Gleann dá Loch, ‘Valley of the Two Lakes.’
The Glendalough valley and village is an amazing and beautiful place. Its natural beauty, teaming with stunning landscapes and crystal-clear lakes is a sight to behold. Nestled amid the think, green Wicklow National Forrest, and only about an hour south of Dublin, but it may as well be a million miles away. An Irish treasure indeed.
On a recent trip through Ireland, my wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit this heavenly place, and to meet one of the owners, Gary McLoughlin. We met in one of the local pubs to chat and to try some of their incredible whiskeys. Because of Gary’s generosity, I’ve been sent even more samples to try in the comfort of my own home. I have in front of me three fine whiskeys: A 7 Year Old Single Malt, a 13 Year Old Single Malt, and a no-age-statement Single Grain. In the sections below, I will discuss the two Single Malts, saving the Single Grain for another day.
Now, let’s just get this stated up front. Clearly a relatively new distillery cannot magically produce a 7 and 13 year old whiskey. If you’ve spent any time in the whiskey world you know that acquiring whiskey from another distillery is quite common, and you may have even formed an opinion on the practice. For me at least, the critical part of that equation is that the new distillery in question must be a) an actual distillery, distilling their own spirit*, not just a branded label, b) paying close attention to the origins of said whiskey, being directly involved in its selection, and c) adding their own personal touch with creative finishing, blending, cutting, etc.
All of Glendalough’s whiskeys score high marks on each of these points.
Glendalough 7 Year Old Black Pitts Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The whiskey was initially aged in for at least 7 years in heavily charred, first-fill Wild Turkey barrels. Once in the hands of the distillers in Glendalough, this fine single malt rests another 7-9 months in a Black Pitts Porter cask from 5 Lamps Brewery in Dublin. The variable time in finishing is credited to the distillers having the enviable task of periodically sampling the product, bottling only after the desired finish is achieved. They have done a damn fine job indeed.
The nose of the 7 Year Old greets you with hits of vanilla, apples, and chocolate. There’s something warm and welcoming about this whiskey. Like a hug from a favorite aunt you haven’t seen in years. You know, the one who wraps you up in her big ol’ arms and insists you stay for dinner. It’s that kind of warm feeling, brought on by familiar sights and smells, and the comfort of being right where you belong, if only for a moment. The chocolate and vanilla beckons you to come in, lift your feet up, and stay a while.
It’s the taste though that really feels like home. The taste makes you remember why you wanted to visit the old aunt in the first place. But it gets even better, because here you can skip the meal and head straight to dessert! What this whiskey does with the “chocolate barley” in the Black Pitts Porter barrels is nothing short of spectacular. If you let this whiskey rest for a just a few seconds on back of the tongue, a strange mix of Porter and chocolate present themselves into some sort of whiskey heaven. Quite enjoyable, to say the least, and oddly sweet for an Irish Whiskey.
Another note regarding taste. Although this whiskey is bottled at a punchy 46%, it’s remarkably gentle when sipped neat. It’s easy enough to drink as it is, but that percentage leaves plenty of room for a drop or two of water to really open up those flavors. I recommend trying it both ways. Just a drop of water will do the trick, don’t get carried away.
The finish is fine, lingering just long enough to draw you back for another sip. A hint of coffee perhaps, but really, what aunt wound send you away without a bit of coffee after such a fine dessert?
There is little wonder then why this whiskey has faired so well in competitions. Winning silver in the Irish Whiskey Awards as well as the Irish Whiskey Masters in 2017, and gold in the World Whiskey Awards in 2018.
Glendalough 13 Year Old Mizunara Finish Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The Single Malt used here is no doubt of the highest quality, but the Japanese Mizunara Oak Casks finishing adds something unique and quite wonderful to this whiskey. There is a reason why Glendalough 13 is the only Irish Whiskey to be finished in these rare Japanese casks, they are expensive and difficult to acquire. The Mizunara casks come from Hikkaido, in Northern Japan, and are coopered in Japans oldest independent cooperage. It is no easy trick for the folks at Glendalough to get ahold of these barrels.
