In 1828, a Scotsman, Robert Stein, built on the work of his predecessors to create a still that fed the wash (the raw material of the distillation process) through a column of partitions. Called the Patent Still, it was first used at the Cameronbridge Grain Distillery in Scotland. A demonstration of Stein's still observed by Dublin excise tax* collector, Aeneas Coffey, inspired the French-born Irishman to improve and subsequently patent the design in 1830. Coffey had, no doubt, seen all manner of still designs during his long career as an excise officer. The continuous distillation of the Coffey still (as opposed to the batch distillation of a pot still) proved much cheaper to fuel, faster and more efficient, producing a higher concentration of alcohol in the final distillate (up to 95.6% ABV in a modern Coffey Still).
However, all was not whiskey and clover for Mr Coffey. Distillers soon discovered that the process stripped their distillate of the volatiles that add flavour, leaving nowt but tasteless, high-strength spirit. Coffey Stills are steam-heated. While the lack of direct-firing in a Coffey Still reduces maintenance and removes any chance of scorching the contents, steam-heating reduces flavour. As an aside; Glenfarclas is now the only Scotch Whisky producer to direct-fire all their stills. Glenfiddich direct-fires around a third of their 32 stills. Damn you Mortlach! I do believe Glenfarclas is now my favourite working distillery...or it could just be this lovely dram of 105 talking (through its meat avatar)...I digress:
So, while many Irish and Scotish distillers remained loyal to their pot stills, the Coffey Still was widely adopted for the production of grain whisky, gin, rum, bourbon and vodka. You know, all that stuff that is inferior to Single Malt.
Coffey himself gave up distilling in 1835, closing his Dock Distillery in Dublin and establishing Aeneas Coffey & Sons in London, building Coffey Stills for others. In his latter years, despite his inestimable contribution to distilling worldwide, Aeneas Coffey drifted into obscurity. His burial site is unknown.
In contrast, Masataka Taketsuru, founder of Nikka, is highly revered to this day. He is regarded in Japan as The Father of Japanese Whisky.
Nikka Coffey Grain 45% ABV NAS 2018
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Rich, sweet, vanilla custard, orange toffee, coconut and a touch of cinnamon. Simple and sweet but quite pleasant; like a country girl (sans ute).
Palate: Substantial, almost syrupy mouthfeel, orange, coconut, corn syrup and canned fruit; sweeet. Refined and clean but still a one trick pony; unlike a country girl. A pleasant but short finish of cinnamon and oak, sullied somewhat by a very slight metallic zing.
This is a lovely whisky, as grain goes. Much more sophisticated than Teeling Single grain. More grown up than Suntory's Chita. More robust than Greenore. And yet, just a little dull.
One can't help but wonder; how good would this be from a pot still?
Nikka Coffey Malt 45% ABV NAS 2018
Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Vanilla, oak spice, rich malt, ripe green fruits and fresh sponge cake.
Palate: Substantial mouthfeel, on the shy side of chewy. Red fruits now, more cake, rich hazelnut, caramel and, ironically, creamy coffee. Yummy. A medium finish of ripe red plums and whipped cream...topped with nuts. Yes, it could be a desert. It should be a desert, damn it!
On the sweet side but otherwise balanced and interesting, if not complex.
* 1:The redistribution of wealth, by force.
3:The punishment of those who have done nothing wrong in order to reward those who have done nothing right.