If consumers confuse Livermore’s Concannon Vineyard with the Irish whiskey of the same name, the mixup is understandable---the two products have a common lineage.
James Concannon left Ireland for America in 1865, harboring the dream of creating great Bordeaux and Rhone-style wines in the New World. Ten years later he wandered across the country to California, became intrigued with the Livermore Valley, and immersed himself in the world of winemaking. Eventually, he became the first Irish immigrant to start a successful winery in the U.S. His operation survived Prohibition, and eventually became known as a champion of California Petite Sirah and the potential of Livermore as a viticultural area.
Even though Concannon vineyard has been sold to The Wine Group, it’s still a family enterprise---run by John Concannon, the great-grandson of James and the fourth generation to be involved in the business. Under his leadership, the winery joined forces with the Cooley distillery in Ireland’s County Louth, with the goal of creating a whiskey that would reflect the family’s heritage. Concannon Irish Whiskey was launched last year. The distillate is aged in Bourbon-seasoned casks for a minimum of four years before being transferred to a barrel that once held Concannon wine, thus forming a bond between the two products.
Tasted neat, Concannon reveals scents of vanilla and caramel on the nose, along with a fine herbal edge. It enters the mouth smoothly, but turns spicy very quickly: earth notes, candied fruits and black pepper permeate the mid palate and linger on the finish, where they are joined by hints of rich caramel and mocha. The texture is lean and focused, and the whisky drinks like an imaginary cross between single malt Scotch and premium American rye.
When it comes to advice on how to drink it, Concannon combines the best of both worlds. Their website contains several videos featuring Brand Ambassador John Cashman, who explains in serious and thoughtful terms how to taste it---neat, of course, or with a few drops of water if you so choose. On the other hand, Concannon also includes a series of cocktail recipes developed by Gillian Boyle, head bartender at the Mint Bar in Dublin’s Westin Hotel. These recipes span a significant range, and attest to the lightness, smoothness and mixability of Concannon Irish Whiskey.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.