Connemara is, to my knowledge, the only peated single malt Irish whiskey on the market (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). This brand was started by John Teeling after he purchased Cooley Distillery, the first new Irish whiskey distillery in over 100 years. Cooley has a bit of a checkered past; the Irish government used it to distill industrial alcohol, until selling it for scrap to Dr. Teeling in 1988. But rather than dismantle it, he decided to make whisky, and seriously struggled for a couple of years before it started to take off, thanks to the resurrection of old, iconic brands such as The Tyrconnell, Locke's and Kilbeggan. They also market a grain whisky called Greenore. Cooley may be the most innovative and boundary-pushing of the Irish distilleries, which has served Dr. Teeling well: he cashed out last year, selling the distillery and its brands to Beam Global for a cool 71 million euros. Not a bad investment given he paid 106,000 GBP for it in 1988.
Connemara Turf Mor (gaelic for "big peat") is the most heavily peated of any Irish whiskey, at a staggering 58 ppm (standard Connemara is 20 ppm). It is part of their Small Batch Collection, and like Octomore from Bruichladdich, seems to be a bit of an experiment in Extreme Peating (sounds like something you'd watch on ESPN). It is non-chill-filtered. Many thanks to Johanne McInnis for this sample. Because I do not have the bottle, I don't know the bottle code, nor any other pertinent information that might be on the label.
The colour is a brilliant light gold. Be careful when you nose it - alcohol burn! But when you get past that, some nice sweet peat smoke with sage, thyme, lavender and a slight soapiness (that I'm not crazy about). After only a few minutes in the glass, it starts to smell like, um, an ashtray. Seems extremely young - this may be less than four years old. Very tart and sharp. Improves with water, replacing the soap and "ashtray" notes with more malt.
On the palate - wow! Very rubbery and medicinal, with very pronounced lemon citrus. Bitter. Lots of Fisherman's Friend - I feel like I'll have clear sinuses for the next few months. Very oily, with the slightest hint of cream soda in the background. Surprisingly, I don't get that burning alcohol heat at this strength; and conversely, a drop of water actually adds that heat.
The finish continues the Fisherman's Friend note, with more lavender, turning into cilantro. Powerful, but medium length. Although the ppm is higher than Laphroaig or Lagavulin, the smoke doesn't stay in the mouth as long as with those malts. Surprising delicate for such a peat monster, but a very challenging dram - a little too challenging. It's very imbalanced; while very complex, there is a lot of conflict between the notes. It's like a party in my mouth and everyone invited eats kippers and smokes Camels. If you know me, you know I love my peated whiskies, and I enjoy other Connemaras, but this one, as interesting as it is, doesn't bowl me over. But don't listen to me - I have many friends who love this malt, it has won a number of awards, and Jim Murray scores it a 94. So to each their own!
@WhiskyBee, thank you for the kind words. I was lucky enough to get a sample from fellow Canadian "Whiskylassie" (check out her blog) so I didn't have to spring for a bottle. I had heard enough good things about it that I would have been happy to shell out for one - but I'm kind of glad I didn't. The sample had two generous drams in it, and I had all of it over the course of 90 mins or so. Just wasn't crazy about it. But it is worth trying, who knows...
@Victor, I agree. I love the Connemara CS, which I've had a few times (the last time was with my partner's father, a serious brawler of an Irishman who used to be an investigator in the UK and seems amazed I'm not intimidated by him). The Connemara NAS is also very good. This one just went over the top with a whole bunch of off-notes. I know @thecyclingyogi really likes it, I presume Johanne "Whiskylassie" McInnis likes it as well. Am currently cleansing my palate with ye olde Ardbeg 10.
Thanks, @talexander. I hear what you're saying re: the battle of the family scepters, but I'd still like to get my hands on an Octomore 2.2 one of these days. If I could only find one.
Yeah, Ardbeg. I think I'd hate them if I didn't love their whisky so much.
I chose Fergie mainly because she's the best-known part-Irish lass I could think of. I prefer Rachelle Lefevre or (giving away my age here) Ann-Margret. Both just slightly Irish, I know. But being half-Irish myself, I'm a sucker for gorgeous redheads. (I married a Hungarian blonde, but I'm not complaining.)