Clonakilty Irish Whiskey (Port Cask Finish)

Drink Reviews whiskey
Clonakilty Irish Whiskey (Port Cask Finish)

Ireland’s Clonakilty Distillery is a small, fresh face in the wider and history laden Irish whiskey scene, having opened their coastal distilling operation and Atlantic Ocean aging warehouse back in 2018. Run by the Scully family, which has been farming the Irish countryside for nine successive generations at this point, it’s intended to eventually be a farm-to-glass operation, making use of heritage barley grown via the Scully’s own farm. Granted, these aspirations will require growth and expansion.

Being so young, their distillate hasn’t had a ton of time to mature just yet, although they are indeed selling their own product in the form of flagship Clonakilty Double Oak Irish Whiskey. That young spirit, the flagship of Clonakilty’s core Cask Finish Series, is seeing its maturation accelerated via finishing in “virgin” (freshly charred) American oak, which greatly speeds up the pace of interaction between the spirit and the wood. Likewise, it’s also finished in shaved, toasted and re-charred ex-red wine European oak casks. These are typically referred to as “STR” casks in the industry, though Clonakilty seems to call them NEOC casks, standing for “New Era of Cask.”

That’s not what we have to taste today, though—instead, I have a sample of one of Clonakilty’s other core products in the Cask Finish Series, which is Clonakilty Irish Whiskey Port Cask Finish. This is a sourced blend, containing a non-age-stated Irish malt, and a 9-year-old Irish grain whiskey, which are finished together in port casks from the Douro Valley of Portugal in Clonakilty’s Atlantic Ocean warehouse. All in all, it seems pretty clear that the resulting product, bottled at 43.6% ABV (87.2 proof), is meant to elevate a relatively young malt with the port finish. MSRP is at a pretty reasonable $50.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting.

On the nose, Clonakilty Port Cask Finish is curiously muted on first inspection, lacking the richness and depth of fruitiness that one typically tends to expect in a port-finished malt—we need to remember that a portion of this blend is also grain whiskey. I’m getting notes of dusty malt, biscuity tones and a bit of sweeter graham cracker, along with faint apple fruitiness and subtle anise. All in all, though, the nose is quite mild, albeit in a pleasant profile. Over time, a slightly more vinous fruitiness is teased out, hinting at the secondary maturation.

On the palate, this whiskey brings somewhat more character to play—I’m getting significant honey and a bit of darker toffee, with fruit flashes of cherry pits, apple and grape juice. A slight roastiness lends a bit of balance, while subtle spice flourishes of anise and caradmom round things out. Ethanol, unfortunately feels a bit overrepresented in this flavor profile for the relatively low proof, giving an antiseptic quality to the finish that mars the overall presentation. All in all? It just feels young to me still, even with that age-stated grain whiskey in the mix. Perhaps the length of the secondary finish wasn’t enough to really get more expressive notes out of the port cask, or perhaps it’s lacking heft with a relatively large proportion of grain whiskey in the mix, but I’m left wanting more.

The price, at least, is pretty affordable, especially as finished Irish whiskeys from non-major producers are concerned. All in all, I’d like to see this profile continue to evolve with more maturation and verve.

Distillery: Clonakilty Distillery
City: Clonakilty, Ireland
Style: Irish blended whiskey
ABV: 43.6% (87.2 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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