Archive for the ‘Irish whiskey’ Category

Reviews: Redbreast 15 yr. old vs. Redbreast 12 yr. old

Friday, September 17th, 2010

I’ve been waiting for this new 15 year old release to come to the U.S., and here it is!  I wanted to like it better than the 12 year old, but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong: the 15 is a great whiskey! It just doesn’t have the polish of the 12, which is a classic.

Redbreast, 12 year old, 40%, $40
Very elegant, complex and stylish. Honeyed and silky in texture, with toffee, toasted marshmallow, nougat, maple syrup, banana bread and a hint of toasted coconut. Bright fruit and golden raisin blend in nicely with the layers of sweetness.  Impeccable balance and very approachable. Classic Irish whiskey!

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 96

Redbreast, 15 year old, 46%, $75
Redbreast 12 year old is a classic pure pot still Irish whiskey, so where can one go from here? This new 15 year old expression is more muscular (bottling at 46% and not chill-filtered certainly helps.), but there are trade-offs. It’s a bit closed on the nose (like a great Bordeaux wine that’s too young). I do enjoy the silky/oily texture, the bold resinous oak spice grip on the finish, and the rich nutty toffee, fig, black raspberry, chocolaty, chewy nougat throughout the palate. Still, it’s not as eminently drinkable, refined or balanced as the 12 year old. (Imagine the 12 year old on steroids.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 92

Review: Knappogue Castle, 12 year old

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Knappogue Castle, 12 year old, 40%, $42
Past bottling were distilled at the Bushmills distillery or Cooley distillery (excepting the rare, original 1951 Vintage, which was from the old B. Daly distillery). You can consult my secret decoder ring here. This one is triple distilled, so think Bushmills. (Cooley distills their whisky twice, not three times.) In the past, I’ve notice a lot of flavor development in Bushmills from 10-12 years old. This Knappogue 12 year old is a fresh, clean, smooth Irish whisky, displaying a nice creamy texture. I’m finding honeyed vanilla, toasted marshmallow, and lots of fruit (citrus, pineapple, coconut, and peach). A soft, dry oak finish shores up the sweetness and adds a peppering of spice. A pleasant, entry level Irish single malt.

(Additional note: Knappogue Castle has historically been a  whisky with a vintage, not an age statement. While it will be nice to have some consistency here, I will miss the subtle differences that each of the previous vintage offerings provided.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 84

Kilbeggan Distillery releases first whiskey in 53 years

Friday, June 18th, 2010

It’s great to see the whiskey industry growing worldwide–including Ireland! This press release just came in earlier today.

The World’s Oldest Distillery Launches a New Whiskey

Kilbeggan Distillery releases first new whiskey in over 53 Years

For over 200 years, the Kilbeggan Distillery produced some of the finest whiskey in the world.  In 1957 the stills ran dry but 50 years later Cooley Distillery, the multi-award winning independent whiskey distiller, breathed new life into the world’s oldest distillery and today, the first new whiskey to be distilled at Kilbeggan in over 53 years was officially unveiled at an intimate gathering at the Kilbeggan Distillery in Co. Westmeath.

The Kilbeggan Distillery Reserve Malt, the latest addition to the Kilbeggan family of fine whiskeys, is produced from the oldest pot still in the world which dates back to 1830. The Kilbeggan Distillery itself was established in 1757 and is the oldest distillery in the world.

Fittingly the local heritage group was in attendance to witness the launch of the new whiskey as they played a key role in ensuring the survival of the distillery during the years it lay dormant.  Also in attendance were distillery employees, without whom the world’s oldest still could not have been brought back to life.  All gathered at this momentous event received a signed bottle of the first batch.

The whiskey world has waited in anticipation for half a century for the first new bottling from the historic Kilbeggan distillery.  Distilled from 100% malted barley, the Kilbeggan Distillery Reserve, due to the distinctive narrow necks of the ancient pot still design, is an exceptionally smooth and flavoursome Irish Malt whiskey of distinctive character.

