Irish whiskey is continuing its rapid climb and resurgence. Just as we hear all about new distilleries opening in Scotland, so too are new ventures commencing in Ireland. In addition to new distilleries, we are also seeing new Irish bottlers and brands appearing hand-in-hand with the resurrected industry.
(The Irish whiskey industry did not have a happy history in the second half of the 20th century, and interested readers are encouraged to look further into this if you’re wondering why there is so much fuss and attention paid to the growth and optimism now being associated with Irish whiskey).
One such example of this new growth is the emergence of the Hyde brand. Hibernia Distillers, started by brothers Conor & Alan Hyde in 2014, is a new independent bottler. Diving in at the deep end, their first foray is the release of the Hyde 10yo single malt range. Two releases now make up the 10yo “President’s Cask” range, namely an Oloroso Sherry Cask finish and a Dark Rum finish. The spirit for both of these releases was distilled at Cooley. There is now a third whiskey in the Hyde stable, namely a six year old Single Grain release – the Aras Cask – that has been matured in ex-Jack Daniels barrels from Tennessee.
Of course, at this stage, we refer to Hibernia Distillers as an independent bottler. Behind the scenes, things are more interesting: Currently based in West Cork, Hibernia does actually have plans for its own distillery, and their own distilled whiskey will obviously be released in the future, once that side of the venture is up and running. (This approach is rapidly becoming a common practice in Ireland, having also been adopted by the Walsh and Teeling brands). But, until such time as the whiskey from their own stills becomes available, we have the Cooley-sourced whiskies to enjoy.
In the case of the Hyde 10yo range, both releases are matured initially in 1st Fill ex-bourbon barrels, before being transferred to the finishing casks. The finishing regime is generally six months for the sherry release, and between eight and 11 months for the rum finish. (The exact time depends on the age and influence of the vintage cask, and the spirit is checked each month until deemed “just right”). The reference to “President’s Cask” with these releases has a further connection to the name Hyde – Douglas Hyde was the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945, and the brothers Conor & Alan share a branch of the family tree that extends back to Douglas Hyde.
The company makes quite a point of pressing home the details of the sherry casks used for the Oloroso Finish release. The company sources hogsheads (not butts) from the Andalucia region of south-west Spain. The casks are at least 20 years old (that is, they have been used in the sherry industry for at least 20 years), repeatedly seasoning dry Oloroso sherry for 2-4 years each filling, before being used by Hibernia Distillers. The significance of using hogsheads instead of butts should not be lost: Owing to the ratio of wooden surface area to liquid in the cask, smaller casks contribute to a more accelerated maturation process. Hence, in the case where the casks are being used merely for a short finishing spell, the smaller hogshead casks will have a more pronounced influence on the spirit in a shorter period than would otherwise have been the case with more traditional butts. For the Rum Finish, the 10yo spirit is finished in charred Dark Caribbean Rum casks (American white-oak barrels).
But of the whiskies themselves? Purists will appreciate that the Hyde 10yo (both releases) is non-chillfiltered and bottled at 46%. The whisky is released in small batches, with each limited edition comprising 5,000 bottles. The Sherry Cask Finish has obviously impressed at an international level, winning the category of Best Single Malt Irish Whiskey at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competion.
Courtesy of Wonderland Drinks, Whisky & Wisdom recently sampled the Sherry Cask Finish, so let’s put it to the test and see what the tastebuds think…
Colour: A very sunny gold
Nose: Exotic tropical fruits, with a sprinkling of icing sugar. Sweet barley malt, barley sugar lollies, and lemon drops. Very enticing.
Palate: Whilst the nose was not particularly “Irish”, the palate indeed displays and sings that classic Irish style: Light, slightly metallic, grassy and flint-like. (There is a stone-iness I find with many Irish whiskies; this Hyde release exhibits it also). The tropical fruits stay with you on the palate (tinned pineapple?), and are joined by doughy/pastry notes. There is some light spice that adds a dryness. The mouthfeel and texture is deep and full-bodied.
Finish: Dry spices. Flint. Slightly sweet, and quite long and satisfying.
Comments: This is a very tasty whisky, and certainly a quality dram. The influence of the sherry casks is interesting: Those looking for an injection of oloroso or a hit of sherry might be disappointed, as this does not display a sherry finish in the style of, say, Glenmorangie Lasanta or Aberlour Double Cask. The sherry finish adds spice and complexity, rather than…er…sherry and, in actual fact, I think the whiskey is all the more appealing and stronger for it. The whisk(e)y flavour spectrum is a busy one, and there are a lot of different brands and releases all clumped together and offering similar products. The Hyde Sherry Cask Finish has found some space by itself on the spectrum, and offers a very pleasing and tasty uniqueness. Fans of good whisk(e)y will enjoy this; fans of Irish whiskey will love it!