Irish Whiskey

Review: Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
American Oak
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

Here we have another premium single pot still Irish whiskey, made of a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and created by Midleton’s Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett, an important figure in Irish whiskey. In typical Irish fashion, this is based on single pot still whiskey - and it’s about as elegant as you can get.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Loads of fruit – pineapple, banana, pear, dragonfruit, mangosteens, prickly pear – but also stone fruits, popcorn, and lime. The palate continues in this vein, with terrific oak, fruit, tannins, and dry spice. This is an excellent whisky – it really is. The finish is loaded with tropical fruit, citrus zest, light oak, and a really nice drying, spicy tannic nature. The fruit is awesome, it has lots of complexity and depth, and the entire experience is very well crafted.

One of my favourite trys of the year – very unique, interesting, complex, and rich – moreover, one of the best Irish whiskeys I’ve tasted, perhaps the best – though Redbreast 21 is rather excellent and very hard to beat.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. $300+ is a lot of money for a bottle of whisky, even one that is quite excellent.e.


Review: Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
American Oak
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This is an annual release of some of the best whiskey that the Midleton (Jameson) distillery has to offer. It changes every year and carries a bit of a price tag - I’ve been eager to review a batch for some time, so here we go!


Review (2013)

  • Batch: 2016

  • Bottling Code: L620231222 15:22

  • Bottling Date: 2016

This has a real oaky richness, but also loads of dried fruit, oily spice – it is integrated, deep, and complex. The oak is soft, yet massive and a complement to everything else going on. The pot still character really comes through, and it is an awesome, rich whisky. I’d be happy to drink this both on nights when I want to sit and enjoy a very fine whisky, but also on nights when I just want a really fine whisky.

I guess I didn’t actually provide many tasting notes: Banana, loads of fruit, a core oakiness, light anise, integrated fruit, and a real Irish whiskey richness. Toffee, sugar candies, dried apricot, dried peach, nut oils, pear, dragonfruit, black pepper, coconut, and peach jam. A few notes – there are lots more – but that is up to you to discover! A terrific Irish whisky.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. It’s a good whisky, but it comes at a fairly substantial price.


Review: Writer's Tears Cask Strength Copper Pot Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
53%
Aging
Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
100% Barley: A blend of triple distilled single malt and pure pot still
Distiller N/A (Ireland)

This whiskey is a cask-strength version of Writer’s Tears, emphasizing pot still and bringing it in at a much higher proof than the standard bottling. It is an annual release with a fairly limited number of bottles (~5000).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018 (5280 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

What a magnificent nose! Rich, and full of buttery pot still. Green apple, vanilla, toffee, green wood, honey, and buttery pastries. The palate has a terrific bite to it, with buttery apple and peach pastries offset by a lovely barley character with some earthiness integrated. The finish has stone fruits offset by a spicy and buttery characteristic.

This is incredibly easy to drink and has a terrific balance between confectionary, oak, fruit, and spice. Very moreish, complex, rich, and very much Irish. I really like it.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. Excellent stuff, but this comes in at close to $200.


Review: Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
Ex-bourbon casks andoloroso sherry casks; bordeaux wine finish
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This is like our familiar (and quite good) Green Spot, but finished for up to 2 years in Leoville Barton bordeaux casks.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L622331248 09:53

  • Bottling Date: August 2016

A very nice nose. White pepper, light fruit, spicy oak, and a nice grassy finish. Some nice oxidized wine notes, too – the wine is really well integrated into the nose, and it works really well. Apple oatmeal, dense oak, clove, red pepper jelly, and a light dustiness. The palate has a good kick of pot still character, spice, and a great integration of wine! A bit soapy, spicy, fruity – with a growing and rich finish. It really does work well – the finish is spicy and loaded with dried fruit.

A big step up from Green Spot, which is a nice whisky itself. Green Spot is a relatively light whisky, with a focus on lighter, sweeter notes – but still with a oily pot still character. This, however – it’s bigger, more earthy, complex, and interesting – really a bit “darker”. The 46% helps a lot, too.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. This is a really nice whisky, so it’s “worth” buying at 100$, but you can do better for the price.


Review: Powers 12 Years Old John Lane Release Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
First and Second Fill Ex-Bourbon; Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Pure Pot Still
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This is another example of pot still whisky from Midleton (who make, a variety of pot still whiskies), this one a bit different than Redbreast which is the classic example. It is named after John Lane, the massive distillery which Powers founded and one of the huge distilleries which at one time made Dublin the capital of whisk(e)y production in the world.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Spicy, dried stone fruits, apricots, and loads of rich fruit. A nice bit of umami, too – there is a good bit of nice, sweet oak underpinning this. The palate is rich, with more stone fruit, oak, and loads of pear and spice towards the finish. Vanilla, oak, spice, banana, and white pepper control the finish.

