As any Australia will tell you, we have a bit of an aversion to toads. The Cane Toad, introduced to keep the Cane flies in check, instead has devastated our endemic wild life, ecosystem and waterways. As a youngin, I recall stories from folk in bars telling me about the different ways to dispose of them, and how to keep our animals safe. So when I spotted a squat toad on a bottle, I was a touch suspicious. How has it followed me here? Does it know what I did to its distant cousins? To make sure it didn’t tell, I had to buy a bottle, and of course drink it to make sure the toad wouldn’t come back to haunt me. And that’s where my views changed.
The Natterjack, as the distillery proudly states, is Ireland’s only endemic toad. It walks where a frog will leap, and following suit the Natterjack Whiskey will walk all over the world. Now Natterjack is a far cry from your usual Irish drop; using Triple Distilled liquid from an undisclosed distillery, the whiskey is a split of 80% Corn and 20% Barley, matured first in ex-bourbon barrels before finishing off in American Virgin Oak. Setting to “marry the knowledge from both sides of the Atlantic”, Natterjack is a fusion of the Irish and American distillation and maturation techniques we all know and love. To help with this, Founder Aidan Mehigan has hired Master Distiller Jordan Via, likely best known for his work with Bob Dylan’s “Heavens Door” Whiskey, to collaborate and head up the distillation. Together with a few more folk, the plans are to repair The Old Mill at Kilmacthomas, fitting it with three copper pot stills and a maturation area to create the Gortinore Distillery. Once complete, the distillery will be Ireland’s only to be retrofit into a 150-year-old building, and the whiskey can start to flow. All of this pales in comparison to how the whiskey tastes however, so let’s get stuck in.
It’s that small town fair appeal that hits at first, with touches of candy corns, caramel popcorn and a drizzle of golden syrup. Fairy floss perks up now and again in the background, but is swiftly drowned out by toffee apples, nutella on burnt toast and vanilla fudge. It starts to get a bit rough, but the nose has plenty of character, and is more like a big, furry slobbering dog that just wants you to join it and play, eager to show you any and all flavours. It ends with hazelnuts, poached pears and cinnamon sticks, a good start to a tasty dram.
Our palate is much more refined, reminiscent of bourbon but delectably smooth; a thick vanilla base over which runs dark chocolate and cocoa powder, orange rind, crisp raisin toast and American Whiskey soaked pipe tobacco. Our spice drifts softly down over the top of it all, black pepper, cinnamon and a light puff of nutmeg, all well complimenting the taste of the whiskey and a mouth feel of melted ice cream. Our finish is just as nice, soft, surprisingly delicate and long, milky way chocolate bars, sliced banana and vanilla ice cream, all brilliant additions.
Now here is a toad I like. Initially I was skeptical of the palate, a bit rough around the edges and at times quite boisterous, but it really pulled everything together, the nose the raw ingredients of a desert that looks to be be hazardous but the palate showing just what a good chef can do. The Virgin American Oak was a master stroke as well, helping along the mild vanilla of the ex-bourbon with what we really want in that spice and deep chocolate category. The Natterjack is a winner folks. Should you be in Dublin, you can find it in any good Whiskey shop, outside you may have to order but make no mistake; this is something you want on your shelf. As they say, follow the toad. It knows good Whiskey.