Druids hidden in Clare – Glendree Orla Vodka

The world of whiskey grows day by day. In every single country, new distilleries coming on to the radar and new whiskeys coming through by the dozen. While some of them fail to turn heads immediately, others are heard of years before they’re ready to release so we can get excited for months on end such as: Glendree, Ireland’s newest distillery.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a virtual chat with Alex Loudon of Glendree for a Malts with Mates but was intrigued about his distillery as it is a weird time to be opening when a world pandemic is sure to slow you down at the start.

So, what’s the deal with Glendree?

A family affair, Glendree distillery sits in…. well, in Glendree, the Valley of the Druids. It began when father and son Paul and Alex Loudon had the conversation we’ve all entertained at some point in time, why don’t we set up our own distillery? Paul has worked all over the world, and spent some time in South Africa with its wonderful laws surrounding home distillation.

With a life time of home-brewing and a postgraduate degree in brewing and distilling, Paul has an appreciation, a talent and a love for the craft. Alex has a PhD in Chemistry from Dublin’s Trinity College and brought his own talents to the front there. Thus, the father-son team’s dream began to take form.

Of course, starting a distillery is only half the job as you have to make the wash first. And so, the Loudons thought that to get a head start, while the distillery licence was being processed, they would start their own brewery. It was 2017 when the pair returned to their family home in Glendree to establish their brewery, Loudon’s Brewing on the family farm in the same year. Starting a brewery to gain an understanding of the grains, fermentation, all the little bits that make the foundations of a great whiskey is something we’ve seen before from those who are deadly serious about making their own whiskey, and the Loudons went one step further.

To ensure they are sustainable and doing their part for the environment, Glendree worked with the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland to approve the use of a rainwater catchment and harvesting system to become the only brewery and now distillery in Ireland using rainwater as their water source. That’s quite something.

After that, you have to wonder what they will be making. Whiskey, of course, takes years to mature. Gin is a spirit which, while a great drink, has flooded the market with its popularity increasing by the day. But Paul and Alex had their eyes set on something else entirely, unfiltered sipping vodkas. When I asked Alex about this he explained,

‘In Ireland, I think vodka is seen as an afterthought primarily as whiskey is top dog, so we really wanted to showcase what can be done with vodka when a lot of time and energy is put into it.’

Thinking of making vodka and making vodka are two very different things. However, Paul and Alex have done a wonderful job of crafting something that reflects their desire for something sip-able.

Orla Single Grain Vodka is this offering, the only Irish Vodka to win an award in the 2019 IWSC and certainly something pretty damn amazing. The name comes from their wonderful still, Orla, designed to distil the vodka over sixteen times to give it lightness and purity. With a base of wheat and malted barley, it certainly catches the eye.

Of course, with all distilleries, the question of whiskey arose and Alex was happy to tell me that they have numerous plans for the future. The long term goal, he assures me, is whiskey production with a view to produce only their own whiskey.

‘There’s so much amazing Irish whiskey being produced that we wanted to produce other styles of whiskey that we love. So we plan on making a 50% rye whiskey in fresh char oak, a wheat whiskey, and then probably a peated single malt. Our facility only produces a single barrel of whiskey per run so it’s very easy for us to experiment with our grain/yeast/barrel selection.’

And that brings us to February of 2020. Ready to launch and revving to go, something across the horizon reared its head: Covid-19. Unfortunately for the father-son team, this would understandably interfere with their plans and, to make matters worse, Paul would be stuck in Australia visiting his parents leaving only Alex at the distillery right now.

But, every cloud has a silver lining, and Glendree has certainly had that. In an effort to do their part for the community and help out, Alex has collaborated with Nick Ryan from Thomond Gate Whiskey in Limerick and has been hard at work donating hand sanitiser to the local emergency services through Clare and Limerick.

One man in a distillery doing all he can to help everyone he can? That’s a pretty inspiring story.

All this talk of their distillery and vodka has made me a bit parched and Alex was kind enough to furnish me with a sample of his vodka. While I’m more of a whiskey bloke myself, I leapt at the chance to have a try.

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What’s the scent in there? The nose opens with some vanilla bean-pods, lightly roasted, and are soon joined by caramel and some freshly roasted coffee beans, a touch of macadamia nuts coming in too. Light barley notes start to follow, with some toasted wheat bread passing through and then a hint of lilies and roses. Finally, a hint of cacao powder over some light citrus and pears, light and fluffy.

On the palate, it’s extremely soft and smooth, like olive oil and melted butter. Oh, speaking of butter the toasted notes come through again and a touch of grilled coconut with the vanilla springing back in the form of butter cream with some cracked pepper. It then starts to get more acidic with some passion fruit cream Yoyos, buttermilk and malt biscuits before a nice wedge of Oreo cream in between two pieces of white chocolate, delicious.

Finally, the finish is a nice plate of wheat and cracked pepper drizzled with a little squeeze of fresh lime juice, enough to warm the insides and soothe the mouth.

I’ve no idea how to judge a vodka, not really. For all my talk, I only really know whisky, but I could make a list of whiskies that I would drop to grab some more of this vodka.

Glendree sounds amazing and this little sample promises amazing things for the future. While I often want distilleries to focus on whisky (there can never be enough whisky), it would be a shame if Glendree stopped producing this fantastic spirit. Should you ever get the chance to pick up a bottle of Glendree vodka make sure you do. Or, pick up a bottle of their hand sanitizer and keep yourself and others safe.

Going by this vodka, we can most definitely enjoy what comes from Glendree and the other small distilleries around the world in years to come. Bloody great vodka guys, well done.

 

 

 

This review was completed with a sample of Orla Single Grain Vodka kindly supplied by Glendree distillery. You can find their website here, and follow them on social media here.

This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any whisky or distillery, Glendree or otherwise, and is entirely the thoughts and opinions of the authors Somewhiskybloke.

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