Killowen Bonded International Series - Belgrove Oat & Rye

It's been a busy and exciting time down on the shores of Carlingford Lough with Killowen Distillery having recently released their own liquid back in October 2022 with casks 1 and 2 of the Barántúil expression. Since then there have been a few more releases of Barántúil casks that sadly I haven't been able to acquire or taste (there's just too much whiskey out there and not enough funds in my bank account). But we wouldn't have any Killowen Whiskey if it wasn't for the source of the whiskies we are reviewing today.

If you have already read my introductory piece on Killowen Distillery you will know that Brendan made the life changing decision to start up his own distillery back in Ireland after tasting the whisky made in Belgrove Distillery, Tasmania and then subsequently meeting the owner of Belgrove, Peter Bignell.

Peter himself had an appreciation for historic Irish mash bills and enthusiastically conferred his knowledge to Brendan. This also helped Brendan to realise that at that time there was really anything on the Irish market that conformed to these historic mash bills and so events were set in motion that would lead to Brendan building and operating a distillery to make the whiskey he and many others would so dearly like to drink.

To help us then experience that lightbulb moment that Brendan enjoyed way back in Sydney at the Oak Barrel whisky club, Brendan managed to source some whisky from Belgrove Distillery and released it under their 'Bonded International Series'. Not an easy feat as Belgrove, like Killowen is a small operation with a tiny output and is generally hard to find.

Visit the Belgrove Distillery website and you can see how both Belgrove and Killowen share a very similar ethos. You will also see that Belgrove don't currently ship to Canada, the US, the UK or even here in Ireland so kudos for Peter and Brendan in managing to make this happen.

Now let's talk mash bills.

First up is the Belgrove Oat. This is a mixed mash bill of 70% un-malted oats, 5% un-malted wheat, 5% un-malted barley, 10% malted barley and 10% malted rye. The spirit was aged in ex-Tasmanian Pinot Noir Casks & ex-Tasmanian Malt Whisky casks. It is non-chill filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 59.79% abv.

Next up is the Belgrove Rye which has a mash bill of 80% un-malted rye and 20% malted rye. As with the Oat, this was aged in ex-Tasmanian Pinot Noir Casks & ex-Tasmanian Malt Whisky casks. It is also non-chill filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 60.61% abv.

Lastly we have the Belgrove Oat Rum & Raisin which has the same mash bill as the first Belgrove Oat but finished in the signature Killowen Rum and Raisin finish using PX sherry and Rum casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour and bottled at 59.42% abv.

The Belgrove Oat & Rye bundle is still available via the Killowen Distillery web shop for £164.95 and I was generously given samples of these by Dave Cummings of The Water of Life review site.

In keeping with the transparency that we expect from Killowen Distillery themselves I was gifted the bottle of the Belgrove Oat Rum & Raisin. Many thanks to Brendan for the kind gesture and of course as always the fact that it was free doesn't guarantee any positivity at all. This is still available at the Killowen web shop for £80 or as part of the Oat & Rye Rum & Raisin bundle for £159.95

Picture taken from the Killowen Distillery web shop

Killowen Belgrove Oat 59.79% abv

Nose: Massively creamy on the nose - clotted cream on a jammy scone. Vanilla, unripe bananas and a hint of a full ashtray. Cinnamon and raisin laced porridge with orange and lime zest. Peanut brittle. Eventually there is a fresh dough character too.

Palate: Really oily and mouthcoating on arrival. Lots of jammy red fruit upfront - raspberry and strawberry preserve on top of a crème brulee. Caramel and dark chocolate. Then a spike of spice - ginger, mild chilli peppers and aniseed give way to dusty ash and tart citrus peel. Now we wheel around to fresh coffee grounds.

Finish: Medium length with a dry smokiness, citrus and fruit preserves.

Score: 8 out of 10

Killowen Belgrove Rye 60.1% abv

Nose: Crème Anglaise moves very quickly into herbal territory. Sweet vanilla, unripe mango, aloe vera, eucalyptus, lime and smoked lemons. Lovage and fresh coriander. Notes reminiscent of mezcal too. Rubbed brass, fresh ginger and a fresh rye loaf.

Palate: Unsurprisingly this is a bit of a spice bomb. Plenty of sweetness upfront with vanilla, ginger ale and spun sugar before crackling pepper, fresh ginger and some wasabi heat assault your palate. Pine resin and smoky mezcal come to the fore. Then we get German rye bread and those smoked lemons from the nose.

Finish: Again medium length with a dry ashiness mixed in with a smidge of raspberry jam, warming spice and lemon peel.

Score: 8 out of 10

Killowen Belgrove Oat Rum and Raisin 59.42% abv

Nose: Burnt sugar and vanilla cream. Pine sap and fresh sage leaves with bonfire ash. Jammy fruit notes too - damson, raisins and blackberries. Clove and cinnamon dusted all butter pastry. Orange zest too. Funky stuff!

Palate: Really oily mouthfeel again - super sweet on arrival. Caramel, sticky dates and California raisins. Vanilla custard filled donuts. There's a copper note as well as some flint. Cracked walnuts, rye spice and clove, ginger and tobacco ash. Some cocoa powder in the mix too.

Finish: Medium length with sweet espresso, dark fruit and mixed peel

Score: 7 out of 10

Overall: Well I have to admit I loved all these. But I will also admit that they will not be everyone's cup of tea. I sent a sample of the Oat Rum & Raisin to my good friend Whisky Rover and he found it a bit 'rough'.

The Oat really is a complex beast. Creamy, sweet, savoury and industrially dirty it has so much going on for a 'young' whisky. Much like Killowen's own whiskey it just shows how much character a well crafted and considered young whisky can have.

The Rye was a herbal spice bomb on steroids. If you don't like Rye whiskies in general I don't think this is the whisky you are looking for. For those of us who love a good Rye then you own it too yourself to try this.

Finally the Rum & Raisin finished Oat was still a lovely drop but I think lost a little of the potency and clarity of the unfinished Oat expression. But if you have a sweeter tooth then I think you'll enjoy this. 

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