The finish is where this one really comes through. The palate builds in richness – with peach and dried apricot building, alongside some toffee, into a flourish of orchard fruit, a growing earthiness, vanilla, and oak.

I really like the richness, spiciness, and balance of this whisky. It is bigger than Redbreast, in a good way, and, to me, fits well in the Power’s style.

I like this more than the Redbreast 12 – it is a bit oakier, a bit bigger, and I like the oaky richness.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is particularly recommended if you like pure pot still Irish whiskies. They are hard to find and mostly all made at Midleton, although the category is being revived. I quite like unmalted grains, so it’s rather fun…

Value: Average. A good whisky for a decent price.


Review: Redbreast Pure Pot Still 12 Year Old Irish Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 yrs; Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon Casks
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This is an Irish pot still whiskey, which means it is made from both malted and unmalted barley - and one of my favorite Irish whiskies. It is distilled at Midleton distillery in County Cork, Ireland. It is aged for 12 years, mostly in Oloroso sherry casks but partially in bourbon casks as well. The first official reference to this brand was in August of 1912, so it’s been around for quite some time. The name, redbreast, refers to a robin. It was likely named by the chairman of Gilbeys, an Irish liquor merchant that managed the brand, who loved birds.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Some nice vanilla comes through, alongside some milk chocolate, dulce de leche, maple, charred oak, honey, dried apricot, strawberries, sweet stewed apples, mango, and still with the distinct pure pot still character…all harmoniously balanced. There’s also some beetroot, contributing a wonderful earthiness as well. Some leather emerges over time as well. A wonderful nose!

Taste: There’s a slightly grassy pot still character, apples, with wonderful underlying sweetness. This is delicious, with a brilliant light and smooth mouthfeel – it’s not extremely thick but it wonderfully coats the mouth. There’s some oak and vanilla in the background which leads right into the slightly spicy finish with a light touch of dried fruit. Lots of caramel and toffee as well…very elegant.

Finish: oaky, with an underlying caramel sweetness and a bit of earthiness. It’s quite light, with some nice vanilla notes, and lingers for some time. There is also some maltiness in the finish, and some charred oak.

This is a whisky full of wonderful balance, complexity, and depth. And, it’s very delicous… very easy to just keep drinking the stuff. It starts off as very enjoyable, and it doesn’t get any worse – this is a highly acclaimed whisky and it lives up to the bill.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, at $75.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L430931228 10:56

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Lots of bourbon on this nose, at first! Quite complex, and a bit sweet, with spice, wood, apple, sherry, creamy oak, and some solid grassiness. It is a nice contrast of creamy wood, apple, and drier sherry and oak. Dry wood and banana cream pie come through at the end. Lots going on, well integrated, and quite lovely. Compared to the batch tasted above it’s cleaner, more creamy and buttery, but less earthy and complex, with a bit more sweetness and vanilla and oak compared to the more malty and slightly heavier character of the other. Both fantastic whiskies though.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, at $75.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Loads of fruit, rich, spice, and fruit. Some nice orchard fruit – and the oak is terrific – it is dense and rich. Interesting marine notes – not sure why I find this with some Midleton products – dried seashells, lighter dried fish (not too fishy), and sea salt. The palate is spicy, fruity, balanced, and a bit tannic – loads of flavour in here, with the fruits leading into oak and spiciness – eventually to a tingly, spicy, oily finish with orchard fruit, vanilla,  white pepper, and citrus pith. Big for 40%.

This doesn’t have the complexity or vibrancy of the past two batches, but it’s still very good.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Could be higher if this particular batch was a bit better - this one is still good but not as good as the other two I’ve reviewed above - but still quite a good buy for 70$.


Review: Redbreast Lustau Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Redbreast Lustau.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
10-13 yrs
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

It is no secret that I love the Redbreast lineup, as a huge fan of the 12, 12 Cask Strength, and the 15, and 21. This is an impressive whisky – matured for over a year in a sherry cask – not like the typical short finishes of 32 months just to infuse the barrel juice – this actually gets some influence from the underlying oak. Oloroso sherry from Bodegas Lustau – Redbreast always has a bit of a sherry influence but the point of this whisky is to bring those notes to the forefront.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L622131243 14:36

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is full of sherry, yet still holding those earthy, grassy, and creamy Redbreast characteristics. Brown sugar, rancio, figs, walnuts, chestnuts, vanilla, apple chips, and old oak. Sharp and spicy too. The finish is deeply controlling, and yet this does not stray from the family style – it is firmly Redbreast. Brilliant. As it sits, the sherry comes a bit more under control and the malt and oak lead more heavily.

