Friday, 22 July 2011

The Irish

Due to a number of reasons I have spent much of the last year traversing the Irish Sea to Belfast with the occasional meander over the border. To repay their hospitality it is only fitting that I finally get round to collating my tasting notes and deliver a broad but hopefully not too sweeping assessment of the whiskey I have so painstakingly tried. Roughly speaking I am going to start at the top and work my down geographically which means we will begin with Bushmills.


Firstly I must give praise to the distillery tour, having spent the last week going around a number of Scottish distilleries I really appreciated the quality of the staff, the general slick nature of the operation and the way it has managed to avoid the commercial theme park feel a number of these tours give you. I have no desire to sit through a 30 minute promotional video after I have already decided to visit your distillery! Visually and in feel it is very similar to its scottish brethren but doesn't miss a single opportunity to remind you of its own pedigree and how the Irish rather than the Scots gave the world whisk(e)y. Its claim to be the oldest distillery in the world, when investigated, seems somewhat spurious but a whiskey licence was granted to this area in 1608 and it appears the tourists like that sort of thing.

Now onto the malt, unusually for me my liking for this dram increases chronologically and no that is not due to one extended tasting. Bushmills was one of my first whiskey experiences and their 10 YO was one of the first single malts I recall purchasing. This is a good malt to begin with but to my current tastes lacking some weight which the 12,18 and 21 YO certainly give it. The lightness of the spirit itself may well be down to the triple distillation a process associated with Irish whiskey but also a number of lowland whiskys and a couple of other Scottish distilleries that do a kind of 2 1/2 or 3 ish distillation prcoess. The theory being that the more distillations that take place the stronger the final output but with a lighter character though this is not necessarily the case particularly with regards to Springbank and their partial triple distillation. With age the fruity nose on this malt manages to become both more complex and yet cleaner a bit like listening to a really great stereo not only are you able to hear more of the instruments but you are able to appreciate each performer with greater clarity. My only criticism would be some of the fudge-ier notes that get in the way a bit and these were even more apparent on the the single cask samples I have tried though I have been informed that I managed to select all the absolute duffers so maybe not a great sampling. I must also give praise to their blends the widely available black bush and 1608 which have long been favourites of mine and certainly my favourite Irish blends different and in many ways superior to a number of Scottish blends. 1608 particularly contains predominantly crystal malt with the grain actually appearing to smooth everything out, spice, malt, burnt sugar, layers and upon layers working harmoniously and with less of the toffee that gets in the way of the single cask offerings.


This distillery is odd in many ways, double distillation, location, look and the fact that its expressions do not bear its name but a range of products. I do like the fact that it is to my knowledge the only truly Irish owned distillery left with Diageo buying up and Bushmills and Irish distillers(Jameson etc) being acquired by Pernod Ricard.The recent growth in the diversity of the wider whiskey market has been great for the consumer in bringing drams like Tyrconnell and Connemara to the shelves of the duty free stalls and now even into supermarkets in the UK but Cooley also produces a range of interesting grain whiskeys that will hopefully be reviewed in the future.

Having read much about the single malts and hearing a number of praising reviews I happily acquired a few samples of each that unfortunately failed to live up to expectation. Beginning with Connemara a peated Irish whiskey a concept that for me doesn't quite come together. I think a heavier peating could certainly benefit the malt, the smoke is too soft and just doesn't sit comfortably with the rest of the spirit giving a confused restricted performance. The Tyrconnell, to not be overly critical, is by no means a bad dram and is priced very reasonably for a single malt, the weighting behind it I found far superior to the Connemara and the fruity citrus notes provide a fair amount of entertainment towards the finish. From what I have read the Tyrconnell is also deceptively young so I would certainly be interested in trying some of the older bottlings.

Also note that Kilbeggan though stored in the original warehouses of the historic distillery is in fact the product of the Cooley distillery who purchased the brand in 1988, leaving the old distillery itself, until recently as a museum to its past glory and utilising the excellent old granite warehouses to age the spirit. Now with new stills installed I hoping that one of the most picturesque of distilleries could once again produce something befitting its surroundings.


