Back in November 2020, after some minor delays owing to the pandemic, the recently finished Hinch distillery was able to finally get their stills fired up and set their spirit a-flowing. That new make spirit is now being produced in earnest and laid down to rest for those all important 3+ years in a selection of casks on-site within the grounds of the Killaney Estate, County Down, Ireland. In the meantime however, the team at Hinch have already been making quite the name for themselves through a variety of blends and making their intentions known for the years to come. The Irish whiskey market is certainly booming right now and this estate-based brand are part of that renaissance.
Having initially launched its “Time Collection” in late 2019, which demonstrates a series of styles across 5 different whiskies under the Hinch brand, the team have now released the “Craft & Casks” collection in Spring 2021. Luckily, I was able to sample these new release (and a cheeky bonus release that I will discuss separately) as part of a Tweet Tasting evening, curated by the inimitable Steve Rush @TheWhiskyWire. This is a limited release of 3 whiskies in collaboration between Hinch and two craft beer breweries from the Ulster region, namely County Donegal’s Kinnegar Brewery and County Down’s Whitewater Brewery.
All 3 of the whiskies feature the same base whiskey blend of 75% grain : 25% malt whiskies which have then spent at least 12 months in their respective casks, finally being bottled at Hinch’s preferred strength of 43% ABV. In my book, that means a side by side comparison is the best way to go, and so, Tuath glass in hand, let’s put that theory and these whiskies to the test…
Rye Export Stout Finish (RRP $42)
This whiskey has spent its final 12 months in craft beer casks that had previously contained Kinnegar Brewery’s rye export stout. As a brewery that has gained a reputation for making revered rye based ales, their spicy and toasty ale should bring some extra dimensions to the whiskey.
Some sweet fruits upfront here: peach and pineapple immediately spring out of the glass along with a milk chocolate raisins thrown in for good measure. There’s also a bready / malt loaf flavour to it with a little spice.
So soft and buttery in texture – had to double check the ABV there. There’s good treacle, toffee and honeycomb flavours in there. A strong vanilla flavour there too. Its not too long before the spices start to kick in too with the rye and oak influences combining to produce some nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. In fact the nutmeg and vanilla flavours are really bringing an egg custard flavour to mind.
A little fizzle and the nutmeg and clove spices linger a little. It kinda has a soft but sweet melon or white grape, maybe even wine wine finish to it once the spice has gone.
Imperial Stout Finish (RRP£35)
Certainly the entrant of the range that I was most looking forward to – this whiskey has spent its final 16 months in casks that previously held Whitewater Brewery’s Kreme De La Kremlin Russian Imperial Stout – a 10.5% ABV stout brewed with maple syrup!!
I’m getting a real buttered toast flavour here with a thick thick thick spread of marmalade on top! The breakfast notes continue with a bit of coffee and cream. There are some familiar spices coming through too with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove – but also the smells of a mulled cider (thanks @brjrklhr for that note)
The creamy coffee notes are added by an Irish coffee cream / Irish hot chocolate flavour. Dark chocolate / cocoa at that. There’s a treacle / golden syrup flavour to it too along with barley sugars and milk chocolate. Some jammy trifle notes there too: red berries and custard. All in all a sweet treat, but there’s a little liquorice/aniseed/herbal note in there that stops it from being overly sweet
A final black pepper and cinnamon spice balances out the sweetness and warms the cockles.
Red Rye Finish (RRP $42)
The final of the trio takes that 75:25 grains:malt blend and sees it being matured for its final 14 months in beer barrels that formerly held Kinnegar Brewery’s Irish Red Rye ale.
Back to sweet sweet notes upfront with banana foam sweets, lemon drops, sherbet double dip and Big Red chewing gum. There’s a roasty toasty smell to it too – like rolled oats, toasted malts and toasted wood. It may just be the power of suggestion with the “red rye” but I could also smell a lot of red fruits, including cranberries and redcurrants.
That toasty oak flavour is the first one that I can really pick out coating the mouth and then the lighter, fruitier flavours emerge, like apple juice, cut pears, strawberries and cream. In particular, I had a flashback to the strawberries and cream Campino sweets! A nutty almond flavour, and that toasty note reminds me of baklava too (shout out to @TheWhiskyphiles for helping join the dots there).
The oak spice waits its turns and appears at the end and delivers a strong cinnamon flavour, which combines with the apple juice sweetness to conjure mental images of warm apple strudel (thanks to @whisky_jamie)
The Triple Tipple Final Verdict
A great experiment and a fine little collection of whiskies here. I really enjoyed discovering the difference between the whiskies and the influences that beer barrels had on them. It is a shame therefore [and the hawkeyed reader may have seen from the currencies listed in the RRPs above] that only the Imperial Stout Finish will be available this side of the Atlantic with the two rye beer aged whiskies being US exclusives and made available for this Tweet Tasting event. I can appreciate that there might be more of a market over there, but I think the beauty of these releases – or certainly this Tweet Tasting – was tasting them side by side and I think a mini pack for comparing them against one another would make great sense. Going one step further, maybe even a boxed set with a can of each of the original craft beers that the barrels used to house would shift the units. I know I would be game!
To me, one of the big things that came out of the tasting – other than simply enjoying some lovely Irish whiskies – was that the compare and contract shows just how important cask choice is and the deviations a whiskey can take after just 12 months or so. If I was going total whiskey geek and scientific about it, as an experiment, I guess it would be good to taste the original blend that went into these different barrels too, acting as the neutral test case against which you can learn the flavours.
That said, I certainly don’t want to sound ungrateful and I’m probably just being nerdy and greedy there, and so I will say that it was a pleasure tasting these whiskies and a fun time was had on the night. It also helps that my favourite of the three on the night was the Imperial Stout cask finish. Not one bad drop between them, and all demonstrating a soft, sweet and – dare I say it – smooth texture and finish, that all call for more pours and sips. Of them all though, that coffee, chocolate and red berry sweetness of the Imperial Stout Finish edged it for me. I’d love to seek out that Kreme De La Kremlin can as an ale in its own right and – one cheeky Hinch purchase later – do my own little boilermaker side by side sipping too.
Sample disclosure: The sample in the photos was received as part of a promotional tweet tasting event – organised by Steve Rush of @The WhiskyWire with Hinch to celebrate the launch of the new Craft & Casks range. These notes are intended however as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.