The palate leads with a creamy, slightly spicy body before dried fruits, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg assert themselves to the forefront and then slowly fade away into a finish of rancio, creamy malt, toffee, cinnamon, and apples. Very well put together. A bigger redbreast than the 12 and 15, and complex and well integrated – but perhaps the least elegant of them all – but that, perhaps, is not the point of this firm whisky.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $90.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L810931132 08:54 19/04/18

  • Bottling Date: 2018

I don’t feel like I need to do a full review, but I wanted to revisit this dram. In particular, it’s motivated by a visit to the Midleton distillery where most of the pot still Irish whisky in the world is produced. I visited both Midleton distillery and the Jameson experience in Dublin, where I got to try my hand at blending pot still distillate. What I found, interestingly, was the pot still was a bit less robust than I assumed, and I struggled to get a nice balance between the sherry and pot still. It is remarkable – the balance between the pot still and the sherry in the dram – with the bright fruitiness and oily spiciness of the pot still distillate with the dried fruit, rancio, and spice of the sherry casks employed. It’s about perfectly balanced here, and I love it. Remarkable production and blending – try this dram, but you may need to be accustomed to Redbreast 12 and 15 to properly appreciate this.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This batch just so beautifully balances oak, sherry, and pot still. Amazing.

Value: High. Arguably, it could be viewed as the top of “average” but I really like this stuff and it is a good buy, unless you don’t like sherried whiskies!


Review: West Cork Bourbon Cask Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

West Cork Bourbon 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
First Fill Ex-Bourbon Casks
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies
Producer West Cork (County Cork, Ireland)

West Cork only opened in 2003- and are now releasing a range of their own whiskies, including this one. The distillery is focused on using Irish grain, triple distillation, and pot stills - they even malt some of their own barley. It's not a very big distillery, but it's making itself a name (certainly relative to the nearby Midleton). This whisky is a first-fill bourbon matured Irish whisky, composed of 75% grain whiskey and 25% single malt whiskey.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 01817

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is full of bourbon, lots of creamy oak, dried apricot, and a light nutty, grainy character. Thyme, red apple, caramel, straw mats, banana, and overall a nice tripical character with mango and dried papaya. The palate is nutty, with a nice mouthfeel. Creamy and slightly spicy, lightly oaky with pear and some dried peach. The finish is sharp, as if a concentrated wave of flavours slowly unfolds – with dried mango, banana, vanilla, peach, light grain flavours (somewhat not fully defined), and light oak. The finish has good grip. The bourbon cask plays a large part in this one, but I quite like it.

Really nice casual dram, I like the balance and feel of it.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $42.


Review: Tullamore Dew XO Caribbean Cask Finish Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Tullamore Dew XO 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
Finished in Demerera Rum Casks
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

Tullamore DEW, along with the rest of Irish whiskey, has been enjoying a resurgence- with a distillery being built for the brand in 2014. This is a new release, finished in Demerera Rum Casks.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code : L1 50781D 17/11/2017

  • Bottling Date: 2017

This is a spicy nose – lots of clove and coconut, with a sweet and rich rum characteristic in the background – it isn’t subtle! Banana, dried fruit, creamy tropical fruit (guanabana, mongosteen), pear, and cinnamon – a fairly heavy, spicy nose overall. The palate starts out with spicy grain notes before a rich middle comes through, with banana bread, vanilla and orchard fruit, and finishing with the spices again. There is a nice bit of sharp pot still character integrating with rich molasses right before the finish which is terrific – the finish being sweet and spicy, with lots of pot still, light oak, cinnamon, and more baking spices. Dry and tannic on the finish.

It’s a bit rough, overall, but I kind of like it – it reminds me somewhat of Canadian Club in terms of feel. I kinda like the whiskies – but they aren’t soft and elegant. It opens up really nicely with some water and the tropical notes burst forth, and the rum really comes through.

Value: Low. Not expensive, but really not too great…


On the impressive Midleton Distillery (Jameson) by Jason Hambrey

IMG_1360.JPG

I recently visited the Midleton distillery in Co. Cork, Ireland – remarkable. On the site is a lot of old heritage, including the largest pot still in the world, which at one time could consume 4 tons of coal in 24 hours. It sits now, idle – beside a modern, sleek looking industrial distillery which alone produces nearly all the pure pot still whisky in Ireland (and has the only mature pure pot still stock). Midleton is home to brands Jameson, Redbreast, Green/Yellow Spot, Powers, and for now is still contract distilling for whiskies such as Paddy’s and Tullamore Dew – they also supply the grain whiskies in the bushmills blends.

