Spotlight On: Dingle

This SWAG tasting occurred last October, so I’m late to the party once again.

Thanks to recording technology and saved samples, however, tonight’s the night I put the spotlight on Dingle – prompted by Roy Duff who describes how he’s loving Dingle’s new single malt, finding it distinctive enough to pick out from a lineup [Dramface Podcast #2, early on].

Hosted by brand ambassador David Cummins, tonight’s tasting is a deconstruction of Dingle’s ‘core’ single malt.

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Dingle is the sister company of Porterhouse Brewing Company, established by cousins Oliver Hughes and Liam Lahart [see pic] who opened Ireland’s first craft brewpub in Dublin in 1996 with the intention of improving the beer situation in Ireland.

Dave paints the picture of pubs in 1980s Ireland where you typically saw three beer taps serving Guinness, Murphy’s, and Harp [also made by Guinness]. The Porterhouse portfolio has since expanded to include a total of six pubs located in Dublin, London, and New York, as well as a chain of tapas bars. They currently offer 20 craft beers on their website.

In the noughties, the pair looked at setting up a distillery next to the Porterhouse brewery which had since moved to a bigger facility on the outskirts of Dublin in 2000. At that time, there were just three operating Irish distilleries – Bushmills [Casa Cuervo], Cooley’s [Beam Suntory], and Midleton Distillery [Irish Distillers~Pernod Ricard]. In bars at that time, you’d typically see just Jameson’s, Paddy’s and Powers – all of which are made at Midleton.

It was Oliver [now deceased], whose initiative it was to establish a distillery in Dingle – “pretty much his second home”, says Dave – making it the most westerly distillery in Europe. Founded in 2012 on the site of an old sawmill, Dingle is an independent family-run distillery – the first in over 100 years – making vodka, gin, single malt, and single pot-still whisky – then only the second distillery making single pot still Irish whiskey, explains Dave. Interestingly, he likens pot still to ‘accents’, with each town/region having its own dialect or recipe. He thinks of mash bills as textural palate sensations.

With the reopening of Kilbeggan in 2007, Dingle became Ireland’s fifth working distillery at the time. Ten years later, Dingle is one of forty [see the recently outdated map of Irish distilleries showing ‘just’ 31]. “Peak whisky mania” [Becky Paskin] has seen Irish whiskey sales grow 300% a year. 100 years ago, Dublin alone had 37 operating distilleries within a 2-mile radius, says Dave, who assures us there’s plenty of room to accommodate all of Ireland’s up-starts.

We begin tonight’s deconstruction tasting with Dingle’s newmake.

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Dingle New Make [2021] Un-Ob. 65% WB70[3]

  • N: Gently sweet n sour with a pinch of salt.
  • T: Remarkably easy on the palate – malt and copper, there you have it – oh, and popadoms!
  • F: Some textural chew.
  • C: A neutral one awaiting oak.

[Not scored]

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Dingle Bourbon Cask Sample [2021] Un-Ob. 46.3%

Age-wise, this is between 5.5 and 7.5 years old. The same goes for their official single malt [coming up]. Dingle is looking to release whiskey with age statements sometime after 2022 [a Dingle 10yo+], though the master distiller, Mark, reckons their whiskey’s sweet spot is around 8-10 years.

  • N: Similar to a number of bourbon-steered young malts from new distilleries with a honeyed confectionary sweet & beer-like citrus sour profile.
  • T: Flour-dry, sweet = < sour once again, this is a front-centre palate experience.
  • F: Sweet sour barley sugar/Maltesers conclusion. Notably, there’s zero heat or overt spiciness.
  • C: Incredibly congenial, which given the newmake, isn’t at all surprising. Things will get interesting once the nop notes – through grape casks – are added.

[Not scored]

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Dingle PX Cask Sample [2021] Un-Ob. 46.3%

  • N: Here, we’ve [1st fill = PX] tannins and spice.
  • T: This roof of the palate experience wants a little water revealing it to be a graceful swimmer. With Dingle’s bourbon cask-matured whiskey bringing flavour to the front-middle of the palate, the combo of bourbon and PX is sure to provide the palate with an enveloping experience.
  • F: Again, a sour to bitter/ > sweet dry delivery with slight [woody] raisiny barley sugar and a faint saltiness. Dave says the saltiness is a key Dingle signature note.
  • C: The bourbon/PX ratio will be key to a successful marriage.

[Not scored]

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Dingle sports wooden fermenters & mash tun and three squat Forsythe’s pot stills. Producing 500-litres per run – triple distilling and double distilling peated and non-peated spirit – with zero automation, they operate two distillations a day. Dingle fills between 20 to 40 barrels a week.

Barley spirit production is divided up as so:

  • 30-40% single malt
  • 30-40% single pot still – pot still confusingly refers to the mash bill – Dingle’s mash bill around 50/50 malted/unmalted barley
  • The remainder is peated, rye,… etc.

