Peated Whiskey & Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Before we get things started, there may be some of you out there who are unfamiliar with the concept of ‘peated’ whiskies. In essence, it just means smoked whiskey, just like you see in salmon and bacon – similar concept. In Ireland and Scotland, barley is traditionally the key ingredient in whiskey production. But barley has very low sugar content, and to produce alcohol, yeast has to eat sugar present in the grain. So how do we kickstart the barley into producing sugar? We trick it in to germinating, a process called ‘malting’. After roughly three days of this malting, the barley has produced the required amount of glucose. At this stage we need the barley to stop malting immediately and to do this we blast the malted barley with heat.
This is where the peat comes in. The heat used to halt the malting often comes from burning a peat fire beneath the barley. Peat is essentially flammable decayed vegetation that’s present in Ireland’s wetlands. The smoke from the peat intertwines with the barley and the result is a smoky flavoured whiskey!
Those of you who are fans of Scottish whisky would be very familiar with the peat flavour, as roughly over 90% of all whisky produced in Scotland utilise this technique. On the other hand it is traditionally seen that Irish whiskey isn’t peated, leaving the whiskey with a sweeter flavour. But what is not commonly known is that peated whiskey may very well have been produced in large quantities in Ireland.
The History of Peated Whiskey in Ireland
Before canals were dug across Ireland from Dublin, distillers on the west coast of Ireland were limited to the means by which they could produce whiskey. Whatever was lying around convenient would have to do. So when drying out barley after malting, they would have more than likely utilised peat. As soon as the canals reached the west in the early 19th century, distillers began to opt for cheaper coal imported from the UK. Peated Irish whiskey disappeared for a long time.
That was until the Cooley Distillery based at the foot of the Cooley Mountains in Co. Louth began experimenting with peated barley towards the end of the 20th century. Such was the success of these experiments that in 1999, Cooley released Connemara Single Malt, the first peated Irish whiskey to hit the shelves in over a century. Named for one of the last truly wild places in Ireland, an area that was more-than-likely synonymous with the peated style of whiskey.
Connemara Tasting Notes
Even if you had never nosed a whiskey before, the smoky overtones are evident. Further exploration of the nose will reveal an array of dried fruits and red apples. Delve in to discover the embodiment of this smoky profile, but not before you are treated to a warm honey sweetness accompanied by malt. The aging in Bourbon casks provides an oak finish that lingers around just long enough to savour all the complexity.
Connemara Peated Single Malt has acquired many accolades in its relatively short life, a testament to the drams unique profile. Older versions are now available coming in at 12 and 22 years old, as well as a cask strength version. Perfect for those long winter nights, be sure to try a Connemara whenever you get the chance.