John Teeling, Chairman of Cooley Distillery commented at the launch, “This is another significant landmark in the rejuvenation of the great Kilbeggan distilling tradition.  A huge amount of hard work by Cooley employees and the local heritage committee has gone into getting us to this day.  It is a labour of love to re-establish the Kilbeggan Distillery as a centre of distilling excellence.  Heritage and tradition are vital elements in whiskey.  Great whiskeys come from great distilleries.  Today’s whiskey, though young, has a distinct character both smooth and flavoursome; a character that will only improve with age.  And why wouldn’t it, being distilled by the world’s best distillers, in the oldest working pot still in the world and matured in 200 year old granite warehouses.

Today’s launch also marked the unveiling of the recently rebranded Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey.  Currently sold in over 35 international markets, the Kilbeggan brand is Cooley Distillery’s flagship Blended whiskey.  The rebrand project involved creating an over-arching identity for the Kilbeggan Irish whiskey brand and the Kilbeggan Distillery.  This highlights both the unique provenance as the oldest distillery in the world and the high quality of the whiskey. The Kilbeggan 15 Year Old Irish whiskey was honoured recently as the Best Whiskey in the World at the 2009 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London.

Jack Teeling, Managing Director of Cooley Distillery said, “We are delighted to be able to accompany the release of the first new whiskey from the Kilbeggan Distillery with the unveiling of the rebranded Kilbeggan Irish whiskey range.  The new packaging pays homage to the rich heritage and quality of the Kilbeggan brand while also maintaining a contemporary look and feel.  We look forward to seeing the trade’s and consumer’s reaction to the new look Kilbeggan Irish whiskey.

The rebranded Kilbeggan is being rolled out in Germany and the US with all other markets following suit over the next few months.  This will be followed by the release of a range of brand extensions including a Super Premium Kilbeggan 18 Year Old.

Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey loses vintage, becomes a 12 year old

Monday, June 7th, 2010

You will most likely recognize Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey as a vintage, given there have been many releases over the past decade from various distillation years.

Well, it’s now going to be a 12 year old, without a vintage statement. I’ll be getting a review sample and full press release shorlty, but here’s an email I received from their importer, Castle Brands:

How quick is your mental math?  If someone was born in 1994, how old would they be today? Answer:  16 years old depending on the month they were born.  Knappogue Castle, the original vintage dated Irish Whiskey, feels that most consumers find it hard to calculate the age of the product by looking at the distillation date on the label.  Instead of chancing that consumers will miss important information about the age of the product, Knappogue Castle is moving to age designation and stating the product’s age boldly and proudly on the label thus eliminating the need for mental math.

Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey will be a 12 year old product on a consistent basis going forward.  A new label design reflects this change and reinforces the product’s premium quality and elegant taste. 

It’s just the superior whiskey to savor at the end of a long day.  It has a bright, light, lemon-orange color (no caramel coloring added) and a mildly spicy, citrus taste. That elegant, fruity and spicy flavor makes it an excellent choice in mixed cocktails like the “Peach Smash” developed at Vintry’s or the “Castle to Castle” developed at Death & Co. in New York. 

I can think of many reasons for going to an age-statement whiskey rather than a vintage, which we can discuss. (There was actually was one age-stated release, a 15 year old, back at the end of 2008. )

And FYI: KC has been from both Cooley and Bushmills in the past, but the email didn’t suggest one or the other.

Stay tuned…

Tullamore Dew gets a new home

Friday, April 30th, 2010

C&C, the Irish drinks company, is selling its spirits arm to William Grant. This includes Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey and Irish Mist whiskey liqueur. Drinks International reports about it here.

William Grant, as you know, owns the Balvenie and Glenfiddich single malt scotch brands. This will be their foray into Irish whiskey.

I’m not sure what the impact will be on you. Here in the U.S., Tullamore Dew is currently imported by Skyy Spirits. I would imagine that the brand would now be brought in by William Grant.