Jameson at this point is inescapable, iconically Irish and the world leader in sales it has somehow managed to do this with a real swagger of quality. I have read that in the past it was not what it is now and that we are appreciating a renaissance in the pot still character of these blends if so then excellent work lads, keep it up. Their entry level offering and the signature reserve both amazed me when I returned to them recently to reflect upon some confusing notes I had recorded but both again delivered with waves of juicy pot still brilliance both having a gentleness while avoiding the pitfalls of dullness and instead throwing in a number of surprising elements. This leads me nicely onto the single malt output of the distillery and I have yet to taste a drop that hasn't been excellent, anything with the words Green Spot or redbreast on it seems to reek of brilliance characterised by flavour clarity on arrival that makes you wonder why it has taken so long for these to gain any prominence, it appears difficult for distilleries to remain brilliant for extended periods, they either falter or become the stuff of collectors so buy up all that you can while it is still at more than affordable prices. Excellent offering for tastings with friends particularly when you are looking to stray outside of Scottish borders.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


A week of illness has prevented anything but medicinal whisky tasting. This is surely the worst period of the year to be bereft of a sense of taste but one of the the things I used to wile away the hours was the site of a thoroughly charming gent. I have particularly enjoyed his youtube pages finding him knowledgeable and entertaining.

 Christmas has brought me a couple of enticing bottles and hopefully they will be getting reviewed as soon as possible until then I hope you enjoy Ralfy as much as I did.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The best laid plans

Last night my intention was to conduct a horizontal Ardbeg tasting, very young to renaissance. That was a plan which differed greatly from reality, distracted by the allure of a selection of british cheeses and a somewhat underachieving white bordeaux I found myself in no position to tackle such a demanding task. My hope is that tonight will present another opportunity but I feel that while online I should answer the question of Christmas drinks. If there is indeed a question, there may not be. If there is anyone other than myself pondering this then thank you, I appreciate your support.

The way I see it, malt must be up there sitting aloft lauding it over other lesser beverages this time of year. "Ha cider, where are you now?" it asks. There are a few reasons why I feel that whisky can claim this time of year as its own. Firstly the cold, there is something warming, in a philosophical sense as well as the obvious, about a good home measured dram. When else in the year are we indoors, not working, not driving, not doing anything requiring a notion of responsibility to allow ourselves to open up a number of malts? Tradition also plays a large part in experience, whisky must be one of life's most subjective appeals and how we associate it will play a large factor in how we enjoy it, knowing you are drinking a piece of history or sharing something special with friends this will all add to the appreciation. Finally for me there is company. Rarely do I conduct any notable tastings alone, whisky is not to be rushed it is to celebrated over discussion with friends. It is true that some whisky is for a select inner circle of friends but it always worth having a bottle on hand to share should an acquaintance come knocking at your door.

On christmas day, I shall be finishing my meal with a glass of Pedro Ximenez then moving onto a dram or two. I have yet to decide what to take with me as I am unsure of the tastes of the company I will be in but at christmas amongst all the rarities and scarcities I always find myself drawn to Royal Lochnagar. I am sure that this is due largely to past experiences but it does remind me of Christmas, even out of season the packaging evokes a warm reminder of the festive period. You could argue that there is something christmassy in the make up of the whisky, the nose is fairly sweet and reminds me of dried fruits, the palate brings in a little more oak but continues with the spiced fruit cake theme and the finish is more of the same. I always forget about the slight smoke that emerges, it takes me by surprise every time though I have on occasion found it fades to taste a little dusty. So all in all a perfectly acceptable malt, not a world beater but this is part of the beauty of whisky. There is a time and a place for most, note I don't say all, whiskies and if there were definitive rights and wrongs where would the fun in that be?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Stars, stripes and single malt

Before I traverse the snow to spend Christmas in Edinburgh, I thought I should pay my respects to a number of American friends. For me these three can comfortably stand toe to toe with the best Scotland has to offer and must be given serious consideration as some of the worlds greatest drams.

Old Potrero classifies itself as an 18th century style single malt rye whiskey and is a child of the anchor brewing company in San Francisco. Famed mostly for their excellent handcrafted beers, this artisan brewery has artfully turned its hand to distillation with widely acclaimed success. I first came across their skilled distilling whilst tasting gin, their dry gin 'Junipero' is arguably the greatest ever American gin and deserves to stands aside Tanqueray 10, Hendricks and Blackwoods. I stumbled upon his particular bottle of Potrero after a bar closure, showing that every recession has a silver lining.

