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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Single Malt Report: Connemara Turf Mor

Today's Cooley malt is the peatiest of their peated brand, Connemara Turf Mor.  Here's the Turf Mor (Gaelic for Big Peat) description per the Liquid Irish blog:
...a few years ago Cooley had trouble sourcing its usual amount of 20ppm peated malt from Scotland (malt made in Ireland is not peated). To keep the stills going, they bought a higher 58ppm malt and mixed it with the unpeated variety to moderate the intensity. 
As an experiment, however, they distilled some of the highly-peated malt on its own and that is what has appeared today as Connemara Turf Mór.
Liquid Irish's source of this information appears to be Brian Quinn, the Kilbeggan Distillery (also owned by Beam) manager, so I'll go with that tale.

As mentioned yesterday, my palate does not take to Cooley's malt at all.  So the thought of strong peating and wine finishes on their malt actually does give me some hope going in, hoping that "the Cooley thing" is covered up by other elements.  I found the regular Connemara Cask Strength to be very hot, woody, smoky, and well, that's it.  I was hoping this Small Batch edition of Connemara would bring about a better, more interesting experience.
Brand: Connemara (peated single malt)
DistilleryCooley (owned by Beam Inc.)
Country: Ireland
Style: Single Malt Whiskey
Age: around 3 years (2010 edition)
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks; its URL says "sherry finish", though I haven't read any mention of this otherwise
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
PPM: 58

I bought my 30mL sample from whiskysamples, a reliable European sample shop which is currently undergoing a website transition.

The color is amber.  The nose's strongest scent is that of new sneakers.  It permeates everything else.  Alongside there are rye-like spices, cinnamon rock candy, damp moss, black licorice, fresh apricots, and unripened peaches.  And lots of hot ethyl.  On the palate, I find a note that's like burnt hay meets brown sugar syrup.  The sneakers and moss show up here, along with something green (like live grains and grass), and "the Cooley thing" (aka vanilla-coated stale sugary breakfast cereal dunked in white vinegar).  It finishes sweetly.  Lots of vanilla beans as well as the Cooley thing.  The peat becomes very Lagavulin-ish with time.  The smoke isn't as heavy as I'd expected but it lasts the longest.

"Black licorice farts and a lot of them" (as per my notes) on the nose and "floral perfume trying to cover it up".  Balsamic vinegar reduction, a little turpentine, sugar cookies, and clementines.  Oh, and dog hair.  The palate flattens and blands out.  Bitter peat, generic vanilla, and a slight tang.  But then it finishes very sweetly.  There's a little malt mixing with peat ashes.  Then a weird vinegar tang that gets sourer after time.

My final note from this tasting: "WTF is going on with this whiskey?"

With water, the nose gets very odd and inconsistent, burping up clashing odors every few seconds.  The hydrated palate goes nowhere, but then the finish picks back up in its oddities.  The neat nose is a weirdo too, but easier to take and occasionally matches the palate.  It's quite hot while neat, but with the water it's just strange.  This could be a symptom of its youth.

There are definitely many characteristics pouring forth from this whiskey, and I can imagine it seemed kinda fun when the Cooley folks nosed the cask.  But the total package is totally off kilter.  I don't know why they were in such a rush to release a barely legal whiskey.  A few more years in a good cask wouldn't have hurt.  This could have been fun as an 8 year old, so I hope they held onto a few casks of the big peatin'.

Serge thinks it's "a curiosity" worth 79 points and Fuji of LAWS wasn't crazy about the stuff; meanwhile John Hansell thinks it vibrant and distinctive, Coopered Tot likes it a bit, and Murray loved it (natch).  I do think it's more interesting than the regular Cask Strength, but have my doubts that it makes for a better drinking experience.  It makes me think that Connemara has many miles to go before it can compete with its Beam brethren, Laphroaig and Ardmore.

Availability - Canada and Europe
Pricing - $90 to $120 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 74


  1. Jeeze, I guess they were trying to compete with Kilchoman or something? I don't think that works when you're a big industrial distillery and the spirit doesn't get as much copper contact as that in Kilchoman's tiny stills. Some sherry probably would have helped, but it doesn't sound like there's any in there from your tasting notes.

    1. Even though I'm not the biggest sherry fan, I do agree that a good sherry cask could have helped the Turf Mor out. But I caught nothing sherry-related. If anything the oak was almost absent altogether. I really don't understand why they felt it was necessary to release it at 3 years old. Financially speaking, it was a small release so it wasn't like they made a bundle of it Octomore-style.

      On the other hand, Josh Feldman liked it and we bought our samples from the same place. So maybe I'm missing something?