Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New release - Connemara 12 years old

Connemara is the only peated Irish whiskey that is in regular production and has a peaty/smoky level which is about half of the strength of famous Islay Scotch whiskies such as Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Other Irish smoky whiskeys are occasionally released but are extremely rare. Connemara is 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. He converted an old vodka distillery and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide. At the end of 2011, the distillery and company were taken over by drinks giant Beam Global. The first expression of the modern Connemara was launched in 1996 - this 12 years old is actually the oldest version of Connemara released to date.

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.  To produce this expression of Connemara, some of their oldest premium casks were used.  There are just 7,000 bottles available, although it is planned for the 12 year old to become a regular annual release.  This version has been bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around £60-65 from specialist liquor retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale golden yellow and the nose has a delicious freshness to it.  There are a number of aromas that help to give it this freshness and these include green pear and apple, honey, vanilla and a hint of lemon zest.  Backing this up are deeper notes of malty cereals and mossy, earthy peat - this peat is not as obvious or vibrant as in younger versions of Connemara, but instead softly drifts around your nostrils.

On the palate this feels soft and creamy, almost a little bit oily in texture.  There are prominent notes of vanilla and honey, which are backed up by malted barley and a hint of yeast - this combination is reminiscent of bread dough.  The fresh green fruitiness from the nose is still there but has taken a bit of a step back, while the zesty lemon has come more to the fore and has a lemon meringue pie feeling.  The earthy peat smoke is never far away and makes you think of damp moss.  It comes across a touch more feisty than on the nose and it has a mild chili-like heat and spice to it.  The combination is sublime and very moreish.

The finish has a decent length, although it is the peat smoke and tingling heat that last longer than anything else.  The sweet vanilla, honey and malty notes, plus the zesty lemon fade quite quickly and leaves a slightly dry feeling in the mouth.

What's the verdict?
This is a good effort from Connemara and shows an increased depth, complexity and class from its very good younger siblings.  Also, the smokiness is less prominent and more integrated than in other expressions. The only slight disappointment is the lack of depth in the finish and this stops it from being a great whiskey in our opinion.  Having said that, it is lovely, easy to drink and very enjoyable.

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