Stuart reviews the latest whiskey from his native West Cork and discovers links between a President, River Dance and Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland was an unusual character. He grew up in French Park Co. Roscommon in the 1870’s where his father the local protestant rector moved his family after Douglas was born. Douglas’s father the Reverend Arthur Hyde came from the Hyde family of Castle Hyde near Fermoy in Cork. If the name sounds familiar, Castle Hyde is now beautifully restored as the home of the famous Irish American Dancer Michael Flatley of River Dance fame.
Hyde Irish Whiskey – The Background
Coming from the protestant tradition, it was highly unusual that Douglas would develop an interest in the Irish language which was still a vibrant and working language in the West of Ireland. But when Douglas as a child met and socialised with the locally born French Park children, his skill at picking up the local Roscommon dialect of the Irish language was an early indication of his future academic success in Trinity College Dublin as a distinguished Gaelic scholar, academic, linguist and Irish language revivalist.
Following the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 after the War of Independence, Douglas Hyde was one of the first university academics to be elected to the Irish Parliament’s Upper House or Senate in 1925.
The ratification of the first Irish Constitution in 1937 called for the election of an Irish President and Senator Douglas Hyde who was seen as a person of both academic and cultural substance, was elected unopposed as an agreed candidate to represent a pluralist, non-sectarian modern Ireland.
How do I know so much about Douglas Hyde? Well my own late and much loved younger brother Douglas or Doug, who grew up with me in West Cork, was named after the first President as our own wider family also shared an unusual and mixed up Catholic Loyalist – Protestant Nationalist background in pre independence Ireland. As Stuart Redmond McNamara, I was named after Protestant Nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Home Rule Champion John Redmond. And yes, I know I spell my name Stuart, but that’s another story!
So when Conor Hyde, the MD of Hyde Whiskey contacted me a few weeks ago to tell me about his new Hyde Whiskey Label operating from my childhood home in West Cork, I looked skywards and said, Doug, You would have loved this one!
Hyde Whiskey in Skibereen is a new Irish whiskey venture and is not to be confused with any other whiskey companies in West Cork. In common with most new Irish Whiskey Start Ups, their initial release is based on a high quality offering that Hyde have worked their magic on from an established distillery. In this case, Hyde have sourced a ten year old single malt from the Cooley stable matured in first fill flame charred Kentucky Bourbon Casks and finished in vintage sherry casks for an extra mellow sweetness.
This is a business model also used by many of the other new Irish whiskey companies including Teeling and Walsh Whiskey. As Irish whiskey takes 3 to 5 years and more to mature after distillation, the first whiskeys produced by these new kids on the block are often innovative and exciting customisations of quality whiskeys from Midleton, Cooley and Bushmills. Hyde reckon that it will be about 5 years before whiskey from their own stills will be ready for release.
Hyde Irish Whiskey Review
Conor Hyde was kind enough to send me a bottle of their 10 year old President’s Cask Limited Reserve Single Malt to review. It’s an unpeated double distilled single malt which has been finished for six months in Oloroso Spanish Oak Sherry Casks. This President’s Cask release is a limited edition of just 5,000 bottles with each bottle individually numbered. Bottled at a higher than normal 46% ABV, it is also non chill filtered leaving it packed with a robust malty flavour.
- Nose:On the nose, the virgin oak from the first fill bourbon barrels is dominant after ten years of maturation. There is also some fruit as one would expect from the sherry influence which reminds me of dark Irish Fruitfield Marmalade. The nose is shorter than I would have expected.
- Taste:Tasting, the initial impression is malt heavy with a warm and full mouth fill. Again, the oak is quite pronounced along with some bitter-sweet dried fruits and orchard fruits, burnt oak notes and black pepper spiciness. Surprisingly smooth on the tongue for a double distilled whiskey at 46%! The addition of a splash of water yields an exceptionally smooth and mellow ball of malt to swirl in the hand.
- Finish:The finish is long and is dominated by burnt oak and pepper with a hint of bitter chocolate in the background.
The Oloroso Sherry Cask finish has definitely added some real magic to this ten year old malt. An interesting experiment might be to follow the Irish Distillers Green Spot – Yellow Spot model and see what a 12 or 15 year old variant with an additional 2 to 5 years of Sherry or other influence could produce!
Behind Hyde Whiskey!
But enough about the whiskey. What about the People behind the Whiskey? I have long thought that the future of international Irish whiskey marketing lies in differentiating ourselves from run of the mill Scotch or Bourbon with innovative new products such as Hyde. We should also tell great personal stories about the whiskey and the people who make it! As you can see from all of the above, Hyde Whiskey have a story and a half to tell and they are just starting on their journey.
Interviewing someone like Conor Hyde is a pleasure. He is modest, professional, passionate and disarmingly open when talking about Hyde Whiskey. As you can see from the artwork in this review, the branding of this initial Hyde Whiskey release is of very high quality with finely balanced references to his own Hyde family, Presidential Links, Irish History and West Cork connections.
I think that we are seeing the return of quality Irish whiskey to West Cork with the birth of an exciting new Irish Whiskey Label. My brother Doug would have been their biggest fan!