Tag Archive for: Irish Whiskey

Beer conversations with John Pemberton

Whiskygeeks went to the Heart of Darkness taproom at Keong Saik Road to have a chat with Founder & CEO John Pemberton to talk about everything under the sun!
Heart of Darkness is a Vietnam based brewery that has taprooms all over Asia, and has landed in Singapore in 2019! As Singapore is opening up, I was first curious about their strategy for surviving COVID because the F&B scene underwent many hardships due to regulations.

Before COVID, John focused on their taprooms to sell craft beer and the B2B sale of kegs. However, in the last 2 years, when the pandemic hit the local F&B scene, Heart of Darkness moved towards canned beers for better distribution. This helps to maintain sales revenue rather than F&B B2B sales. This amongst other internal changes, John explains, helped Heart of Darkness ride through COVID.

Singapore and Stouts

I got into craft beer with a Russian Imperial Stout, so I have a soft spot for stouts and other dark brews. John remarked that Singapore has an unusual thirst for the dark stuff. He almost could not believe his team when they told John that Singapore needed more kegs of dark beers! I also asked John about his collaboration with Teeling he did for St. Patrick’s Day 2022. The Ghost is Barrel-Aged Stout that aged in whiskey casks from Teeling, at a whopping 12% abv! John spoke about how open Teeling distillery is to collaboration and sent them barrels, and even sherry butts! So the Ghost will not be the last cask-aged beer from Heart of Darkness anytime soon!

The Ghost: Barrel-aged stout, a collaboration between Heart of Darkness and Teeling Whisky

Recently, they released Eloquent Phantom Imperial Stout, which is oak conditioned using oak chips. Sure, oak chips get a bad reputation; but many distinguished winemakers use them and keep it hush like a family secret in Encanto. Speaking as someone who has played with oak chips for fun and party tricks, I reckon oak chips offer better control. Especially in this tropical climate.
So please put away the prejudice and try this dark beer if you see it!

Nuggets of Philosophy in running a brewery

John Pemberton emphasises that he wants to make a beer people would come back again for. His team strays away from one-and-done, night-ender beers that may be majestic but could destroy the palate after a pint.
Heart of Darkness wants to break away from the snobbishness and pretentiousness they see in other areas of craft beer. They want to be innovative, break the norms and try unconventional beers. This could be in terms of flavour like the Cucumber Pilsner and Pomelo IPA; or in terms of method in beers such as the Phantom using oak chips. John also gives his brew team a good measure of creative control. He usually doesn’t veto a decision on a brew unless he knows it’s a brew that is going to sell.

When it comes to his taprooms, John tells us that he does not care about the 1 and 2-star reviews, stating that they weren’t going to like it anyway. He is more concerned about the 3- 4 star reviews. John remarks that this represents people who want to enjoy what Heart of Darkness has to offer, but there are a couple of pointers holding them back. It is much easier to find constructive feedback in 3 and 4-star reviews to better improve his taprooms. And honestly, this way of thinking could also be useful for many of us.

The man himself

I was surprised to learn that John was a vegetarian growing up as well and that he still is. So vegetarians, rest assured that there will be some fantastic dishes/tapas on the menu to pair with their craft beer. John has also spent quite a lot of time in Hong Kong and China, and his Mandarin is definitely better than mine.

John Pemberton with everyone else there, including Enya and Panda!

I would like to thank John Pemberton for his time out of his busy schedule, the Heart of Darkness team at Keong Saik Road and Mikki for the invite!

Meeting the man behind a Kombu Whiskey: Origin Spirits

Earlier in August 2020, Whiskygeeks had a chat with Managing Director of Origin Spirits Patrick Shelley. Origin Spirits has in its portfolio the Ornabrak Single Malt Gin, Kalak Single Malt vodka and the Currach Kombu Irish Whiskey.

Currach Whiskey, Kalak Vodka and Ornabrak Gin
Portfolio of Origin Spirits. Source: Origin Spirits

How it Started

Back in 2010, Patrick was living in Russia, working for LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) which owns Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distillery since 2004. And of course, in Mother Russia, the vodka culture is strong there. But the vodkas out in the market then was not to his taste. To get him through these times, he had drams of peated Scotches. *coughArdbegcough* This later inspired Patrick to want to design a vodka with personality, texture and flavour; a vodka he could enjoy! His love for peated Scotches later inspired the peat cask vodka!

