THE IRISH WHISKEY BONDER
Today we are used to purchasing whiskey, whether Irish or otherwise, from a retailer or bar that obtained the bottle from a distributor who deals directly with the distiller. The distiller produces the whiskey, bottles it, seals it, then ships the sealed bottles to the distributor, and while there are other minor middlemen in between, the product inside the bottle isn’t touched until you or a bartender cracks open the seal and pours out a dram. It’s so standard that most of us don’t even give it a moment’s thought; the liquid in the sealed bottle is sacred.
It wasn’t long ago that most Irish whiskey distillers focused on distilling and nothing else. The task of aging, blending, bottling, and distributing was handled by what was termed a “bonder.” The name bonder comes from the fact that they were holding the whiskey in bond, in other words without paying duties on it until it was dispatched from the bonded warehouse. In the worst of cases, this infrastructure allowed nefarious bonders to adulterate the whiskey to increase profits but in many instances bonders added value by aging and blending the whiskeys to improve the final product. The best of those bonders produced some of Ireland’s most iconic and sought-after whiskeys like the Spot Whiskeys (Green Spot, Yellow Spot, and Red Spot) produced by Mitchell & Sons and Redbreast by W.A. Gilbey’s.
NEW BONDER ON THE BLOCK
Add The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Company to the list of bonders producing exceptional Irish whiskey blends. Founded in 2015 by 20-year spirits industry veteran Louise McGuane, Chapel Gate is Ireland’s first modern-day bonder. Louise built a dunnage-style bonded rackhouse on the family farm in Cooraclare on the country’s west coast containing an unparalleled library of whiskeys from every corner of Ireland. Every detail of the rackhouse was well thought out, from the orientation of the windows that help maintain ideal maturation temperature during the coldest months, to the earth and gravel floors, which help regulate the humidity.
Louise and her small team organize the 100+ casks in the rackhouse by flavor blocks. In other words, they’ll group casks by similar profiles like spicy vanilla, ripe banana, and smoky bacon just to name a few. They literally write the flavor characteristics of the barrel right on the barrel’s head. Since they’re a small operation that brings whiskeys to market in small batches of roughly 7,000 bottles at a time, you can expect a similarity from batch to batch but not a carbon copy unless you’re drinking from the same batch.
These whiskeys are branded under the J.J. Corry marque and feature 46% ABV, no coloring agents, and non-chill filtering. This approach is music to the ears of whiskey nerds worldwide. For this tasting we selected J.J. Corry – The Hanson Batch No. 2, a blend of Irish grain whiskeys that is strikingly pale in color.
The whiskey has a color of pale straw in the glass but don’t let it fool you, it is a flavor bomb. On the nose you’ll find vanilla along with oak and floral notes while the palate is complex with green apple, toasted coconut, oak spice, and fresh grain. The finish is long and substantial delivering an almost salty characteristic that balances nicely with the prior sweet notes.
Cigar Pairing: FSG 20-Acre Farm
Much like the J.J. Corry – The Hanson, The FSG 20-Acre Farm is misleading in that it has the appearance of an ultra-mild smoke but in reality is quite flavorful. The cigar’s blend of cedar, nuts, and smooth spice make for a balanced pairing with the whiskey, which at 46% can overpower many Connecticut shade-wrapped smokes. The cigar knocks down a good bit of the whiskey’s sweetness, converting the vanilla into a delicate citrus, which somehow makes its way over to the cigar.