Heritage & Innovation: Glendalough Distillery
by David Klemt
Glendalough Distillery’s five founders are on a mission to honor Ireland’s rich distilling history and heritage.
As Bar Hacks guest Donal O’Gallachoir describes them, the whiskeys Glendalough crafts are remarkably different. O’Gallachoir, co-founder, national brand ambassador, and cheeky bottlewasher, aims to elevate Irish spirits.
More accurately, Glendalough’s founders want to return Irish whiskey to its rightful, historic place. That place? Among the top whiskeys in the world.
As you’ll learn, Glendalough will elevate your St. Patrick’s Day menu. In fact, these whiskeys and gins will elevate your entire menu, period.
Centuries of History
On episode 71 of Bar Hacks, O’Gallachoir briefly but compellingly shares Irish whiskey’s story. As he tells it, it was once estimated Irish whiskey accounted for up to 90 percent of world whiskey consumption.
That’s easy to believe when you factor in how Irish whiskey production can be traced back to at least the sixth century. There’s also the fact that Irish distillers were crafting, as O’Gallachoir puts it, “a wealth of styles.”
Unfortunately, a terrible string of wars—literal and economic—all but eradicated Ireland’s distilleries. When I say eradicated, I mean that when Glendalough Distillery opened in 2011, it became the fourth or fifth distillery in the country.
There used to be 200 licensed distilleries in the country, along with around 1,800 unlicensed distilleries. For decades of the 20th century, there were only two to three licensed distilleries in operation.
So, it makes sense that consumers outside of Ireland think the country produces only one style of whiskey: Irish. Meaning, light-bodied, sweet, and meant to be thrown back as a shot.
O’Gallachoir is well aware of the compelling paradox of modern Irish distillation. If the blended style of Irish whiskey most people know today hadn’t kept the industry alive, Glendalough and its expressions may not exist today.
All Glendalough whiskeys are single malt and chill filtered. This stands in stark contrast to blended Irish whiskeys, the current dominant (modern) style.
Glendalough is, to oversimplify it, honoring centuries of Irish whiskey production. Single-malt Irish whiskey was what we would now label super- or ultra-premium. The difference between Irish and Scotch whiskey was the latter’s smoked, peated profile. The former was once preferred worldwide.
Glendalough is dedicated to crafting super-premium Irish whiskey. Doing so means they don’t make things easy on themselves.
Let’s start with Glendalough’s Double Barrel expression.
As the name suggests, this whiskey is finished twice. First, it’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Second, it’s matured in Oloroso sherry casks. Eschewing blends, Glendalough studies the science of different types of barrels to craft its styles.
Of course, they also honor Irish distilling heritage through another expression: Glendalough Pot Still. To say no other style of whiskey embodies Irish production like pot still doesn’t do this distillation method justice.
In fact, Irish pot still whiskey is geographically protected; it can only be crafted in Ireland. However, when it comes to honoring Ireland, Pot Still doesn’t end there.
Glendalough initially ages Pot Still in ex-bourbon barrels. However, it’s finished in Irish oak. Truly, this expression captures the terroir of the mountainous region Glendalough calls home.
In other words, Pot Still is a super-premium taste of Ireland in a bottle.
And then there’s the distillery’s newest expression.
The Red String of Fate
About two weeks ago, Glendalough released their latest innovation: 7-Year-Old Single Malt Mizunara Finish.
Whiskey aficionados will recognize mizunara instantly and begin scheming to add this bottle to their collections.
Mizunara, Japanese oak, is renowned for several reasons. The wood imparts incredible flavors unlike those from other barrels. But, like all things rare and magical, mizunara is also incredibly challenging.
The challenges begin with the trees themselves, which can take hundreds of years to grow fully. This oak doesn’t grow straight, so crafting even one stave can be difficult.
Then there’s the water content. Mizunara translates to “water oak,” and it’s not an ironic nickname. The water content of mizunara is sky high, and it’s also highly porous.
It takes fantastic skill and experience for coopers to craft mizunara barrels that don’t crack or leak. To learn more, please click here to hear O’Gallachoir tell the story of Glendalough traveling to Hokkaido in Japan to form a relationship with an independent cooperage to craft Mizunara Finish casks.
Incredibly, the latest Glendalough expression isn’t a limited-edition release. Rather, this joins the core lineup and will be released twice per year. Be on the lookout for batch 001.
It seems that Glendalough whiskey and mizunara barrel coopers were fated to find one another. In fact, the red thread on each bottle of Mizunara Finish pays homage to the Japanese legend of the red thread of fate.
An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to find one another. It grows shorter and shorter as their paths collide.
You may recall that I said Glendalough doesn’t make things easy on themselves. This is evidenced by their gin.
Unlike other distilleries, Glendalough started with whiskey distillation and later pursued gin production.
They also forage for the ingredients used to craft their Wild Gin. If it’s not within ten miles of the distillery and growing wild, it’s not in the bottle.
According to O’Gallachoir, it takes a year to produce one bottle of this gin. Rejecting easier methods of production like automation, each batch of Wild Gin is crafted by taste and aroma.
Then there’s the visually and aromatically impactful Rose Gin. Crafted to honor Glendalough’s head distiller’s mother Rose, this is a rose-petal gin.
Now, you may assume it’s like drinking a bottle of decades-old, overpowering, rose-scented perfume. However, O’Gallachoir assures me this is absolutely not the case.
Instead, this striking bottle is intensely floral but balanced, and undeniably unique. O’Gallachoir suggests trying it in a Bee’s Knees.
In just over a decade, Glendalough has elevated Irish craft spirits. There are more innovations to come and I can’t wait to try them.
To learn more about O’Gallachoir and Glendalough Distillery, please listen to episode 71 of the Bar Hacks podcast.
Image: Glendalough Distillery