Irish whisky has one of the most interesting whisky histories, starting with, as many believe, the invention of whisky. Eventually it grew to be the most popular spirit in the world amidst some severe ups and downs. In the 19th century, Dublin was the distilling powerhouse of the world, home to the “big 4” – Powers, John Jameson, George Roe, and William Jameson – but were hit by the Irish and English trade war, prohibition/temperance movements (in the US, particularly – one of their main markets) and bans on distilling grain during the wars.

To survive, distillers banded together – first the distilleries of William Jameson and George Roe (at the time perhaps the largest distillery in the world) along with the Jones road distilling company in 1891. Eventually even this coalition, with a whopping production capacity, didn’t survive. Distilleries continued to collapse until the 1960s, when the remaining distillers banded together: Cork distillers with their Paddy brand, Powers, and John Jameson. This turned into what is now the new Midleton distillery – to which all the brandsmigrated in 1975. In Midleton, it had easier access to grain (being further from Guinness and in an agricultural areas. At that time, in all of Ireland, there were only 2 distilleries left standing – Midleton in the south and Bushmills in the North. At the time, they were owned by the same company.

Today, as far as I can tell from my (somewhat brief) internet research, Ireland is number 5 in the world in whisky production, behind Scotland, USA, Canada, and Japan. Irish whiskey is the fastest growing segment of spirits, and has been each of the last 10 years. The other remarkable feat is that most of all of Irish whiskey is the Jameson brand (some sources say around 90%). The Midleton distillery has about 1.5 million barrels maturing (a bit bigger than Crown Royal, and a bit smaller than Hiram Walker, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniel’s).

They have some really interesting whiskies, particularly in their method and madness range - I tasted a chestnut cask finish! A few unique observations about the distillery:

  • they typically use their casks 3 fills only, before shipping them to become casks for other products, like Havana Club rum.
  • If you see casks in the warehouse, you’ll see neatly stamped original barrel markings – Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, etc. – which is remarkable since they export barrels in whole rather than breaking them down, as typical.
  • They try to import their sherry casks in the winter so it is cooler and there is a lower chance of infection.

I was able to taste a few barrel samples in a blending class. Pure pot still is the best style they make, clearly – but despite its spicy and oily might, it is delicate and can't easily be thrown around in a big cask (it comes off the still at 84%). They produce grain whisky from corn imported from France – after 4 years in a second fill bourbon barrel, it is light, piney, citrusy and spicy (I expect the first fill might have been pot still) but still creamy and sweet. The finish is quite spicy. Very reminiscent of Jameson, and most of the rough character of Jameson comes from here. Compared to corn whiskies from Canada I’ve tasted out of ex-bourbon barrels, it’s broadly similar with the pine and citrus notes, but this stuff is sweeter and less fruity or grainy, maybe a touch spicier.

They produce four styles of pure pot still – triple pot distilled whiskey made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley – a light, two medium, and a heavy body style. In a sherry cask after 8 years, a sample I tasted of the pure pot still was swamped by sherry – both the wine and the French oak. The pure pot still is delicate – tasting the 8 year sample made me impressed even more with how well they were able to get Redbreast Lustau to work in balancing so well the sherry and French oak with the pot still. Perhaps my sample was a lighter pot still style, but I was surprised at how much the cask dominated (I would say 2/3 cask, 1/3 spirit). The star of the show is the ex-bourbon pot still style (think Green Spot). It is rich, creamy, and spicy – with the bourbon enhancing the creaminess of the pot still while adding complementary herbaceousness and dried fruit. It is brilliant stuff – it’s no wonder they import so many bourbon casks compared to sherry casks.

I hadn’t tasted Distiller’s Safe, Blender’s Dog, or Cooper’s Croze either – which I was lead through at the distillery. They are good whiskies that won’t blow you away, but I’m impressed with what the brand decided to do – a whisky focused on distillate (Distiller’s Safe), a whisky focused on wood (Cooper’s Croze), and a whisky focused on blending (Blender’s Dog). It’s a nice way to explore the distillate at Midleton.

Also, to toot my Canadian horn – the more I learn of other distillate styles, the more I’m impressed with Canadian product as being so diverse in natural flavour: diverse stills (column, pot, hybrid), grain (corn, wheat, barley, triticale, rye – and all malted and/or unmalted), casks (refill, bourbon, sherry, port, rum, cognac, new and more), and different yeasts and fermentation regimes different yeast strains and fermentation regimes. And some big distilleries. Too bad Canada hasn’t talked about itself enough so people actually know what’s out here. And too bad a number of micro-distillers in Canada still only want to replicate Scotch rather than speak with a more Canadian voice….