Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 21 Years Old

Redbreast 21 Year Old

Redbreast is one of the most beloved of high-end Irish whiskeys there is, a triple-pot distilled whiskey made of malted and unmalted barley that wins pretty much every “Best Irish Whiskey” award that comes around. That said, the 12 year old expression has always been a bit too chewy and pungent for my taste, a malty monster in a category prized for being gentle and easygoing.

On the other hand, I respect Redbreast. Different strokes and all. And now a sure-to-be much desired 21 Year Old version is about to hit the market. What can an extra 9 years do to a whiskey that’s already a beast?

Let’s put it this way: If you like Redbreast 12, you’ll love Redbreast 21. All of Redbreast’s classic notes are intact: ultra-ripe banana, coconut husks, and butterscotch, to name but a few. But there’s also burnt honey, coal fires, and a powerful caramel note on the finish. The citrus notes — driven by partial aging in first-fill sherry casks — are particularly present here. No matter what you think about Redbreast, there’s always something new to discover lurking somewhere in a dram of this whiskey.

Rest assured: Redbreast’s DNA runs through this expression like a river, but I’m honestly hard-pressed to find a lot of difference here vs. the 12 year old version. It’s a bit more pungent and funky, but it’s just not overwhelmingly different than the 12. The 12 is just such a massive whiskey already that the extra age simply doesn’t change things as much as it otherwise might. Either way, Redbreast fanatics should give it a try before deciding whether the extra age merits more than twice the price.

92 proof.

A- / $180 / irishdistillers.ie

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore-D.E.W.-Phoenix-Limited-Edition

Tullamore D.E.W. (nee Tullamore Dew) continues its march upmarket with the release of Phoenix, one of its fanciest bottlings released to date.

This expression is launched in commemoration of the first-ever air disaster, a hot-air balloon fire in 1785 that took place in the town of Tullamore and subsequently burned down most of the town (the recovery is the phoenix in question). This is a classic blended Irish whiskey bottled with no age statement. A blend of pure pot still, malt whiskey, and grain whiskey, it is non-chill filtered and is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. This first edition of what is planned to be an annual release comprises 30,000 bottles.

Quite a delight, Phoenix is a creamy, nutty whiskey that takes the easy nature of Irish and gives it more body and more gravitas. Almonds are the prominent note here, wrapped up in a nougat character that closely resembles a Mars Almond bar. (Sadly not on the market any more.) The sherry is really just hinted at here. While many a sherry-finished whiskey will wallop you over the head with juicy orange character, here it’s appropriately understated, racy with baking spices, spiced nuts, and orange notes on the finish. The higher proof adds body and complexity. Easily the best thing from Tullamore to date, and actually a great value considering the quality on display here.

110 proof.

A / $55 / tullamoredew.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Teeling Whiskey Single Grain

If you’re unfamiliar with “single grain” whiskey, you’re not alone. While in fact the majority of Irish whiskey sold is grain whiskey, single grain whiskey is not typically seen on the shelf. (The single doesn’t refer to the type of grain but rather the fact that it’s made at a single distillery.) All grain whiskey is made not from barley (as in the case of single malt whiskey) but rather from a blend of grains, primarily corn.

Teeling Single Grain Whiskey is column-distilled from 95% corn and 5% barley at Cooley, and, unusually, it is aged fully in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. No age statement (or other details on the specifics of the mashbill) are offered, but the spirit is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof.

The nose is exotic, offering thick menthol vapors along with some vanilla, butterscotch, and cake frosting notes. The body is even harder to pin down. At first the whiskey is mild and easygoing, then it develops some of the more traditional character of Irish whiskeys — touches of banana and coconut, salted caramel, buttered toffee, and honey. The grain base becomes more evident on the finish, a toasty, malty conclusion that is both a little unexpected but also surprisingly satisfying.

Update: Tasted again in March 2015; upgraded from B+ to A-.

A- / $71 / teelingwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

Powers Gold Label Bottle

The good folks at Ireland’s Powers don’t know when to quit. First they rebrand and relabel their classic Gold Label Irish whiskey in 2009, now they’re back at it again, redoing the bottle a second time while boosting the proof a bit. (And that doesn’t even include the launch of the masterful John’s Lane special edition bottling.)

Nothing has changed about the recipe to Gold Label — it’s still triple distilled at Midleton, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and non-chill filtered. The only change (aside from bottle cosmetics that now include a metallic neck hanger) is the increase in alcohol up to 43.2% — the product’s original export strength — from the standard 40%.

The change is a good one, giving a little more power (ahem) to the whiskey while maintaining the easy charm and gentle flavor profile that attracts so many people to Irish whiskey.

There’s lots of traditional Irish character here to explore, with a nose that’s full of ripe banana, butterscotch, cereal, and gentle honey notes. On the body, all of the above are met by orange notes, along with both coconut and pineapple on the back end. The finish is both fruity and malty, reminiscent of a frozen custard spiked with toppings. The slight bump in alcohol works well at boosting the body just a smidge, adding just a bit more creaminess to an already well-balanced spirit.

86.4 proof.

A- / $25 / powerswhiskey.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Brandy
Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and Poitin

Teeling 21 Yr Old Single Malt Silver ReserveWe don’t see a lot of new Irish whiskey brands on the market, so when a curiosity like Teeling comes around, Drinkhacker takes note. The Teeling Whiskey Company (aka TWC) is a new brand with some surprisingly old stock. Founder Jack Teeling has roots in the Irish biz dating back to the late 1700s, and now he’s bringing the family business back with this independent distillery.

