Archive for the ‘Irish whiskey’ Category

Two Irish whiskey brands at the top of their game

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Knappogue Castle and Michael Collins Irish whiskeys have been around for a while. There are new releases by both labels that I enjoy, and wanted to share this information with you.

Knappogue has offered many expressions over the years, from three different Irish distilleries, including vintage release and whiskeys with age statements.  Other than the original 1951 vintage from the long-gone B. Daly distillery (where Tullamore Dew used to be made), I think this “Twin Wood” 16 year old is my favorite.

It’s aged in bourbon casks first, and then finished in sherry casks. My main issue with some of the Knappogue releases in the past is that they have been a bit on the youthful side. This one is nicely matured and the sherry adds an extra layer of flavors. (There’s no disclosure on where this came from, buy my guess is Bushmills.) It will set you back $100.

Michael Collins, offering both a single malt and a blended whiskey (from the Cooley distillery), was originally released with no age statement. My issue was the same as with Knappogue Castle–it tasted a little big green when originally released. Now, they have changed the packaging and also bottled the single malt at 10 years of age.  Cooley has been releasing some great whiskeys lately, and this is another example of the quality of their work. I’m not tasting sherry in this one. It’s just a very nice, straight-forward Irish single malt.

You might want to give both of these a try if you are an Irish whiskey drinker.

Coming in May: daily whisky reviews

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The Summer issue of Malt Advocate will be out June 1st. (It will be our 20th Anniversary issue!) In it, we have a record number of whisky reviews too: almost 90! Nearly all are new releases.

I’m going to share with you a sampling of these reviews before they are published in Malt Advocate. (It’s my way of saying “thank you” for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in here.) I’ll post up at least one new review every day for the entire month (including weekends).

Stay tuned…

A few brief Scotch, Bourbon, Rye and Irish whiskey updates

Monday, April 18th, 2011

First, let me thank all of you who offered whisky recommendations for the new enthusiast in my last post. More than 100 comments later, I can say that the post is a very valuable resource.

As you know, I was in Chicago last week hosting WhiskyFest. It was a great event, and I even managed to find time to taste some whiskies and get the scoop on a few items. I thought I would pass them on to you.

I tasted the new Spring 2011 release of Kilchoman. This one has some sherry aging, unlike the previous two releases here in the U.S. I must say that I think this is the best Kilchoman whisky yet. It’s well rounded, surprisingly mature for its age, and 100% Islay!

This was the first time independent bottler Samaroli was at WhiskyFest. Indeed, they are only now being imported to the U.S. I tasted a few of their offerings and really enjoyed them. (Really cool bottles, too, as you can see pictured on the left!) I look forward to tasting more of their whiskies in the future.

The importers of Springbank for the U.S. hand selected several casks 14 year old Springbanks, each one matured in a different type of sherry, and what will be offered at cask-strength. It’s an interesting essay in the impact of different sherry wines on a whisky. You might want to check those out.

I was able to taste a prototype of what will be a new barrel-proof expression of Angel’s Envy bourbon which will be released later this year. It was delicious!

The folks behind the Jefferson’s line of bourbons, including the outstanding Jefferson’s Presidential Select releases, told me they will be releasing a 10 year old 100% rye whiskey later this year at 94 proof. I tasted a pre-release. It reminded me of WhistlePig. I mean, it really reminded me of WhistlePig (hint!), but at a slightly lower proof (and what will be offered at the significantly lower price of about $35).

Do you remember my review of Redemption Rye? Well, they recently came out with a high-rye bourbon. Which was also pretty good. Now I’m told they will be introducing a more standard, easy-going bourbon (which the brand manager referred to as a “breakfast bourbon”) in July. They will also be releasing a barrel-proof version of their high-rye bourbon around August.

This isn’t WhiskyFest related, but there’s a big press event going on at the Midleton distillery in Ireland in a couple weeks. A little while back I was informed that Pernod has repackaged Redbreast and Green Spot single pot still whiskeys. (Note that I used the word “single” and not “pure.”) Rumor has it that they will also be introducing a new line of single pot still whiskeys at this press event. Malt Advocate will be present at this event and we will report back here with our findings.

Finally, some of you were also at WhiskyFest Chicago. For those that were, please feel free to share what you learned at the event–new releases, whiskies the really stood out, etc.

New whiskies

Monday, April 11th, 2011

A bunch of new whiskies have come across my desk lately, which isn’t so bad considering this is normally the slow time of the year for new releases. I thought I would share this information with you, because they will be coming on the market soon, if they haven’t already.

