Category Archives: Irish Whiskey

Review: Bushmills Irish Honey

Now the Irish are getting into the honey whiskey thing. Bushmills Irish Honey is the first honey-flavored spirit (to my knowledge) from the Emerald Isle, a simple blend of original Bushmills, Irish honey, and Irish water, bottled in the traditionally squared Bushmills-style bottle.

The results are solid. As Jack Daniels proved with its Tennessee Honey liqueur, the key to getting this category right is going easy on the honey. Really easy.

Here, the whiskey does the bulk of the talking, as it should, and the honey hangs in the background, always there but never pushing its way to the forefront. Instead it’s really more like a light bodied whiskey that has honey as its primary character.

Beyond that, however, there’s not much to report. Like standard Bushmills the whiskey component is youthful and uncomplicated, heavy with grain character, cereal, and heather. The honey itself doesn’t offer any clues as to its heritage — no orange character, and so on — just a pleasant sweetness. Put together it’s like a grown-up, liquified version of Honeycomb cereal. I mean that in the best possible way imaginable.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / bushmills.com

Review: Redbreast 12 Years Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey

OMG how the people love Redbreast. It wins awards, has hipster cred, and bartenders love the stuff. It’s the hippest Irish whiskey on earth, and it costs a boatload.

Somehow I’ve never really gotten into it.

Made by Midleton (which also makes Jameson and other Irish brands), it is distilled three times in a copper pot still before aging. Now the venerable 12 year old Redbreast is newly available in a cask strength version, bumping the proof up to 115.4.

Most people drink Irish because it is so easygoing, and Redbreast shows why the Other Half may be getting into it: It is not so easy, bolder, fuller, more flavorful, and a little rough around the edges, perhaps primarily due to the use of both malted and unmalted barley in the mashbill. There is plenty to like here: That telltale Irish whiskey banana character (almost over-ripe in the way it comes across), coconut, nougat, dried figs, raisins, and butterscotch syrup. It’s creamy and rich, almost like a dessert or an ice cream topping. But it keeps that quirky funkiness — a kind of bitter edge that you really only catch on the finish.

Of course, at cask strength it is a different experience than at 80 proof. But even I was embarrassed at how easy it goes down without cutting it with water. The side effect of high-proof whiskey is always that crazy long finish, though (I wouldn’t call it “burn” here), something you can only cut with… another sip.

Now that I’ve spent more time with Redbreast, I’m starting to see what the others do. I can’t speak for the 80-proof varieties (yet), but this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

A- / $70 / irishdistillers.ie

Review: Concannon Irish Whiskey

There are about a half dozen unique things going on with this new Irish whiskey. Let’s enumerate them one by one.

1) It’s being sold and branded not by a distillery and not by an Irish company but by a California winery. It is, however, made in Ireland, in conjunction with Cooley Distillery (a giant in Irish whiskey).

2) It’s aged (four years) in ex-Bourbon barrels, then finished in Concannon Petite Sirah barrels for four more months. Most Irish isn’t finished in any other kind of barrel, much less a Petite Sirah wine barrel. (In fact, I’ve never heard of anything being finished in a Petite Sirah barrel.)

OK, that’s two things, but those are two really big things, am I right?

Concannon, as the name suggests, has Irish heritage, so a whiskey from this Cali winemaker makes more sense than you’d think. And the results, I have to say, are impressive.

The nose is rich with nougat character, soft sugar, a bit of vanilla, like a custard. This continues on the palate, where a lush body offers up orange juice, banana pudding, and a bit of oak wood. The body is spot-on, balanced in the way that makes everyone find Irish whiskey so easy to drink. It may not have the depth of a well-aged Jameson Reserve, but for an Irish in this price range it’s got soul to spare. Well done.

80 proof.

A- / $25 / concannonvineyard.com

concannon whiskey

Review: Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve Irish Whiskey

Jameson is one of the big darlings of the whiskey world right now — Irish is currently the fastest growing spirits category, and Jameson is at the top of the sales charts. We’ve long loved Jameson’s various incarnations, and now it’s out with a new one.

Jameson Black Barrel is mostly pot still malted and unmalted barley aged for considerably longer than standard Jameson — 12 years vs. 5 to 7, in both Bourbon and sherry casks. Then a touch of grain whiskey that’s been aged in Wild Turkey barrels is added to the mix. Bottling alcohol level remains at 80 proof.

