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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Hyde Irish Whiskey Review!

For quite a while now, the only Irish whiskey that interested me was the only peated Irish whiskey, Connemara. Mainly because I personally found most other Irish whiskeys I had tried to be, frankly, a little boring. Triple-distilled, watered down to 40% and chill filtered, and purposely designed to be lighter in flavour and texture than your average Scotch, they didn't really float my boat. But that is beginning to change, because despite being un-peated, what we have here are some very interesting drams!
Hyde Irish Whiskey is a relatively new brand to the Australian market, which is owned by relatively new company Hibernia Distillers, based in South-West Ireland. Current owners Alan and Conor Hyde have their own distillery in the works, but until that is up & running their whiskey is sourced from Cooley Distillery, located North of Dublin, matured in Cork located in South-West Ireland, and bottled under the Hyde label. That second-last part is important, because the climate in Cork is warmer and wetter than the rest of Ireland, which effects the maturing whiskey. 

There are currently five Hyde expressions available, three single malts and two single grain whiskeys, 'single' of course meaning that they were made at a single distillery and are not blended. All expressions carry an age statement, are triple-distilled (as is the norm for Irish whiskeys) and are bottled at 46%, without chill filtration. What's also interesting here is the cask types used for maturation. While all expressions are initially matured in ex-bourbon casks, four of the five are then finished in either sherry, rum or burgundy casks before bottling. This is still quite an uncommon practice in Irish whiskey, where cask finishings have not yet taken hold to the same extent as they have in Scotland.

Thanks to Hyde's Australian importer Wonderland Drinks, I'll be taking a closer look at four Hyde expressions today. Two single malt whiskeys, one of which is finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and the other in Caribbean dark rum casks, and two single grain whiskeys, one of which is finished in French Pinot Noir casks, and the other is fully matured in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks. See, told you these were interesting drams! It's important to note that while the grain whiskeys are labelled 'The Aras Cask', and the malt whiskeys and labelled 'President's Cask' (a tribute to Douglas Hyde, Ireland's first president), these are not single cask bottlings, although they are all limited releases.

These 'Aras Cask' Hydes will be my first single (un-blended) grain whiskeys / whiskies, so let's take a quick closer look at how grain whiskey / whisky is produced compared to its malty cousin. The most commonly used grains are corn and un-malted barley, but there can also be some malted barley, rye and/or wheat involved in various quantities depending on the desired recipe, also known as the mash bill. Distilleries' mash bills are usually a closely guarded secret, but in Hyde's case their grain whiskies are distilled from corn and un-malted barley, and are triple-distilled in a Coffey still. A what? Well grain whiskies aren't often distilled in traditional pot stills, but rather in column stills, a.k.a Coffey (named after the inventor, and nothing to do with coffee!) or continuous stills, so named because they don't need to be emptied and cleaned between runs / batches, which are therefore more time- and cost-efficient, and result in a lighter flavoured, higher strength, and 'purer' spirit than is produced pot stills. So on that note, let's start with Hyde's single grain Irish whiskeys!

First cab off the rank is Hyde's 'The Aras Cask No.3', a 6-year old single grain whiskey matured in a heavily-charred ex-bourbon cask, bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. Distilled from corn & un-malted barley in a Coffey still. Very sweet & light on the nose, with some cotton candy, vanilla pods, rubbing alcohol. With extra time that changes to acetone, and some more caramel notes emerge. On the palate it's very sweet again, with some sweetened shredded coconut and simple syrup, and something reminiscent of sake (rice wine), and a short & light finish with more vanilla and caramel. This one is just too sweet for my tastes to be honest, with a little too much raw alcohol, but I could see it working well in a cocktail, or perhaps being more suited to a white spirit-drinker.

Next up we have Hyde's 'The Aras Cask No.5',  a 6-year old single grain whiskey matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in ex-Pinot Noir red wine casks from Burgundy, France, again bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. Distilled from corn & un-malted barley in a Coffey still. Still light and sweet on the nose, but with some oak and red fruit presence calming it down a little. Considerably less rubbing alcohol present with this one as well. On the palate, it's less sweet again, more syrupy, and less alcohol again with a little fruit coming through, and a short and thin finish with a little of that sake-like taste winding things up. The wine casks have definitely added some complexity here, and have also calmed things down a bit.

Now we're on to Hyde's single malt Irish whiskeys! Let's start with 'President's Cask No.4', a 6-year old single malt matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in ex-Caribbean dark rum casks, again bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. Distilled from 100% Irish malted barley. On the nose this one is richer & warmer than the previous expressions, with some palm sugar, lemon juice, toffee and tropical fruit. A little alcohol prickle here too. Still quite sweet on the palate, but again in a richer, fuller and more mellow way. Some nice malt character here, with some brown sugar and tropical fruit. A short finish again, but with quite a bit of raw alcoholic heat as well. When that subsides, there's more of that palm sugar sweetness and a little spice. This expression is more up my alley, but I can't help but feel it could've used a little more maturation. There was a 10-year old version of this expression, but I believe it's largely sold out and hard to find.

And finally, the flagship of the range, the award-winning 'President's Cask No.1', a 10-year old single malt, matured in ex-bourbon casks before a 9-month finishing in ex-Spanish Oloroso sherry hogsheads, bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. Distilled from 100% Irish malted barley. The nose is more familiar and quite comforting, slightly richer again and with no alcohol prickle this time. I'm finding quite a strong aniseed note here, not licorice but actual aniseed, plus a creamy fruity-ness, some dusty fruit and a nice cereal-like malt character. On the palate there's more creamy vanilla, some fruit and honeyed malt. A longer and richer finish here as well, with a little oak, spice and creamy vanilla. My pick of the four expressions tasted, and nicely matured with no rough edges or raw alcohol.

Overall, these are definitely eye-opening drams which certainly highlight the different effects that cask finishing can have on maturing whisky / whiskey. The 10-year old single malt is certainly my favourite of the four, with a more familiar, richer and more mature profile, but all are interesting and engaging whiskeys in their own right, which are well worth trying for yourself! I look forward to seeing what Hyde come up with in the future, particularly once their own distillery is up & running. In the meantime, since Cooley distillery currently produce the world's only peated Irish whiskey, I'm hoping to see some peated Irish whiskey with an exotic cask finishing, it'd certainly add to the experience and would practically sell itself! Fingers crossed. Thanks again to Scott from Wonderland Drinks for the samples.