Teeling Vintage Reserve Collection 24 year old, 46%
Irish | $499
Wow—the nose is spellbinding. An exuberant mix of heavy fruit and deep sweetness: crème brûlée, vanilla pod, fruit syrups, sticky jam tarts, and apricot stone. Silken mouthfeel, with orange flan and brown sugar, growing increasingly tangy, with peppery spice rippling over the tongue and hints of smoke at the end. Oak char and marzipan fruits on the finish. The bar has been set high for Irish whiskey this year. (5,000 bottles)
Soft berry fruits and roasted spices, draped in the wine flavors of the California Cabernet Sauvignon barrique. The flavors start softly, with rhubarb, apple, blackberry fruit, and Brazil nut before a spice steamroller rattles through, jettisoning licorice and star anise over cooked fruits. The reverberations of the spices continue through a dry finish. With the grain as a canvas, the wine’s colors work particularly well here.
Teeling Whiskey Company 21 year old Single Malt, 57.5%
Irish | $250.00
Whoosh! Jack Teeling’s first golden arrow is this weird and wacky whiskey. Have you ever heard Jane's Addiction? This is to conventional whiskey what that band was to conventional rock. Finished in Sauternes casks, it's like nothing you've tasted from Ireland. All the Irish characteristics are there, but they're bent and twisted and put together in a new and exhilarating order. I wasn't sure at first. Now I'm begging for a refill just to make sure it all really happened.
Very limited and therefore at the top end of the price range. Distiller Alex Chasko says that every time he tastes it he's taken back in time to R.E.M.'s “Green” tour, so what's not to love? Dried apple dustiness gives way to pineapple, melon, and kiwifruit. It's all very sweet until late on, when spice cuts in.
The first conventional release from this fledgling company. Irish whiskey's equivalent to a seemingly frothy sweet pop song, which on closer inspection has barbed and cutting lyrics. It's a sweet Irish blend and seems like it. But it has a high malt content, is packed with flavor, and it easily justifies its price. It's creamy and rich with toffee notes, there's some tropical fruit and delicious rum-and-raisin milk chocolate. Not too cloying despite the sweetness, either.
A new multi-vintage core expression of independent Irish single malt compiled from a vatting of whiskey finished variously in port, sherry, white burgundy, cabernet sauvignon, and Madeira. The nose suggests honey, baked lemons, ground almonds, desiccated coconut, white pepper, and soft toffee. A fabulously thick texture; thank goodness for their insistence on non-chill filtering. It’s fruity with twinkling spice, pepper, root ginger, and vanilla orbiting around a fudge-like core. The oak is present on the dry finish.
Teeling Vintage Reserve Silver Bottling 21 year old, 46%
Irish | $220
This promises to be a bumper year for older Irish whiskey. This example from Cooley distillery is a 1991 distillation matured in bourbon casks, then finished in a Sauternes cask.Temptations exude from the glass with apricot frangipane, whole almond, and cloved orange. After a vinous opening, it evolves through a complex palate of white chocolate, honey, cocktail grapefruit, and dried banana chips. Plum skin and cinnamon spice seem in conflict with the sweetness, and somewhat disturb the harmony. £130
Cooley produced some great Irish single malt whiskeys and this is no slouch, either. It pulls off the trick of being both very Irish, with sweet, lush pear, fermenting apple, and yellow fruit notes; and of being distinctively a single malt, mainly because the barley is held in check by just enough influence of tannin and spice. It's a bit like a fruit cordial, and the oak doesn't overstay its welcome. A nice pepper flourish in the finish.
The Teelings were responsible for giving us the quite wonderful Greenore, which moved up the gears until it hit stunning at 15 years old. This, I suspect, is back to the start and is a work in progress. But it has all the right parts even if it isn't firing quite yet. Its nose is industrial and a tad sappy, but the taste makes up for it: sweet, light, with smoky ashtrays and almond pulp.
Proof there is life after Cooley. Jack Teeling and whiskey innovator Alex Chasko kept the independent flame alive by moving on. This whisky isn't a revolution: it's a mix of Irish (Cooley) and scotch (Bruichladdich). That's not a new idea, and it does what you might predict. It starts with a sweet, fruity Irishness, then earthier, spicier Scottish notes kick in. It works fine, but this is a placeholder whisky. Expect a lot more in the coming months.
I'm really excited that new world whiskey makers and independents are challenging the way we think about whiskey. But there are concerns, too, such as flavored whiskeys, and white spirit sold as the finished article. Poitín is an Irish pauper's spirit made illegally, so legal definitions are patchy. It is normally made with potatoes. This is a mix of new make Irish single malt and new make Irish grain. It tastes like new make Irish whiskey. End of story.