Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown I have been lucky enough to take part in several TalkDram tastings and have posted a lot more regularly across Social Media, and of course I had the time to develop this website.
This period has also led to some supreme acts of kindness from several whiskey companies in sending me some of their products to sample, either for my enjoyment or in some cases for a review. This trio of samples were sent in return for the latter, there has been no monetary exchange(I’m not that influential) and the flavour profile of the whiskeys have been assessed subjectively, as with all my reviews.
Spade & Bushel is the independently bottled series from The Connacht Whiskey Distillery, Ballina, Co. Mayo.
Spade & Bushel 10 Year Old Single Malt 42.2%abv 350ml €30.00
Released as a Global Travel Retail exclusive in 350ml bottles(but also available at the distillery), this Single Malt Irish whiskey has been matured for at least some of the 10 years in 2nd fill bourbon casks and limited to 5000 bottles according to the imagery. There’s no evidence present on the print material provided or that I can find online on the provenance of the liquid, whether it is double or triple-distilled, so we will have a guess at that along the way. On that note, we will jump right in!
- Nose: Initially spiritous, with a touch of alcohol and hint of varnish, it’s difficult to pinpoint but there’s herbaceous notes present. Given time white grape skin, coconut nut shavings and toasted charred wood become apparent with a hint of melon.
- Palate: As it lands on the palate you’re hit with distinct dry coconut and wood shavings which I can only describe as kindling, there’s also a pleasant pear skin note. Once the initial dryness dissipates the thinness of the spirit appears, it’s a touch watery which leaves a tone of over-boiled potato.
- Finish/Conclusion: Short and dry, although the more you visit it a vanilla sweetness starts to show and becomes ever-present which makes it drinkable.
If this had been tasted blind I would have assumed it was much younger than 10 years old and probably triple-distilled as it’s definitely not aggressive or robust on the palate, although because of it’s age I’m going to say that it’s Double-distilled and the alcohol has been drawn back over time.
The nose is consistent with the use of re-fill casks but the trouble there is, if you are not going to amplify the flavour profile with the use of a fresh cask or ex-wine/ex-spirit cask finish then you want the quality of the spirit to shine through, which in this case, it doesn’t. I feel this whiskey may have benefited immensely from bottling at 46-48% giving the spirit more of an opportunity to influence the palate.
Spade & Bushel 12 Year Old Single Malt 42.3%abv 700ml €60.00
A 12 year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey which has been matured in 2 different casks according to the label and limited to 7500 bottles according to the imagery. Again on supporting material there’s no evidence of the provenance of the liquid, and a distinct lack of clarity between the 2 casks. We do know that the second maturation took place in 1st fill bourbon casks and they state there’s a maritime influence from where it was matured, we’ll play the guessing game for a 2nd time.
- Nose: Nice dusty wood spice comes through first, I’m thinking cinnamon and dry cedar planks. There’s melon, pear and crisp green apple slices, maybe a touch of salted caramel if I’m trying to describe the sweetness (although that could be the fact I read ‘maritime’ before tasting, rookie mistake on my part).
- Palate: Mouthfeel is again a little thin but it’s definitely got more aromatic potential on the palate. There’s clear vanilla pod, lemon cream, bounty bars, banana skin with gracious almond and nutmeg spice. Texture’s still a little thin though.
- Finish: The finish is where the spirit’s herbaceous nature comes through, making me think it’s from similar stocks to the 10 year old, there’s aloe/eucalyptus leave with a prickly touch of clove.
I’m going to say Double-distilled, and given the distinct melon and pair notes it points to a certain distillery in Co. Louth. And, I reckon it’s matured in ex-bourbon casks of some kind throughout the entire maturation, which gives rise to frustration at the term ‘Double Barrel’, as I feel that if it’s going to be your USP then they should be 2 widely different cask variants. This whiskey delivers much more than the first and shows great potential although again I feel that it’s not shouting about any particular flavour profile, nothing bad to say about it.
Spade & Bushel 5 Year Old Single Malt 45%abv 700ml €50.00
A 5 year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey initially matured in ex-bourbon casks before a 2 year finishing period in Amarone Casks, limited to 1400 bottles according to the label in the imagery. Amarone, one of the Italy’s most popular styles of premium wine, known for it’s full-bodied ripe red fruits and superb texture, are generally matured in french or slovonian oak casks, both from the Quercus Robur oak family. Again we do not know where the spirit was sourced.
- Nose: Nice aromatic nose, spirit and wood shining through, there’s toffee, red apple skins, fleshy grapes and marzipan. There a touches of linseed oil, almost touchy paraffin but it holds back. The shining star is the underlining charred wood smoke that balances the nose.
- Palate: Bursts with sweetness on the tip of the tongue, it’s got a gorgeous madeira cake quality. Fruits start to display themselves in the form of nectarine, pomegranate, and bergamot. There’s prominent wood spice, a nutty character which reminds me of tawny port and geranium which pulls the palate around to chocolate.
- Finish: The finish is rather tame compared with the nose and palate, it relaxes to a hint of leather and oak.
Lots going on here and a nice text for the palate, the shortness of the finish shows a little lack of maturity but the quality of spirit on display is great and the Amarone casks have a vibrant impact on the flavour profile. I’d happily spend some more time with this one.
As with many young distilleries in Ireland The Connacht Whiskey Distillery have used the Spade & Bushel ranges as a way of building their profile as their own spirit matures. The nature of independent bottling in Ireland can be somewhat frustrating as the large suppliers of mature stocks such as Cooley, Bushmills, and IDL all have integrated Non-disclosure agreements which prohibit bottlers from stating the provenance of the liquid on the label,
Given the Connacht Whiskey Distillery started distilling in 2016 I’m sure they have their own mature spirit now and would love to see a young release along the lines of the Amarone finish which I tasted today.The packaging and feel of their products is quite artisanal, you get the feeling they are coming from a small craft distillery.
Founder and Managing Director, David Stapleton, is the current Chair of The Irish Whiskey Association and has been an avid supporter and advocate for other smaller distilleries in Ireland, not just his own. And, seeing their own spirit released to the market is something I genuinely look forward to.