Disclosure: As stated, the bottle that informed this article was provided to the Water of Life team by Killowen free of charge. Killowen has not had any other input into this article, nor has the Water of Life team relinquished any editorial control.
When Jonathon and I reviewed the Belgrove series back in July, we both scored the Oat, and the Rye releases relatively high, considering all aspects, but most notably, the age of the spirit. Now, Brendan is seeking to exploit its success by leveraging the popularity of another Killowen staple, the rum and raisin cask. When reviewed last year, it too, scored high. Therefore, could two high-scoring whiskies make it a potential Carty classic or a prospective Carty catastrophe?
Without making this too much of a Belgrove piece, it’s important to note the influence here. Clearly, there’s an aspect of supporting other micro-distilleries, especially one that connects with Irish whiskey’s rich past and contemporary future. Peter Bignell at Belgrove, along with whiskey virtuoso Fionnán O’Connor, have influenced Killowen to a point, but what’s exciting now is Killowen adding a third ingredient to its much-heralded success: its own experience. Brendan’s blending, cask management and distilling have all added to his inimitability, and this new release reflects that, given its exclusive finishing. It’s exciting watching this distillery flourish and grow.
I think it’s important to revisit Jonathon’s rational piece and re-iterate one of the main points identified, that of the age statement. He said, “if you focus on the ingredients and production instead of relying on the effects of wood after a long maturation, you won’t need the whiskey to be old to be good,” and like Killowen further add, “Belgrove put the effort in at spirit production stage instead of relying on prolonged casking, the sacrifice is quantity but who needs quantity when our game plan, above all else is quality.” The proof is in the pudding, and most recently, we’ve seen Killowen’s inaugural release claim a ‘7’ in my review earlier this month. Most whiskeys need to be old – very, very few don’t. Could this be the latter?
The release is that of the previous Belgrove Oat mash (a mixed mash bill of 70% un-malted oats, 5% un-malted wheat, 5% un-malted barley, 10% malted barley and 10% malted rye). It was aged in ex-Tasmanian Pinot Noir Casks & ex-Tasmanian Malt Whisky casks. The spirit was then finished for four months in rum casks and then a further five in PX sherry casks akin to Killowen’s signature Rum & Raisin finish. It is released in the true Killowen fashion: cask strength, no added colour, integrity bottling, with full label transparency. It comes in at a little less ABV than its predecessor at 59.42% ABV. It is limited to 222 bottles.
Release date: Friday, 25th November 2022, 5 pm (GMT), exclusively via the Killowen Website.
Price: £84.95, which includes a Black Friday discount
Nose: there’s an initial hint of musty earth, damp wood and fresh yeast. At the back end of that, there’s a stale smoke underpinned by a new sweetness of Cadbury hazelnut chocolate and delightful Christmas pudding. Green banana peel, desiccated coconut and sweet oats are left to charm the palate.
Palate: the texture is lovely, full and creamy. There’s definite over-burnt creme brûlée dusted with cinnamon sugar and covered in custard. A spicy hit of pink peppercorns and some aniseed add extra depth. There’s also a little smoke, but nothing overpowering, but it is undoubtedly a fabulous addition.
Finish: again, more creaminess, luxurious melted smoke infused Terry’s chocolate orange and candied orange peel.
I was slightly apprehensive about trying this; it feels like a movie sequel that you shouldn’t build on, but I’m happy to remark that this was not the case. The tropical notes of the rum and raisin cask have combined excellently with the Belgrove Oat. The range of flavours from the Belgrove Oat was already full of variety and depth, but with the added finish, it highlights everything to another level. Brendan talks appreciatively about the Maillard Reaction (a form of nonenzymatic browning) and how it affects the distillate. There’s an apparent influence here: a burnt, sweet and spicy concoction!
When Mike and I interviewed Brendan last year, he commented, “it (distilling) provides me with an artistic outlet and allows me to be creative.” I can’t help but feel that Brendan knew the quality of the Rum and Raisin casks and their effect on a three-year-old Tasmanian Oat spirit with some punchy flavours. The result is certainly leaning towards a Carty classic.
I will say that this whiskey develops with a bit of time in the glass. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes, and you’ll be grateful it settles down and improves further. It really is an upgrade to each whiskey and combines the boldness of Belgrove and the confidence of Killowen.
It is on the pricier side of what you might want to pay for a three-year-old 50cl bottling; however, I think this view is quite short-sighted. Whiskey prices are going up, and so are processes and distillery procedures. If you like what certain distilleries do, whether it be their ‘green’ credentials or full transparency, then this is maybe worth more of a premium.