Clonakilty Distillery may not have the pedigree of some of the more prominent names in Irish whiskey, but they’re doing something to offset their relative youth – making spectacular Irish whiskey! Despite starting production in 2018, they’ve already proven they can successfully meld tradition with modern thinking. The result has been the creation of new and exciting yet comfortingly familiar whiskeys that are making a name for the young brand. They’re definitely not just another “Irish and coke” cocktail whiskey distillery.
Resurgence of Blends
The brainchild of Michael Scully, he assembled an experienced team to create whiskeys that express a love for the land and the barley and grain it produced. Clonakilty Port Cask Finish Irish Whiskey is one of their newest expressions, and like their other whiskey that I reviewed, the Double Oak Single Batch, it’s worthy of a second look. We often relegate blended whiskey to second-class status in favor of single malts, but there’s been a resurgence in the glory of blends, and this Port Cask Finish certainly proves it. It’s a blend of premium malt and grain whiskeys, its components aged up to 9 years. It’s initially aged in American oak and transferred for final maturation into ex-fill port casks from Portugal’s Douro Valley.
Clonakilty Port Cask Finish pours a beautiful pale peach reflecting the influence of the port wine. The initial nose is sweet and fruity, with notes of papaya, casaba melon, orchard fruits, and cooked blueberries, backed by hints of pastry shop, fig newtons, cooked plantains, cocoa powder, and wet flint. On the palate, there’s a chewy texture – not oily, but not thin, either. There’s also a sense of sugared nuts, like glazed walnuts or pecans, with a distant hint of salinity.
The flavor profile is subtle. No individual flavor stands out, and it’s much less fruity than the nose indicated. Spicy notes are evident, like winter baking spices with a kick. The fruit elements are more cooked, like baked pie fruits, including cherry, blueberry, and peach. Backing notes of coffee, nutmeg, and cardamom leads to a release of wine elements. The port is more notable on the swallow than in the initial taste. The finish is slightly hot, though not overpowering, and again, the port influence is more evident. The finish fades fairly quickly, leaving a fresh, somewhat nutty afterglow on the tongue.
Despite the brand’s youth, I continue to be impressed by Clonakilty’s whiskeys. It’s much too early to determine whether they will produce library-worthy aged whiskeys – time will tell. In the interim, this upstart distillery continues to produce bar-worthy whiskeys that check the box for price-to-quality value and, more importantly, in the sipper class. This expression will not replace your “J” or “B” for slamming down party cocktails, nor is it the intent. Clonakilty is instead fulfilling the need for affordable-but-quality Irish whiskey suitable as an aperitif, for sitting by the fireplace, or simply enjoying a dram of good Irish whiskey!