Take the softest style of whiskey in the world and meld it with one of the most rugged and what do you get? Clonakilty‘s bold experiment, taking a 7 year old Irish single malt and finishing it in Garrison Brothers Balmorhea whiskey barrels, attempts to answer that question. And while there are moments of greatness in this whiskey, I think it’s fair to say these are too styles that are just too far apart to make for easy bedfellows.
The story behind the whiskey is straightforward, taking a single malt from Clonakilty and melding it with those Balmorhea casks, which provide 7 months of finishing time. The finished product is bottled at 58.8% abv — and it’s only available in Texas, of course.
Kicking off with the nose, there’s definitely an immediate expression of malty, honeyed Irishness here, though the whiskey is much more aggressive than your typical shot of Jameson. Here that honey quality feels reduced and more syrupy, but the slug of sweetness is quickly chased by a note of mothballs and a healthy amount of char. Some butterscotch builds from there, but it too is tempered by that gunpowdery Texas character that is never far away.
On the palate, the script is flipped: Burly lumberyard notes and smoked meats lead the way — classic Garrison Brothers charging forward on the tongue. Minty with sage notes, the intensity slowly fades to showcase some of Irish whiskey’s intrinsic sweetness. Give it a little time, and the balance feels more in step with expectations, though it’s always a little green, even when some of the more honey-forward elements come to bear. The finish remains a touch weedy and tough, but it’s nothing if not exotic and intriguing.
I’d say it’s definitely worth sampling once in your life, but that’s a heavy function of its novelty factor. I fear a full bottle of the stuff might be around for awhile.
B / $70 / clonakiltydistillery.ie