Peated Irish whiskey has been far from a common sight outside of a smattering of Connemara bottlings. But growing demand and consumer interest in different styles seems to be pushing the needle in a variety of new-ish directions for the category – one such being the utilisation of smoke. Both Teeling Blackpitts and prior to it, W.D. O’Connell’s Bill Phil releases (particularly the cask strength – which we’ll review for you at a later date) have generated a palpable buzz with their announcements. A buzz which to my mind is warranted.
On the one hand ‘moar peat’ seems simply a logical progression for Irish whiskey – there’s already enough established peat loving drinkers out there to sustain a considerably wider selection of smoky-imbued Irish expressions then presently are available. On the other, it’s simply a reassurance (and a sense of modernity) that with much larger volumes of new, young Irish whiskey starting to enter the marketplace, that the diversity of the offering as a whole is ensured. From 3 distilleries to over 30 in a relatively short space of time necessitates considerable differentiation for all to be able to find a place in, and a share of, the market. Peat is one such potential differentiation to play with. And it's perentially popular with a lot of consumers.
Founded on the site of the former Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk (County Lough), the Great Northern Distillery came on-stream in 2015 and produced their first whiskey back in 2018. W.D. O’Connell has sourced a young triple distilled peated malt for their first batch of Bill Phil (you can read about the history of the brand name on the W.D. O’Connell website). The whiskey has been peated to 55PPM and matured solely in 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels for 3 years and 5 months. 600 bottles have been produced and will set you back £59.95 on via the W.D. O’Connell web shop.
Nose: Dirty stuff. Actively fermenting beer, copper coins and yeasty buns (rather make-y) sit alongside barbeque briquettes, burnt plastic and diesel. Industrialness continues with grease and wire wool whilst at the heart of the liquid is a brighter, fresher red apple, lemon drops and ashy smoke. The addition of water offers an interesting transition – steeped fruit and black teas with applewood chip smoked pastry cases.
Taste: An oily and somewhat unexpected combination of intense dirty ashiness played off against bright fresh syrupy fruit. Lemon cordial and grapefruit tartness sit with copper piping and coal dust. Salinity follows with a cup of freshly brewed dark coffee and a bowl of lightly toasted cereals. Dilute there’s additional ethyl fruitiness with pear drops sitting alongside chip pan oils and swipes of medicinal peat smoke in the form of hospital cleaner.
Finish: Long with engine oil and pepperiness. Persistently filthy with antiseptic and carbolic soap in the tail.
Rambunctious, rough edged – and yet likeably characterful. The combination of lively fruitiness with murky industrial smoke is initially somewhat disconcerting, but the fusion proves effective with both sides of the equation holding their ground against the other. Young stuff that’s still quite ‘makey’, and as such, the amalgamation still feels somewhat of a tussle - but there’s more than enough here for me to want to keep a watchful eye on how this distinctive spirit shapes up in the future. Interest piqued.
Review sample provided by W.D. O’Connell
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