Glendalough Distillery

The Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey.

We have Irish monks to thank, to begin with. In pursuit of knowledge about the parfumerie processes, they travelled all the art to the Mediterranean shores. as part of the sojourn, they also brought back to Gaelic lands the distillation process. All this happened in the 12th century. We remain grateful to this day.

Irish drams have made a comeback, and are now the fastest-rising category in spirits sales, with the major distilleries still going strong, but various boutiques cropping up, including one exceptional place, Glendalough.

Irish whiskey enjoyed dominion over the spirits world until one fateful decade in the 20th century, when, first the Irish War of Independence took place, and then Prohibition. Thus the two largest markets in the world were basically wiped out for Irish whiskey, and blended Scotch assumed the mantle. But Irish drams have made a comeback, and are now the fastest-rising category in spirits sales, with the major distilleries still going strong, but various boutiques cropping up, including one exceptional place, Glendalough, in the forested mountains of Wicklow, home to the patron saint of the Wilderness, Saint Kevin, who habituated the upper reaches of the Wicklow mountains in the 6th century. Talk about history.

Glendalough Distillery pot still

Donal O’Gallachoir is the whiskey maker there, and has plenty to say about that history. “When the industry got nearly wiped out, early last century, only a very few distilleries were able to continue, with the biggest markets all closed to us. It was a lighter, blended style, perfect for bratty boys in shitty Irish pubs. But a couple of my partners and I got to thinking, ‘What about the ancestral ways of making whiskey?’ and that led us to build Glendalough, just around ten years ago.”

Glendalough double barrel Irish whiskey

The idea was to go way back in time, even before the advent of the commercially-minded Coffey still of the early 1800s, which streamlined the distillation process but tended to diminish some of the important flavours of the spirit. So, they built pot stills, and, in a big leap of faith, decided to use Irish oaky barrels for their signature Pot Still whiskey. “No blends. Only single batches,” says Donal.

The gateway spirit at Glendalough is the Double Barrel, equal amount of time in sherry and in bourbon casks. It has a rich, floral nose, with a hint of ripe fig. Smooth, with butterscotch, dried fruit, and a hint of sweetness, all of which lead to a lively, long, spicy finish. It helps express the house style, of careful barrel choices, no blends, and just the right amount of time in barrel before bottling.

The whiskey itself is remarkable. Power, but amazing finesse. Toasted oaky notes are subtle, and the vanilla is present but not dominant.  There is a notable shift in the flavours, mid- palate. 

There are some age statements whiskies, including 7, 13, 17 and 25-year olds. But the crowning achievement is really the Pot Still. I begins its life in Bourbon casks, but after 3-plus years it is moved into Irish oak hogsheads. The wood is meticulous harvested from careful selected areas of the Wicklow mountains, almost right outside the distillery door. A careful replanting program is in place, and has a responsible legacy clearly front of mind, since the average age of the trees that become staves that become hogsheads is 130 years. Each bottle of Pot Still has on its label an individual Bottle Number, Cask Number, Batch Number, and individual Tree Number. Our sample bottle is Bottle , Cask , Batch 1, and Tree number 8A. That’s what we call fine tuning.

Glendalough Distillery still shot

The whiskey itself is remarkable. Power, but amazing finesse. Toasted oaky notes are subtle, and the vanilla is present but not dominant.  There is a notable shift in the flavours, mid- palate. Some charming citrus notes, mainly nectarine, all give way to an oily, maraschino cherry aspect, wrapped in deep, long finish with rich spice notes, almonds, and fresh biscuits. A unique and riveting expression, the Pot Still Glendalough is not to missed. 

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James Tobler was Editor first of NUVO and then MONTECRISTO magazines, over a period of 20 years. He edited and wrote the Passport blog for Kiwi Collection for its first two years as well. He has written four cookbooks, with the chefs, for Araxi, Blue Water Cafe, West, and Cin Cin. He has contributed to a wide variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Okanagan Life, Fox News Lifestyle, and Wine Access magazine, where he was Managing Editor. He currently works with Mark Taylor on Gem City Guide, and, now, Inside Spirits magazine.

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