By Patrick Gary, Contributor
I have been told that every Irishman in the world is a storyteller, and that every story told by an Irishman is true. That said, I’ve also been told about Cuchulain and Fin McCool, so at least in the realms of absolute veracity, there are some “true” stories that are, at the very least, embellished.
A story that I was told recently, that seems to be more truth than legend, concerns the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland. That would be Kilbeggan Distilling Company, in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath. The original distillery made its spirits for 200 years before shuttering the business. However, 50 years later, in 2007, Kilbeggan was able to dust off its small-pot copper stills and start sharing their variety of Irish whiskey.
[Disclosure: Kilbeggan provided Swine & Swill with a complimentary sample of whiskey. The opinions here are the writer’s own.]
First, for anyone confused by the terms, single grain means a whiskey made predominantly from a “cereal grain,” which is to say a grain that hasn’t been malted, in addition to some smaller portion of malted barley by a single distillery. Irish whiskey is often made from several grains and blended in order to make the spirit more consistent, and often more approachable. Larger labels such as Jameson may make the component parts at several distilleries and then blend to achieve the flavor they desire.
With that in mind, Kilbeggan single grain whiskey is made from 94% corn mash and 6% malted barley, aged in ex-bourbon barrels and then finished in a collection of fortified wine casks or directly from the ex-bourbon barrels. It is bottled at 86 proof, and, for that alcohol content, is very smooth. The label claims that this is both a sipping and a mixing whiskey, and that does make sense. It is smooth, but improves when some water is added to open the drink. It tastes of vanilla, hazelnut, a bit of coconut, a hint of oak, and preserved berries. The company boasts some suggested cocktail recipes, available on their website, that utilize a lot of citrus flavors. However, with the flavor profile, it was very nice with water, some muddled raspberries and a pinch of sugar.
At approximately $30 a bottle, Kilbeggan Single Grain is only slightly pricier than more famous Irish whiskeys made by larger distilleries and is a nice bottle to add for variety. If you spot a bottle on the shelf at your local liquor store, I would encourage you to give it a try.