Once again, as the month of March rolled around and the Irish in everyone started to come to the surface, our Newcomers Whisky Club looked to the Emerald Isle for another enjoyable Irish whiskey adventure…and once again, the Irish did not disappoint us!
As we know now, the Irish whiskey industry is experiencing a rather dramatic, and very welcome, resurgence. After its near-fatal demise, and only two distilling operations remained, there is newfound excitement and expansion going on, which means we have a lot to look forward to in the not too distant future!
For our Club, the return to Ireland is always a high-point. We have several avowed Irish whiskey fans who excitedly await this now-annual event (I guess we can call a two-year repeat, an event, right?!) Anyway, our Irish Whiskey Makes Me Frisky tasting offered whiskeys from new names, new bottlings from old names, and even a new twist on an old classic.
Our first whiskey was the Teeling Small Batch, produced by the Cooley distillery, the first new distillery in Ireland in many, many years, and the precursor to the current expansion. The Teeling Small Batch is a blended whiskey that is then finished in rum casks. This whiskey first showed up in the US in early 2014 and has done very well, with good reason – it’s a very good whiskey! Containing a relatively higher malt to grain whiskey ratio, and bottled at 46% abv, there is an obvious bourbon-barrel maturation impact as the nose shows a bold vanilla note, some subtle fruit and spice notes, and with an underlying sweetness that comes from the rum casks. This is a very approachable, enjoyable whiskey and was a definite favorite of the evening for many of our group.
Second up was a bottle that celebrates a return, the Green Spot, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. Green Spot is a venerable name in Irish whiskey history. Along with the Red, Blue and Yellow Spot whiskeys, Green Spot was produced by the Jameson Distillery in Dublin for Mitchell & Son wine merchants. Now produced at the Midleton facility in Cork, Green Spot is a single pot still Irish whiskey, meaning it is made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley that are distilled together (triple-distilled, in this case) in a copper pot still, similar to the method used to produce Scotch whisky. Green Spot is aged in 75% American oak ex-bourbon barrels and 25% in sherry casks for approximately 8-9 years, although it bears no age statement. It is likely caramel colored, chill-filtered, and it is bottled at 40% abv. This was my personal favorite of the evening – not to mention one of my personal favorite Irish whiskeys, in general; it was also very well received by the Club. The sherry aspect is evident on both the nose and the palate, with cloves and red fruits, but it is well-balanced by the vanillans and bright fruits of the bourbon-matured components. The unmalted barley also lends its distinctive profile adding further interest. This is a wonderful whiskey that has good body, even at the standard 40% abv, brings out a nice complexity, and continues into a lengthy finish!
Our third whiskey was the twist on the classic I referenced above. This whiskey is a collaboration between the Midleton Master Distiller and the head brewer at Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery. The result is the Jameson Caskmates, Stout Edition, a whiskey that was finished in stout-seasoned whiskey casks. So, to simplify, some empty whiskey casks that been used to age Jameson whiskey were transferred to the Franciscan Well Brewery, who aged stout beer in them before returning the casks to Jameson who refilled the casks with whiskey. Interesting, but was all that effort worth it? I’d say yes, with moderation. The core nature of the underlying triple-distilled Jameson whiskey is still there with soft vanilla and delicate spices, but there are also the notes of stout with hints of coffee, chocolate, and nuts. The flavors balanced pretty well, but the one minor negative is that the “blended” Jameson spirit is slightly thin, and that still comes across in the glass. Despite the knock for the body, this whiskey was fun to try, and certainly enjoyable enough to try it again.
Next we came to a newly released Irish whiskey. The Hyde 10 year, President’s Cask No 1, is an Irish Single Malt from the Hibernia Distillers out of Skibrereen, County Cork. Hibernia was founded in 2014, so this is obviously sourced whiskey, and from what I could discover, it came from the Cooley distillery. While Hibernia is now distilling their own spirit and they don’t expect to release a true Hyde whiskey until somewhere around 2017. As for the whiskey, despite the fact that this was matured 10 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, this was finished in sherry casks and the sherry influence is very evident. It is boldly spiced – cloves, nutmeg, allspice; dried cranberry and dates, ripe plums, and chocolate, has some vanilla and white fruits notes, but it also had a touch of gunpowder or sulphur that put off many, if not most, of the group. Personally, I enjoyed this whiskey – it reminded me VERY MUCH of some Longmorn whiskies that can share a similarity in that softly sulphury note. This one was probably the least favorite of the evening among the group, but I thought it was well-made and interesting.
After the Hyde, we sample The Tyrconnell, Irish Single Malt. Tyrconnell is a name with a long history in the US, until Prohibition. Sadly, production of Tyrconnell stopped in 1925 and remained just a memory until the brand name was acquired by the Cooley Distillery who began producing the Tyrconnell single malt Irish whiskey. Like the Green Sport, Tyrconnell is a single pot still Irish whiskey made from 100% malted barley in traditional copper pot stills. This whiskey was very fruity, had some vanilla and citric notes, buttery spices and had a delicate, dry finish. Given the all the positive response, this was another group favorite.
Our final whiskey of the evening was the Tullamore DEW “Phoenix”, a blended whiskey named as a celebration of the people and history of Tullamore. In 1785, a hot-air balloon accident caused a fire that nearly destroyed the town, but as with so many tragedies, the people’s resilience save the town. In tribute to these characteristics, since that day a Phoenix has a prominent place in the town’s coat of arms. I’m sure this name also has a connection to the celebration of the renewal of distilling at the newly built Tullamore Distillery. William Grant & Sons – makers of Glenfiddich and Balvenie – purchased the brand name in 2010 for €300 million and invested another €35 million to build the new facility, So, although this release is still produced at Midleton, before long the Tullamore whiskeys will be Tullamore produced! As for the whiskey itself, this is a big, powerful blended whiskey, bottled at 55% abv. Water is definitely needed! But with water, and some patience, this shows a rather nice profile based on tropical fruits, orchard fruits, spices, barley, buttered toast, vanilla, and toffee.
So, another year and another celebration of Irish whiskey was completed, with great success! Thanks to the O’Driscolls for hosting the event!
See you in May!