Bonding with the Irish

Even so often in the world of whisky something new emerges that deserves wider awareness.  I recently participated in a tweet tasting of three Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey company’s expressions released under the  JJ Corry brand .  Chapel Gate is  an Irish Blender and Bonder.

Bonding is the lost art of focussing on the choice of barrel and storage to mature and develop from a wide range of distilleries fine matured Irish whiskey.

The origins of Bonding lie in the process followed historically by the old Scottish and Irish grocers, who bought in spirit from distillers and placed it in their own casks, stored and matured it and often blended it , stored it a bit more then bottled and retailed the product.  This process continued in Ireland  until the 1980’s when it slowly died out.  Often the choice of barrels had meant that what was available was used which gave variable results.

Louise McGuane, following her career with some larger industry organisations decided to revive Bonding, so she built a rackhouse on her family farm on the west coast of Ireland and launched this enterprise.

The focus of the JJCorry brand is on the flavour notes imparted by the cask which are first and refill bourbon and sherry, amongst others depending on the expression.  JJ Corry have identified 18 different cask characteristic types, or flavour blocks as they name them which they then match to the spirit to achieve the nose and flavour profile, they are targeting.

Impressions of Blind Tastings

The tasting was blind.  While this might cause some trepidation, it is the opportunity to focus on aroma and palate and worry much less about being right. 

Blind tasting is most enjoyable, your prejudice is suspended.  I find that I often get different notes from the distillers themselves so I have never found others notes restricting or intimidating.  What you smell or taste is highly individual.  There are no rights and wrongs.  Sometimes you get an impression of something from your distant past.  New odours or notes evoke an impression of something, even things that you have never smelled or tasted before.  I often hold a word in my mind and smell and taste until that impression consolidates into something more accurate.  Other notes develop over time so the profile alters.  

Whisky Forums discussion threads often decry tasting notes citing nonsense and pretentiousness.  I as an author am disposed to using some fairly exuberant notes but I make no apology for that.  

Whisky tasting should above all be fun and enjoyable.  If done honestly and authentically it is nobody business than yours if you, get pencil shavings, polish or fish, while others get a long winters walk by the shore of a north east fishing port.  That is just fine by me.  Even the most experienced and professional tasters can get a wide range of different sensations from the same whisky.   

Try it a lot.  It will improve your enjoyment of whisky.

The Tasting

Now to the tasting. As I write this 25th April is the 3rd anniversary of the first spirits going into barrels at Chapel Gate.  spoiler alert – what a great job they have done.

Sample 1: JJ Corry Almost 3 Year Old Grain – 61.5% ABV – Cask Sample. Matured in an Old Forester bourbon barrel.

Sample 1 Nose: Crisp, floral; violets, roses , fruity; apple, pear, lime, Nutty; walnut, coconut all together beautifully balanced.  A great interesting nose just exploding with a barrage of fruit and fragrance.

Sample 1 Palate: Instant pepper & ginger hit, mellowing to vanilla and pastry, with a hint of bitter lemon, peaches,  pears, syrup sponge, toffee, oranges, with growing cask influences.  

The high ABV makes a big impression. This is my high ABV year so my palate is well honed to this flavoured spirit onslaught.  The tasters enjoyed it no dissenting voices.  It is really quite different as a single grain but pleasantly so.  You think that you know young single grain. No you don’t until you taste this whiskey.  It delivers a flavour packed punch that I for one loved.  The cask influence was superb.  

Personally my prejudice has been in favour of much older grain expressions but I was astonished what could be delivered by a very young grain.  Massive plaudits must go to Louise for how this grain was selected and matured.  I am so glad that I tasted this blind.

image courtesy of Chapel Gate

Sample 2: JJ Corry The Gael – 46% ABV – Blended Irish Whiskey. Matured in a combination of sherry and first/second fill bourbon casks containing 11, 15, 25 year old malts and 7 year old grain.

Sample 2 Nose: more pleasant wood notes, eucalyptus, lemon meringue pie, ginger, almonds, a more complex whisky and great for that.

Sample 2 Palate: strong initial flavour of lemon puff biscuits, strawberries, appleroot ginger, pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, milk chocolate, finally a mocha note.

This is a lovely whiskey.  The cask combination gave some beautiful layering and depth.  The variety of years gave this both a fresh and mature balance.  There was something in the development that reminded me of the finest cognac which has the same concept of multiple spirits in the blend and matched cask subtlety.  This is a whisky I would buy.  It is different from most, offering a leading contender in the new wave of high quality blends.

It is blends like this that epitomise the trend in blends to deliver the balance and complexity that single malts cannot not even try to achieve.  I welcome the Gael to this distinguished club.  A stunning fanfare to the arrival of the wonderful JJ Corry range.

Chapel Gate

Sample 3: JJ Corry Flintlock – 46% ABV – 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey. Limited to just 600 bottles. Matured in first and second fill ex-bourbon barrels. 

Just to prove that exceptional Bonding is not just restricted to blends but can deliver much more to single malts as well through careful cask selection matching the cask to the spirit to deliver an outstanding result.

Sample 3 Nose: Herbal, musty forest notes, damp leaves and grass, stewed rhubarb and custard, peaches. 

Sample 3 Palate: White pepper, apricot, apple strudel, Edinburgh rock, rising wood notes, a lovely malt.

This was an awesome tasting with some exceptional whiskey, all great for different reasons.  I could not chose a favourite as all said something significant about the revival of Bonding in Ireland.  I can only offer my congratulations to Louise and Chapel Gate.  These whiskies can be purchased online from the usual sources and direct.  I notice that they retail direct overseas as well as in Ireland and the UK.

Many thanks to Chapel Gate and Steve Rush at the Whisky Wire for the samples and tweet tasting.