Mashbill information is a little complicated, so here it is from TWC’s Teeling: “Both [the whiskey and poitin] are a blend of grain and malt whiskey mashbills. The grain mashbill is 95% maize and 5% malted barley, and the malt mashbill is 100% malted barley. The blend of both consists of 35% malt whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin) and 65% grain whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin).” Got it?

Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin – Ah, Ireland’s white whiskey made from who-knows-what (but see above in TWC’s case), and it’s got a lot going on. The nose is fragrant and intriguing: rustic and young, but with notes of lemongrass, black pepper, and hot coals. Fiery at a blazing 123 proof, the body still shows some charms even without water: marshmallows, orange flowers, and a finish of burning embers. It’s complex yet curious, a white whiskey made the way it really ought to be. High-test white spirits like this always need some coaxing to bring out their charms, but Teeling’s does it quite a bit better than most. B+ / $42 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company Small Batch Irish Whiskey – Small batch whiskey, bottled with no age statement (but blended from hand-selected casks aged between 4 and 7 years old), but finished in ex-Flor de Cana rum casks. The combo makes for some unusual and quite delicious flavors. The nose offers sweet vanilla, creme brulee and very light wood notes. Elusive, but engaging. On the tongue, it’s quite sweet, but kicked up a bit from the rum, with some fun citrus notes, more of a chocolate marshmallow back-end, and a silky smooth finish. The whiskey and rum are working well together here — that doesn’t always happen — offering a sizeable bite, but one which is tempered with ample (yet balanced) sweetness. Really good stuff, with ample depth. Reviewed: Edition bottled 2/2013. 92 proof. A / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Teeling Whiskey Company 21 Year Old Silver Vintage Reserve 1991 Irish Whiskey (pictured) – Unlike the above, this is single malt Irish. 21 years old, at that. 21 year old Irish sounds like it’s going to be incredible, but this is a case where things have gone a bit too far. The lively amber color doesn’t let on to what’s in store, which starts to reveal itself with a malty, bread-like nose. The body offers more of that — a really intense grain character that comes off as fully unexpected in a whiskey this well-aged. Where is the sweetness? Where is the spice? These characteristics are hinted at on the finish, but here you also get more heavy barrel char notes that outweigh any fruity sweetness that remains in the spirit. Interesting enough as a sipper, but a huge letdown from my admittedly high expectations. 92 proof. B / $217

teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Powers Irish Whiskey John’s Lane Release 12 Years Old

powers john's lane whiskey irishPowers got its start as a single pot still whiskey, but in more recent years its become a simpler blend of pot still spirit and grain whiskey. It’s understandable: Powers is the most popular whiskey in its homeland of Ireland, so they have to make a lot of it.

Now Powers is bringing a pure, single pot still whiskey back. This one is denoted as John’s Lane Release, an homage to the original distillery where Powers was made in the late 1700s and 1800s.

This release is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley which is then triple distilled in copper pot stills. Aged for 12 years, primarily in ex-Bourbon casks with a touch of whiskey that’s been matured in Oloroso sherry butts, it is bottled at 92 proof.

It’s an outstanding example of Irish, rich and mouth-filling, with a warming, luscious body. The nose is slightly hot, offering hints of honey and cinnamon. The body, however, is far more sophisticated and complex, and not really hot at all. Deep honey notes, vanilla, caramels, and touches of barley. Slightly nutty on the finish, with hints of charcoal and chocolate, too. This is a whiskey that offers tremendous depth, not something you typically associate with Irish, which is often made in a simpler style. Well done, Powers.

A / $65 / irishdistillers.ie

Review: Bushmills Single Malt 16 Years Old Irish Whiskey

Bushmills 16 years old single maltHappy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

If you’re drinking Irish today (and you probably are), consider upgrading your dram with something a little more sophisticated.

Bushmills 16 Year Old is a single malt (rare enough for Irish) that is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels or Oloroso sherry barrels — a portion of the production in each. The two barrel types are then married and finished in Port barrels for a triple-wooded attack.

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Review: Knappogue Castle 14 Years Old Twin Wood

Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 14 Years OldKnappogue Castle is one of the blue chips of the Irish whiskey world, producing well-aged spirits and a variety of rarities, including the ongoing “Twin Wood” series of limited edition whiskeys.

Twin Wood is Knappogue’s terminology for Irish that’s been matured in Bourbon casks and finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. The 14 years are spent in the Bourbon casks before the whiskey moves on to the sherry finishing.

14 years is a long time for Irish to spend in any kind of wood, but Knappogue Castle has a surprisingly light gold color. It’s got an ample nose, however. A big malty character dominates, mingled with exotic raisins, coconut, and orange character driven by the sherry.

The body is complex and unique. Again, lots and lots of malty grain here, plus plenty of oddities: banana, smokestacks, caramel candies, orange peel, coconut husks, and licorice, all in a bit of a jumble. I like a lot of the flavors in the whisky, but ultimately I’m still not sure about the way they all come together. It’s fun to tipple on but tough to get a handle on where it’s going.

92 proof.

B+ / $60 / knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey

2 Gingers irish whiskeyReader Alex Trembley turned me on to 2 Gingers in the middle of 2012, and finally we’ve been able to track down a bottle of this Irish Whiskey to review. Why the trouble? It’s only sold in Minnesota… at least for now.

The name 2 Gingers connotes spicy, ginger beer-laced drinks, but the moniker has nothing to do with the aromatic root. In reality, the name refers to redheads, the kind of folk which are in heavy supply in 2 Gingers’ homeland of Ireland.

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