Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Distillery of the Year”: Cooley

February 10th, 2010

There was a time when there were only two distilleries in Ireland; they were, for a while, owned by the same company. Then this small distillery opens up, staunchly independent, and starts doing things unheard of in Ireland. Instead of making traditional Irish whiskey (triple-distilled, non-smoky, and with a pot still whiskey component), they started making very scotch-like whiskey (double distilled, single malt, and sometimes very smoky).

Let’s face it. That took a lot of guts.

Nearly twenty years later, they’re still making Irish whiskey, and they’re still doing it their way. You can purchase delicious grain whiskey (Greenore), smoky single malt whiskey (Connemara), non-smoky whiskey (Tyrconnell), and blended whiskey (Kilbeggan). In fact, you can now also purchase unaged spirit from their newly resurrected sister distillery, Kilbeggan. (Not to be confused with the blend of the same name.)

All this is great. But the most compelling justification for selecting Cooley for this award isn’t just the variety of the whiskeys they make. It’s the quality. They are now putting out the best whiskey they have ever produced. The three different Tyrconnell 10 year old “finished” whiskeys (finished in port, madeira, and sherry casks), are excellent examples. Some of the Connemara releases have rivaled those from the West Coast of Scotland.

In an era where hundreds of small distilleries are starting up across the globe, Cooley can be an inspiration to them all.

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Awards announcements: “Lifetime Achievement Awards”  and “Top Ten New Whiskies for 2009.”

27 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Distillery of the Year”: Cooley”

  1. Red_Arremer says:

    An on point pick, John. Their emergence against the historical backdrop of the monopolized remnants of the Irish a once proud whisky industry is certainly inspiring. If only some of those Tyrconnell finishes were available in the boston area…

    • Luke says:

      Red, Tyrconnell 17 Year-Old Single Cask (ABV 46%, NCF) and Connemara 17 Year-Old Single Cask (ABV 46%, NCF) were the highlights of my Christmas/New Year (apart from last year’s Single Cask Midleton which also got opened).

      The great thing is that their stock is starting to reach the 18-Year mark – the quality of the general vattings can only improve.

      Noel Sweeney (pictured above) is a Gentleman and one of the Stars of the Industry in Ireland.

      Well Done Cooley!

  2. Another very well-deserved award, as Cooley have managed to breathe new life into Irish whiskey. And the quality they deliver is remarkable, expecially when you take into account their pricing strategy which is absolutely “antipodal” to the reduce-age-and-increase-price trend that has been haunting Scotch in recent years.

    So far I tasted the Greenore, the Connemara and the Kilbeggan and was positively suprised by all of them. And believe it or not, the Kilbeggan is way up on my personal bang-for-the-buck list because it is sold almost ridiculously cheap (EUR 13 – $18) in some German supermarkets. And I like it more than all basic GlenXXX malts below EUR 25

  3. David says:

    I’m delighted that Cooley got this nod from the Malt Advocate. They are producing some fabulous whiskeys these days and, to the ones mentioned above, I’ll add the Locke’s Grand Crew single casks in 2009.

    With the Kilbeggan distillery output coming on stream, we have a lot to look forward to.

  4. Jon W says:

    I have not delved too deeply into the world of Irish Whiskey (yet). Honestly the standard Jamesons & Bushmills have never really sparked any great interest from me. But I did try each of the Tyrconnell finishes last year and can’t do anything but agree with the general assessment that they are outstanding.

  5. Seth Nadel says:

    Irish whisky is definitely carving its niche into the whisky world. For years, it seemed like whisky drinkers would compare Irish whisky with bourbon and single malt. You can’t compare them. I know a lot of people who would say it’s too light. Hopefully, this will bring more attention to the style and change the perception. Personally, I always loved Knappogue Castle. Clontarf is also great, especially for the money.

  6. JC Skinner says:

    When I saw Buffalo Trace had won an award, for reasons involving their innovation and their bewilderingly wide range, I felt that Cooley surely had to be in the running, since all the same things apply there.
    Cooley really do produce something for all palates, and are constantly innovating and expanding their range (and by extension, the perameters of what Irish whiskey is and can be.)
    So, well done, Noel and the team. I think John Hansell and Malt Advocate is quite right to pay tribute to Cooley in this manner. A well-deserved win.

