Launch of Slane Irish Whiskey in Dublin. May 2017.
About two years ago, I was invited to speak at the European Food and Drink Conference at the Aviva in Dublin on the subject of Protecting Irish Whiskey. One of the key issues I spoke about on that day was the importance of maintaining individuality or uniqueness in style and quality of our new and emerging Irish Whiskey brands. With so many new Irish whiskey brands using liquid provided by other distilleries while waiting for their own spirit to mature, there was a danger that we could have 5, 10 or 15 new Irish Whiskey brands all of which were identical in taste and style as they would all have come from the same generic source.
The speaker immediately before me was Alex Conyngham from Slane Castle which is located just a few miles North West of Dublin. Slane Castle is best known in Ireland as the home of big name annual rock concerts featuring the likes of Thin Lizzy (Whiskey in the Jar!), The Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Queen and David Bowie. Essentially, Slane is Ireland’s Glastonbury. These high-profile and highly successful Rock and Roll concerts were all the brainchild of Lord Henry Mount Charles, the dynamic and colourful owner of Slane Castle, well known Irish celebrity and the father of Alex.
Alex had been invited to speak about the plans developed by himself and his father to build an Irish Whiskey Distillery on their castle grounds which would eventually produce their own Slane Whiskey brand.
Normally, when I hear of public figures launching their own whiskey brands, I look away. Many of these are either vanity projects or worse, projects run by large multinational whiskey companies who take advantage of the name of a celebrity endorsement. They then wrap up a bland, generic whiskey in expensive packaging for sale at exorbitant prices to an adoring fan-base who are unfamiliar with the finer points of whiskey appreciation.
Brown Forman are one of America’s largest whiskey companies, best known for their Jack Daniels brand. They are backing and supporting the Slane Irish Whiskey project. On first sight, this had all the appearance of either a vanity or celebrity endorsement project. But then Alex began to speak and I quickly changed my mind.
In an articulate and passionate twenty minute presentation, it became clear very quickly that this is no vanity project. There was no doubt in my mind that Alex Conynham was leading from the front on this project with the technical support of Brown Forman. I looked forward to catching up on this story when the new Slane whiskey brand was scheduled for release in 2017.
And so I found myself this week at the launch in the East Side Tavern in Dublin of Slane Castle Whiskey by Alex and his Dad. Their press release described it as “a unique, triple casked blend of an exceptional Irish whiskey, born on the historic grounds of Slane Castle in the Boyne Valley, Co. Meath”.
For the last two years, Alex worked closely alongside Brown-Forman master blenders Chris Morris and Steve Hughes in a third party Irish distillery to blend the first Shane Castle Whiskey expression.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a blend of high quality grain and malt Irish whiskies which have been matured in a triple casked blending method using virgin American oak, seasoned American whiskey and Oloroso sherry casks from Jerez in Spain. This maturation process was developed to give Slane Irish Whiskey a unique flavour, while retaining smoothness.
This was a first tasting “in the field” without the normal controls I employ when writing formal tasting notes. Nonetheless, even on first nose and taste, it was very obvious that this is an exceptional blended Irish whiskey, packed with flavour and sweetness with a wonderfully smooth and creamy mouth feel that I would normally associate with a sherry finished Single Pot Still such as Yellow Spot.
The distillery tasting notes are:
Notes of fruit and spice entice the palate while the blend sweetens with layers of rich caramel, vanilla and butterscotch. The result is an easy flavourful Irish whiskey, unlike any other.
COLOR: A warm, golden topaz with hues of rich toffee
NOSE: Complex fruit with drizzles of caramel, butterscotch and vanilla; brown spice and toasted oak
TASTE: Spicy at first but quickly sweetened with rich caramel, vanilla and butterscotch atop a deep layer of dried fruit
FINISH: Lingering hints of dry fruit and caramelized sugar.
On my own first tasting at the busy launch party, I’d endorse the above. I plan on conducting my own formal tasting notes in a week or so, but even now, I am quite sure that this seemingly entry level Irish blended whiskey is heading for a definite 2 Pooka award with a 3 Pooka award far from being out of the question. That puts it firmly in Yellow Spot, Redbreast 15 and Writers Tears territory. For a blended Single Malt – Single Grain Irish Whiskey at a RRP of just €33 to achieve this level of Pooka rating is an incredible achievement for a new whiskey brand’s first release.
From this summer, Slane Irish Whiskey will be distilling from its state of the art distillery on the grounds of Slane Castle, Co. Meath. The distillery is the first built by Brown-Forman outside of the United States. Both the distillery and visitor experience centre will open in summer 2017, inviting the public to learn more about the stories behind the whiskey, and the unique creation process. The distillery is being built into the renovated 250 year old gothic farm buildings of the castle and showcases the revival of the historic architecture and castle grounds. The distillery will feature column and pot stills which, once up and running, will create an exciting range of whiskies for the future. I look forward to including them on the Irish Whiskey Trail once they open.
Releases such as this from Slane along with the new generation of independent Irish Whiskey leaders such as Alex Conynham, Conor Hyde and Jack Teeling give me both faith and reassurance that the future protection of Irish Whiskey’s reputation is in safe hands.
Slane Irish Whiskey is available in Ireland now for €33 RRP. It will be launched in the UK in May 2017 and in the USA and Australia in July 2017. Further details at SlaneIrishWhiskey.Com.
In my opinion, it has to be one of the best “value for money” Irish whiskeys on release today.
Stuart McNamara is an International Whiskey Writer and Travel and Food Blogger. Stuart is Editor-in-Chief of Irish Whiskey.Com , the Irish Whiskey Trail , WhiskeyWriter.com and the Scottish Whisky Trail. In his native Ireland, Stuart is a Judge in the Irish Quality Food Awards. Follow Stuart’s Tweets about Irish Food and Travel @IrelandandIrish and about International Whiskey at @Whiskey_Writer.