The saying goes that we should start with a bang. As the ‘Year of Poitín’ came to a close last week, one of the prolific poitín producers, Baoilleach distillery, has literally unleashed a creature or a ‘Cratur’, as it is affectionately named. This is Michael’s exclusive for ‘Poitín Now’; a statement of intent, a showstopper and indeed that ‘bang’ we’ve all been looking for.
Since the Water of Life’s interview with Michael back in October, his relentlessness has not ceased. He has followed up the ‘Mountain Dew’ trio with another threesome, this time round an ambitious and pioneering trinity of two single malts and a pot still all aged in heavily charred virgin oak. This is the oldest spirit to date from Baoilleach and will undoubtedly make for an exciting review. However, I touched on the success of Poitín Now within the ‘A Dó’ article but deliberately left out Baoilleach’s exclusive endeavour of the Cratur as it deserved its own article.
Interestingly, the Cratur is the inaugural release in a new ‘exploration series’ which sets out to praise the ‘Small Pot Distillers’. This edition of batch one is in remembrance of the 130 Poitín Makers in 1819 in the Mevagh Parish, where Baoilleach Distillery is based. I love the nod to history; these aspects of production stand out and have meaning, value and cultural significance.
The bottling is 100% peated malted barley and is a historic mash bill from Donegal, the legendary ‘Olde Inishowen’, as it is affectionately known to locals. The barley is peated onsite using two types of turf. One turf is from the distillery site, and the other is from the family bog near Glenveagh.
A note about the bottling; it’s stunning and appeals to me. Another nod to history, perhaps, is that a 50cl stoneware bottle bounds the liquid. The label portrays an old poitín maker with the words adorned across the bottling; ‘then stick to the Cratur, the best thing is nature, for sinking your sorrows and raising your joys’. Michael just gets it. At this price point, it is undoubtedly value for money.
A bit of a special treat now. Typically Mike and I, and our two contributors, Jonathon and Robert, never have the same bottles. However, we all now have the Cratur in our claws, and for the purposes of whiskey reviewing, we will dissect and score as below:
Price: £42 available with free delivery from Baoilleach’s online shop
Nose: Initially, there’s a lovely hint of burnt or even caramelised brown sugar. It’s earthy; there’s a mix of freshly sawn cedar, damp moss and musty bark. But there’s an equilibrium; it’s balanced; there’s the trademark Baoilleach sweetness of burnt marshmallows interlaced with a peppery aniseed note.
Palate: The first thing that hits is the peat, and what a hit it is, the intense smokiness from it, mixed with a handful of cinnamon, nutmeg, aniseed and pink peppercorns, literally take your pick. There’s a biscuit-like note that reminds me of ginger snap biscuits. The texture is beautiful too, so viscous and layered.
Finish: A peaty, smoky and spicy concoction that seems to go on for ages, so lengthy. Coffee beans and a black liquorice aftertaste.
Nose: Oily, earthy, and musty, balanced by an almost caramelised sugar sweetness. Damp moss mixes with freshly turned turf, rolling tobacco, dates, toffee and marshmallows.
Palate: The palate starts with a real hit of peat and wood smoke: bonfire night on the tongue. Sweet treacle tart and ginger are present at first, but give way to rising heat and spice, with Sichuan pepper, aniseed, liquorice, five spice, and cayenne pepper. This heat is counterbalanced by a thick, creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Lingering and very warming. The spice slowly dies away, leaving peat smoke, treacle, and liquorice.
Opinion: The Cratur has a ridiculous depth of flavour. Strangely, the only hint of the 60.4% ABV at which it is bottled is the rich, lingering, and spicy finish. That makes for one truly dangerous dram! The depth of flavour is excellent, with a lot to explore. Somehow, Baoilleach has created a dram with real balance: mustiness against sweetness on the nose, the rising heat on the palate against the luxurious creamy texture, and the peaty sweetness against the dying heat on the palate.
Nose: On the nose, my first impression is a sugary sweetness that is very inviting. My mind also leads me to the notes I found in a fresh American virgin oak cask I bought a year ago. I’d probably describe it as wood shavings standing in a sawmill in springtime.
Palate: The palate has me sold with a creamy viscosity carrying oats, sweet peat and thick, earthy notes. The peat notes, for me, are more relaxed and sweet rather than overwhelming.
Finish: The finish is long, again with a fresh wood shaving connotation in my brain. This mixes with more intense campfire peat that wrestles with barley sugar for dominance.
My first experience of the Cratur was during Poitín Now. Although there were many amazing liquids that night, this one stood out. It stood out so much that I bought a bottle to bring home. When I opened my bottle and tried it again, I knew instantly I needed to get at least another bottle as backup!
Nose: Pine, freshly squeezed lemon, wet grass, coffee roasting, sea mist, subtle smoke like someone’s barbecuing, but you don’t know who
Palate: Muscovado sugar, tapioca pearls, and lots of sweetness at the forefront that turns into a zero-carb protein bar artificial flavour – think cookies & cream or vanilla fudge.
Finish: The sweetness diminishes but is still there. What takes over now is a more grassy and metallic after-taste. It lingers long enough with the barbecue smoke in the backdrop.
To think this has not even touched wood, I’m amazed at the quality of this Poitín. The distillers of old Mevagh will be proud.
What more can be said other than our esteemed contributors’ critique? To score this highly across four different people is significant. Michael said during our interview that he knew when a spirit was good from the fermentation and the first drop out of the still; I can only imagine his grin when he tried this for the first time: it is quality. Johnathon said he was amazed that this had not touched wood; I agree. The depth and range of flavours are substantial and vast, almost what I suspect a very young Ardbeg would taste like.
This is not just a win for Baoilleach distillery. This is an impressive win for poitín in general. The number of distilleries attempting to re-create poitín is fascinating, especially trying their interpretations. Everyone has their own style, preferences and techniques. I feel that Michael has absolutely hit the nail on the head with this one.
2022 remains a fascinating and historic time for poitín. Brendan of Killowen kicked it off with the likes of Stone Soup and Bulcàn, but it has really ended on such a fantastic high with this exclusive release on the back of Poitín Now. If you ever need proof that poitín is back where it once is, this year has been it, and Cratur is the centrepiece.