Teeling offer a wide range of Irish whiskies – single grain whiskey, blended whiskey and malt whiskey and with their own distillery commissioned in May 2015, come 2018 I suspect we’ll see that range grow to include a Dublin single pot still whiskey, a Dublin single malt and perhaps even a peated whiskey. However, with an annual production capacity of 500,000 litres, their distillery is designed primarily to produce pot still whiskey.
Pot Still Whiskey
The ‘pot still’ whiskey they make at Teeling is distilled from both malted barley and unmalted barley and Irish whiskey convention has it that distillation takes place in a series of three pot stills so is said to be ‘triple distilled’, but while at Cooley the Teeling family challenged this and produced double distilled whiskey. While they wait for the triple distilled whiskey made at their new distillery to reach sufficient age, the Teeling Bothers are selling double distilled whiskey produced back in their days at Cooley. At Teeling they are presently triple distilling their whiskey but interestingly their still configuration and pipework allows them the option of also producing a double distilled whiskey.
The malted barley they use is unpeated so no smoky flavours are transmitted to the malt during the kilning process. However, there is nothing to stop them producing a peated whiskey and Teeling family history would suggest that they are likely to do just that.
Presently they use 95% unmalted spring barley and 5% malted barley. Obviously 100% malt would produce malt whiskey and not a single pot still whiskey. Again, this is likely.
The barley is held in two large silos at the back of the distillery – one for malted and one for unmalted barley. This is mixed and comes through a pipe to the still hall, four tonnes per batch, where it is mixed with water as it enters the wet mill. This has two sets of rollers which grind the malted and unmalted barley into a course ‘grist’.
The grist produced by the wet mill passes to the Steinocker lauter tun mashing vessel (1,025 hectolitre capacity) where the mixture of malt and unmalted barley grist and water is heated. The heat breaks down beta-glutens, the cell walls around the grain’s starch, allowing natural enzymes in the malted barley to access the starch in both types of barley and begin converting to fermentable sugars.
Steinocker lauter tun with mill behind
After 4 - 6 hours, conversion is complete with natural sugars produced from the grain’s starch and other solubles required for fermentation dissolved in the hot water. This sugary liquid, called wort, is drained and separated from the spent grain known as draff which goes for use as animal feed. The wort is sent to the fermenters.
Teeling have four fermenters – a pair of traditional wooden washbacks, each with a capacity of 15,000 litres, and two stainless steel fermenters – each with a capacity of 30,000 litres. Both the stainless steel and wooden fermenters are open topped.
A specific strain of yeast from South Africa's Anchor Yeast is added to the wort in the stainless steel tanks. Unusually this yeast comes in ball-shaped granules and over a 2-3 day period consumes the sugars present in the wort to produce a particularly acidic orange-brown beer-like liquid (wash) with 8% alc./vol.. The more acids in the wash, the more esters in the final distillate. The more esters, the sweeter and fruitier the distillate. Teeling new make spirit is particularly sweet and fruity.
Unusually, Teeling are presently not adding yeast to the wooden washbacks, as natural fermentation from the yeast in the air and within the pours of the wood almost immediately starts a natural fermentation. At the time of our visit, shortly after the distillery had opened in June 2015, analysis had not yet been carried out to assess if this ‘natural’ yeast was indeed Anchor yeast from the adjacent stainless steel fermenters.
Frilli Impianti copper pot stills
When the fermentation process is complete the ‘wash’ is pumped to the first of the three copper pot stills. The three copper pot stills at Teelings were custom built by Frilli Impianti in Monteriggioni, near Florance, Italy and their journey on the back of a low-loader via a ferry to Dublin was not without incidence.
The first distillation, which takes place in the 15,000 litre capacity wash still and lasts 7-8 hours, extracts alcohol and flavours from the fermented wash without discriminating flavours – the purpose of this first distillation is only to capture all the alcohol and flavours from the wash. The distillate starts to run from the vertical shell-and-tube condenser at around 45% alc./vol. and the still is run until this drops to around 1% alc./vol., producing an intermediate distillate known as low-wines with an average strength of around 30% alc./vol.. The residue left in the wash still after distillation is sent to be processed into animal feed.
