To cut a long story short (and because I can’t think of a better way to start this off) I decided to try out some of Cooley’s Connemara range.
Cooley do a nifty little three pack, in packaging shaped like a Norman church, or more specifically Winchester cathedral, although that’s where the religious analogy ends (I’ll try and avoid mentioning angels, a heavenly taste, peat fires of hell, fondled by priests, etc.).
For £19 or thereabouts, you get 5cl of the unaged, cask strength and 12 year old expressions, plus a glass. I have long been an admirer of the cask strength but, not having tried it for a while, had you asked me to describe it to you, I wouldn’t have been able to, hence my selfless act of spending the WTC’s money for research purposes.
Connemara No Age Statement (40%)
A lovely nose, although not what you might expect for a peated whisky. The peat is definitely in the background allowing some lovely light fruits their place at the fore. In addition to the expected apple, there were hints of melon, toffee apples, grape and peaches. Taste-wise, there is more of the fruit and the peat makes a slightly less apologetic appearance.
Conclusion: Lovely, but more Highland than Island. I know that Ireland is an island, but that’s pushing it a bit. An excellent introduction to peat for those that want to dip their toes in and not jump in fully-clothes and head first. And it’s only
Connemara 12 year old (40%)
Pretty much the same as the No Age Statement (NAS) on the nose. The smoke is still quite shy and there are lots of apples and melons on the nose. On the palate there are hints of lychee and an overall heavier feel than the NAS. There IS more smoke but not a LOT more.
Conclusion – this is like the NAS expression after a couple of months in the gym. Considering it is about £40 more expensive (ed: it actually costs about £60.), I think I will stick with the NAS for now. Think of this as Ardbeg’s fruitier and light younger brother, before he started smoking in a serious way.
Connemara Cask Strength (57.9%)
Blimey! This is much more like it. Whilst not exactly reaching Supernova levels of peat, this is significantly more peaty than either of the 40% expressions, plus a lovely dose of Jamaican ginger cake on the nose and a slight savouriness. Palate-wise, the peat is more peppery than medicinal with a bitter dark chilli chocolate edge and more pepper to finish.
Conclusion – a real step up in class. The first two are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but this ups the phenols to something approaching the Islays with a lovely peppery and gingery element. However, it’s priced around £50. which makes it a better bet than the 12 year old.
Tony adds: rumour has it that Beam Global, new owners of the Cooley distillery that makes Connemara, is massively cutting back on the range of expressions in order to concentrate on making Kilbeggan a competitor to Jamesons. This means small batch whiskies like the Turf Mor and Cask Strength are likely to be discontinued. Shame!