Keep in mind that this is from a U.S. perspective. Those of you living across the pond sometimes get these releases well ahead of us here in the U.S. And sometimes, as is often the case with bourbon, you will probably get them later–if at all. So, in the long run, I guess it all averages out.

This is sort of an informal synopsis–more like a quick “heads up.” More details (including formal reviews, prices, etc.) will come later here on this blog and also in the next issue of Malt Advocate.

The first item I want to mention is the Glenfarclas 175th Anniversary bottling, which I received just this past Friday. It’s shown here (a little blurry–sorry about that), with a fairly good dent in it already from weekend festivities with friends, next to the 150th Anniversary bottling which I also have and opened up last year on my 50th Birthday. This 175th Anniversary bottling is great! Well done, Glenfarclas. (Incidentally, my bottle is 70cl, so I am not sure when this release will be finding its way to the U.S.)

Auchentoshan has a new Sherry Matured 1998 Vintage limited release, bottled at cask strength. I have a tendency to prefer less sherry in delicate whiskies like Auchentoshan, but this sherried version isn’t overbearing. I actually enjoyed it the other day with a very mild cigar.

Another new release that impressed me was a special, single cask version of Ardmore “Traditional Cask” by Julio’s Liquors up in Westborough, Mass. Ardmore Traditional Cask is usually a batch bottling with no age statement. While I’ve enjoyed it over the years, I always wished it had more maturity to it. This single cask offering by Julio’s is a 1998 vintage 12 year old, and it nicely matured and very delicious!

On the bourbon side, I just tasted several new releases. The new Four Roses limited release for 2011 is a 12 year old at barrel proof. It’s very nice–elegant, spicy, and well-matured. I don’t think Four Roses fans will have anything to complain about here.

There has also been an improvement in the formula to Jefferson’s Bourbon. On the outside (as you see in this picture) everything looks the same, but one sip will tell you that it’s more mature than previous standard Jefferson’s release. I’m told by the brand manager that there’s some whiskey in there in the high teens.

And while we’re on the subject of Jefferson’s, I tasted a sample of a Jefferson Presidential Select 18 year old from a single cask purchased by Park Avenue Liquor in New York, and it was stunning! This juice is from the old Stitzel-Weller distillery. The standard releases of the remaining stock of this stuff (most recently as 17 and 18 year old) is in small batch form. They have varied from good to outstanding. This single cask offering might just be the best of the several releases I have tasted. To put it in perspective: after I worked my way through my review sample, I contacted Park Avenue Liquor and ordered a bottle!

There’s a new Jim Beam “Devil’s Cut.” It’s like the standard Jim Beam, but with more wood spices.

On the Irish side of things, I don’t think I had the chance to tell you yet that, as you may have seen, Michael Collins has a face lift. The bottle is more traditional looking when compared to the original release (which I thought looked a little quirky). More importantly, the single malt expression now has an age statement–10 years old–and the whiskey inside is very good! (Much better than the previous stuff.) Cooley really has some nice whiskeys maturing, and the Michael Collins brand is benefiting from this.

A few more other quick notes: As of last week, I was informed that whisky from the Swedish Mackmyra distillery is now in the U.S. (New York, to be exact.) This was from my contact at Mackmyra. That’s all the information I have right now, but more will follow.

Also, for many years, Buffalo Trace has been working on creating the perfect bourbon. (This includes deconstructing and analyzing whiskey reviews and ratings by a handful of whiskey writers, including yours truly.) There’s a press event at Buffalo Trace later this month, and rumor has it that there just might be an unveiling of this “perfect bourbon.” Stay tuned!

(On an administrative note, would you like me to do more of these informal updates on a regular basis in the future?)

Thirty five years and still amazed!

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

You might think that after 35 years of drinking whisky and 20 years of making whisky my living, that I would tire of it.

Not a chance. Whisky is still the most complex, diverse, and cost-effective distilled spirit out there, and the producers continue to inspire and entertain with new releases. I know that there’s always a whisky around the corner that will surprise me, maybe even amaze me.

This past Saturday, I attended the funeral of my best friend’s mother. I was so close to her, I called her mom. My best friend is Irish and when the long day was over, I brought over this bottle of 12 year old Bushmills Distillery Reserve for us to drink.  I’ve had it before and it was delicious.

I picked up this bottle back in 2007 when touring the distillery with Master Distiller Colum Egan. He even signed and dated the bottle. (It’s on the side; you can’t see it.) I was saving it for the right time to open it. This was that time.

