Louise is a drinks industry veteran, having held senior global marketing and commercial roles with Moet Hennessey, Pernod Ricard and Diageo. In 2013, she left the corporate world to found the Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Co. Her goal is to bring true innovation back to the Irish Whiskey Category. This latest blog article is excellent.
Whiskey blending as we are so often told is an art. Whiskey is composed of hundreds of chemical compounds, Lactones, Phenolics, Esters, Aldyhydes and all of their various iterations are what lend flavour to the spirit. Raw ingredients their origins, distillation methods, maturation conditions and cask variation all add layers of complexity and variation to a cask. But when it all really comes down to it, whiskey blending is mostly about buckets, oh and equations.
We scaled up our first blend yesterday and now have several thousand litres of whiskey which will be ready to be bottled after its had a while to rest. We’ll have about 7000 bottles of this first batch when all is said and done. To be honest, I’m a whiskey Bonder not a professional nose. I am a believer in surrounding yourself with people who are excellent at what they do and more importantly better than you at it. So I work closely with an expert in terms of selecting our casks and creating our blends and our house style. The artistry part of blending is where my expert excels. I’m all about the buckets and the equations.
After spending the past few years sourcing mature Irish Whiskey stock, then meticulously tasting and nosing every cask and classifying each one into an individual flavour block, we landed on a blend. I think its pretty special. Its 60% Malt and 40% grain. It is mostly comprised of older malt whiskies. 25% is 11 year old malt, 25% is 15 year old malt 5% is is 26 year old malt (yes TWENTY SIX YEARS OLD) and the remaining 40% is 7 year old single grain. I’m actually becoming really attached to my casks which is not a good idea. I have one cask of 26 year old in a sherry hogs head that I have decided I never want to sell…..I visit it in the rackhouse a lot and take in its aromas, just the aromas though.
So, watching the first cask arrive for disgorging on the end of the forklift was honestly pretty emotional. It was cask number 1198, a 15 year old malt classified as ‘Grassy’ with low cask influence, it was in 2nd fill ex-bourbon cask. Cooley distilled stock but a Bushmills cask oddly enough. The cask was disgorged and then the equations began. Our blend is so tiny that the guys had to make new equipment for us….The art of blending takes a second seat when you have to account to the revenue for every drop you disgorge. You allow in theory for 2% per annum, but with modern Irish industrialised maturation conditions this is often more. Dry palatalised warehouses lead to more evaporation. Another reason I’m racking with a Clay floor in our rackhouse. So, when you disorge the cask you have to take a gauge as to how much exactly is in it, you then take the ABV and with these two numbers you convert to LPA (liters of pure alcohol) which is how you report to the Revenue.
With big 60,000 litre blends you just do this in the tank. I had to do this with every cask. When I say, I, I mean me. Most of my day was spent converting LPA and OLA over and back. So precise is our blend that we partially disgorged some of the casks. 3 different 26 year old malts went into this blend, but only parts of those casks went in. To be revenue compliant we had to FULLY disgorge the cask into a small tank, then do all the ABV fussing, remove the required amount of litres from the small tank with a bucket do more ABV and LPA calculations and then fill the cask back up. This is an utterly ridiculous state of affairs, but we had to do it, as the Revenue is not clear on how to regulate for partial disgorgement. We are the first to do it in Ireland in a long time, I am happy to stand corrected on this folks, if any of you out there are doing it please let me know how you got it past revenue.
The nail biting bit was that once we had all the malt in the tank we had to then add the exactly correct proportion of grain to hit the 40%. This in the end was achieved with buckets. It got tense at one point when it looked like the tank had been guaged incorrectly and for a moment I thought the day had gone up in smoke. But we worked through that. I landed the blend within 3 liters of the amount I was aiming for. Not bad. We ended up having a small amount of leftover 10 year old grain. I have a very, very special plan for this.
The title of this post is how it feels to do this. It feels empowering. Yesterday I expected to rock up and sit back and watch laboratory staff do a lot of precision work. Instead I was carting buckets, calculating ratios, and ABV and LPA and OLA and heading into the warehouse to physically seek out individual casks and most importantly learning in a way I have not learned since I was a kid. I did not even see the inside of a lab!
A big thank you to the guys at GND who created new equipment for us, and the lads who worked their butts off all day fussing with buckets and micro amounts of whiskey compared to what they are accustomed to. John Teeling made a guest appearance, but I had my head so far in a spreadsheet I barely said hello. I have applied for planning to have my own blending facility I don’t think it will be ready for the next scale up, but yesterday has made it a lot clearer in my mind exactly what we need for it.
We are so, so close now, I have a tank of J.J. Corry ‘The Gael’ ready for bottling. We are going to let the liquid rest for a while to let everything marry together. I have a few more hoops to jump through and then we’ll be there. I kind of can’t believe it.
I’m a whiskey maker now, that feels pretty amazing.
Learn more about Louise and the Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Company