Kilbeggan is an Irish whiskey that is currently produced by the award winning company of Cooley. It is made at a distillery in the town of Kilbeggan, which lies in the centre of Ireland in County Westmeath. The name of Kilbeggan is derived from the Irish Gaelic Cill Bheagáin, which translates as 'the church of Bécán'. St. Bécán was an Irish monk who founded a monastery on the site of the current town in the 6th century. The distillery is picturesque and sits on the banks of the River Brosna. Kilbeggan boasts two incredible world statistics - it is one of the oldest licensed premises anywhere and also houses the oldest working pot still in the world, which dates back to 1830.
The Old Kilbeggan distillery was founded in 1757 by the local McManus family and the current distillery stands on the original site. They chose the location for three reasons - the abundant water supply from the adjacent River Brosna and the proximity to both the prosperous local grain fields and peat bogs. The distillery was bought by John Locke in 1843 and coupled with a boom in Irish whiskey sales and the introduction of new technology, he led Old Kilbeggan through its most successful period. The Irish whiskey market collapsed due to a combination of the Irish War of Independence (1916-1921) and Prohibition in the USA (1920-1933). Locke's struggled on, but the distillery was finally forced to close in 1957 in its 200th anniversary year. It was not to reopen for another 50 years ...
The Old Kilbeggan distillery and its whiskey recipes were purchased by Cooley's founder John Teeling in 1988. He started Cooley in 1987 and his remit was to revive the old traditional whiskies that had fallen by the wayside during the difficult times. Kilbeggan's distillery buildings had been maintained during its dormant period by local historians and Teeling decided to renovate it and restart production on the site. Meanwhile, whiskey using the Kilbeggan recipe was being produced at the Cooley distillery in County Louth, between Dublin and Belfast. Whiskey production finally restarted in 2007, after a 50 year period.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Kilbeggan is a bright golden yellow and the nose gives a very pleasant scent that is clean and fresh. To begin with there are aromas of honey, golden syrup and distinct cereals (think of oatcakes). Then come notes of very ripe green fruits (imagine pears and apples) and sultanas, before dry grassy aromas reminiscent of hay/straw are joined by a later burnt sugar note. On the palate, this feels immediately soft, silky and gentle with lovely sweet characteristics of honey (possibly golden syrup again), vanilla and woody oak spice (think of cinnamon and nutmeg) present. These notes are complimented by crisp green fruits (think of apple and especially pear again) and a delicious tangy citrus quality that combines lemon and orange zest. Finally, some further wood spice and hints of bitter cereals and dried grasses come through. These cereals and the grassiness carry through to the finish, which is quite long. It exhibits a lovely mixture of sweetness, dryness and citrus - it moves from the cereals/grass to sweet sultanas and honey, then finally drying spices and tangy orange.
What's the verdict?
Kilbeggan is a delicious whiskey that offers plenty - it mixes a lovely fresh intensity with cereal and citrus notes that grip your nose and palate. These compliment the sweeter, softer notes almost perfectly. It is very easy drinking and also offers great value for money at between £15-20. Kilbeggan makes us wonder if there is any other whiskies within this price range that offers quality and aroma/flavour profile complexity in such a high ratio. We can't think of another one right now!