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Irish whiskey has grown in quite staggering fashion in recent years. In 2013 there were four distilleries in production but just seven years later that number was in the thirties. My main focus has always been scotch but I like to keep a wee eye on the global scene as well and I must confess to finding it difficult keeping up with the rapid expansion happening across the Irish sea. Where this will all end is anyone’s guess, and I don’t just mean in Ireland. New distilleries are popping up on a monthly basis it seems and there are concerns that the market will become increasingly flooded with whisk(e)y. Yet despite the increase in product, prices continue to rise and you have to wonder if there will be enough consumers wealthy enough to support this growth in years to come. We mustn’t be too downhearted however; those of us with an appetite for variety have never been more spoiled for choice than we are now.
One of the latest developments in Northern Ireland has been the arrival of Hinch Distillery, founded by Dr Terry Cross, a businessman from Belfast. Cross sold his Delta Print and Packaging firm for a sum reported to be around £50million but rather than head off into retirement, he decided to invest some of his wealth into a new, state-of-the-art whiskey distillery. Named after the nearby town of Ballynahinch, south of Belfast, the distillery is situated in the grounds of the Killaney Estate.
Construction began in 2019 with an initial launch date planned for April 2020. Of course, many such plans were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and the project ground to a halt whilst the country went on lockdown. Work was able to resume in July but any possibility of a public opening remained on hold. Since then, the distillery has at least commenced production and their shop was able to open for a few weeks in the run up to Christmas, giving locals a first peak at a visitor centre that will include a coffee shop, restaurant, pub and events space. For the occasion, a special 18 year old whiskey was released, sourced from another Irish distillery, that had been finished in wine casks from Dr Cross’ other passion project – the Chateau de la Ligne vineyard in Bordeaux.
Whilst the distillery clearly hasn’t been running long enough to have produced mature whiskey, there is a long tradition in Ireland of working with other producers to bottle liquid for your own brand and Hinch have a range of both whiskey and gin already on the market and with deals struck with distributors in both the US and Germany, the brand should have a head start by the time their own whiskey has come of age.
Perhaps the most affordable of current offerings is the 5 year old “Double Wood” which is a combination of both malt and grain whiskies, matured initially in bourbon barrels before a 12 month finishing period in virgin oak casks. Bottled at 43% it retails for just £35 a bottle.
Smell: It’s not the most appealing nose upon first introduction. There’s even a slight paint-stripper / white spirit note. With time the harsher notes evaporate however, leaving lots of cereal and vanilla cream. There’s citrus, lemon drizzle cake, digestive biscuits and some honey too.
Taste: Pepper. Orange and apricot. Toffee and chocolate biscuits. Subtly oaky finish with a touch of honeyed malt.
Value for money: I’ve been flabbergasted by the price of some Irish whiskies over the last few years but £35 isn’t too unreasonable and I’ve no problem with the 5 year age statement, in fact I rather admire it as a sign that Hinch are being honest and transparent with their consumer.
Triple distilled whiskey can sometimes feel a bit like music with the bass turned off and while there’s a lightness and crispness to the spirit that is not unpleasant, the lack of bottom end is often a big miss for my palate. I’m pleased to say however that this 5 year old is by no means the worst offender I’ve ever come across in that aspect. For a start, 12 months in a virgin oak cask has added some very welcome spice and though that initial immaturity takes a wee bit of time to conquer, it does eventually lift, leaving a tasty, if rather one-dimensional dram behind. I find myself wondering what a little more time in the original bourbon barrels might have brought, but as an introduction to the Hinch range, I’d say it works rather well, so long as you’re patient and allow time for the subtleties of flavour to come through.
If the whiskey reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make. Other retailers are available.
For more on Hinch Whiskey visit here.