With his time in LVMH, he gained much wisdom and experience which would help elevate Origin Spirits to where it is today. Patrick had three cornerstones in Origin Spirits:

  • Quality Product with its own unique personality.
  • Striking visual identity.
  • Compelling brand story.

What it became

Patrick works with West Cork distillers to create unique products that Origin Spirits offers. Patrick talks fondly about Director of West Cork Distillers, Dr John O’Connell, who holds not just one but two PhDs! Dr O’Connell saw some potential in Patrick’s ideas and was eager to help make Patrick’s ideas a reality!

Under LVMH, some of the brands Patrick used to work for had decades of history with tales abound. As a fresh new company, Patrick had instead created a story around the product, Kalak, weaving Irish folklore and gods with this beautiful spirit. You can read more about here!
Patrick wanted to use 100% Irish malted barley for several reasons. Even though malted barley cost around three times as much as other grains, Patrick wanted a quality product with personality. It also pays homage to the terroir of Irish local barley and a quality ingredient.

How it’s made

West Cork Distillers. Source: Origin Spirits

In West Cork distillers, malted barley is milled on site. This grist meets 63°C water in the mash tun and spends 2 hours mashing for sugar extraction. Heat exchangers then cool down the sugary liquid called wort to 27-29 °C. Distillers yeast is then added for inoculation. The fermentation lasts 96 hours, which is twice the amount of time as some Scotch whisky distilleries. This longer fermentation time allows for ester formation and lactic acid fermentation which produces fruitier and more complex flavours in the spirit. After 4 days of fermentation, the strong beer, or wash is at a whopping 11-12% abv.
The wash then goes into copper pot stills for distillation.. 3 times distilled for the whiskey, 4 times for the gin and 5 times for the vodka!

How it’s aged

The casks used for Origin Spirits are not used for maturation more than twice. So far, Origin Spirits are only using American White Oak for their cask maturation. The casks Origin Spirits uses comes from the Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky.

Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu
Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

Patrick stumbled on the idea of using seaweed to char the casks, which serves as a fuel source for the charring and imparts umami flavour to the oak. This marks Currach, the Kombu Irish Whisky, with the terroir of both the sea and land with Irish seaweed and barley. For Currach, Patrick prefers using virgin oak to bourbon casks as the bourbon flavours in the cask might interfere with the delicate umami flavours from the seaweed. Aged in ex-bourbon for 3-4 years then 3-month finish in virgin oak, as it maximises the kombu flavour, mellows the spirit and ensures the whiskey does not get too oaky.

What’s next for Origin Spirits

Drying Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

The kombu used for the charring for Currach is a type of brown seaweed, and Patrick intends to experiment with other kinds of seaweed, like with red seaweed and green seaweed. Currently, Origin Spirits are using American White Oak, either virgin or ex-bourbon oak. Patrick wanted a mellower oak influence to allow the spirit character to shine. But Patrick has a never say never attitude, so sherry fans, stay tuned!

Patrick is going to experiment a lot more with food pairing, but progress has been slower due to the pandemic. But in general, Japanese cuisines, and umami dishes like steak or mushrooms works well with Kalak and Currach. Patrick describes those spirits as gastronomical and I would have to agree!

Origin Spirits has shown a lot of innovative products which excel in form and function. I am looking forward to their next release!

A Different Kind of Maltatives

Kalak Single Malt Vodka is…oh wait, what? Single malt vodka, you said?! Yup! We were really excited when Sarah from The WhiskyStore invited us to the tasting of Kalak single malt vodka, gin and whiskey! It was a collaboration from The WhiskyStore and The Other Room to showcase their newest products in town.

Introduction to Origin Spirits and its products

Patrick Shelley, the founder of Origin Spirits and Kalak Single Malt Vodka

Origin Spirits is the baby of Patrick Shelley (picture above). Founded in 2015, the company currently holds three different products – single malt vodka, gin and whiskey. Patrick previously worked for LVMH and loves his whiskies! However, he dislikes vodka because he couldn’t understand why people enjoy a drink that is tasteless! When Patrick started his own company, he decided to create a vodka that he likes to drink. He found his answer in local Irish barley and he swiftly set to work to develop a series of products made from malted barley.

