Dublin's Celtic Whiskey Shop is driving an interest in Irish whiskeys but Scotch is benefiting too. Iorweth Griffiths reports
I’m in the heart of Georgian Dublin and I can see plenty of wine but no whisky – am I really in Dublin’s Celtic Whiskey Shop? I step outside to double check. Yes, I’m in the right place.The Celtic Whiskey Shop is actually two shops in one with a connecting passage – with the whisky taking up one side. It may be an Irish twist that on entering a whisky shop all you see is wine, but a swift left turn leads to the whiskies. Within a fairly intimate space there are shelves containing a comprehensive collection of Irish whiskey, together with a good range of Scottish single malts as well as American and Japanese whiskies.In the centre of the room is the tasting table which always features Connemara and Redbreast 12 year old – representing the opposite ends of the Irish whiskey spectrum.Athird Irish whiskey is also made available for tasting, occasionally joined by a Scottish single malt.On my visit, the third whiskey was Cooley’s newly launched limited edition Greenore eight year old single grain, nice and airy with vanilla notes and mellow grain spiciness.Opened in June 2003, the Celtic Whiskey Shop is the brainchild of Scotsman Ally Alpine who has more than 20 years experience in the drinks trade. Ally says he was always curious as to why Scotland had so many specialist whisky shops while Ireland had none and he was convinced there was a market for such a shop in Dublin – the Celtic Whiskey Shop was born.It is currently the only specialist whisky shop in Ireland and Ally sees it playing a key role in the development of the premium end of the Irish whiskey category. Some initial difficulties were experienced with the unwillingness of Irish distilleries to offer anything ‘exclusive, exciting or sexy’ beyond the standard range. To overcome this Ally collected rare and unusual bottlings of Irish whiskey to supplement the standard range.Initially support came from the role of the enterprising Cooley distillery. A single exbourbon cask of its Tyrconnell single malt was bottled at 13 years old exclusively for the shop.Ally expected this to last about six months, it lasted less than two.After this success two further exclusive Tyrconnell single casks followed, joined later by Connemara. Bottled at around 15 years old Ally says that the quality of these whiskeys is “really exciting” and may make Bushmills and Irish Distillers sit up and take notice.The future looks exciting. The Celtic Whiskey Shop has recently had the honour of being among the first to handpick casks at Bushmills for exciting exclusive bottlings – watch this space.As well as exclusives, the shop contains a range of other liquid delights. A few rarities stand out : Midleton 20th Anniversary Bottling ( 2,000) drawn from the last remaining casks distilled at the old Midleton Distillery; Midleton 1973 30 year old ( 1,250); and Midleton 25 year-old ( 699.99). Also worthy of note is an original Gilbey’s bottling of Redbreast 12 year-old from the old Jameson Distillery at Bow Street in Dublin ( 250).A more recent find, and exclusive to the shop, is ‘Willie Napier’ named after the owner of the Central Bar in Lisburn, Northern Ireland whose cask was discovered by his nephew in a bonded warehouse. Distilled at the old Tullamore Distillery in 1945 and bottled as a 44 year old pure pot still, only 114 bottles exist.This is a charming old-style heavy pot still whiskey with fig and honey notes, a full oily mouthfeel and a finish of lengthy proportions.Rarities such as Dunvilles, Old Coleraine and Bailey’s Whiskey come and go so it’s always worth the collector’s while to pop in or at least check the shop’s website. The rarest whiskey it’s ever had was from the longextinct Allman’s Distillery in Bandon, County Cork. It returned ‘home’ to a pub in Bandon for 3,800.Irish whiskey aside, there are two stand outs: Bowmore 1964 bourbon cask ( 2,999.99) and Springbank 50 year old, the oldest of the millennium collection ( 2,499.99).The location of the shop means that tourists account for a large percentage of the trade. Ally says that they tend to buy at the mid-range with Redbreast 12 year old, Connemara, Green Spot being especially popular.Although there’s been some decline in Paddy and Powers, the main grower is Jameson due to the weight of Irish Distillers’ marketing efforts. However the premium end is also growing with sales of Midleton Very Rare increasing each year, a whiskey especially popular in the corporate sector.You will find very little Scotch in Republic of Ireland bars. Despite this, sales of single malt are growing albeit from a small base.With interest and consumption of Irish whiskey growing, the Celtic Whiskey Shop is at the forefront, spearheading the premium sector. As well as having tastings in the shop there is also a whisky club with regular tasting evenings.A visitor to the Celtic Whiskey Shop will find friendly, knowledgeable staff – don’t worry if at first all you see is wine. Celtic Whiskey Shop 27-28 Dawson Street, Dublin Tel: +353 (0)1675 9744 www.celticwhiskeyshop.com
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