A Sense of Place…
The great winemakers of Burgundy and Bordeaux like to talk about the unique qualities of the soil in which their vines grow. This ‘terroir’, as they call it, is said to inform the personalities (and prices) of their finest wines. Similarly, it is said that whiskey takes on the character of the environment in which its barrel breathes. Clare Island harbour where The Dolphin shelters is a small fishing port with a large sandy beach nestled inside the wall…
Standing by the harbour wall, each inhalation brings a symphony of scents, from the salty spume as swells break against the rocks to the tang of fresh seaweed and the sweet smoke of hearth-burning turf. Since her maiden voyage as Island ferry in 1968 and through her new life as cask-bearer, the bones and hide of this old boat, of oak and larch and teak, have been suffused with these same rare scents. We can’t claim terroir but we may just have invented air-oir!
Our Clare Island Single Malt Spirit Drink is aged at sea for a minimum of three years, with the liquor in a gentle state of perpetual motion against the oak surrounds, introducing a new variable to the maturation process and opening up an ocean of possibilities in flavour profile and complexity. The island of Ireland maintains a temperate maritime climate on the western fringe of continental Europe, influenced by the North Atlantic Drift and Gulf Stream, an island off the West coast of this island enjoys a further amplification of this climate, resulting in what are not scientifically known as grand soft days. Additionally, the temperature range at sea off the West coast of Ireland is lesser than that on the island of Ireland on an annual basis, reducing exposure to extended periods of freezing temperatures which can slow down the aging process. Our Clare Island time moves at just the right pace.
Heavy weather however is a regular occurrence over the winter periods and therefore cask integrity is a major concern due to heavy pitching of the boat. In addition, salty air is heavily corrosive and can damage the metal hoops over time…
Through trial and error we have developed our own organic wax to coat the hoops and reduce the corrosive power of the saline atmosphere. We’re just looking for a hint of the marine after all. Speaking of hints, those casks are American oak ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky. They will impart a straw-blond hue and notes of honey, coconut and vanilla to the finished product.
There’s a lot to consider when making a single malt (and even more when you decide to age it on the water) like whether to have the casks standing (which is now becoming common practice in the larger distilleries) or lying down on the boat during maturation. Due to potential heavy pitching of potentially stormy seas it was decided to lay the cask down to have a lower centre of gravity which in theory will cause less stress on the barrel, and less stress on us, the makers.
While our spirit is aged at sea, it is birthed across the bay in county Mayo. We work with the Co Mayo based Connacht Distillery to provide us with a Single Malt New Make Spirit that captures the essence of the county through its soft water, raw produce and one of a kind purpose built stills and brewing system managed by award winning master distiller Robert Cassell.