Connemara is a Irish whiskey produced at the Cooley distillery - one of only three distilleries that are currently operating in Ireland (Bushmills and Midleton are the others). It is located on the County Louth coast, roughly half way between Belfast and Dublin and was founded in 1987 by John Teeling. His idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. An old vodka distillery was converted and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide.
At Cooley they produce whiskey using traditional recipes and mixtures of grains and their range includes some famous Irish whiskey names, such as Connemara, Greenore, Kilbeggan, Locke's, Michael Collins, Millar's and Tyrconnell. Around 95% of all the whiskey produced at Cooley is exported with the UK, mainland Europe and South Africa being the main markets.
Connemara is the only peated Irish whiskey that is in regular production. Other smoky whiskies are occasionally released but normally as limited editions. Connemara (which takes its name from the original site of the Connemara distillery on the west coast of Ireland, near Galway) and its old traditional recipe had disappeared into history before being resurrected by John Teeling. The first expression of the modern Connemara was launched in 1996 and this sherry finish forms the first part of the new Connemara Small Batch Collection, a series of whiskies to be released at regular intervals having been finished or matured in alternative casks. The launch of this sherry finish coincides with a Connemara range re-brand that is happening next month.
The colour is a golden amber and the nose offers some initial sweetness (think of caramel) and some fruitiness (a combination of dried fruits like sultanas and raisins and fresh fruit, especially green apples) - this reminded us of toffee apples. Behind this is a light smokiness that has a herbal element (imagine a grassy bonfire) and also something a little more acrid (think of rubber or tyres). The combination of all of these aromas creates a lovely, interesting and very promising nose. On the palate, a similar thing happens. There is an initial hit of sugary sweetness (that caramel and toffee again) that combines with the soft smokiness (still like a grassy bonfire but with a bit more damp earthiness). Then comes the dried fruity influence of the sherry cask finish (think of raisins, sultanas and candied peel, with a touch of a warm spice like nutmeg) and this grows in intensity. The result is a very pleasant richness that has all the elements balancing well together. The finish is long, pleasant and mouthwatering. It again starts off sweet (the dried fruit are particularly prominent, as is a hint of dried orange peel) and smoky before becoming quite dry and slightly bitter (your gums can feel the tannins from the sherry cask drying them out). This makes your mouth feel refreshed and wanting more!
This Connemara Sherry Finish from the forthcoming Small Batch Collection is a very enjoyable and well balanced whiskey. It offers complexity and subtly at the same time and the balance of the sweetness, fruitiness and delicate smokiness is particularly impressive. The whiskey is a good example of cask finished whiskey and gives a viable, interesting and unique alternative to the Scottish smoky whiskies or other non smoky Irish whiskies. A big thank you to Jack Teeling from the Cooley distillery for sending us this sneak preview sample.