Irish Whiskey

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.

Score: 84/100

Value: 75/100 (based on $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.

Score: 82/100

Value: 69/100 (based on $45)


On the impressive Midleton Distillery (Jameson) by Jason Hambrey

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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….

Review: Tyrconnell Madeira Finish 10 Years Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Tyrconnell Madeira.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
10 Years American Oak; Finished in Madeira casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Cooley (Louth, Ireland)

Madeira is one of my favourite fortified wines - made on the small Portugese island of Madeira (beautiful, if you ever fancy a visit to a wild island in the middle of the ocean with lush forests and mountains - who wouldn't?). The wine is made to favour oxidation, matured in heated tanks or in oak in warm warehouses. It's like extreme sherry - very rich, and generally less sweet than port or sherry. Tyrconnel finished 10 year old Irish single malt in Madeira casks - I like the vintage style label. Here we have it:


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code:  L14114 04/11/14
  • Bottling Date: 2014

Slightly rubbery and sulphury (ever so slight), with lots of dried fruit – dried mango, raisins, dried cherry, dried papaya, dried pear – also dust, old black licorice candy, macadamia nuts, and wet, mossy oak. The palate has a mix of earthy malt, mixed dried fruit, black licorice, almond, rancio, and a sharp nutty character right at the end. The finish is full of rancio and oxidized wine, wine gums, hazlenut, and clove. Great body on the finish – this is always important

Very complex, and quite unique. The sulphur edge is just about perfect. Really nice mix of dried fruit and earthiness.

Score: 88/100

Value: 68/100 (based on $80)


Review: Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Tyrconnell 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Cooley (Louth, Ireland)

A single malt, double distilled, at Cooley - this is named after a racehorse, Tyrconnell, which captured the imagination of a distiller who consequently named a single malt after the chestnut colt.  Like Connemara, it is maintained by Kilbeggan who are still using stocks of single malt from Cooley distillery - though, perhaps, the juice in the bottle is now from the distillery which commenced distillation in 2010 after being shut down since 1954. Perhaps it's a mix of Kilbeggan and Cooley now, but I'm not sure. Regardless, to the whiskey!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L17123 09/11/17
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Dried fruit, cooked wine, dried fruit salsa, white pepper, brazil nuts, peach, hay, dried citrus peel – much more robust than the Bushmills malt to the north. Light earthiness on the nose – it is quite nice. The palate is full of barley, with a really nice earthiness from the barley. Dried fruits are throughout, and it is capped off with a light flourish of rancio. Banana, pear, and grapeseed oil on the palate too. The finish is lightly sweet and earthy, and full of nutty malt, alongside light spices, vanilla, green apple, and pizza dough.

Tasted side by side by another well known Irish single malt, Bushmills 10, it is a heavier spirit with a broader set of flavours, but it is also less mature.

Score: 85/100

Value: 77/100 (based on $45.95)


Review: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Teeling SB 1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
Rum Cask Finish
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Cooley (Louth, Ireland)

Jack and Stephen Teeling, the sons of the founder of the Cooley distillery (John Teeling) started up a sourced Irish whiskey brand with great success, leading to the first new distillery in dublin in 125 years in 2015 (at one point, Dublin was one of the biggest distilling powerhouses in the world). Whiskey is in their blood, with an ancestor having built a Dublin distillery in 1782 which is long lost - however, it leads to the brand image of a phoenix rising from a pot still as the Teeling brand is re-established (though, admittedly, Teelings have been involved in the business before the brand started up). The small batch is perhaps their most well known whiskey, non-chill filtered and a blend of corn grain whisky and single malt.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 04/2017
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2017

An oaky, and very spicy nose. It reminds me of walking into an Indian grocer, with all the spices sitting out and giving a rich, exotic, spice reminding me of countless curries. Fennel, cardamom, pickled mangoes, apple, toasted coriander seed,  and a rich oily, grainy character. There is fancy molasses, definitely, on the nose, but I didn’t notice it until I started to look for it.

The palate is rich, with a nice integration of a sharp barley character – terrific mouthfeel and spiciness – and telling a long story leading into a spicy and creamy pot still character. Banana, milk chocolate, and green pear - The finish is spicy with lots of white pepper, banana splits, green wood, pear, and carrot cake.

If it didn’t say so, I’m not sure I would have noticed the rum in this. 46% is a nice touch, especially given the youth – I think it would suffer significantly with a smaller punch.

