Now mostly we’re known for pointing out at length the many shortcomings of the 2014 Irish Whiskey Technical File, particularly when it comes to defining pot still Irish whisky. So I thought, when it came to a single barrel release, let’s play nice and start with something totally uncontroversial; a single malt. After all this time last year we released a four pack of historic pot still whiskies that we couldn’t call historic pot still whiskies*, so this would be a nice change… I mean it’s 100% malted barley, how could we upset anyone!
Therefore say hello to ‘Peat the Magic Dragon‘ (PMD for short) the first Blackwater Irish whisky single barrel release.
Now that may seem like a pretty simple sentence, but there’s a suitcase full of stories to unpack here. After the pot still stuff, I should have known we were wading into a swamp of self interest.
Let’s back up and start with the concept.
We decided to make a single malt, we don’t distil much of that and it’s tasty. Secondly let’s make a turf smoked single malt, something Ireland isn’t know for. Notice I say turf smoked not peated. Why? Most peated Irish whiskies are made with English or Scottish peated malt. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s from some of the same malt houses that feed Scottish stills. So if we’re not using Scottish malt, let’s not use terms associated with Scottish whisky.
This bottling of PMD (far as I know) is the only Irish whisky in existence made with 100% Irish grain and 100% Irish peat, and also malted in Ireland. In fact the barley and the turf come from the same farm, and the grain was malted on site at the farm. So this is a single barrel/single cask, single farm/single estate blah, blah, blah… without even trying we were falling down the rabbit hole.
You see terms like single estate, or even single barrel do not have any legal standing. Things can mean what ever you want them to mean, and even legally defined stuff can be seen through the cracked mirror of alternative facts. Curiouser and curiouser.
Let’s start with the stuff of marketing departments wet dreams: undefined terms.
You would think that the term single cask/single barrel would be self evident. Think again. As things currently stand, this term is totally meaningless. I could fill a barrel with new make, leave it for three years and sell it as single cask Irish whiskey. Or if I was pressed for time, I could empty the whiskey dregs from every tank in the building into say a port pipe, because they are nice and large and I am very greedy. I could then leave that whiskey in the port cask just long enough to turn on the bottling line and hey presto, I have 600 litres of ‘single cask’ Irish whiskey.
For the avoidance of doubt, this PMD if fully matured in a French oak, ex-cherry liqueur cask.
So defining something in law levels the playing pitch, everyone then plays by the same rules… except in Ireland.
You see this whisky was designed by our Head Distiller John Wilcox and he wanted PMD to be matured in ‘brandy’ casks. I used inverted commas here as I don’t want to upset any of my French friends. This is the Brandy Church of ‘merica, so it’s a broad one. We’re talking apple brandy, fruit liqueurs as well as more traditional grape based spirits. I knew the broad outlines of the project, but not the details. This is important because of what happened next.
On 9th January 2019 our PMD was put into a French oak barrel which had previously held cherry liqueur. I know the 1980 Irish Whiskey Act and as I said at the start, I sure know the paperwork associated with the 2014 Irish Whiskey G.I. so I didn’t foresee any issues. Fast forward to 2022 and I might as well have been Alice sitting down with the Mad Hatter and muttering to myself, ‘it would be so nice if something made sense for a change.’
So next time, let’s do a thought exercise on that legally defined stuff and what might happen if a multi-national was shit scared of what the little guys were up to?
Let’s call part 2 ‘The Curious Case of the Cherry Liqueur Cask’.
* Our Dirtgrain Manifesto release just won ‘Irish Whiskey Brand Innovation of the Year’ at the Icons of Whiskey Ireland 2024. To celebrate are now releasing some of the boxes we held back.