Review: Powers 12 year old blended Irish whiskey

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Powers, 12 year old, 40%, $35
After being around for about a decade, it’s nice to see this whiskey finally being sold in the U.S. Soft, sweet and silky smooth, with creamy vanilla, caramel, toasted marshmallow, and honey-kissed tropical fruit (mango, pineapple, coconut). I get most of the barley on the front of the palate, with the grain whiskey components more on the finish. Something seems slightly missing for me to elevate this whiskey to classic status (some more pot still character, perhaps?), but it’s still a wonderful blended Irish whiskey. And it’s so drinkable. Gather a bunch of friends and throw away the cork!

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

What is Irish whiskey, really?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Other than the fact that it is distilled in Ireland and aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, what is Irish whiskey?

Most of the time when you read in general media how Irish whiskey is defined, they will say that Irish whiskey is different from Scotch whisky in that it’s not smoky like Scotch whisky. And, they’ll say that Irish whiskey is distilled three times, while Scotch whisky is only distilled twice. (Many times they will continue this train of thought with the comment that, because Irish whiskey is distilled three times, it’s smoother than Scotch whisky.)

If I had a dollar for every time I read these generalizations, I could afford to buy a couple bottles of Redbreast 12 year old.

But, as most of you know, these generalizations are not completely accurate. Most Scotch whisky is not smoky, and there are triple distilled whiskies in Scotland (e.g., Auchentoshan).

In Ireland, whiskeys distilled at Cooley are only distilled twice, and they make smoky whiskeys there too (Connemara). In fact, I have heard of the Cooley distillery referred to as “a Scotch distillery that just happens to be located in Ireland.”

Plus, I have enjoyed smooth Scotch whiskies, and tasted some harsh Irish whiskeys over the years. So, the whole “Irish whiskey is smoother than Scotch whisky because it’s distilled three times” statement isn’t exactly accurate either.

Some enthusiasts more “in the know” will point out that what differentiates Irish whiskey from Scotch whisky is that Irish whiskey is made (at least in part) with “pot still” whiskey (i.e. from a mash containing both malted AND unmalted barley), rather than Scotch whisky which uses a 100% malted barley mash bill in its pot stills. Some Irish whiskeys (e.g., Redbreast, Green Spot) are 100% pure pot still whiskeys.

It’s true, if you look at the Irish whiskeys made at the Midleton distillery in County Cork (Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Tullamore Dew, Redbreast, Green Spot, etc.), there is a pot still component in these whiskeys. But, you won’t find “pot still” whiskey in Bushmills or the whiskeys produced at Cooley.

So, what is Irish whiskey, really?

Malt Advocate Magazine’s “Top Ten New Whiskies” for 2009

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Top Ten New Whiskies of the Year (listed alphabetically)

You will not be happy with the prices of some of these whiskies, but here’s our ten best new whiskies released in 2009 (keeping in mind that whiskies must have been for sale in the U.S. in the 2009 calendar year to be eligible).

The selection process for this list is based primarily on the whisky’s rating. All ten whiskies rated 95 or higher in Malt Advocate  magazine.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 57.1%, $85
Powerful, muscular, well-textured, and invigorating. Even within the realm of Ardbeg, this one stands out. There are many relatively young whiskies with no age statement on the market. This is a benchmark. Quite stunning!

Brora 30 year old (2009 Release), 53.2%, $400
This whisky shows all the good aspects of a very mature whisky (depth, complexity) without all the bad ones (excessive oak, one-dimensional). It’s very clean and polished. One of the best releases from this shuttered distillery.

Dalmore 50 year old, $1,500/100ml
Incredibly viscous and chewy, and thick on the tongue. Very complex too, with that classic Dalmore marmalade note as its foundation. The flavors evolve like waves lapping on a beach. It is a whisky you can’t drink slowly enough.

Gold Bowmore, 1964 Vintage, 42.4% $6,250
Surprisingly lively for its age. I like this whisky better than White Bowmore but feels that it falls short of Black Bowmore, because it’s a bit softer and less vibrant on the palate. (But, for most of you with limited means, I can understand if you don’t really care.)

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, 46% (2009 vintage), $250
I love the pot still character and the lushness that some of the port-wood aging has imparted. If anything,  this 2009 vintage is even richer and lusher than the previous 2007 vintage I reviewed. Another classic Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.

