Joe tells us all about his trip to Bodegas Lustau…
In early September I embarked on a trip to Andalusia with my girlfriend. I had been planning this holiday for some time and was looking forward to some sunshine, some much needed relaxation and in wanted to immerse myself in the gastronomy of Southern Spain and in particular, sherry. Wine is as important to Spain as whiskey is to Ireland and sherry is something I am very fond of.
When a lot of people think of sherry they think of that dusty bottle of sweet wine that your granny pulls from her cabinet around Christmas. The truth is, sherry is a hugely complex and varied style of wine with a fascinating history. For us, it plays a crucial role in the maturation process of our whiskey making. For decades empty barrels that have been seasoned with sherry wine have been shipped over to Ireland where that have been used to mature Irish whiskey, imparting important flavours which we have come to associate with some of our best known Irish whiskeys. Redbreast Irish whiskey is particularly well known for its ‘sherried’ flavour. Notes of dried fruit and spice come directly from the Spanish oak which is used to produce it.
Late last year Midleton released a very special new addition to the Redbreast family –Redbreast Lustau. This whiskey was an instant hit winning the gold medal in the Single Pot Still category at the Irish Whiskey Awards. What makes it so special? A mixture of 9 to 11 year old pot still whiskey from American ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks was finished for a year in hand selected first fill Oloroso sherry casks from the prestigious Spanish winery Bodegas Lustau. I was lucky enough to secure a visit to the winery to learn more.
I arrived in Jerez on Friday morning and after a quick coffee we wandered over to the winery. We were greeted by Juan Mateos – the director of wine tourism at Bodegas Lustau. We spent 20 minutes or so in the beautiful courtyard and Juan gave us a condensed history of sherry and and of Bodegas Lustau which was founded in 1896, before we made our way in to the cellars. The tall rooms with their stone pillars, round windows and sandy floors gave the feeling of being inside a cathedral. Large black sherry butts were stacked 3 high in the solera system all the way to the back of the room. Black from heavy use and each holding around 500 litres of sherry. Juan informed me the average age of each barrel was 80 to 100 years.
Here we tasted our first sherry – a Manzanilla. Light and delicate, we enjoyed this while Juan explained to us the complex Solera aging system. Following this we delved further into the winery, all the while sampling various styles of sherry. The third we tried was an Oloroso. A slightly oxidised, nutty style of sherry. Oloroso sherry casks are typically the types used in whiskey maturation. Notes of walnuts and dried fruit, it was the first sherry we tasted that directly reminded me of Redbreast. We continued exploring and sampling until we reached the highlight – an Almacenista. The term means ‘stock holder’ and represents independent professionals or entrepreneurs who have been historically producing and ageing sherry. This range is still operated by the original artisanal maturation methods. The wine was a palo cortado. A rarer type of sherry which begins its life under flor but eventually begins to oxidise. Hugely complex, it left an impression on both of us.
After tasting several more wines Juan took us to another part of the warehouse to show me the barrels which would go on to mature Redbreast Lustau. Stacked 4 barrels high in the traditional solera method were our casks, each stamped with JJ&S – John Jameson & Son. There was something quite special about seeing these casks in person. I knew all about the story behind Redbreast Lustau, but seeing the barrels in person made the connection between Midleton and Jerez seem so much more real. I had to stop for a few photographs.
After we finished our tour we sat down with Juan for a final glass. This time not a sherry but a vermouth (or vermut). Well, two vermouths. These products are new to the Lustau range and are made with sherry, of course, and local botanicals. Poured over ice, they were a refreshing end to a fantastic tour. The red was sweet with notes of oranges, spice and light oak. Rich and complex but moreish. The white was dry and crisp with a beautiful herbal character. These were both delicious on their own but my first thoughts was the fantastic potential to use these in cocktails.
Since returning home I’ve sourced some and began experimenting. So far my favorite is a Manhattan made with the Lustau Red Vermouth and Redbreast Lustau. Potent and delicious. We took our time enjoying our drinks and chatting with Juan. He continued educating us and making suggestions of where to go and what to eat and drink. He even made a phone call and arranged for a friend of his to meet us in a tabanco a few blocks away after we left the winery for a drink, some lunch and to hear more suggestions. We thanked Juan for everything and got on our way. I left with a renewed appreciation for sherry (and Spanish hospitality) as well as a feeling of regret at not checking a bag at the airport. A good excuse for another trip next year.
Words by Joe Magowan.