Exceptional Whisky Craftsmanship
Posted on December 05 2023
Discover Exceptional Whisky Craftsmanship in Four New Arrivals This Winter
Whisk(e)y enthusiasts and newcomers alike, get ready to embark on a spirited exploration as I introduce you to four distinguished whiskies (and some of their makers) which have recently adorned our shelves. Each of these new arrivals represents exceptional whisk(e)y craftsmanship and boasts its own unique character.
- Isle of Raasay Single Malt: Scotland's Distillery of the Year 2022
Distiller: Alasdair Day
At the helm of the Isle of Raasay Single Malt is none other than the visionary distiller, Alasdair Day. His commitment to craftsmanship and thirst for innovation have been pivotal in transforming this whisky into an award-winning gem. Alasdair's dedication to the art of whisky-making, coupled with his respect for the island's Jurassic sandstone and volcanic rock terroir, has solidified the distillery's reputation of excellence.
Origin: The Isle of Raasay, Scotland
The inaugural selection takes us to the inner Hebrides and the Isle of Raasay. An idyllic yet rugged enclave off the Scottish coast next to the Isle of Skye, it is renowned as the latest recipient of Scotland's Distillery of the Year accolade awarded by the Scottish Whisky Awards, a mere 5 years after it’s opening! What truly sets the Isle of Raasay Single Malt apart from the rest is the meticulous amalgamation of geography, botany, and passionate people that aide in its creation.
Begin with locally cultivated barley, tenderly nurtured amidst the island's mild yet humid maritime climate. This barley becomes the anchor point of the whisky's identity particularly combined with water sourced from the spring of Tobar na ba baine, which translates to ‘the Well of the Pale Cow’. Once the barley is malted it is then dry kilned into peated and unpeated batches to make up the mash. This is then fermented for three to five days, this medium to long duration enables the development of intriguing flavour characteristics in the ‘new make’ (this is the Scottish name of the unaged whisky as it comes off the still) of sweet blackberry before it reaches maturation.
The distillation is executed within copper pot stills, a 5000ltr wash still and a 3600ltr spirit still. The aging process further refines the spirit across a range of 3 casks, Rye Whiskey cask, Chinkapin (Quercus Muehlenbergii) oak cask & last but not least Bordeaux red wine cask.
The end result is a subtle infusion of smokiness, black cherries and dark berry fruits amidst lighter top notes of vanilla and chamomile. This spirit pays homage to the island's rugged allure and becomes the medium that brings together tradition and innovation.
- Peg Leg Porker: A Manifestation of Mastery
Master Blender: Drew Kulsveen
Carey Bringle, the pitmaster extraordinaire of his family restaurant Peg Leg Porker, entrusted the composition of name sake whiskey to the capable hands of Drew Kulsveen. Drew's expertise in the world of spirits, particularly bourbon, shines through in Peg Leg Porker. With an illustrious family legacy in the bourbon industry notably in Willett Bourbon, Drew brings an unparalleled wealth of knowledge to the creation of this exceptional Tennessee whiskey, ensuring that it embodies the essence of excellence.
Origin: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
The American whiskey landscape is diverse as they come, most producers encompass the traditional identity found in Bourbon and Rye, with a wave of craft distillers and burgeoning independent bottlers pushing the boundaries of innovation. Peg Leg Porker falls into the latter part of that category, being an independent whisky brand emerging from the vibrant heart of Nashville, Tennessee.
In Tennessee whiskey is made much like it is in neighbouring Kentucky, in fact the only legal reference came in trade agreements such as NAFTA where it was defined as a Straight Bourbon (for those readers this side of the pond this signifies the spirit is at least two years old) made in the state of Tennessee. However in 2013 the Tennessee State legislature passed a law which clearly defines the whiskey as a Bourbon (see The Composition) but one that involves the Lincoln County process. This process is a long standing tradition in Tennessee where distilleries will make their own charcoal by burning the maple wood. This is then broken into small chunks and used to fill vats that are in excess of 10 feet tall. The ‘new make’ (in America it’s called white dog) is continuously dripped into the vat, it takes several days for it to entirely pass through the system. As it passes the spirit has a lot of contact with the charcoal which has the accumulative effect of removing much of the harsher compounds making the spirit lighter and smoother in texture.
Peg Leg Porker emerges under the same regulations as Bourbon: a blend of corn (at least 51%), rye, and malted barley, each component carefully considered to craft a whisky of great complexity. Distilled at no less than 160 proof (that’s 80% ABV) and aged, under law, in new charred American oak (Quercus Alba) barrels, this whiskey undergoes an average 8 year transformation marked by the emergence of rich caramel, buttery popcorn, confectioners cherry and vanilla notes, perfectly complementing the inherent spice and warmth.
