Is there anything poitín can’t do right now? We’ve covered it extensively on the Water of Life in the past, and it’s hard to think how it can continuously adapt to produce something modern, universal and appealing. One of the latest releases, ’a Dó,’ attempts to cross the great divide quite literally between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland and produce something extraordinary.
Readers of the Water of Life will be no strangers to Killowen distillery and its intrepid distiller, Brendan Carty. However, ’a Dó’, meaning ‘two’ in English, denotes a second party involved in this particular release: Blackwater distillery. Peter Mulryan of Blackwater notes, ‘In these difficult times, it’s important to remember we all share a small island and that our heritage is precious. This project with Killowen brings together two of Ireland’s most innovative distilleries, one north, one south, but with a shared vision.’ Perhaps more renowned for their ‘Velvet Cap’ Irish whiskey release, their foray into the world of poitín only further substantiates poitín’s national rise.
So what exactly is the special release? Well, it’s a historic vatting of two elements. Killowen sent local Knockshee oats to Blackwater, and in return, the Blackwater distillery sent their heritage barley north of the border. Both distilleries produced an Irish Poitín from this grain, which was then vatted. The distilleries split the final batch and have each bottled half of it in different packaging that mirrors the other; yours truly got the Killowen offering. In terms of history, it’s certainly a first; whether or not that translates to the taste will undoubtedly be investigated shortly. Could one argue that it’s slightly gimmicky? I don’t think that’s the case, especially if you consider it from a terroir perspective: mesoclimate, microclimate and hydrology could all affect the final product here.
At this stage, it’s important to note the journey that poitín has been on as a spirit. From effectively being conceived and nurtured underground, its popularity and significance have been brought into the limelight. For instance, last week, Ireland’s very first poitín festival, ‘Poitín Now’, the brainchild of Francis Leavy, was held to great success, showcasing a fantastic array of expressions of poitíns, not to mention some extraordinary exclusive bottlings. Killowen showcasing an 18-day-old matured Irish Poitín aged in Irish Oak, and Two Stacks exhibiting a poitín matured in 100-year-old sherry casks certainly grabbed the headlines.
What I do think is important here is the ability to contemporise poitín. Effectively, the distilleries have nailed stage 1, getting it back into the public domain. Now comes the equally, if not more challenging, stage 2, catering for the modern audience, sustaining reputation and affecting change. As Brendan concisely puts it, “as excited as we are about our own whiskey, we also have a target to revolutionise the poitín category and people’s attitudes towards it.” And with regards to this modern-age, catering for all categories release, “this collaboration is an exciting release that showcases this unique spirit, as well as celebrating a drink that crosses boundaries and borders.”
In another important step to contemporise, this is bottled at 48%, which might underwhelm some of the loyal ‘cask strength crusade’ Kultists, and appeals to more of the market—a brave and potentially inspired decision from the distilleries given Killowen and other retailers much lauded success of cask and still strength poitín. The mash bill comprises 50% malted barley, 30% old Irish barley (blackwater contribution), 15% oats (Killowen influence) and 5% peated malt.
Price: £36.95 or €41.95, and there are about 420 bottles from each distillery. Available online via Irish Malts in the Island of Ireland, Umbrella project in Mainland UK and many wonderful retailers North and South.
Nose: a lovely initial blast of clementine oranges with a hint of black liquorice, aniseed and flat cream soda. Lots of freshness to it. It lends itself to potpourri and fabric conditioner. There’s a note of matchstick smoke, too, which balances this expertly.
Palate: there’s a gentle warning, which is subtle and lovely. The spice is welcoming, with notes of cinnamon and light ginger coming through. There’s a definite smoky creaminess to it as well, almost like burnt milk chocolate. This then morphs into chocolate ginger snaps leading to the finish.
Finish: cold milky latté, lingering stale smoke and a little more cinnamon.
What a lovely expression of poitín this is. It effectively balances ABV and flavour to make it more appealing to the younger/contemporary market. However, there is still enough to excite the more traditional Kultists and Blackwater fans. I’m not sure I can effectively note that there are Southern Irish and Northern Irish grain contributions to this. What is noticeable, though, is the oat content, indeed a palatable creaminess which luxuriously coats the mouth. It gets better with every glass too. Usually, I’d have a glass and a half to examine the spirit properly, but three glasses later, I was really enjoying this.
This expression segues me nicely into one of the following reviews, which will be the ‘Pangur’ poitín collection, another attempt by Killowen to ‘contemporise’ poitín. However, returning to the ‘A Dó’, I think it’s a success. Let’s face it, the market is getting flooded by distillers bottling ‘new make’ and poitín, albeit not on the same scale as whiskey, but either by the sheer quantity and clear quality, poitín’s popularity is continuously rising.