As most will know, Bushmills regularly call themselves the oldest licenced distillery in the world, referring to a licence that was granted in the Bushmills area in 1608. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the Bushmills distillery was built by a company that was formed in 1784. Kilbeggan Distillery on the other hand had the licence for their distillery granted in 1757. So without going into the tit for tat argument of who’s the oldest distillery in the world……lets just agree that they are both REALLY old! Kilbeggan continued to distill throughout the years until 1954 when it ceased distilling. In 1957, the distillery closed completely.
The distillery was later reopened by the community of Kilbeggan and transformed into a whiskey museum until Cooley distillery purchased it to gain the licence to Kilbeggan and Lockes brands of whiskey. In 2007 the distillery reopened to produce whiskey with it’s wash coming from Cooley. In 2010, it became a fully functional, self sufficient distillery with the instruction of mash tuns and fermenters. And this is where our Rye story begins. Distilled in 2010 in copper pots, this is a mixed mash bill of 30% Rye along with malted barley and barley (I don’t like to call it unmalted barley……..if it’s unmalted it’s just barley so lets call it that!). If this was pre 2014, before the Irish Whiskey Technical File came into existence, we would call it a Pure Pot Still, or Single Pot Still as it is known as today. Unfortunately, that technical file only allows 5% of other grains outside of Barley to be used in a Single Pot Still. Therefore, this mixed mash bill does not meet the specifications of a Single Pot Still and so, Kilbeggan have called it a Small Batch Rye. Oh, and it’s the first whiskey to be released from the distillery since it’s relaunch!
The intricacies of the technical file could be debated to death. Personally, I think it’s a little restrictive but, whiskey historian Charlie Roche has reliably informed me that most historical mash bills were between 3% and 6% rye with only one being recorded as 30% in Loftus’s Inland Revenue Manual in 1865. If you’re into a bit of whiskey history, follow Charlie’s very interesting Twitter account here! So it’s important to consider the fact that this is a mixed mash bill whiskey rather than what people expect from a Rye. A Rye whiskey is heavily controlled in the USA and must contain at least 51% Rye. This is NOT what Kilbeggan were going for. Kilbeggan wanted something different but obviously wanted to tip their hat at the traditional Irish single pot still style. Several commentators appear to have knocked this whiskey because it didn’t compare to a big bold U.S. Rye but bear in mind what I’ve said above when you try this.
So, the whiskey itself. It’s bottled at 43% and has caramel colouring added. E150 colouring doesn’t bother me once it’s only used to ensure batches look similar and not in a way that’s to make a whiskey look older than it is. So, lets dive in.
Nose – Soft and mellow nose. A slight light pepper spice complimented with some sweetness.
Palate – Nice, slightly creamy mouth feel. A touch of vanilla that gives way to some pepper spice.
Finish – Medium to long with a that pepper spice continuing and intensifying right into a slight dryness and a mouth tingle that lasts nicely. Sweetness here that I didn’t get before and maybe a slight citrus note, wee touch of Lemon zest maybe.
Overall – It was worth the wait. A nice easy drinker and at €55, I think Kilbeggan have been very decent to consumers. As the first release of their own, home grown spirit I expected it to be more expensive in keeping with the seemingly endless race for premium prices in Irish whiskey. I can’t help but wonder would 46% have been a better option? Or a separate release at cask strength? But as is, it is a solid contender and has an edge as “something different” within the present offerings across all Irish brands. I’m off to order a second bottle!