Maturation-wise:

40% of their whiskey production goes into bourbon cask, 40% into [all] sherry types, 10% into port, and the last 10% into ‘experimentals’ [champagne casks, wine, tequila, cognac, armagnac,…]. Dingle’s official releases are non-chill filtered, presented at natural colour, and at an abv strength of 46.3%.

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Dingle Single Malt [2021] Ob. ‘Core Release’ [50000 bts] 46.3% WB82.96[76]

Dingle’s core whiskey is made up of [100% first-fill] bourbon and PX casks, our host holding back on the ratio info until we’ve tried it and guessed. He tells us Basil-Hayden’s [High Rye] casks work really well with the newmake though Dingle also uses casks from Maker’s Mark > Jack Daniel’s/Jim Beam. Aged between 5.5 and 7.5 years, this is twice the age of many a new distillery release.

  • N: What a marriage/commendable blending. Sweetness > sour, a little citrus, the flour-dry barley core comes through clearly, the wood integrated/polished.
  • T: Noticeable but absolutely acceptably [and desirably] spicy – some say puckering/tannic – with a grapey juicy rough/earthy > salty-sweet > sour, the underlying and rounded floury-dry spirit still coming through faithfully. Add a little water and you’ve got a candid view of the component parts, the recipe certainly hanging together. Is the PX a bit,.. predictable? It tells me the PX, surprisingly, is more dominant than I would have imagined.
  • F: Whilst graduating from the eu-de-vie, it’s ever-faithful to the barley/spirit though the PX is certainly the navigator. Almost a waxy textural experience, the beer is still to reappear at the tail.
  • C: Ratios revealed = 69% PX, 31% Bourbon – wow?! Skillful blending/clever PX management, Dingle is an enjoyable, accessible, accomplished, spirit-faithful, available Irish single malt.

Scores 83 points

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Out of interest, I mix my bourbon & PX samples together at a ratio of 50/50.

  • C: Decidedly ‘greener’/more sappy/gacky with all that bourbon over PX. That means the PX is acting as the binding core/base, the bourbon effectively playing more a ‘top note’ role! Either way, the finish is spirit-faithful though the official single malt brings textural elements. For my palate preferences, down the line, I’d be tempted to rein in the PX slightly and use more refill bourbon.

Dave emphasises that Dingle didn’t arrive at their current core whiskey through luck. There were numerous early experiments: working with twenty grain farmers, triple distillation tweaks, watering down the spirit before bottling, different yeasts, closing/opening fermenters, fermentation times,… Dave tells us Dingle doesn’t plan years in advance [unlike Raasay]. It’s more like a few months, a batch created on the basis of what the casks say. ‘Work with what you have’, seems to be Dingle’s mantra – a practical, realistic, hands-on approach.

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There’s one more for the road.

Dingle Pot Still Shiraz [2021] Un-Ob. 62.5%

This is an example of one of Dingle’s 10% maturation experiments, seeing five years in bourbon before +/- 18 months in Australian Shiraz.

  • N: Since I fell for TBWC’s integrated wine bomb Willowbank [WLP], my appreciation for wine casks is [currently] high. I’ve become fatigued with sherry-seasoned whisk[e]y, so [red] wine has become the exotic. Worryingly, there’s a strong leathery grapey sulphury note here that doesn’t bode well on the palate for a sulphur-sensitive Whisky Loving Pianist.
  • T: Crikey! This isn’t for me, being more PX-ey than the PX cask sample. Many peeps don’t get how unaccessible these styles can be. And yet, there I am devouring bottles of the SMWS ‘Temptation to the Dark Side’ [WLP87], so it’s a fine line.
  • C: Another industry reminder that more and more wine cask-matured whiskies are coming. Embrace Embrace! For today, let’s focus on Dingle’s excellent accessible and affordable core range single malt.

[No Score]

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Currently bottling just 20% of its stock, Dingle is holding plenty back. “You’re not building for the next 3-4 years”, explains Dave, “you’re preparing for the next 30-40 years”. A strategy for the long game. Wow! How many new distilleries can honestly say that?

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‘After hours’ chat brings discussions over Waterford [WLP], the ’T’-word, and Mr Reynier [WLP]. That his reputation is so comprehensively negative [within Ireland and the industry at large], is disquieting. If you’re looking for terroir in Ireland, says Dave, look out for Tipperary Distillery run by Jennifer Nickerson, daughter of Stuart Nickerson [SW] of Highland Park, Glenrothes, Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Girvan fame. Further reading: irishtimes

Question: What is the essence of Irish whiskey? Rather than answering with a flavour profile, Dave offers ‘a new entrepreneurial Irish spirit,… if it works it works,… if it doesn’t, you gave your best’, as novel answers. So, perhaps we shall see Irish whiskey move away from the waxy tropical fruity profile of old? 

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Votes are in. Wayne who organised an electronic poll has disappeared so it’s back to a good ‘ole show of hands. I imagine the core release will shine out thoroughly but, as it is, the PX cask sample is the dram of the evening. With thanks to Dave, Kenny, and SWAG.

Further reading: dingledistillery.ie

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END

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