The whiskey sits in those Mizunara casks for 7-9 months in the bonded warehouse of Glendalough Distilling. And, once again, the fortunate folks at the distillery get the pleasant task of periodically tasting those casks, releasing the spirit only after the perfect finish has been achieved. Man, I really chose the wrong career.
The nose just incredible. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest noses I have experienced in a Single Malt. It hits you right away with an interesting mix of charred oak and sandlewood. Just boom, there it is right at the top. The charred, almost smoky, scent is easy enough to place, clearly coming from the high level of char in the first fill bourbon barrels. But it’s a bit tougher to nail down the origins of the sandalwood presence. It’s my assumption that the clean, wood fragrance resembling sandlewood is coming from that virgin Mizunara cask. Then comes a pleasant hint of coconut and vanilla. Clearly, your favorite aunt has left the building and has been replaced by someone you’ve never met before. With all that sandlewood and coconut going on, whoever it is definitely spent some time in a tropical climate. Maybe, oh I don’t know, in Northern Japan? In the end, it’s a pleasant introduction, and you’ll long to know more about this friendly stranger.
Once again, we have a 46% impact to deal with. In this case, as in the other, that higher percentage is quite fitting and pleasant. After all, this is a complex whiskey and deserves to come in with a bang. It’s in the room and it wants everyone to know it. But that bang settles to a low rumble quick enough, revealing a mix of citrus, honey, and, spices. There is a soft, subtle sweetness that polishes the edges off that percentage. Again, and I don’t mean to keep beating that horse, but the 46% is quite welcome in that it leaves some wiggle room for experimentation with a drop or two of water. When you add a couple drops, both the nose and taste flavors open up even more dramatically, particularly highlighting the citrus notes, and revealing yet another flirtation with chocolate.
Since I brought up chocolate, let’s move on to the finish. The finish leaves you with a bit of citrus and chocolate. It’s strange, too, because unlike the 7 Year Old with its Black Pitts Porter influence, I can’t quite put my finger on where this particular taste is coming from. It would be troublesome if it didn’t taste so incredibly wonderful.
As far as awards, there is some boasting to be had here as well. Jim Murray rated it 96 (of 100) in 2017 and 2018, and it won Gold in the Irish Whiskey Master in 2017.
In the end, I would recommend both of these outstanding examples from Glendalough. The 7 Year Old would go nicely alongside a glass of Porter or Stout. If you can get your hands on the Black Pitts, so much the better. The 13 Year Old would be nice with a chuck of dark chocolate. I can tell you from personal experience they go nicely together.
In the U.S., the 7 Year Old Black Pitts Porter Single Malts sells for $49.99 - $54.99 depending on your region. The 13 Year Mizunara sells for $89.99 – 99.99. They are currently available in MA, RI, NY, NJ, NH, CT, DC, DE, MD, CO and GA. Launching TX and FL in the next few weeks and will be launching in CA in a few months.
Additional Notes (if you made it this far)
When my wife and I were visiting Glendalough, we were unable to tour the actual distillery as it was under renovation at the time. It turned out to be fortuitous though, because we were able to spend a few hours with Geraldine Kavanagh, the forager responsible for all the wonderful botanicals found in Glendalough’s other fine spirit, Gin. Our walk around the lakes, talking botanicals and gin, were the highlight of our trip. Geraldine is an incredible, knowledgeable person, passionate about her chosen profession. It was a pleasure to spend the day with her learning about the history of the region and, of course, gin. Do yourself a favor, pick up a bottle of their gin and try it neat. You don’t need that tonic! Right, Geraldine?
On another point, I was fortunate enough to meet with Gary on the very day his Single Pot Still reached the legal, three-year mark. He was gracious enough to share a glass with me. The ratio is 66% unmalted to 33% malted barley, an interesting bill that tames the spice, yet allows enough through to know you’re drinking a uniquely Irish spirit. It’s quite promising and will no doubt be an amazing SPS whiskey after resting in the casks a bit longer. Congratulations to all the folks at Glendalough!
Learn more about the Glendalough Distillery by clicking here.
VP - Irish Whiskey Society of America