Knappogue Irish whiskey, an ‘American success story’

Photo by Wayne Tidwell
At the Atlanta event, three Knappogue Castle Irish whiskeys were tasted, 12, 14 and 16-year old. (Photo by Wayne Tidwell)

By Wayne Tidwell, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Irish Whiskey has made a comeback after years of ups and downs in the marketplace triggered by events and actions unrelated to the whiskey makers. Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey makers are part of that resurgence and have sent an ambassador to the U.S.A. to educate Americans and promote their single malt Irish whiskey. Spirits expert Philip Duff and his entourage came to Atlanta March 7 to do just that.

Knappogue (pronounced Nah’ Pogue) translates to “hill of the kiss” in Gaelic. Knappogue Castle is named after a 15th century castle in County Clare, Ireland. It was purchased in the 1960s by Mark Edwin Andrews who started bottling Knappogue Castle single malt whiskeys at a time when only blended whiskeys were popular in Ireland.

Duff held a whiskey tasting and educational presentation for press members at the Watershed Restaurant in Atlanta, serving up three samples of Knappogue single malt whiskeys, and discussed the growing category of Irish single malt whiskey.

“It’s that time of year again when they trot out Irish people before St. Patricks Day with a not-so-subtle message to write about or drink Irish whiskey,” Duff said to open the event.

Duff shared with the attendees a bit of history of Irish whiskey.

Official distilling in Ireland started in 1608, according to Duff.

“We have an exact date for the start of legal distilling in Ireland which is Boxing Day in 1661, the first time that a tax was put on Irish whiskey.”

In 1779 there were over 1200 distilleries in Ireland, according to Duff. Within 40 years that was reduced to just 40 due to heavy taxation of distillery output.

Irish whiskey was aged in sherry casks until 1964 when rules changed for American whiskey. Bourbon had to be aged in virgin oak barrels which meant there was an immediate global surplus of once-used bourbon barrels. So from 1964 Irish whiskey was aged in bourbon barrels which were cheap.

From 1823 to about 1900, Irish whiskey was king. Every other style of whiskey in terms of sales and recognition was almost nothing, Duff said.

“It was exquisitely made, expensive and even had its own team of brand masters,” Duff said. “The celebrities of the day made Irish whiskey famous. It was a great time for Irish whiskey. They couldn’t make enough.”

In 1863 a parasite from Texas destroyed all the vines in Europe for at least four years. That was huge benefit if you made your spirits from grain like whiskey and gin. You had cheap, efficient, safe stills and cheap grain. But supporters of total abstinence from alcohol and three periods of famine in Ireland hurt The Irish whiskey business. Cheap Scottish blended whiskey, although not considered very good, came into the game due to war in Ireland, and America went into prohibition, adding to the woes of Irish whiskey distillers.

The invention of Irish coffee by an American helped to turn things around for Irish whiskey. In 1966 all of the Irish Whiskey distillers agreed to work together, consolidate and develop a technologically advanced distillery. Brands got things going. The first Jameson brand was introduced in 1968. In 1974 Baileys and other Irish Cream liquors came on the market. Irish whiskey became popular again.

“Knoppoque Castle began getting respect among high-end whiskeys and that was also a significant turn in the road,” Duff said of the resurgence of Irish whiskeys.

“For a long time, Knappogue Castle was only sold in America,” Duff said. “It is an American success story.”

Two Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey cocktails were served at the event, “Whiskey to the Face” and “The Siren,” along with small plates prepared by Watershed.

Photo by Wayne Tidwell
Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey for a long time was only sold in America. (Photo by Wayne Tidwell)

Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

  • Knappogue Castle 12-Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey: Aged 12 years in American oak casks previously used for bourbon. Bright, light lemon-orange color, elegant fruit, and mildly spicy, citrus taste, 80 proof. Retails at $42.
  • Knappogue Castle 16-Year Old Twin Wood Irish Whiskey: Aged for over 14 years in bourbon barrels then finished for 21 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Deep, complex, and very smooth, with a fruity nose and dusty dark chocolate and woody vanilla notes, 80 proof. Retails at $100.
  • Knappogue Castle 21-Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey: A marriage of two single malts, both distilled in copper pot stills and then matured in ex-bourbon casks - one for 23 years (put into barrel in 1994) and another for 21 years (put into barrel in 1996) before being blended together. The nose features rich, malty biscuit notes accented with subtle clove and baked apple spices. The palate is soft and mellow, with further depth and complexity owing to the long maturation period in oak, while a malty sweetness remains consistent throughout with a lingering finish of delicate barley cereal flavors. Retails at $200
  • Knappogue Castle 1951 Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey: Aged for 36 years in Oloroso Sherry infused casks and bottled in 1987; rich and bold, notes of soft honey, ripe greengages, clean barley and oats. Sweet, coppery texture with licorice and a hint of chicory, 80 proof. Retails at $1,600.

Whiskey to the Face

Knappogue 12-year-old,
lemon juice, Thyme syrup,
dashes absinthe, Angustura bitters


The Siren

Knappogue 12-year-old,
Honey water, lemon juice,
Bayleaf bitters

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