Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Clonakilty Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Clonakilty Distillery is the passion project of the Scully Family. The family has lived and farmed in Clonakilty, Ireland, for nine generations, and turned to making whiskey in 2018. It was a logical decision in many ways. The Scullys grow their barley on their own farm, and the coastal location provides a strong terroir presence. They also benefit from the continuing success of the return of Irish whiskey.
The three whiskies presented here are all part of the cask finish series. The flagship is the Double Oak, a blended whiskey aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in both virgin oak and ex-European wine casks.
The wine casks in particular are NEOC casks, the New Era of Wine Cask. These casks formerly held high quality red wine from Bordeaux. They are then chosen by a distillery’s coopers, shaved, and re-toasted before being filled. The Double Oak is the first time an Irish whiskey has seen this finish.
The Port finish is another blend, of “premium Irish malt and nine year old Irish grain.” The Port finish is specifically from Douro Valley port casks – which is to say that they are real Port casks instead of “port-style” wine, as the Douro Valley is the only region legally permitted to make true Port.
The Single Grain expression specifically uses a nine year old whiskey. This one also employs a Bordeaux finish, though specifically not another NEOC cask. The distillery doesn’t give any other details on the nature of the cask, however; the emphasis on premium product the distillery places, paired with the high regulations on French wine suggest that these are still casks of substantial quality. It certainly tastes like it.
For such a new distillery, these products were quite refined. It was noticeable of course that they were not as fully on par with the higher quality spirits of the established Irish whiskey houses, but they full well could get there in time. Compared to other, newer Irish distilleries, they’re on par to above average. In the past few years they’ve won awards at both the San Francisco World Spirits Awards and the World Whiskies Awards.
Clonakilty Double Oak (image via Clonakilty Distillery)
Vital Stats: 43.6 Proof, 87.2% ABV, Single Batch, 750ml, $62
Appearance: Ultra pale and clear, with just a hint of Champagne coloring. Few, evenly spaced, crooked legs.
Nose: Vanilla and marshmallow lead into unripe pear and the fragrance of apple blossom, going out with a touch of quince paste.
Palate: Texture is thinner and light. Peach comes through very strongly in multiple ways, without overwhelming sweetness. Juicy fresh peach starts out, mellowing in intensity and reaching a peach pie taste near the end, emphasized by the notes of baking spice.
Clonakilty Port Finish (image via Clonakilty Distillery)
Appearance: Even straight legs. This was similar in appearance to the Double Oak, but slightly darker and with more of a golden hue.
Nose: Rich sweetness comes through immediately with a strong sensation of raspberry jam.
Palate: A slightly heavier texture than the Double Oak, although not to the point of true viscousness. There’s a fruity pop mid palate that comes across more as fresh raspberry than the more jammy nose. A touch of vanilla slips in at the very end. Fairly straightforward, not a great deal of complexity.
Clonakilty Single Grain (image via Clonakilty Distillery)
Appearance: Even, straight legs; appears remarkably similar to the Double Oak.
Nose: Candlenut and cocoa come through together with an element of waxiness. A touch of fresh grassiness pops up right at the end.
Palate: More refined and elegant than the first two. The nose shows up in the palate in altered form. The earthier cocoa is much more chocolatey on the palate, with the waxiness transforming into creaminess of texture. Black plum comes up on the back palate. The finish is fairly long.
The Takeaway: These are great examples of craft Irish whiskey, and yet are unique and varied. There is a feel of brand uniformity to the series, even though they all tasted very different. I got the strongest flavors from the Double Oak, with the most refinement from the Single Grain. None of them presented a great variety of notes and flavor, but they all tasted very good.
Talia is part of the Portland service industry community, and an alumna of the Multnomah Whiskey Library. She’s an avid spirit and cocktail enthusiast, and likes to experience them both academically and recreationally. When not sipping whiskey she’s a ceramic artist and lover of travel.