Kalak Single Malt Vodka

Credit: kalakvodka.com/our-vodka/

Kalak is the phonetic spelling of the name of an Irish Celtic goddess. The name of the goddess is Cailleach and she is the Queen of Winter. Legends have it that she appears every winter to protect the animals from the harsh weather and when spring arrives, she turns into stone. She is the closest thing to Mother Nature that the Celts had; the embodiment of the darker, more powerful side of nature. Kalak takes her name as a reflection of Ireland’s terroir. The bottles hold Ireland, her weather and her people’s ancient knowledge in distillation.

Origin Spirits sources local Irish barley from the South East of Ireland as the farmers follow a strict chart of sustainability. The wort from the fermentation is distilled four times in a copper still to make sure that the vodka hits 96% abv as per the rules from the European Union. These are then watered down to 40% before bottling. The vodka is clean and smooth, with notes of butter cookies, salt and some fruitiness. It is definitely not the usual vodka that we see in the market!

PEATED Kalak Single Malt Vodka

Credit: kalakvodka.com/our-vodka/

What got us really excited, however, is the PEATED Kalak Single Malt Vodka. The peated version is technically a cask-aged vodka. Origin Spirits buys virgin American oak casks and charred them with peat fire to infuse the cask with smoke. The vodka is put into the casks for four months to allow the spirit to develop a delicious smokey flavour on top of the buttery character from its standard single malt vodka expression.

Ornabrak Gin

Credit: kalakvodka.com/our-vodka/

Origin Spirits uses the base spirits from its vodka production to create a floral and complex gin. The four-time distilled base spirit goes through a fifth distillation with five botanicals carefully sourced to emerge as Ornabrak Gin. The five botanticals are juniper berries, lemon peels, angelica roots, Douglas fir, and lemon verbena. The distilled gin is cut at 76% abv and watered down to 43% abv before bottling. The nose is full of citrus peels (think orange and lemon), hint of white pepper, gentle juniper notes and lavendar. The palate is smooth with citrus peels and lavender petals. The finish is full of orange and lavender. It is also drying which makes you want to have more.

Currach Atlantic Kombu Seaweed Cask Single Malt Whiskey

Source: https://www.thewhiskeytrail.ie/2020/03/25/currach-single-malt-irish-whiskey-review/

Currach single malt Irish whiskey is the one bottle from the entire offering that got us jumping up and down with impatience. The whiskey matures in ex-bourbon casks before getting a finish in a seaweed-infused cask for two to three months! How exotic is that!?

Family of Seaweed Harvesters in Action

When Patrick first decided to do a whiskey, he wanted to add a new element to his whiskey. As he looks into Ireland’s terroirs, he stumbled upon seaweed. The seaweeds that he uses grow in abundance around Ireland’s coasts and the family of harvesters whom he works with takes pride in their ability to keep the business sustainable through their hand-harvesting technics.

Charring of virgin American Oak Casks

Patrick experimented with seaweed and oak chips extensively before going to full production. What they do is to first cook and dry the seaweed to remove the natural “fishy smell”. The team uses 0.5kg of dried seaweed per virgin American oak cask. They lit a fire using the seaweed as a sort of fuel. Once the fire is stable, they closed the cask and then rolled it around to ensure the burning seaweed reaches every part. They repeated the process six times for each cask.

The nose is full of kombu dashi, sweetness, a hint of sea brine and nuts. Once it opens up, the fragrance of roasted black sesame seeds is undeniable. The palate is nutty, with some sea salt and a dash of kombu dashi. The light smoke couples with roasted black sesame seeds to produce a sweetness that is quite unlike any other whiskies. The finish is extremely long, with some ash and full-on black sesame seeds. It’s really lovely once the whiskey opens up, so be a little patient when trying it!

Cocktails from the Spirits

The session also started and ended with cocktails made from The Other Roof. We started with Espresso Smokatini, which is a cocktail made from espresso and PEATED Kalak Single Malt Vodka. It was superbly delicious! The creamy foam increased the enjoyment of the cocktail. Any coffee lover needs to try it!

The second cocktail is Zucien Gaudin, made with Ornabrak Gin. The addition of Campari made the cocktail rather bitter, so it wasn’t as enjoyable as the first one. However, anyone who is in love with Campari would definitely fall in love with this one!

Where to buy Origin Spirits’ products?

Source: The Whisky Store

As usual, you can find all the products (except the cocktails) retailing at The Whisky Store. Prices are reasonable so go ahead and buy them! Do tag WhiskyGeeks and The Whisky Store on social media when you crack the bottles open and have a go!

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