- Kyro Wood Smoke Rye: Embracing a Rich Heritage of Smoking in Scandinavian Culture
Distiller: Mikko Mykkänen
Mikko Mykkänen, the distiller and co-founder behind Kyro Wood Smoke Rye, is a true artisan. His vision to combine traditional and innovative distillation techniques shines through in this particular expression of Finnish whisky. For this Mikko sourced heritage ingredients such as juniper wood, a protected resource in Finland used throughout the ages, demonstrating his commitment to crafting a whisky that encapsulates the essence of Finland's pristine alpine landscapes while pushing the boundaries of flavour whilst firmly rooting a sense of place.
Origin: Isokyrö, Finland
Our journey now carries us to Isokyrö, Finland, a locale of serene woodlands 30 km off the Gulf of Bothnia and, notably, the birthplace of Kyro Distillery. Established at the end of summer in 2012 by Miika Lipiäinen, Mikko Koskinen, Kalle Valkonen, Miko Heinilä and Jouni Ritola the company has won many accolades it’s most recent being 3 gold stars for it’s Single Malt in 2023’s Great Taste Awards. From their range we have singled out their Wood Smoked Rye to highlight a whisky distinguished by its emphatic phenolic expression, setting it apart as one of the very few smoked Rye whiskies of the world and there’s a good reason why.
The tradition of smoking food in Scandinavia dates back centuries, finding its origins in the necessity to preserve and enhance the flavour of a variety of foodstuffs in a region known for its forbidding landscapes and challenging climate. Smoking was not merely a culinary technique it was an integral part of daily life, deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of early settlers. Central to this smoking tradition was the use of juniper wood, a botanical treasure native to the Scandinavian region. Juniper was highly regarded for its aromatic properties and it played a pivotal role in infusing a distinctive aromatic structure into a wide array of foods notably attaching a herbaceous phenol character to fish and meats.
Fast forward to the contemporary era and we find Mikko Mykkanen embracing the legacy of this smoking technique in creating Kyro Wood Smoke Rye. Incorporating locally sourced juniper wood into the malting process, the juniper wood is used in a similar way that Scotch whisky makers use peat bricks as fuel modifier during the kilning process. This infusion of juniper smoke into the malted rye is what makes Kyro Wood Smoke Rye unique, endowing it with a distinctive and curious balance of herbaceous, earthy and bonfire smokiness reminiscent of those centuries-old traditions.
Distilled via small copper pot stills, 1200ltr, matured across a range of ex-bourbon, French oak and new American white oak barrels. This whisky is a must try for our readers wanting to taste something a little different this winter.
- Teeling Wonders of Wood: Radical Rancio
Origin: Dublin, Ireland
Our Journey now takes us to our final destination, at least for this article. We arrive at Dublin, Ireland, a once powerhouse for whiskey distillation in the electrifying pulse of the Industrial age. The city now takes on a more condensed approach to the whiskey industry where once 37 fully functioning distilleries stood only a handful remain and of those still standing the Teeling distillery is the beating heart.
The Teeling name harks as far back as 1782 when Walter Teeling established a small craft distillery on Marrowbone Lane in the centre of Dublin, this was later purchased and possibly absorbed into the William Jameson & Co’s site on the same street. During this time Irish whiskey was a booming industry and sales were often destined for export market such as America where bootlegging was rife and a symptom of the prohibition laws in place at the time. Irish whiskey was seen as a safer and more reputable option for drinkers however between 1886 & 1970 as alcohol regulations emerged domestically in America the thirst for Irish whisky shrank and of the many distilleries open on the island just two remained operational. Many years later the Teeling distillery we know today opened it'd doors in 2012 and earned a reputation for its relentless pursuit of innovation while honouring Irish whiskey traditions.
The "Wonders of Wood" collection is a testament to Teeling's and Irish whiskey ability for aging with elegance. The focus here is on maturation, a critical science aimed at exploring and understanding the nuances of different oak types and their influence on the flavour profiles of whiskey. Developed in partnership with The Tree Council of Ireland sustainability is also at the forefront of the Wonders of Wood series which plants exclusively native Irish tree species in Wicklow area of Ireland in efforts to re-wild the grasslands.
Each expression from this series starts off in the very traditional Irish single pot style which typically starts off with a mashbill of equal parts malted and unmalted barley. This is then fermented and distilled three times resulting in lighter more gentle style of spirit before being dispensed into first fill 550 litre Portuguese oak casks.
Portuguese oak is native to the Iberian Peninsula and has a tighter grain, which often contributed greatly to the more robust style of wine generally associated with the region. When casks made from this wood hold whiskey the result is a spirit that holds a higher tannin content than those matured in other oak variants normally used in the whiskey industry. The Teeling Wonders of Wood batch 2 is no different exhibiting distinctive flavours of fig, savoury marmalade, dried oranges and an inviting rancio aromas of tobacco, spices, cocoa and dates.
This selection now comes to a close, whether you are an astute whisk(e)y aficionado or a novice embarking on a quest for discovery, these offerings promise to elevate your taste buds and redefine your whisk(e)y experience.