Once again, I was thoroughly impressed by this whiskey. It’s so rich, creamy, fruity and complex for a 12 year old. And oh so drinkable: a few friends and I could easily polish off a bottle of this in a day’s time. (Not that we would…)

It’s so easy for us to be critical of whisky, the producers, etc., and I understand why we sometimes are: we are passionate about whisky and we care about it enough to to express our feelings and concerns.

Having said this, we need to bring ourselves back to really what’s most important. Whisky is amazing stuff, and this is still a great time to be drinking whisky. This time, it was Bushmills Distillery Reserve that reminded me of this. Next time, it might be a bourbon or a nice Islay malt.

It’s why, after 35 years of drinking whisky, it still amazes me. And always will.

New whiskies heading to the U.S.

Friday, March 11th, 2011

For all of my United States readers, I thought you might like to know that there’s a bunch of new whiskies heading our way. I listed them below.

(I apologize in advance for not knowing the answers to the questions you are going to ask, like: When is it coming? Where will it be available? How much is it going to cost? With any luck, the importers will chime in here.)

For those of you coming to WhiskyFest Chicago in April, some of these whiskies will be poured there. You can find the complete WhiskyFest list here.

The new whiskies

Armorik Breton whisky (from Brittany)

Lark (from Tasmania): Single Cask, Cask Strength, Distillers Selection Single Cask

Samaroli (from Scotland): a bunch of them!

Tomatin “Decades”

Glen Garioch 1991 Vintage (extra smoky!)

Ardmore 10 year old Cask Strength

Glenmorangie Pride 1981 Vintage

Bruichladdich: “Laddie Classic”, Port Charlotte “An Turas Mor”

Michael Collins 10 year old Irish single malt

Plus something new from Dalmore (shhh!)

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Irish Whiskey of the Year”: Redbreast 12 year old

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

What makes Irish whiskey unique? Some say because it’s triple distilled, and Scotch whisky is only distilled twice. Others note that it is not smoky like Scotch whisky. But there are Scotch whiskies that are triple distilled and others that aren’t smoky, and there are smoky Irish whiskeys and Irish whiskeys that are only distilled twice.

However, pot still whiskey — the process of making whiskey in copper pot stills from both malted and unmalted barley — is unique to Irish whiskey, and we think it is what gives many Irish whiskeys their character. Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Power’s, Paddy, Redbreast, Midleton Very Rare, and many other Irish whiskey brands contain a portion of pot still whiskey.

Only two whiskeys currently on the market, Redbreast and Green Spot, are 100% pure pot still Irish whiskeys and only Redbreast is available in the States. Redbreast has, for many years, been sold only as a 12 year old.  This past year, a 15 year old was introduced to the U.S. for the first time. Knowing how great Redbreast 12 year old is, we eagerly awaited the arrival of its older sibling. Could it actually be better than the 12 year old? That’s a pretty high hurdle to jump.

Well, in our opinion, it isn’t. It’s not that the Redbreast 15 year old isn’t a great whiskey. It is. It’s just that we still like the 12 year old better. In fact, we like this most recent bottling so much, it’s our “Irish Whiskey of the Year!”

Redbreast 12 year old is deftly balanced, very elegant, complex, and stylish. It’s honeyed and silky in texture, with toffee, toasted marshmallow, nougat, maple syrup, banana bread, and a hint of toasted coconut. The bright fruit and golden raisin blend in nicely with the layers of sweetness. Classic Irish whiskey, and affordable too!

Next to be announced is our “Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year”. See you back here tomorrow.

“Pure” Pot Still Irish whiskey is now “Single” Pot Still

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In case you missed it.  Pure pot still Irish whiskey is now being described at single pot still Irish whiskey. (See the label on Redbreast 15 year old.)

I used the old term during a recent issue of WhiskyNotes and Brendan Buckley, Category Development Director for Irish Distillers, was kind enough to remind me in an email he sent me. I’m posting it below because he explains why the change was made.

Hi John,

Just perusing the latest newsletter and I noticed that you described the latest Midleton releases as ‘pure pot still’ in your byline.

While the term ‘pure pot still’ has been the custom and practice of the Irish whiskey industry for, oh let me see, 200 odd years, it would appear that the TTB has taken umbrage with usage of the term ‘pure’ as it pertains to food and beverages.

This came to a head a few years back when we introduced Redbreast 15 to the US at which time we were obliged by the TTB to drop the prefix ‘pure’.

Arising from this, we opted to use the more industry (and arguably consumer) friendly prefix, ‘single’ to designate that the whiskey was a pot still whiskey from a single distillery.  Therefore, if you pick up a bottle of Redbreast 15 you will notice that the label reads ‘single’ rather than ‘pure’.