Score: 86/100

Value: 76/100 (based on $56)


Review: Bushmills Single Malt 10 Years Old Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bushmills 10 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso barrels
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Bushmills (Bushmills, N. Ireland)

I believe this one is mostly ex-bourbon casks, but a triple distilled malt from Bushmills. Bushmills is more known for their blends, but this 10 and a 16 and 21 year old highlight the malt in their whiskies - triple distilled in copper pot stills rather than the more typical double distillation, resulting in a lighter spirit (generally...).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code:  L7171IB001 10:31
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Very nutty – it’s like opening up a bag of hazlenuts with the skins on. Apple juice, peach, oak, blanched almonds, marzipan, green wood, and light barley earthiness. The hazlenut is terrific! The palate is nutty and earthy, lightly sweet, with some vanilla and apple – leading into light, woody spice: nutmeg and cinnamon. The finish is lightly tannic and still carries a bit of that sweetness, but is where the barley really comes out and shines. It still has a bit of grassy spice to it, which is nice.

Canadian distillers often describe single malt as very nutty – this is complete evidence of that. It’s not the defining characteristic for me, generally, but it is on display here...

Score: 86/100

Value: 82/100 (based on $42)


Review: Bushmills Red Bush Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bushmills Red Bush.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies
Distiller Bushmills (Bushmills, N. Ireland)

This triple distilled whiskey was added to the lineup, between the flagship whiskey and Black Bush, with a focus on bourbon cask maturation.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L7292IB 001 12:29
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Loads of pear! Loaded with fruit – baked pear, apple, peach, cherry – but also vanilla and light oak. The palate is loaded with sweet peach and eventually dried out to oak and some tannins. The finish has milk chocolate, clove, vanilla, and more fruit – peach again prominent. The finish has a touch of bourbon – creamy, vanilla laden, and full of dried fruit. Really easy and very nice! More in the vein of the standard Bushmills than Black Bush, but a very nice addition to the lineup.

Score: 85/100

Value: 82/100 (based on $35)


Review: Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Jameson Caskmates 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Finished in Stout Barrels
Recipe
Grain and Pot Still Whiskies
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

What do you think of when you think of Irish alcohol? Likely, stout beer (i.e. Guinnes), Jameson (i.e. Irish Whiskey), and Irish Cream (i.e. Baileys). Why not combine two of these categories - stout beer casks and Jameson? Thus, we have a stout barrel finished Jameson. As with the standard Jameson, this is triple distilled and made at Midleton distillery in County Cork.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2013

Pot still character comes out right from the outset, apple, balsamic vinegar, fried mushrooms, but with the stout character coming in just at the end – burnt toast, roasted malt, and light acidity. It is much more smoothed out than the standard Jameson, and the pot still character is a bit more central. The palate is loaded with vanilla and carries on with the richness of the stout character. Nice chewy texture. Finish is a lot of the malty, stout characteristic but with some toffee and hard caramel candy, and a bit of apple. Lightly bitter on the finish, with some light arugula, stout, vanilla, and dried leaves.

Score: 80/100

Value: 67/100 (based on $40)


Review: Yellow Spot 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Yellow Spot 2.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
Ex-bourbon, Ex-oloroso, and Ex-malaga casks
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

Another independent Irish whiskey bottling from the producers of Green Spot, matured in ex-bourbon, ex-orloso, and ex-malaga (a sweet fortified wine made from pedro-ximinez and moscatel grapes, originating in the town of Malaga). It took its time coming to North America, coming in 2015 - but it was orignally a 12 y.o. product of Mitchell and sons (along with an 8 y.o. blue spot, a 10 y.o. green spot - the current version is now 7-10 yrs old, and a 15 y.o. green spot) which dropped off the shelves in the 1960s and came back with the increasing popularity of Irish whiskey.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L710131139 08:55
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Woody and complex on the nose – loads of spices and a terrific, rich, barley character to it. An earthy character, dried apricots, prunes – terrific nose. Oak, star anise, oily, green grass, vanilla, caramel, red fruits...The palate is lightly oaky, with custard, dried fruit, and nutmeg and clove on the slightly drying finish. The mouthfeel is just terrific – mouthcoating and oily.

Definitely more cask driven than Green Spot, but it works really well. A very different whiskey – I like it a tad less, yet I’d pay more for it (does that make sense to anyone? It’s in a style that tends to be more expensive) - but my preference depends on the day.

Score: 88/100

Value: 63/100 (based on $100)