The Kilbeggan Distillery is the oldest Irish licensed distillery dating back to 1757. In 1954 production ceased and in 1957, after almost 200 years of production, the distillery closed completely and the building began to fall into disrepair. Twenty five years after its closure, the community of Kilbeggan restored the distillery and opened it to the public as a whiskey distillery museum. Cooley Distillery later bought the license to produce Kilbeggan and Lockes Whiskey, and opened a new working distillery in Kilbeggan. Whiskey production recommenced in 2007 and in 2010 Kilbeggan became a fully operational distillery once again, with the installation of a mash tun and fermentation vats. One of the two Copper Pot Stills that is being used in Kilbeggan was made in the early 1800s and is the oldest working Pot Still producing whiskey in the world today. When Japanese spirits giant Suntory purchased Beam, Inc in 2014, Kilbeggan, which Beam purchased 2 years earlier, was also included in the purchase. Today Kilbeggan produces various whiskies under four brands, Kilbeggan, The Tyrconnel, Connemara, and 2Gingers.
After years of drinking Scotch whiskey, then Tennessee whiskey, and finally bourbon I accidentally stumbled upon rye whiskey when I picked up a bottle of Bulleit Rye instead of bourbon. As soon as I tasted it I was hooked by the difference in flavours that rye whiskey gave compared to bourbon. Later, when I learned that rye whiskey was its own distinct style of whiskey, I made sure to always have a bottle or two in my collection and now I have around 30 bottles (much to the delight of my wife!) Around this time I also began wondering why Irish whiskey producers weren’t using rye in their mashbills when traditionally rye had formed part of many heirloom whiskey recipes in the past. So, with a hunger for an Irish rye whiskey I began contacting both long-standing and newly established distilleries in Ireland to see if anyone else had considered adding rye to their whiskey. The responses were few, and many made vague promises of considering using rye in the future, but only one came back with the response I was hoping for – and I have been waiting semi-patiently ever since. Released last week to great acclaim, the Kilbeggan Distilling Company announced their limited-edition Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye Irish whiskey. Distilled by Irish distilling legend Alex Chasko, and the first whiskey released that’s wholly distilled at the Kilbeggan Distillery, this small batch rye whiskey was originally made under the rules that would allow it be defined as a Single Pot Still, however, a recent revision to this definition has forced Kilbeggan to use a term that is not legally defined – Small Batch. Being the only modern Irish whiskey to use such a high quantity of rye in its mashbill, this release has already won a Gold Medal in the Best New Irish Whiskey category of the 2018 Irish Whiskey Awards. From the press release, Kilbeggan have said the following:
Double distilled in Kilbeggan’s copper pot stills – one of which is the oldest working whiskey pot still in the world today – Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye is the first of its kind in today’s market. Due to the nature of its mash bill, the flavor profile of Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye is notably softer than familiar American rye whiskies. The combination of rye, malt and barley produces an oily, viscous, creamy whiskey, bristling with rye and barley spice. As both Irish whiskey and Rye whiskey enjoy a resurgence, Kilbeggan Batch Rye is a true innovation within both categories, with a smooth, spicy flavor profile sure to excite whiskey drinkers and cocktail enthusiasts alike.
Name: Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye Whiskey
Age: Non Age Stated but rumoured to be around 6-7 years old
Proof: 86 proof
Type: Small Batch Irish Whiskey
Mashbill: The mashbill is predominantly malted and unmalted barley with an average of 30% rye between batches.
Producer: The Kilbeggan Distilling Company., Ireland
Glassware: Dragonglass Edinburgh glass
Nose: The nose opens with a burst of flavour. Green pears and soft honey blend seamlessly with earthy malted barely and a touch of white pepper rye.
Palate: The palate is viscous yet light with buttery honey, nutty, earthy yet fruity malted barley, and a faint wave of rye spice that washes in from the back of the palate.
Finish: The finish carries this wave of spice into its final crash as its peppery spice washes over the tongue leaving a long aftertaste of fruity malt, earthy rye grain, and dry oak.
It’s amazing to see rye becoming a popular grain in the world of global whiskey distillation. Many of the New and Old World whiskey producing countries have all now released or distilled their own rye whiskey and Ireland has followed suit with this offering from Kilbeggan. This is a very decent Irish whiskey but to be honest I would have liked the rye to have more influence on the final flavour profile. The malted barley really takes center stage here whilst the rye only adds a touch of background spice that builds with each subsequent sip, and the first few times I sampled this whiskey I found it a tad disappointing. When I tried it previously, at Whisky Live 2017, it was presented in a ‘from-the-cask’ sample at over 120 proof without any added caramel. Compared to that this 86 proof bottling (with added caramel) is much lighter and almost feels like it was bottled at a strength to appease all palates. Although still flavourful it takes a two or three drams to really let the flavours build up on the palate and to get the full experience. When I heard Irish rye I was expecting spice and full bodied flavour like what I’ve come to expect from other rye whiskies. However, it is important to mention that with this whiskey Kilbeggan were not trying to re-create an American rye whiskey. Instead, after the distillery had been restored in 2010 to become fully operational, the team wanted to produce a whiskey using a heritage mash bill of malt, barley and approximately 30% rye, which harkened back to the 1890s when many large Irish distillers used rye in their mash. As a result you don’t get a massive hit of rye spice but instead a delicate and lightly flavourful balance between the rye and malted barley. This whiskey is quite enjoyable but I personally would have liked it to have more oomph.
Try or Buy?
Albeit not the show stopper I was expecting this whiskey is both flavourful, and a piece of Irish whiskey history. Combine that with an RRP of €55 and it’s a no brainer – buy buy buy.
Image credit goes to fellow whiskey writer Whiskey Nut– be sure to check out his blog!