  7. To Cooley: congratulations, a well-deserved award, a fabulous range of expressions, but the spirit of Irish independence and whisky resurgence in Ireland is even more profound. Some great bottlings, Connemara being a personal favorite of mine. John, great choice.

  8. JohnM says:

    That’s great news. Well done Cooley.

  9. Mark says:

    Here’s to purposeful independence that enhances the whole category of Irish whiskey.

    Fine choice, too, John, of again highlighting artisan work that sets standards for independent distillers hoping to make their marks.

    • JohnM says:

      Mark

      Good point. I think Cooley has made Jameson/Midleton up their game too. It’s good for the whole category.

      John

  10. John Hansell says:

    Yeah, they sure do have a nice portfolio with a wide range of flavor profiles. Now if we could only get those limited edition releases here in the U.S….

    • Paul M says:

      Maybe it’s time the voters let our elected official know that 700ml bottles be allowed to be distributed in the USA!

  11. JC Skinner says:

    In an industry plagued by laws that are either insane or insufficient, that particular insistence on 750 ml bottles in the US strikes me as the most inexplicable.

  12. Paula MacLean says:

    Well done for choosing Cooley! They have revitalised Irish Whiskey and deserve every accolade they get – and they’ve had a few. If only they would make some potstill. John, please encourage them!

    • Luke says:

      Paula, here in Ireland we wait and wait for a revival of ‘Pure Pot Still’ (“surely next year?”)

      Alas! The only light on the horizon is the new edition of Redbreast 15 Year Old PPS.

      The ball is really in Irish Distiller’s court as they have the stock, currently used for 12 and 18 year old, blends to make it happen.

      Cooley undoubtedly have the expertise and talent to produce PPS, however, all Cooley’s spirit is double distilled rather than triple distilled. The result might surprise us!

      In the end nothing but demand will get more releases of PPS. With a bit of luck Redbreast 15′s release in the U.S. later this year will get the ball rolling.

  13. JohnM says:

    They were thinking of making pure pot still in Kilbeggan. And they have been expirementing in Cooley, so you’d never know. I’ve asked them about making pure pot still in Louth and they didn’t exactly say they wouldn’t.

    John

  14. Rouvanne says:

    We’re also very pleased that Cooley’s won this award – although we’re a much smaller brand, we are very happy as The Wild Geese Irish Whiskey also comes from Cooley’s!

  15. JC Skinner says:

    The original intention at Dingle seemed to be an entire potstill range, all finished differently.
    I think they may have moved away from that now, but they still seem to intend to produce some sort of PPS.
    I’d love to see Cooley do a PPS. I’m sure they’ve thought about it, but with literally only one distillery in the world making PPS in serious amounts, they know whatever they produced would have to be top notch to compare.
    I’d like to see Bushmills do a PPS too. They’ve much lower a track record for innovation and as part of a larger conglomerate they probably don’t have the freedom Cooley do to experiment. But it would be fantastic to see them try.
    For me, pure pot still is our uniquely indigenous spirit in Ireland. I just wish there were more options to choose from.
    For now, I’ll have to be satisfied by Cooley’s existing range, which is frankly getting better and better almost by the day.

  16. Seth Nadel says:

    While I like most of the whiskies from Cooley, I can’t seem to get behind Connemara. I can appreciate the use of peat, which might be their way to get single malt scotch drinkers to try Irish whiskey, but it takes away from what I think Irish whiskey is. They are definitely pushing the envelope, which is great, but it’s not my style. I love the Tyrconnell finishes.

  17. IJD says:

    Cooley Distillery makes Scotch Whisky in Ireland.It double distills and some brands have a peated finish, all very Scotch to me. By the way there is no Pure Pot Still whiskey made in Ireland in the traditional manner. We badly need a distillery to make a traditional potstill whiskey but there are very few people left around who know how to triple distill. My understanding is its not just running the product through a potstill 3 times, its much more complicated ( and costly) than that. By the way Cooley make very good whiskey but its not a traditional Irish product. Good luck to them.

  18. [...] Malt Advocate’s Distillery of the Year I was excited to see Malt Advocate’s John Hansell announce Cooley as their Distillery of the Year.  Though I’ve not tasted nearly enough, I’ve always loved Irish Whiskey (Red Breast 12 [...]

  19. Red_Arremer says:

    Just had some Connemara cask at plough and stars pub in Cambridge ma. Pretty good! Tastes like a cask strength benromach traditional, huh? Which btw is no insult coming from me

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