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