Irish whiskey is traditionally unpeated, however, Connemara Peated Single Malt Whiskey makes a strong case for more peated Irish whiskies. Connemara is a fantastic whiskey and deserves recognition as one of the great whiskies of the world.
How Connemara Is Made
Peat is native to Ireland, but it took a collaboration between the Cooley Distillery and Scottish distiller Gordon Mitchell (who later founded Arran Distillery in Scotland) before the first peated Irish whiskey was introduced.
Peated whiskies are gauged on their level of smoke by something called "phenols per million" (or ppm), which is an indication of just how much smoke has been added to the single malt barley.
Islay, a region of Scotland renowned for big, peaty whiskies, averages about 30 ppm while Connemara comes in at a milder 13-14 ppm. What this means is that while there is an element of smoke inherent in this whiskey, the smoke plays more of a supporting role than being front and center on the palate. Also, at 40% ABV, this whiskey doesn't pack an alcoholic punch, opting for finesse rather than brute strength.
Connemara is a blend of aged whiskies: a 4 year, a 6 year, and an 8 year. Company representatives tell me that the 4-year-old gives the whiskey a level of vibrancy, while the 8-year-old adds depth to the whiskey and the 6-year-old is needed to marry them together.
On the nose, Connemara has an initial smokiness with an underlying sweetness. It could be accurately described as smelling as if a toffee shop had burned down. Creosote, sugar and hints of chocolate abound.
The palate offers up flavors reminiscent of a forest fire, with the creosote flavor continuing as well as a slightly medicinal note balanced with soft caramels and sticky buns.
The finish is peaty, lingering and almost mysterious, with rich chocolate pot de creme notes at the end.
At one point, before the shake-up of the Irish whiskey industry in the early 2010's, Connemara also came in a 12 year old offering at cask strength as well as Ireland-only sherry cask finish and heavily peated expressions. Now that Kilbeggan owns the distillery, it is difficult to tell whether these specialty bottlings will be revived.
Bottles may still be available on the market and a whiskey enthusiast can always be assured that a bottled with the Connemara label is going to be an enjoyable whiskey.