In an ideal world, I wouldn't wait until St. Patrick's Day to write about Irish Whiskey, because anytime is the right time for a good Irish, and most Irish Whiskey consumed on St. Patty's Day is drowned in coffee and cream anyway. But come on, if you're a serious whiskey drinker and it's St. Patrick's Day, you're not going to be pouring yourself a Scotch.
This St. Patrick's Day, I'm excited to try something from the newest and only independent distillery in Ireland: Cooley. Cooley was established in 1987 at a time when the only other Irish Whiskey distilleries (Midleton and Bushmills) were under common ownership, and since that time, it has proved a force for innovation in Irish Whiskey.
Among Cooley's most popular products is Connemara, a peated, single malt whiskey. Yes, you heard me correctly, a peated, single malt Irish Whiskey. You see, Ireland is swimming in peat, but unlike in Scotland, there was no surviving tradition of using peat to make Irish Whiskey. Connemara has set about to change all of that. They currently have three versions of their peated whiskey: one without an age statement ($40), a 12 year old ($85-$90) and a cask strength($55-$60). I tried the no age statement Connemara, which also was the least expensive of the three.
Connemara, Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% alcohol.
Well, not surprisingly, Connemara tastes very much like a peated, single malt Scotch. Distinctively peaty, though not a monster; it's along the lines of a Caol Ila or less in terms of peating.
As I drink it though, I can't help but think that there is something missing. This is often true of peated whiskies from newer ventures, including McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt and Bruichladdich PC5. These distillers seem to think that, in terms of flavor, peat alone will carry the day, but the peat needs some character, even in heavily peated malts. I'm thinking of the sweetness of some Ardbegs, the intense smoke of Lagavulin or the medicinal qualities of Laphroaig. These whiskies are not just intensely peated, they have a more profound, more developed flavor; sometimes that flavor even intensifies the smokiness, but there is always more than just smoke.
With the Connemara, I kept sniffing and sipping and liking the initial burst of flavor, smoky but smooth, but then missing something, that extra burst of flavor or character that would provide the perfect balance and make this whiskey complete.
I think they are close to having a great whiskey here, but I'd like to see the good people of Cooley continue working it. Still, it makes a fine St. Patrick's Day drink, just don't pour it in your coffee.