Laphroaig 25 year old, 51.2%, $500
I love the way the flavors of this whisky evolve on the palate. I also like that it retains some of its youthful brashness, while showing the depth that maturity affords a whisky. A delicious, well-balanced, old-fashioned Laphroaig.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve (Bottle B1986), 23 year old, 47.8%, $220
My review of this whiskey a few years back indicated this whiskey was too woody and past it’s prime to be a stellar whiskey. This one is much better. (Yes, whiskey bottlings do change over time.) There’s great balance and the oak is in check.

Parkers Heritage Selection Golden Anniversary, 50%, $150
This is a fabulous whiskey: seamless, incredibly complex, with an impeccable marriage of youth and maturity. It’s also very even-keeled throughout. A classic bourbon that’s very complex and yet very drinkable.

Rittenhouse Rye 25 year old (Barrel #1), 50%, $190
Not as vibrant as the 21 year old Rittenhouse Rye released a few years back, but it’s more sophisticated, which more than makes up for it. I can’t speak for the other barrels in this lot, but I think this one is a great example of what a 20-plus year old rye whisky should taste like.

William Larue Weller (2009 release), 67.4%, $65
This whiskey has improved greatly over the past two years. (I thought that the 2007 release was almost too easy-going, as some wheated bourbon can be.) A little more oak spice has added balance, complexity and depth. Very clean on the palate too. Excellent!

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Distillery of the Year”: Cooley

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

There was a time when there were only two distilleries in Ireland; they were, for a while, owned by the same company. Then this small distillery opens up, staunchly independent, and starts doing things unheard of in Ireland. Instead of making traditional Irish whiskey (triple-distilled, non-smoky, and with a pot still whiskey component), they started making very scotch-like whiskey (double distilled, single malt, and sometimes very smoky).

Let’s face it. That took a lot of guts.

Nearly twenty years later, they’re still making Irish whiskey, and they’re still doing it their way. You can purchase delicious grain whiskey (Greenore), smoky single malt whiskey (Connemara), non-smoky whiskey (Tyrconnell), and blended whiskey (Kilbeggan). In fact, you can now also purchase unaged spirit from their newly resurrected sister distillery, Kilbeggan. (Not to be confused with the blend of the same name.)

All this is great. But the most compelling justification for selecting Cooley for this award isn’t just the variety of the whiskeys they make. It’s the quality. They are now putting out the best whiskey they have ever produced. The three different Tyrconnell 10 year old “finished” whiskeys (finished in port, madeira, and sherry casks), are excellent examples. Some of the Connemara releases have rivaled those from the West Coast of Scotland.

In an era where hundreds of small distilleries are starting up across the globe, Cooley can be an inspiration to them all.

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Awards announcements: “Lifetime Achievement Awards”  and “Top Ten New Whiskies for 2009.”

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Irish Whiskey of the Year”: Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (2009 release)

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Irish Whiskey of the Year

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (2009 release), 46%, $250

The Midleton Distillery, where Jameson is made, has proven that it can make wonderful whiskeys of great diversity. Jameson Gold, Jameson 18 year old, Redbreast 12 year old, and Power’s 12 year old are just a few of them.

Late in 2007, the distillery introduced Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (which didn’t get into circulation in the U.S. until 2008). The combination of aging some whiskey in port casks, including some older whiskeys (over 20 years old), and bottling—without chill-filtering—at 46% ABV has helped make Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve rich, deep, and complex.

A 2009 vintage was released toward the end of the 2009 calendar year. (The 2008 vintage was never brought into the U.S.) How does it stack up to the 2007 release, our award winner last year? I like the 2009 vintage even better! If anything, it’s richer and lusher than the 2007 vintage.

It’s rich, silky, and oily in texture. You’ll discover extremely well-integrated flavors loaded with fruits, ripe berries, caramelized banana, nougat, date nut bread, glazed tangerine, and maple syrup, peppered with warming cinnamon, vanilla icing, and nutmeg. A firm, dry, resinous finish balances the sweetness. I love the pot still character and the lushness that some of the port-wood aging has imparted. This is another classic Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Award annoucement: Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year.