The high-end premium and super-premium Irish whiskey categories grew 1106% and 3385% respectively since 2002 in the US, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council. Beyond the stats, it’s safe to say that Irish whiskey remains a beloved category and that it’s long been dominated by very few brands. But as powerhouse products pave the way, smaller producers like Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey are taking up coveted places on bar shelves—and deservedly so. All of the attributes people seek from Irish whiskey (light, but complex sweetness) thrive here, but with a stellar core range and a relatively new, nuanced and nectareous Cask Finish Series, there’s even more for all to love.
To grasp the magnitude of the brand’s limited edition offerings, one must dissect the core statements first. Single malt is a term most often associated with scotch. Knappogue Castle uses it to highlight the fact that their age statement products—a 12, 14 and 16 Year Old—are not blends, but the distillation of malted barley from one distillery. Age statements and single malts are not common from Ireland. And both do emphasize quality and guide expectations. Their delicious limited edition 21-year-old single malt clocks in at 92 proof, but yields more flavor than one typically expects from this category. Its length is noteworthy, as well. None of these products are for shooting; they’re for savoring, perhaps with a splash of water or an ice cube.
Finishes are not rare in the whiskey world, but finishes where a barrel partner is officially specified are even less common, as the brand providing the wood has to be comfortable with the end product. With Knappogue Castle Château Pichon Baron, the liquid spent 12 years in bourbon barrels before being transplanted into casks from the acclaimed Bordeaux winery. This limited edition whiskey noses and tastes of so many ripe red fruits—berries and apples in particular. This was the first release in Knappogue Castle’s Cask Finish Series and it’s a successful one.
The standout from the entire range is the Knappogue Marsala Cask whiskey, which has been finished in barrels from the Marco De Bartoli winery in the Samperi region of Sicily. This limited edition tipple activates the whole palate. Vanilla and dry oak dominate from start to finish, but this nuanced sweetness is complemented by a bundle of dried fruits. It’s as elegant as an Irish whiskey can be. Moreover, it demonstrates the value of experimentation in the industry and the result of well-paired and powerful wood choices. Next up in the series, there are plans for a Barolo cask finish later this year.
There’s also a pinnacle product in the roster: Knappogue Castle 1951. Distilled in 1951, it spent 36 years in sherry casks and is undeniably one of the oldest commercially available Irish whiskeys. And its rarity means few will try it.
The brand’s spiritual home is Knappogue Castle. The estate (which has since changed hands) was purchased in 1966 by an American named Mark Edwin Andrews, who would then launch the liquor brand, at first by purchasing bottles of top quality pot still whiskey, aging and then bottling. (He’s the mastermind behind Knappogue Castle 1951.) His son, Mark Andrews III, is responsible for Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey’s presence in the United States and elsewhere across the globe today. And an entire category has benefited from it. Quality is tantamount to none—and regardless of where one steps into the portfolio, it’s a smooth experience from start to finish.
Images courtesy of Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey