show is the sweet bonfire smoke which adds a lovely layer of complexity and depth.
Finish: Unsurprisingly, the spice and heat continue to work plentifully. Layers of aniseed and peppermint combined with those fruity notes from the nose conclude a historic dram.
Killowen Cask 002- Ex-Bourbon cask Single Pot Still
This bottling complies with the requirements of the GI governing Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey consisting of 5% adjuncts of oat, rye and wheat.
Nose: A real freshness to this nose. Lots of white wine and green grapes. There’s also fruitiness to it, with some light kiwi and lemon zest—a hint of furniture polish too. There’s lots of rich caramel too, really rich. Wet heather also adorns the nose, making this quite an interesting and exciting nose.
Palate: Interesting heavy texture, fulfilling and creamy, chilli chocolate. Lots of spice comes through too; there’s a hefty spoonful of cinnamon sugar, cloves and pink peppercorns. Touch of sweet red liquorice too. A very faint hint of smoke.
Finish: More creamy warmth, chocolate ginger snaps and cinnamon lozenges,
Okay, firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. The price is steep; this is something we at the WOL have protested about in the past. Shortcross’ Single Malt and Lambay have been selling whiskies at £300+. Killowen’s Barántúil cask 001, whilst at half the price, will still have some sucking their teeth at the price given the current economic climate, and combined with cask 002, you won’t get change out of £250. However, this feels historic and truly exclusive in the current chapter of Irish whiskey history.
What I am most impressed by, certainly with cask 001, is the cask management. All too often are whiskies sometimes surpassed by the amount of influence a sherry cask can bring, and whilst this is a spicy whiskey, it isn’t a sherry bomb but is somewhat subdued and complex, defining proper Irish whiskey. Cask 002 is another delightful dram; it’s not the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted but considering it is one of Killowen distillery’s first whiskey endeavours, it’s impressive and inspiring in equal measure.
I’m excited about the future if this is where Killowen has set its bar. We’ve seen what Brendan can do with sourced whiskey regarding cask management. We’ve seen the influence of mash bills on unaged spirit. Combine these, and Killowen are genuinely on for a successful future under the stewardship of Brendan.