Master distiller Alex Chasko on the spirit of Teeling
Teeling Distillery opened up in Dublin in 2015, making it the first new whiskey distillery to open in the Irish capital in over 125 years. Pretty impressive. Then in 2018 it made history again by releasing its Single Pot Still, the first Dublin-distilled whiskey in almost 50 years. But we’re here to celebrate the glory of Irish single grain and red wine casks, because you’ve been lucky enough to crack open the 13 Year Old Single Grain Red Wine Finish this month.
Alex Chasko is Teeling’s master distiller – in fact he was the very first employee of Teeling, so he’s seen it all, although he contests, “I’m not sure that I am a master distiller yet! I think you learn something new every day in whiskey.” He began his career at BridgePort Brewery in Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, “a great time for the ‘microbrewery revolution’ to start and for people to rediscover old styles of beer and learn about brewing traditions from around the world,” he tells me. He brings that same excitement to Teeling, hoping that “in the same way that brewers in the Pacific Northwest reinvented the IPA, I hope that Teeling will push the boundaries of Irish whiskey.”
“The opportunity to bring distilling back to Dublin is a great honour,” he says of the achievement. “This city has such a rich history of making whiskey and to be part of the return to the city centre with an operational distillery is great for my personal journey as a distiller and I hope it is also re-establishing a tradition that was lost.” I ask Chasko what it is that characterises Teeling spirit, and apparently it’s all about the balance. The nose is full of fruit, florals, spice, and honey, which sets your expectations for the palate, which delivers much of the same, but with more fruitiness. Then, boom, layers of wood and spice appear on the finish to give you a rich send off.
Irish whiskey is often known for punchy single pot still expressions, so it’s intriguing that we have a single grain whiskey to explore with you. This is only the second single grain release from Teeling, and it’s also the oldest. “I think that aged single grains are an amazing whiskey,” Chasko admits, and we couldn’t agree more. This particular bottling is made from 95% corn and 5% malted barley, initially matured in ex-bourbon casks for nine years before spending another four years in ex-Bordeaux red wine casks. That’s a lengthy finish if we ever saw one!
“Red wine casks are these little gems in the Irish whiskey world,” Chasko tells me. “They give big bags full of fruit and rich taste, with a balance of wood and tannins. But the fact that we have filled a well-used cask with whiskey at a higher strength gives us an advantage.” That advantage is that, because of its higher ABV, the whisky is able to draw out tannins and woody flavours from the oak that weren’t extracted by the wine, in contrast to producers using, say, an ex-bourbon cask. The benefits are several fold: “I think it has a real environmental impact for the industry also because we can reuse casks that were made for the wine industry.”
So, is this the second of many single grain bottlings from Teeling? “Personally I would love to have more aged single grain releases,” says Chasko. “But unfortunately most of our grain whiskey is used in our blend, and with the strong growth of Small Batch there’s not a lot of older stock.” Very sad times indeed – but all hope is not lost. “We do have some older single grain whiskey which we’re looking at options on how to bring out in the future. So maybe with some luck we can follow up the success of this whiskey with more.” Well, we guess you’ll just have to snap up the current release while you can from the Pour & Sip Store!
That doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting things in the pipeline. In 2022, the team is bringing back the hugely-popular ginger beer cask-finished whiskey for Paddy’s Day, as well as exploring innovative, unique oak varieties (but that one is a little more secret at the moment). Though it may seem like Teeling is well into its Dublin distilling journey, about to begin its seventh year in the city, Chasko believes they’re just getting started – so keep your eye on these Irish distillers. “I think that the distilling world is stretched out over a very long timeline, and although we have started this journey it will be decades before we get to fully realise what a moment we have been part of.”