Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
I have something of a confession to make. I didn’t plan to publish this review this week. I had written a whole other review but when I went to do my tasting notes I discovered that I had no idea where the sample was and hours of searching left me empty-handed. It is, of course, entirely possible that I drank the damn thing but I don’t think so. In truth, it almost led to a full-on existential crisis as I began to question if the sample had ever actually existed in the first place. Did I make it up? Soon I was lost in a sea of bafflement and self-doubt. It became clear that my only option was to review something else. Then I remembered that St. Patrick’s Day was coming up and a wee drop of Irish would probably, therefore, be appropriate. Fortunately, I had no trouble putting my hands on a sample of West Cork Black Cask Blended Irish Whiskey.
West Cork Distillers was conceived in 2003. Using two small stills, purchased from a schnapps producer in Switzerland, childhood friends John O’Connell, Ger McCarthy and Denis McCarthy, began making whiskey in a room at the back of Denis’ house. In 2014, the project moved to a new facility in Skibbereen. The distillery has since expanded to a production capacity of 4 million litres of alcohol and West Cork Irish Whiskey is available in almost 70 countries. Impressively, the business employs more than 80 people, with the vast majority based in the West Cork area.
West Cork Distillers produce three main brands, West Cork Irish Whiskey, Garnish Island Gin and Two Trees vodka. A wide range of different whiskeys has been produced, however, with many different finishing casks utilised along the way. Previous releases include the blended West Cork Bourbon Cask, 5-year-old single pot still, 7-year-old single malt, cask strength, peat charred cask, bog oak charred cask, IPA cask, stout cask, rum cask, calvados cask, sherry cask, virgin oak cask and port cask.
In this review, however, I’ll be checking out the West Cork Black Cask…
*Full disclosure: this sample was included in a Drinks by the Dram advent calendar that was sent to me for free. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the whiskey and the value for money it represents.
West Cork Black Cask
The whiskey consists of 66% grain and 34% malt spirit. It was matured in first-fill bourbon barrels before being transferred to heavily charred bourbon barrels for a year-long finish. It’s bottled at 40% and retails for around £30.
Smell: Lots of cereals and biscuit notes to begin with. Vanilla and honey, too. Fudge and some caramel. A wee touch of cinnamon. Some light citrus and then the charcoal.
Taste: Surprising in that it has some weight to it – more than you’d expect at 40%. The heavy char makes its presence felt immediately making the dram quite bourbon-like in its delivery. Beyond the charcoal, there’s toffee and caramel, vanilla, digestive biscuits, cornflakes and some oaky citrus notes. Subtle spice tingles rather than scolds. Slightly drying finish.
Thoughts: The oak certainly dominates proceedings but there’s just about enough backbone to carry it. Not really one for those that enjoy picking out the spirit character, though. Beyond the cereal notes, this is all cask. That doesn’t make it a bad dram, just a little one-sided. In fact, I rather enjoyed the sample. The little touch of prickly oaky spice was interesting and the charred casks ensured plenty of punchy flavours came through. Perhaps a feeling that you could be drinking whisk(e)y from anywhere? Perhaps lacking a little in unique personality? Or perhaps I’m just expecting a little too much for a £30 dram. At the end of the day, it’s pleasant enough to sip on.
Price: £30. Not one to overthink. Just an easy-drinking, affordable Irish whiskey with some big flavours. Probably leans too much into the oak for my personal taste but it offers something different in the Irish whiskey scene and there’s nothing wrong with that.
For more on West Cork Distillers visit here: https://www.westcorkdistillers.com/