Clonakilty Balmorhea Irish Whiskey

Clonakilty Balmorhea Irish Whiskey (Photo by the brand)

Cask Finish Experimentation

As cask finishing experimentation spirals increasingly outward, so does our joy of whiskey tasting. But it isn’t necessarily about new types of casks (think Scotch matured in tequila barrels or bourbon aged in stout casks). Malt whiskey has been matured in ex-fill bourbon barrels for decades. But what about in Texas bourbon barrels? Whiskey made in Texas is a different beast altogether. Aging in that steamy Texan heat adds a certain… something… not found in other whiskeys, and it seems that this “something” is good for aging malt whiskey.

Texas Bourbon Casks

So, an Irish whiskey aged in bourbon barrels is mundane unless it’s a Texas bourbon! Enter Clonakilty, an Irish whiskey brand I know and love, with another impressive cask finish. This single-malt whiskey is aged seven years in ex-fill bourbon barrels, with a finish treatment of seven months in Garrison Brothers Balmorhea Bourbon casks. The Texas distillery was twice named US Micro Whisky of the Year and is a consistent medal winner, so it’s logical that the Clonakilty Balmorhea Irish Whiskey would be good. When I first heard the name Balmorhea, I immediately assumed it was an old Celtic or Gaelic word. Well, the joke’s on me! Balmorhea is a portmanteau created from the last names of the three land developers who filed the plat for the town: their names, Mssrs. Balcum, Morrow, and Rhea combined their surnames, Bal – Mo – Rhea, into the town moniker. So much for my linguistic prowess!

Tasting Notes

Linguistics aside, this whiskey is undeniably my favorite Clonakilty to date. Pouring a deep straw color into my trusty Glencairn noser, I was immediately greeted with a sledgehammer of sweet vanilla creme aromas that reminded me of Brach’s Milk Maid vanilla-filled toffees. Buried inside that intensity were hints of milk chocolate, caramel, molasses, oak, and somewhere in the background, a bite of sea air.

Despite its 58.8% ABV, I found it quite soft on the palate, the round, creamy mouthfeel offsetting some of that heat. Although vanilla is prominent in the flavors, it’s much less powerful. Notes of cherry, more caramel, and banana chips lead into salted macadamia nuts, barrel spice, and orchard fruit. The long and luxurious finish recommends this as a dessert or even a cigar dram. It makes me think of deep leather armchairs in front of a fire at an old country lodge.

Clonakilty has produced a consistent stream of impressive Irish whiskey, and this limited-edition expression is at the top (IMHO). When I hear the name, my ears perk up because I can be sure it will be tasty!