Ireland’s Clonakilty Distillery is a fresh little face on the wider and storied Irish whiskey scene, having opened its coastal distillation operation and Atlantic Ocean aging warehouse in 2018. Run by the Scully family, who has been cultivating the Irish countryside for nine consecutive years. generations at this point, it’s expected to eventually be a farm-to-glass operation, using heirloom barley grown via the Scullys’ own farm. Certainly, these aspirations will require growth and expansion.
Being so young, their distillate hasn’t had much time to mature yet, although they do sell their own product in the form of Clonakilty Double Oak Irish Whiskey. This young spirit, the flagship of Clonakilty’s Cask Finish series, has its maturation accelerated by a ‘virgin’ (freshly charred) American oak finish, which dramatically speeds up the pace of interaction between the spirit and the wood. Likewise, it is also finished in shaved, toasted and charred old European red wine oak barrels. These are usually referred to as “STR” casks in the industry, although Clonakilty seems to call them NEOC casks, meaning “New Era of Cask”.
That’s not what we have to taste today, however – instead I have a sample of one of Clonakilty’s other staples in the Cask Finish series, which is Clonakilty Irish Whiskey Port Cask Finish . This is a sourced blend, containing an Ageless Irish Malt and a 9 year old Irish Grain Whiskey, which are finished together in port casks from Portugal’s Douro Valley in the Ocean Warehouse Clonakilty Atlantic. Overall, it seems pretty clear that the resulting product, bottled at 43.6% ABV (87.2 proof), is meant to age a relatively young malt with the port finish. The MSRP is priced at a fairly reasonable $50.
That said, let’s get to the tasting.
On the nose, Clonakilty Port Cask Finish is oddly muted on first inspection, lacking the richness and depth of fruitiness that one generally tends to expect from a port finished malt – we must remember that a part of this blend is also grain whisky. I get dusty malt notes, biscuity tones and a little sweeter graham cracker, along with a light apple fruitiness and subtle anise. Overall, however, the nose is quite soft, albeit in a pleasant profile. Over time, a slightly more vinous fruitiness emerges, hinting at secondary ripening.
On the palate this whiskey brings a bit more character to play – I get significant honey and some darker caramel, with bursts of fruit from cherry pits, apple and grape juice. A light roast brings a little balance, while subtle spicy notes of anise and caramom complete the whole. The ethanol, unfortunately, feels a bit overrepresented in this flavor profile for the relatively weak proof, lending an antiseptic quality to the finish that spoils the overall presentation. In all? It still feels young to me, even with that aged grain whiskey in the mix. Maybe the length of the secondary finish wasn’t enough to really get more expressive notes from the port cask, or maybe it lacks weight with a relatively large proportion of grain whiskey in the mix, but I want more.
The price, at least, is quite affordable, especially since these are finished Irish whiskeys from non-major producers. Overall, I’d like to see this profile continue to evolve with more maturation and verve.
Distillery: Clonakilty Distillery
City: Clonakilty, Ireland
Style: Irish blended whiskey
ABV: 43.6% (evidence of 87.2)
Availablity: 750ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident alcohol enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.