Feints still (2nd distillation) and spirit still (3rd distillation)
The low-wines are transferred on for a second distillation in the 10,000 litre capacity feints still where the selection of certain flavours and the removal of others in the final distillate begins. The first spirits to emerge from this distillation are called the ‘heads’ or ‘foreshots’ and these contain the more volatile alcohols (run from 80% to 70% alc./vol.). The next spirits to emerge are called ‘strong feints’ (which run from 70% to 50% alc./vol.) and this is the desirable part of the distillate that will go forward to the spirit still for the third and final distillation. After this, towards the end of the second distillation, comes the ‘weak feints’ or ‘tails’ (which run from 50% to 1% alc/vol.) and these contain valuable alcohol so, along with the ‘foreshots’ are recycled back to be added to the next batch of low-wines to charge the low-wines still.
The average strength of the strong feints produced by the second distillation is typically around 65% alc./vol. and charge the 9,000 litre capacity spirit still where the distillation process is repeated for a third time, with foreshots again being removed before the heart of distillate starts to run. It is this ‘heart’ or middle cut distillate that will go on to become Teeling pot still whiskey and has strength of around 81-82% alc./vol.. Lastly, as with the second distillation, the feints emerge and along with the foreshots are recycled back into the feints still.
Teeling’s triple distillation process can be summed up as follows: Three stills are used - wash still (first distilation), ‘feints still’ (second distillation) and ‘spirit still’ (third distillation).
1st distillation: Starts with 8% alc./vol. wash and produces 30% alc./vol. low-wines.
2nd distillation: Starts with 30% alc./vol. low-wines from first distillation along with the foreshots and weak feints from previous second distillation, and foreshots and faints from previous third distillation to produce strong feints at approx. 65% alc./vol..
3rd distillation: Starts with 65% alc./vol. strong feints from second distillation to produce 81-82% alc./vol. new make spirit.
Spirit still (3rd distillation)
The distiller’s art, in this case the affable Pauric and Max overseen by Master Distiller, Alex Chasko, is to adjust the point at which the cuts from foreshots to spirit and spirit to feints are made during the second and third distillations.
The grain whiskey presently used in Teeling Small Batch is presently sourced from the family’s previous Cooley Distillery in County Louth, established by John Teeling in 1987 and sold to Beam Inc. in 2011. However, rather than retire on the proceeds, the enterprising John Teeling has formed the Irish Whiskey Company with a group of investors that includes his sons, Jack & Stephen and this company is converting an old brewery in Dundalk into a grain distillery with a huge capacity. So while Teeling grain whiskey is presently what Jack & Stephen Teeling have secured from the sale to Beam Inc., it seems likely that future supplies of grain whiskey will be from their father’s distillery in Dundalk.
The grain whiskey produced at Cooley used in Teeling whiskeys is 90%-92% corn (maize) and 10-12% malted barley.
The Irish Whiskey Act specifies that Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks in Ireland before it can be called Irish whiskey. The entrepreneurial Teeling family have long experimented with using different types of cask and while ex-bourbon barrels are the industry norm, Jack and Stephen Teeling have stocks of whiskey aging in casks seasoned with sherry, port, madeira and most notably Californian wine.
Teeling’s triple distilled distillates have a higher concentration of alcohol than double distilled whiskies – over 80% alc./vol., while the column distilled grain spirit is well over 90% alc./vol.. Water is added to the distillates to reduce their strength to 63% for pot still whiskey and 68% for grain whiskey, to ensure a balanced wood extraction whilst also keeping the number of casks to a minimum.
The water used to dilute the distillate to casking strength is taken from the municipal supply and processed through reverse osmosis to purify and ensure a neutrality that won’t influence the whiskey’s flavour.
Teeling fill their casks through a bung hole in the head, rather than the middle (the bulge) as is traditional and store maturing casks in palletised warehouses - six casks to a pallet and six pallets high. Their maturation facility lies little over an hour north of Dublin on the Cooley Peninsula, near the family’s former distillery.
Vatting & bottling
Alex Chasko, an Oregonian brought to Dublin by the love of whiskey and a woman, oversees all aspects of Teeling Whiskey production and is responsible for blending, the final part of the process where aged pot still whiskeys and grain whiskeys are mixed. It should be remembered that even the Teeling Single Malt and Single Grain are blended from numerous casks – carefully selected by Alex to match the character of previous bottlings. Once blended Teeling whiskeys are married and rested prior to bottling.
Importantly Teeling whiskeys are bottled at 46% alc./vol., much higher than the industry standard 40% strength. This higher bottling strength allows Teeling to bottle without the need for chill filtration used by other distillers to remove fatty acids which add flavour and mouthfeel to the whiskey. Unfortunately when bottled at lower strengths these fatty acids can cause the whiskey to turn hazy when cold as they fall out of dilution. A high bottling strength prevents fatty acids falling out of dilution so the whiskey remains clear even when stored in cold warehouses.