County Down in Ireland has a long and rich whiskey history. Once a dominant force in the whiskey world, Irish whiskey was eventually overtaken by Scotch and fell into ruin. Yet after some helpful legislation was passed over a decade ago, Irish whiskey came back with a vengeance. Yes, the big distilleries remain dominant, but a bevy of craft distilleries are making their mark in a big way. Now numbering about 50, many of these distilleries are going back to the history books, exploring the rich traditions that once were and, thanks to distilleries like Killowen, now are.
This Killowen Belgrove rye is a collaboration of sorts between Killowen and Belgrove distillery in Tasmania, Australia. Turns out there is a bit of a history between the two, which we’ll delve into during a future review. The mashbill for this whiskey is 80% un-malted and 20% malted rye. It was matured for at least three years in ex-Belgrove Distillery single malt whisky casks from Tasmania and ex-Tasmanian Pinor Noir wine casks. This particular expression comes with Killowen’s signature Rum and Raisin cask finish (ex-PX sherry and ex-Killowen rum casks). It’s bottled at 60.2% ABV.
Nose: I’m a big fan of sponge toffee. There’s a sweet shop a short drive from my house (Bee-A-Bella for those of you in the Edmonton, Alberta area) that sells the best stuff. On the nose, it’s like being in the place that makes that toffee. It’s almost difficult to get past that aroma, but I’m going to do my best! After a while, I’m getting some orchard fruit character. Ripe red apples and pears. Now the malted rye is coming through in the form of a good quality graham cracker. The Demarera from the rum finish is shining through and I get a faint dark fruit and nut bar, which I almost always get off a PX cask. I’m rooting around for the Pinot Noir influence and I’ve finally found it in the form of dried strawberries. I wonder if I’m going to get some dryness on the palate as well. Only one way to find out!
Palate: OK. Now the wine cask maturation is speaking to me big time. This becomes tart and tannic almost right away. It starts out with fresh red berries, but those dry out in a hurry. That tartness increases during the development and might have overpowered the experience if it weren’t for that sponge toffee, which swoops in to the rescue. Darker dried fruits such as raisins and plums start to take over the red fruits mid-way through. I have to wait till the end of the development for the nuttiness and dark chocolate to appear, but appear it does. There is a mild grassy character that is barely present. It’s the only thing that reminds me that I’m drinking a 100% rye whiskey.
Finish: Loooong. I could go to sleep, wake up, and I’d still be tasting this. The dryness on the palate sticks around, but doesn’t dominate. Those tart dried fruits keep your mouth watering. There’s some cinnamon and nutmeg representing the baking spices and a chocolate fudge comes in half way through.
This whiskey took my nose and taste buds on a roller coaster ride the likes of which I have not had in a while. There was so much going on that it was hard to stop tapping on the keyboard. As good as this whiskey is, I do have one major issue with it. Because of all the unique maturation and finishing casks, the actual rye in this rye whiskey is somewhat lost. Malted rye is lovely to see in a whiskey, but I’m just not getting enough of that biscuity character that I love when that’s added to the mash. However, if that quibble doesn’t hold you back from picking this one up, it’s still going to be one of the best whiskies you will try all year.