As a consequence, all of our new pot still releases are now described as ‘Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey’.

Redbreast 12 is still marketed in the US as a ‘pure pot still’ but this has been permitted under a grandfather ruling.  I should note that as part of a packaging upgrade project currently underway on Redbreast 12, we will in time transition all labels over to the new descriptor ‘single pot still’.

In truth, the TTB may have done us a favour by encouraging us to adopt a more widely recognised frame of reference and indeed this will be enshrined in new industry regulation which in underway under the auspices of the Irish Spirits Association.

Brendan Buckley

Thanks Brendan for the update and clarification!

Review: Connemara Turf Mor

Friday, January 21st, 2011

One thing for sure: this will be a very polarizing whiskey. My guess is that you will either like it or loathe it.

Connemara Turf Mor, 58%, $80

Connemara is the peated Irish whiskey from the Cooley distillery, and this one is their (and Ireland’s) smokiest offering yet. This is the first time I ever detected dung (albeit subtly) in a whiskey — and only on the nose, thankfully. It’s curiously intriguing. The style of peat used, along with the youth of this whiskey, has a distinct impact of the whiskey’s flavor. It’s sweet and smoky, which works well. Throw in some bacon fat, diesel oil smoke (like at a boat dock), anise, ginger, honeyed malt, barley, lime, and pear. Underneath all that peat lies what seems like a fairly young whisky, because it is very brisk and vibrant, but not excessively so. Bonus points for distinctiveness.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 88

Irish whiskey lovers: two rare Midleton single casks

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

 Over the many years, I’ve often asked my friends at the Midleton Distillery (makers of the annual vintage release of Midleton Very Rare, Jameson, Redbreast, Power’s, Paddy, etc.) if they could bottle the Midleton Very Rare at a higher strength than 40% ABV. Well, they’re doing it now, but you are going to have work at getting a bottle. (Especially considering I’m a little late getting this information to you. Sorry about that.)

They have introduced two new single cask Midleton Very Rare whiskeys. One is available in Terminal 2 at the Dublin airport, while the other is available at Dublin’s Celtic Whiskey Shop.

A producer always takes a risk when introducing single cask whiskies (Highland Park and Glenfarclas come to mind), because each cask varies in flavor and might alienate  some enthusiasts. I think, in the long run,  we are all the better for it.

I hope we see more interesting releases from the Midleton Distillery–and with broader distribution. They have the potential to make so many great whiskeys (with so much variety). The more the merrier.

I don’t normally post up press releases, but I”ll do it here (along with a photo).

Post update: One thing I forgot to emphasize initially–and this is important: these two new Midleton whiskeys are Pure Pot Still whiskeys. They are not a blend of PPS whiskeys and grain whiskeys, like the standard annual Midleton release. So, in this regard, these new Midleton releases are a kin to Redbreast and Greenspot.

New Exclusive Single Pot Still Whiskey Releases from Midleton

Midleton is synonymous with its annual vintage releases of the exquisite Midleton Very Rare blend but the renowned Co. Cork Distillery has now added to its limited releases of Single Pot Still whiskeys under the Midleton brand name with two new expressions which have been launched this month.

Both whiskeys are Single Cask bottlings destined for two individual retailers – the new Irish Whiskey Collection shop at the recently opened Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport and for the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dublin’s Dawson St.   The two casks were personally selected by Master Distiller, Barry Crockett, as outstanding expressions of the Midleton pot still style.

The Terminal 2 release is a 19 year old pot still whiskey which was laid down in November, 1991 in a first fill American bourbon barrel and has, in a new departure for the Midleton brand, been bottled at cask strength (53.7%).  The cask strength affords the whiskey connoisseur the rare opportunity to experience a Midleton pot still whiskey as it emerges directly from the cask.  The tasting notes for the whiskey reveal a dark, fleshy fruit character in perfect balance with the underlying pot still spiciness.   The impressive presentation box includes a portion of stave from the barrel in which the whiskey spent its life maturing so that on opening the box, one can literally smell the whiskey.  Only 200 bottles were yielded from this Single Cask.

The Celtic Whiskey Shop release was laid down in December, 1996, also in a first fill American bourbon barrel and has been bottled at 46%.  This is a slightly lighter style pot still distillate with green apples and banana to the fore.  270 bottles were realised from this particular cask. 

Each bottle is individually numbered with the Terminal 2 expression retailing at €260 and the Celtic Whiskey Shop expression retailing at €225.