Connemara is a Irish whiskey produced at the Cooley distillery, which is located on the County Louth coast roughly half way between Belfast and Dublin. Cooley was founded in 1987 by John Teeling and his idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. He converted an old vodka distillery and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide, including the title of European Distillery of the Year at the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition awards in 2010.
At Cooley they produce whiskey using traditional recipes, each with a different mixtures of barley and other grains. Their range includes some famous Irish whiskey names such as 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 current main markets. Connemara, which is named after 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.
Connemara is the only peated Irish whiskey that is in regular production. Other Irish smoky whiskies are occasionally released but are rare. The first expression of the modern Connemara was launched in 1996 and has a peating level of 20-25 PPM (this is the scale of measurement for peat/phenol levels in malted barley and whisky - it means Phenol Parts per Million and the phenols give it the smoky flavour). This level is about half of the PPM amount that is present in famous Scottish smoky whiskies such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig. This Connemara is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around £25.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Connemara is a pale golden yellow and the nose is on the light side for a smoky whisky, but expressive and fresh none the less. The peat smoke is vibrant to begin with and has a whiff of surgical spirit and bandages about it. This fades to reveal other sweeter, softer aromas, such as malty cereal grains (think of oats especially), honey, vanilla and hints of coconut, heather and dried grass. On the palate, this is again initially lovely and fresh with the peaty charcoal-like smoke at the forefront. This has a tangy, almost bitter quality (imagine iodine) and has the surgical spirit/bandage edge that is present on the nose. Again, this smokiness softens beautifully to show and compliment other notes - some crisp green pear and apple, honey, vanilla, plenty of gristy cereals, a hint of zesty lemon and some nuts (think of a creamy type of nut, like almond or hazelnut). The finish is of decent length with some lovely honey, vanilla and charcoal smoke notes fading away.
What's the verdict?
This is a delicious dram that any fan of the peaty smoky style of whisky should try. Having said that, it would also be a good choice as an introduction for a beginner who may not be used to the aromas and flavours of that style. If you are expected lots of peat, then don't! What Connemara offers is light, fresh peat smoke that combines well with other subtle and pleasant characteristics. Connemara also gives great value for money considering its quality, its easy drinking nature and its uniqueness. A very enjoyable dram that makes you want to reach for another one ...