Teeing Off

Teeing Off

Iorwerth Griffiths finds an escape to whisky heaven in Northern Ireland

Places | 03 Jun 2011 | Issue 96 | By Iorweth Griffiths

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The five star Lough Erne Golf Resort not only has a great whiskey bar but also offers group tastings.

The Lough Erne Golf Resort occupies a 600 acre peninsula in Lower Lough Erne, close to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. There is an opulent county house feel to the place and the sumptuous arrival hall sets the scene perfectly with lovely views over the lough. Indeed stunning views of the lough and the surrounding countryside are a feature here.

Outside there is golf, with a choice of two championship golf courses, one of which was designed by Nick Faldo. Inside there is a Thai Spa, pool and gym. There is even a Cygnets programme to keep the little ones happy.

Whether you stay in the main hotel or one of the lakeside lodges, excellent food is available in a number of different settings.

Many distractions, but the whiskey drinker needs to steer a course for the Blaney Bar for an Irish whiskey 101. A “101” because that’s how many bottles are in the collection, a great place to experience Irish whiskey’s varied tastes.

The three Irish distilleries are well represented. The core Bushmils range is there as well as a few single cask bottlings including the fabulous Millennium Malt. There’s a long list of Cooley whiskeys, single cask Tyrconnell’s and Connemara’s steal the show, or why not try all the Tyrconnell finshes side-by-side.

As well as the whiskeys in the Jameson Reserve Collection, the list from Midleton contains contemporary classics such as Redbreast and Jameson 15 year olds, Dungourney 1964 and the superb Midleton 1973, 20th Anniversary and the 25 and 26 year olds.

Tasting whiskey from long-closed distilleries is also a possibility. The famous Royal Irish Distillery – Dunville’s – is available as are Old Comber and Shamrock – a 1930s bottling from Kirker Greer in Belfast. Also here are old expressions from Power’s, including a unique 7 year old from the 1970s; Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery – a Redbreast and Jameson 15 year old also from the 1970s and a 7 year old from the 1960s; and the celebrated Knappogue Castle 1951 from Tullamore.

A key figure behind the collection is General Manager Jonathan Stapleton, formerly of the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews. This fantastic Irish whiskey 101 won’t be a 101 for much longer, however, as he plans to further increase this most mouthwateringly excellent of collections.

For the whiskey drinker, however, this is not all. Lough Erne also offers group whiskey tastings. Golf and whiskey are, of course, great companions.

Being in Northern Ireland, the tastings are unashamedly focussed on Bushmills.

The tastings are held in the Faldo Suite, which has a lovely clubhouse feel, and hosted by Cahir Gilheaney and Marty Donaghy. Their passion for whiskey is clear for all to see. The most commonly question asked of them is how old they are by disbelieving customers who have a stereotypical view of a whiskey drinker.

This is education at its best, small, intimate groups of around 12, dedicated Glencairn glasses topped with watchglasses await as the hosts detail the history of Irish whiskey and give guests an overview of the whiskey-making process. On hand are samples of malt, a barrel stave and a nosing kit to keep the guests amused.

Soon enough, though, it’s tasting time.

The whole Bushmills range is here from the untaxing Original and superb Black Bush right through the malts to the 21 year old Maderia Finish. The banter and whiskey flow in equal measure resulting in customers leaving informed and entertained.

Another feature of Bushmills is also available to guests, they can purchase the Distillery Reserve 12 Years Old, the only other place to get it is at the distillery itself.

Nowhere better exemplifies the new-found self-confidence of Irish whiskey and the resurgence of the category than Lough Erne Golf Resort. It is very much at the cutting edge of Irish whiskey tourism and has set the bar high for other to reach. It is certainly worth a visit.
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