Last May (2017), as with every year, I attended the EMS Gathering to gain CPD points for my EMT licence. This one was special though….it was held in Kinsale, County Cork. For those of you that don’t know Kinsale, it is steeped in history and has a picturesque setting right by the water. Welcoming, warming and wonderful it has something for everyone. Now while education was the main function of these two days, there is obviously a social side to it all and while there are loads of fantastic pubs in Kinsale that I could have gone to, The Folkhouse Bar was by far my favourite (and was before this event!). Run by Conor Ryan, it is a place that draws old and young with two wonderful bars running left and right from the main door. For most the draw is the atmosphere, the live music, the craic and the jovial staff but for me, it’s the whiskey selection!! There must be hundreds of the finest whiskeys available on the top shelf and to be fair, all at reasonable prices (reasonable to a lot of places anyway!). So with that in mind, I hibernated in there on two of the three evenings. Conor himself is one of the most passionate people you could meet when it comes to the love of fine whiskey. His enthusiasm for the topic is infectious and his knowledge of the finer details is fascinating. It’s with this knowledge of finer details that on the second night Conor asked me had I heard of Hammer Head whisky. “It’s Czech” he proudly proclaims as I shudder at the thought. He obviously spotted the shudder. He grabbed the bottle and proceeded to give me a run down of its history and that was that. I was captured. I had to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Hammer Head hails from what is now the Czech Republic, but our story pre-dates this country back to when it was a communist state within the Eastern Bloc, known as Czechoslovakia. At the time in 1989, Scotch, or indeed any Western whisk(e)y, was not available in the country due to the Iron curtain. Pradlo distillery decided they wanted to create an all Czech inspired single malt whisky for the most influential of society. Taking their lead from most Scottish distilleries a 1929 hammer mill was purchased for use in the distillery for this Single Malt and so the name was born. The distillery selected only Czech barley, used water from the Bohemia region not far away and aged their spirit in unique oak casks made from Czech oak. And so the unique spirit came to be and placed in the warehouse to mature to become whisky.
Very shortly after this the Berlin wall fell, Czechoslovakia returned to be a democracy and in 1993, the country split peacefully into the Czech republic and Slovakia. Due to the fall of communism, western whisk(e)y was once again available in the country. The influential people of society no longer needed the Pradlo’s Single Malt endeavour, they could access whatever spirit they desired. And so the Czech whisky was left to sleep, forgotten by all. In 2009 the distillery was bought by Stock Spirits Group, a mostly Vodka producing company, who discovered the casks in the aging distillery. Intrigued by the discovery and its history, they decided they could not let this history fall by the wayside and they finally bottled the whisky as a cask strength 23yr old bottling at 40.7%…..yes…..you read that right. It was eventually rushed into bottling due to its ABV lowering. Anything lower than 40% and it would no longer be legally considered whisky! Other casks were left to age to 25yrs and were bottled, once again, 40.7% ABV.
After trying it in Kinsale I went on a mission to find a bottle and eventually, just before Christmas a good friend brought me back a bottle from The Loop at Dublin Airport. Weeks later I happened to get a second bottle from a staff member of DAA!! Two in the space of weeks! Retailing at just under €60 it isn’t bad value at all for a 23-year-old Single Malt that is steeped in history.
Nose – Very interesting nose on this one. Malt is evident as you’d expect. Quite floral with a spice in there. Lowering my nose into the glass and taking a deep nose of it gives me a tingle at the back of my throat. Walnut with the slightest tickle of poached pear. A drop of water dials back the malt nose and intensifies the floral notes.
Palate – Very delicate start that bursts with spice towards then end. That floral nose has transcribed to the palate. Nutmeg in there somewhere with a touch of star of anise. Kind of reminds me of a well-made hot whiskey (the kind I make!!). Slight acetone creeping in but doesn’t remain long. The addition of water here brings the oak to the fore for me but dials back everything in the finish that makes this pleasant for me. Might give the water a miss next time round.
Finish – Medium to long. That spicy explosion has a lovely warmth that releases a sweeter taste. More poached pear here along with slightly more intense nutmeg. Oak appears right at the end.
Overall – Ya I like it. It wouldn’t make my top 20 but it’s a lovely drop. Enjoyable to kick back and try something totally different to what we are used to. It doesn’t really have a comparison as far as I’m concerned. Is it one for everyone to rush out to buy? Maybe not but it is certainly one you MUST try at some stage. For me, the story adds something to the whisky. It’ll make it a wonderful talking piece for when people call over for a dram or two.