By Gregory Daurer | Sep 20, 2020
"We are the only distillery, outside of Ireland, that is dedicated to making single pot still whiskey," Miller says.
Miller will happily give a history lesson on Irish whiskey to anyone who's interested. At one time, he says, Irish whiskey dominated the spirits world -- and single pot still whiskey was king. When Ireland was still part of the British Empire, it was exported across the globe.
Miller makes his single pot still whiskey according to traditional Irish methods, using a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, and triple distilling the wash through his pot still. "They have a real spicy broad mouthfeel," Miller says of single pot still whiskeys. "They're deep and rich. Even though they're triple distilled, they're not light. They're very bold whiskeys."
The style was born in revolt: When the British taxed Ireland's malted barley in the late 17th century, Irish distillers rebelled by incorporating unmalted barley into their grain bills. Luckily, the raw barley didn't cheapen the resulting spirit; it led to a whole new -- and wholly popular -- flavor profile. Miller likens the respective flavors of malted and unmalted barley to the disparately sweet flavors of cooked apples versus apples straight off of a tree.
Famine, wars, Irish independence, American prohibition, newer competition -- all of these factors led to the decline of traditional Irish whiskey throughout the world. In recent years, only two Irish whiskey brands remain popular on a global scale: Bushmills, which is an all-grain whiskey -- not a single pot still whiskey -- and top-selling Jameson, which is a blend of single pot still and grain whiskeys (although the distillery used to sell a dedicated single pot still spirit).
Fast-forward to 2011, when single pot still whiskey was reintroduced within Ireland in the form of Redbreast. As fate would have it, Miller and his wife Meagan were in Ireland on their honeymoon, when one of the very first bottles of Redbreast to hit the town of Galway was opened up within the pub where they were watching a World Cup rugby game, pitting the U.S. against Ireland. The newlyweds, already whiskey connoisseurs, were smitten. "It was one of those instant love affairs," Miller says of that first pour, which turned rival rugby fans into mutual celebrants.
At the time of their honeymoon, both Patrick -- an engineer and analyst -- and Meagan worked in the oil and gas business. In 2015, when shakeups occurred in the industry, Miller made a career leap, transitioning into distilling by taking a job at Stranahan's. On weekends, he experimented with distilling single pot still whiskey at home.
In 2017, Patrick left Stranahan's, and the Millers co-founded Talnua -- a Gaelic-derived name, which translates as "New Land." Using Eldorado Springs Water from Boulder County and Colorado-grown barley, the couple now produces their popular whiskeys, as well as gins, in Arvada. "We sell every drop that we make," says Miller. They're currently replacing Talnua's worn-out 450 gallon pot still with three brand-new ones -- 300, 400, and 650 gallons. Miller expects that will quadruple Talnua's output, allowing Talnua to expand its distribution across Colorado in the years immediately ahead.
Miller says Talnua's Quarter Cask Whiskey -- aged in American oak quarter casks -- displays "a nice, bold, spicy oak note that has a cinnamon, cereal sweetness to it . . . a lovely pear, fruit note." There's also their Saint Patrick's Day anniversary release, Olde Saint's Keep, aged in port barrels. Next year, it will be totally different. Miller says he "took that page out of the Snowflake book at Stranahan's -- where every year you have a unique, special release."
Talnua also makes a gin, using the same grain bill as its whiskey; however, the third distillation is run through a separate still, while incorporating the addition of juniper, coriander, cardamom, orange peel, and lemon peel. Miller also ages some of the gin in oak quarter casks, as well.
Furthermore, Miller blends an all-grain whiskey from Ireland together with his own single pot still whiskey (which is akin to the type of blend that Jameson sells). Right now, the imported whiskey being used came from the Cooley Distillery, but Miller hopes to establish ongoing relationships with other Irish whiskey makers, perhaps even collaborating on the first transatlantic, co-branded single pot still whiskey blend.
So far, Miller says, the reaction has been positive for Talnua's whiskey on both sides of the Atlantic. "We've gotten such good reviews from the bottles that have made it back to Ireland," says Miller. "They're excited to see us being part of the revival of single pot still whiskey on a broader scale than just Ireland."
Talnua's motto -- "Faugh a Ballagh" -- translates from Gaelic as "Clear the Way." Miller, who studied military science at CSU, explains how it was the battle cry of an all-Irish regiment in the British Army, who led the charge at the battle front against the enemy. The same cry was later adopted by Irish-born troops during America's Civil War.
Miller says "Faugh a Ballagh" is "an apt translation" for what he's hoping to accomplish with Talnua: To help single pot still whiskey regain "its former prominence on the world stage" by being the first American distillery to specialize in its resurgence, just as other distilleries in, say, Japan or the United States have created their own versions of Scottish single malt whisky. Miller says, "It's kind of our way of saying, 'Hey, we'll go first, see what happens!'"
Challenges: Expanding distribution across Colorado through 2023, before looking towards other states. Miller says, "We just haven't had enough capacity to grow our distribution [previously]. So, that's really what we're focusing on with the new equipment."
Opportunities: "We're really the only ones making this style of whiskey in the United States," says Miller. "Getting to grow this style of whiskey and be part of the rebirth and resurgence of single pot still whiskey, both here and in Ireland."
Needs: "More booze in barrels and bottles," says Miller. "We literally started this as a little mom and pop, and the fact that we're already buying new equipment, and seeing the growth potential, has been incredibly exciting to us." Talnua began distilling in 2017, before releasing its first aged whiskey in 2019.