Accumulation

Posted 27 March 2020 by Matt / In Undisclosed Ireland
The Dramble reviews The Irishman Cask Strength 2017

Bottle Name: The Irishman Cask Strength 2017

ABV: 54%
Distillery: Undisclosed Ireland
Bottler: Walsh Whiskey
Region: Ireland

I’m as guilty as the next person. Despite an undying faith that I’ll get round to drinking it all ‘someday’, I really should come round to the reality that I own more whisky than I’m ever going to consume. Stockpiling is something of an occupational hazard when you both write about whisky and work for a distillery – but nevertheless the sheer volume of ‘drinkers’ I own makes a mockery of the moniker. It’s not going to happen. And I’m far from alone.

Photos of whisky stashes are nothing new – some a visual shrine to consumerism, many though a natural consequence of simply being ‘in the hobby’. And whilst there’s certainly guidance and advice as to how much whisky a human should be drinking, there’s absolutely no consensus possible on how many bottles people should be purchasing. Is there such a thing as over accumulation?

I should take heart that unlike the £1bn of food that the British managed to stockpile over the course of the last week, spirits are not perishable in the same way. But whilst food has been piled high in pantries and low in chest freezers, I’d posit that a fair few of you (like me) have bottles littered throughout your house.

It all started with a single shelf. A still enviable little selection of bottles that likely already poured scorn on your local boozer’s inadequate selection. That single shelf became two shelves, then it became a sideboard. Then a whole section of your house was repurposed for whisky storage. “Don’t worry I’m going to get round to drinking these.”

And It was already too late.

Nothing is to say that the above is actually a problem in itself – though there are likely many understanding (or indeed encouraging) partners out there. But, as the industry enters unchartered waters over the coming weeks and months I do wonder how much what we’ve already purchased and sat on will have a direct effect on what we subsequently buy during the rest of 2020.

My conversations with retailers and bottlers over the last two weeks have already painted an immediate and stark change – whisky is still being purchased, but it’s the entry-level, daily-drinking stuff. The higher end, the things which we all end up accumulating – knowingly or not - collectables, ‘special occasional’ bottlings and things which we’re “definitely going to get around to drinking” – these are not being purchased with anywhere near the vigour that would have been seen but a month ago.

It’s entirely understandable. How many difficult conversations have already taken place about the ‘essentialness’ of whisky purchasing in these times? How many bottles which would have been bought for flipping are now sat in warehouses – with several of the auction sites going quitet for the immediate future?

I’d suggest that our accumulation habits have changed dramatically almost overnight. And whilst there’s not yet a swathe of people obviously attempting to utilise their new found free time to make in-roads into drinking it all (I’m trying, but I’m also mindful of my well-being), collection and bottle pile growth has instantaneously decelerated. It’s currently highly opaque whether this hearty accrual will simply re-ignite and pick up where it left off.  However, I suspect that many distilleries will need to rapidly re-think previous, successful tactics. A swathe of so-called limited (tens of thousands of bottles) editions and manipulation of batching (bottling less at a time to directly appeal to the ‘gotta collect em all’ mind-set) are approaches which have helped to drive huge growth in the sector over the past decade. But with a new landscape on the horizon, accumulation will likely need to take a different shape. And both distilleries and enthusiasts will need to adapt to that.

The Walsh Whiskey brand was established in 1999 and housed within Walsh Distillery, County Wicklow –though in 2019 the Irish and Italian co-owners decided to go their own ways. Walsh was renamed to Royal Oak, and Walsh Whiskey retained the brand rights to The Irishman and Writer’s Tears. Walsh Whiskey’s The Irishman Cask Strength was first released back in 2008 and has been an annual release (barring 2009 and 2012) since. The whiskey is not presently distilled at Royal Oak (though production was certainly running at full steam when I visited last year), and is commonly noted on the Interwebs as being at least partly sourced from Bushmills.

Oddly, it seems that the Irish whiskey regulations are quite spongey when it comes to certain retailers – you’ll regularly see bottles of this described as ‘natural cask strength’ which seems quite remarkable considering the 54% ABV has been precisely maintained since 2013 year after year. Those must be some mighty consistent casks and warehouses?!?

Today we’re looking at the 2017 release – an NAS, 1st fill ex-bourbon cask vatting of single pot still and single malt whiskies. The small batch release consisted of 3,510 bottles – it’s not easy to locate three years later, but you’ll still find the 2018 release, which is a similarly composed vatting (just with a slightly larger bottle number) from Master of Malt for £99.95. The most recent, 2019 edition you’ll need to look further afield for – a smaller batch of just 1,800 bottles – Celtic Whiskey Shop will sort you out for 110 Euros.

Nose: Opening on fruits and sugars – dried mango slices, apricots, over-ripe melon, kiwifruit and lychee – alongside caster sugar, café latte and condensed milk. Ground chocolate and pink wafer biscuits sit with earthiness and a wide array of spicing – white pepper, nutmeg, anise and dusty chilli peppers. The addition of water takes the fruit complement up an additional notch – pineapple juice, scooped guava, peaches – all served with cream-filled buns.

Taste: Impressively soft and with a well-developed creamy texture. Despite the mid-50s % there’s some just excellent alcohol integration here. Jelly babies and gummy bears start things off – bright, juicy and sweet. Desserts are next – banana split and peach melba – both served with a generous helping of vanilla-infused crème patisserie. The oakiness is tight and restrained offering a lovely tingle of pepperiness and nutmeg alongside a Turkish cardamom coffee. Reduction pushes the fruits to the back and brings the spicing forward – it also transposes the mouthfeel – less creamy, more juicy and constricted.

Finish: Medium and with a more delicate exit which favours orchard and stone fruits alongside pepperiness.

The 2017 edition of The Irishman Cask Strength offers both fantastic texture and notable ABV integration. Irrespective of whether this meets any current classification of cask strength, it is worryingly drinkable at 54% and at the same time still packed full of definition and flavour. It’s not the deepest, nor the most profound – but nevertheless it is still a remarkably well put together vatting.

Score: 87/100


Master of Malt
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