This 100% rye malt expression is produced in small batches and the finished result is nothing short of stunning; nose, palate and finish are all unique and of a rare level of complexity. The rye is apparent throughout announcing its presence on the nose and even when draped in citrus, menthol and vanilla manages to squeeze its way through. The rye goes on to hold the sweetness and soft spice notes together brilliantly on the palate. The finish is lingering and pleasant, with hoppy beer notes and a wonderful dryness that allows the rye to once more come forward. I understand that this will split opinion but if you ever see this available buy it, drink and make your own judgement.

George T Stagg produced by Buffalo Trace distilleries, like Old Potrero is a homage to antique artisan whiskey production in the US. It is known for its very high bottling strength with this 2007 release bottled at 144.8. This is bourbon on a much greater scale, everything about this dram is enormous. The vanilla in the nose eludes to the skill in the ageing of this whiskey, it is rich and syrupy with layers of molasses and liquorice dominating in spite of the massive alcohol presence. On the palate, once you have recovered from the warmth of the alcohol and supposing that you are still conscious, you will appreciate more of the same complexity. With each tasting I have changed my mind as to what dominates, there is certainly some candied orange, ginger, dark chocolate and fudge but there is so much going on this could well be viewed as an essay in a snifter. The finish is very, very long and particularly sweet but not to the extent that it should put you off from sampling this very serious American offering.

The final offering is another from Buffalo Trace in a similar mould to Stagg. Sazerac 18-year-old is once more something a little bit special, an abnormally old straight rye. Due to the American need to use new barrels it is a miracle, and a testament to the skill of the distillers, that this expression isn't just an alcoholic wood soup. Instead you receive a nose that although filled with oak has ample fruit and a tempting serving of rye grain. The palate again is understandably oak dominated but this acts as a stage for all the sugars and spice to perform, it thins a little towards the finish bringing in one final dose of rye and here it becomes perhaps a little too oily. This, however is me being very picky, this is as close to perfection anything this sweet can be. You must give this a chance, especially if you are still sceptical towards transatlantic offerings and want to know why I am raving about rye.

A treat from the Isle of Mull

Ledaig 10-Year-Old, is a slightly confusing dram. Hailing from the Herbridean island of Mull it is the peated expression from the Tobermorey distillery. Due mostly to the current demand for peated whisky it now makes up around 50% of the distillery output and this, most recent expression, is bottled at 46.3%.

It is un-chilfiltered and the peat itself comes from Port Ellen, Islay and being around 40ppm should make it similar to Lagavulin. Or so you might think. The peat on the nose and palate is quite different to what you get in an Islay whisky, the fire is still there with notes of leather and burnt wood but the sea air seems less present having instead a more vegetal earthy peat aroma. There is a pleasant sweetness to the nose with an oiliness that leads you pleasantly towards the palate. Here is where it gets odd, I cant decide what to make of the palate, leather and liquorice hang around the periphery while a good amount of pepper and spice hold it together but there is something missing. The dram seems a little thin especially considering the bottling strength. It is in no way unpleasant but it is like an under performing pupil, the most disappointment is delivered by the one with the most potential to really shine. I think this has also influenced how I have interpreted the finish, the earthiness of the peat returns but just doesn't quite last long enough for me, leaving you with only faint leather notes to remember it by.

This is by no means a bad whisky, a great gift as it offers plenty of peat at an affordable level and bottling at this abv certainly seems shrewd. I am slightly intrigued as to why the box and bottle repeatedly state that is un-chilfitered, perhaps they are being slightly defensive over the thinness of the overall dram. However there is great promise in this expression,  hopefully this will bring further stability to a distillery famed for its closures and allow it  to go on to release something truly brilliant in the near future.

The festive period is upon us

At what point does a casual interest become a hobby? When do a few items become a collection? How does one ascend to the realm of having an expertise or having their identity defined by something that they do? When should your friends become concerned?

These questions were formed and discussed over the remnants of a bottle of Ardbeg very young and from there this blog has been spawned. Hopefully someone will find some estranged interest in these tastings  but usefulness is not the goal. More than anything this is an exercise in justification. Justifying a collection, justifying further tastings and even bringing some credence to a few excursions.

I hope some enjoyment is found in these posts, critique and comment are welcomed as all content will be laden with speculation and opinion.