Located in County Down, just south of the city of Belfast and north of Ballynahinch, the Killaney Estate is the home of one of Ireland’s newest Distilleries.
Owner Terry Cross carefully built the Hinch distillery using local materials that will not only stand the test of time, but that flow with the existing historic estate. Cross previously re-established a historic Cháteau in Bordeaux, bringing its vineyards back to their former glory. With the Killaney Estate and the launch of Hinch, Cross is bringing the same attention to quality and detail – resulting in a stunning 161 cask launch of a truly remarkable new Irish Whiskey. To learn more about the brand, we caught up with Michael Morris, the International Sales Director at Hinch Distillery Co.
Can you share your thoughts on the way the Irish Whiskey Market has grown and evolved over the last few years and where do you see the market heading?
The Irish Whiskey category has been the fastest growing spirit category for a number of years across the globe, but the impetus started in the States and the American market continues to be the most important driver for growth and the development of the category. Obviously, the big global Irish Whiskey brands have dominated this renaissance for the category, and by that, I mean Irish Whiskey starting to reclaim a position that it once held at the start of the 20th Century vis its principal competitor, Scotch whisky. There is a long way to go to get parity but the growth against fierce competition has been remarkable and spectacular.
Most importantly, this dynamic has given a whole new generation of consumers an awareness of and a liking for the lovely, easy drinking style that is the Irish spirit – this in turn has fueled an interest in trying new expressions and that is why today you have 36 Distilleries on the Island of Ireland (Hinch is officially number 36 so we are the new boy on the block!) as opposed to the 4 that existing 10 years ago.
This has to be good for the category and ultimately the whiskey consumer. Large and Small independent distilleries finding their niche in the crowded market, with Single Malts (Triple and sometimes double distilled) Single Pot Still whiskies unique to Ireland and a variety of blends finished in a plethora of interesting wood finishes constantly pushing the envelope in terms of taste. It is indeed a great time to be involved in the Irish Whiskey business and we at Hinch Distillery hope to play our part and leave our mark as one of the leading Irish owned independent Irish Whiskey and Irish Gin distilleries.
What has your brand done to stand out in a highly competitive market?
At Hinch Distillery, based in County Down in the North of Ireland we have a number of unique USPs that give us an opportunity to achieve stand out among our competitors. To date we have released our acquired cask whiskey stocks under our Hinch name, and our intention was to set a high-quality bar for our own liquid in production coming down the track. We went for a unique and unusual embossed bottle style and even adopted the color blue as our brand identity which would not be typical in the category.
Match the packaging with outstanding whiskey in the bottle was the key and we went with a range of triple distilled blends where the age statement of 5 and 10 were prominent but took both of those whiskies to another level using a double wood virgin oak finish for the 5yo and a 30-year-old Oloroso Sherry cask finish for out 10yo. Our Small Batch entry level has a high malt content and among its peers is as good an example of classic Irish “sipping whiskey” as its possible to have. We were however also determined to be known as a bold new player in the category so we also produced a beautiful Single Pot Still and a highly unusual (for Irish Whiskey) Peated Single Malt that gives evidence that we can compete with the best from Islay at their own game – after all we would contend in Ireland that we were first back in the day!
We hope to be known as one of the finest Single Malt Distilleries in Ireland and as we come from Co Down in the North which shares many long-standing cultural connections with Scotland because of our close proximity, we hope to take the best traditions of whiskey making in Scotland and Ireland and create outstanding bold flavors and expressions of what we call the “uisce beatha” – the water of life
Does your physical location affect the product you produce – we want to know about any local ingredients you use and how it affects your end result – think the grain, barrels, water and etc.
As already mentioned, we are in the North of Ireland and at some points we are only 25 miles from the coast of Scotland. This location gives us a unique heritage that is proudly Irish while embracing positively our Scottish connections. It’s not by chance that our head distiller, Aaron Flaherty, learned his trade in both Scottish Distilleries and Irish and this has given him a perfect opportunity to create bold expressions of Triple Distilled Single Malt here at Hinch – the first New Make came off the Pot Stills following our first distillation in Nov for the 161 “An Chead Dun” casks – translated as the “First Down.”
These casks were sold as a unique opportunity to own a piece of Irish Whiskey history in the making, and I have to say, the new make spirit is both beautiful and complex (in) flavors and aromas. We mash and ferment using only naturally occurring enzymes from our malted barley and we are proud that our Mash House contains not one but two mashing vessels, allowing Aaron to optimize the extraction process and obtain a richer wort. Its only partly a secret, but our Pot Stills have been specially designed with reflux in mind – this feature allows the vapor and copper interaction the critical extra time it needs to build a distinguished flavor out of the ordinary.
Tasting our new make as I have, Aaron is onto something great! It would also be worth mentioning that our water supply comes from the famous Silent Valley reservoir situated near us on the cusp of the equally famous Mourne Mountains – acknowledged as some of the purest water supply on the Island, our location in County Down has delivered this heaven-sent source of water on our doorstep.
What do you want bartenders to know about selling or (potentially) mixing with your whiskey?
The tradition of drinking whiskey in Ireland is the classic sipping style – straight with no water. All of our whiskies are over-proofed at 43% and this is designed to give the consumer a long lingering finish without the “alcoholic burn” normally associated with drinking whisky straight – try any one of our whiskies and you will find that we are all about flavor with the ABV way in the background (where it should be!). Triple distillation obviously helps us achieve this, as its back to one of the reasons why Irish Whiskey in general is so popular with younger consumers in particular.
“On the rocks” is not something we fear as the bolder flavors of our Hinch whiskies are able to get past the numbing effect of the ice chill and still deliver the taste in a slightly more subtle way. The Hinch Double Wood 5-year-old is a Bartenders go to around cocktails as the extra year in virgin American oak gives the whiskey a beautiful spice note delivered from the char, and this finds its way into any classic whiskey-based cocktail. One of our signature cocktails, and my personal favorite, is made with our Hinch Small Batch and has fresh lemon juice and Velvet Falernum mixed in a highball and good quality ginger beer added with the whiskey– simple to make and execute but incredibly refreshing with the whiskey kick in all its sublime glory coming through in the drink – I just love it!