JJ Corry

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Bottling each adventure
In Cooraclare, Co. Clare

TO Montilla & BACK AGAIN

We pass endless vineyards and olive groves on our way through the sun-soaked rolling hills of Andalucia.

As we wind our way through the rolling countryside south of Cordoba we catch glimpses of hilltop towns that quietly call out to be explored and experienced. Our destination, Montilla, is one of these alluring hilltop towns. The belltower and the whitewashed houses with terracotta rooftops draw you in as you weave your way up from the valley. The old convent town gave its name to Amontillado—the local dry light-coloured sherry that is often served chilled as an aperitif or with food. 

A chance meeting a few months earlier had led us to this charming place—we were on our way to meet a new friend, Rafa Cabello, the gregarious, bearded founder of Tonelería Del Sur—a family cooperage nestled in the hills.

Working with his son and daughter, Rafa creates high quality virgin casks with Spanish, American & European oak. His casks have a great reputation and are used by wine & sherry producers across the region. But it was Rafa’s enthusiasm for his historical cask series that caught Louise’s attention and brought her here. On our endless hunt for unique casks of exceptional character we jumped at the opportunity to visit Montilla to experience the cooperage and examine casks used for Olorosso, Pedro Ximenez (PX) & sherry wines. From the sweetness of Oloroso to the dryness of Fino, the casks of Andalusia offer a range of flavour possibilities for the maturation of fine spirits back on our Co. Clare home.

A working cooperage is a busy environment. You’re swallowed by a cacophony of sounds—the noise of machines planing & sanding new oak, giant sherry butts being rolled across the floor on their way to being washed, the incessant sound of hammers fixing hoops around which have been assembled by hand, stave by stave.

Other barrels are charred on-site to the exact specifications of producers, the flames “open” the wood, allowing the spirit to soak up more unique flavors. The carbon smooths the flavor and takes that sharp edge off the whiskey. After the cacophony and the smells of cut timber and charred casks, we stepped into the quieter recesses of the warehouse where we were introduced to Rafa’s wide range of historic casks. Here Rafa has gathered the legacy casks from many of the wine producing bodegas of the region.

After the noise of the cooperage it’s nice to amble amongst the dimly lit old casks - robust and full of character. Here we find rows and rows of flavour profiles and possibilities. The more time we spend with such barrels, the more we enjoy the process of hand picking the ones we want to bring back to Cooraclare.

After a morning of inspiration we gather our thoughts over a slow lunch of small plates and a glass of fino with Rafa. Together we planned the shipment of our first series of casks to our rackhouse, sensing already that we would be back again for seconds.

The traditions & culture of places like Rafa’s Montilla always leaves the greatest impression. It’s these traditions of craft that guide our vision for our whiskey and reminds us that the evolving tradition isn’t a means to an end, but a compelling part of what makes whiskey a rewarding pursuit.

With the excitement of knowing our casks would follow us home we set out on a secondary mission - to find out a little more about the famous Garvey Bodega - a hugely successful fino wine producer that was founded in 1776 by Irishman William Garvey. He came here to buy merino sheep for his herd - and never left… Such is the power of these hills!

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