Review: Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

Glendalough Pot Still 1.jpg
4 years (3 yrs ex-bourbon, 1 yr virgin Irish oak)
Unmalted and Malted Barley
Distiller Glendalough (Glendalough, Ireland)

Irish whiskey has one of the most interesting histories of any country, starting (perhaps) as the birthplace of whiskey and following numerous cycles of growth and almost-complete collapse. Toward the end of the 18th century, the “big four” in Dublin of Jameson, Jameson, Powers and Roe were each among the largest distilleries in the world making Dublin the ultimate world whiskey powerhouse. Irish was battling Scotch as the global leader. Indeed, in Scotland at the time, more Irish whiskey was consumed than Scotch.

At the time, the big, definitive style of Dublin was “pure pot still” whiskey which was made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley. To this day, the style is the definitive style of Irish whiskey and isn’t produced in any significant manner anywhere else in the world. But, there were other regional styles abounding in Ireland: single malts in Northern Ireland, pot still whiskeys in Dublin, Waterford, and Galway and many examples of distilleries using turf (peat) smoking.

However, the dominance of Irish whiskey on the world stage faced numerous unique threats: the temperance movement of the 1830s, the potato famine of the 1840s, and the purchases of Irish distilleries by Scotch distillers who subsequently closed them down to eliminate competition. Ultimately, the two biggest Irish whiskey markets closed, with the British market closing after Ireland’s liberation and the American market drying up during prohibition. Then, to cap it all off, the great depression hit.

The Irish whiskey industry was nearly wiped out. Distillery after distillery closed up until the 1975 when the few remaining southern distillers banded together and moved to the Midleton distillery in County Cork. At the time, Irish whiskey was left with only two distilleries: Midleton in in the south and Bushmills in the North.

The diversity of Irish whiskey was dramatically reduced, but, since that time, Irish whiskey has continued to be on the rise. One outcome of the process is that nearly all of Ireland’s characteristic style, pure pot still whiskey, is produced at Midleton (the home of Jameson). In recent years, Irish whiskey has boomed, and with it, so have the diversity of pure pot still whiskeys.

Glendalough is a prime example of a brand producing pure pot still that tastes completely different from the examples found in Jameson or Redbreast. Glendalough’s pot still whiskey start with a particularly heavy style of pot still, made from 2/3 unmalted and 1/3 malted barley and triple-distilled. After maturing for 3 years in an ex-bourbon barrel, they continue to ladder up the flavour by maturing the whiskey for a year in virgin Irish oak casks. These casks are sustainably sourced from trees around the distillery. Indeed: each bottle lists which tree the whiskey came from – the very tree that you can see online on their website.

Irish oak is rarely used in modern times. Glendalough’s Irish oak is harvested by the distillery and shipped to a cooper in Spain who makes the barrels. Irish oak is a subset of quercas robor, European oak, but it has thinner cell walls and a higher proportion of vanillins (vanilla), furfural (burnt almond), and aldehydes compared to other species of European oak. The distillery describes the flavour of the oak as “sticky toffee pudding and dark molasses”.

This is what I love to see! Whiskey expressions going out of their way to use local ingredients to push the boundaries of the current local style. This is natural colour and un-chill filtered. Time for a taste!

This whiskey is available in Canada in Ontario and BC (for now).

Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

Lots going on here in the nose – and nice, big flavours. Coconut, woody spices, toasted oak, grassy spices, apple, walnut wood, pine, Weissbier, currants, orange marmalade, dried cherry, molasses, and light herbal notes. The herbal notes come out, big time, on the palate – and it is awesome. It has an incredible unmalted barley character- rice notes, herbal character, broccolini – but some cinnamon and raisins too. The finish is big, oaky, herbal and spicy.

 This whisky is very unique in character, and in very good ways. There is certainly a lot more to explore with unmalted and malted barley mixes, especially with bigger spirits that can hold up to a lot of oak.

 This is right up my alley. Oddly, I find that you can drink it too fast – too fast, and the tannins take over – but slowly and it works wonders.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, based on $80.