While there’s nothing specifically “black” about Black Barrel, it’s a considerably different experience than standard label Jameson. The nose is rich, Bourbon-like, with vanilla and toasty oak notes. The body is creamy and impressively smooth, undercut with some citrus character likely brought on by the sherry cask influence. The finish offers grain notes, like a bowl of thick, raisined oatmeal, with a fleeting touch of smoke at the end. It’s night and day with regular Jameson, which is all fresh fruit and grass, with a menthol character to it. Black Barrel, side by side, very quickly overwhelms the regular bottling. As Irish whiskey goes, it’s almost decadent.

A- / $38 / jamesonwhiskey.com

jameson black barrel with box

Review: Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey and Single Malt 10 Year Old

Irish whiskey brand Michael Collins has been on a tear this year — taking advantage of the recent upsurge in popularity of Irish whiskey, no doubt — rebranding, repackaging its spirits (the old bottles were monstrosities), and replacing its old Single Malt whiskey with a new, age-statemented, Single Malt 10 Year Old whiskey.

We re-sampled the original Blend and tasted the new 10 Year Old, too. Both are 80 proof.

Michael Collins “Double Distilled” Blended Irish Whiskey – In theory this is the same whiskey as the prior Blend, but putting the two side by side, there really do appear to be some minor differences — and improvements — here. The color is more amber, less green, and the body seems somewhat more present and full, absent the somewhat vegetal notes (or hay, perhaps) of the version we reviewed in 2008. There’s more sweetness, and more malt, better balance on the whole. The most welcome change is that although the proof levels are the same, there’s less pungent alcohol overall, a problem that really marred the older version. I don’t know if the recipe has changed significantly, but all spirits do change and evolve over time due to the vagaries of production and the mysteries that come along with the aging process (and it’s something to keep in mind when you read older reviews of just about anything). In this case, evolution is a good thing. B+ / $30

Michael Collins Single Malt 10 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Darker in color, a bright orange almost, lots of alcohol on the nose. I sampled this at a recent whisky event and was immediately unimpressed. A formal tasting didn’t change that opinion much: This malt is just unfascinating, with an initial rush of booziness, and a big punch of wood soon after. (Perhaps the quest for an impressive age statement resulted in too much time in oak?) This moves into a kind of cloudy smokiness, with a whopper of a finish that reminds one of deeply charred wood, moss, and intense vegetation. Most of all, this is not in balance. The finish hot, bothersome, and not very inviting. The good news is that returning to the Blend for a sip afterward helps to even this whiskey out. C / $38

michaelcollinswhiskey.com

michael collins whiskey

Tasting Report: The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2011

The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza is the smallest of the whisky shows, but that doesn’t mean it has something to prove. With fewer crowds and more thoughtful selections — no white dog here, folks — you can find quality whisky (overwhelmingly Scotch) at every table in the room.

This year the Extravaganza seemed smaller than in 2010, but all the big guns were still in the house. I sampled many of the same whiskys as last year, curious to see how consistent my notes would be. Here’s my 2010 writeup. Compare for yourself.

Tasting Report: Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2011

Aberlour 18 Year Old / B / not much going on

Ardmore 30 Year Old / A- / sample almost too small to taste, but seemed quite delicious

The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask / A- / some say it’s too sweet; I find it pretty delightful, with a clear rum character to it

The Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel / A- / sherry and cherry notes, a solid everyday dram

The Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood / A / great age on this, apple notes

Bushmills 1608 Irish Whiskey / A-

The Classic Cask – 35 Year Old Rare Scotch Whisky / A+ / a clear favorite from 2010 and again a truly lovely one today; drinks like a cognac with rich chocolate notes

The Classic Cask – Ben Nevis 1997 12 Years Old / B / very young

The Classic Cask – Tomatin 1994 16 Years Old / B+ / getting there; still lots of grain character

The Classic Cask – Bunnahabhain 1997 Peated 13 Years Old / B+

The Classic Malts Caol Ila Distillers Edition / B+

The Classic Malts Glen Spey 21 Years Old / A / lovely vanilla notes

The Classic Malts Oban Distillers Edition 1995 / B+

The Classic Malts Oban 18 Years Old / B-

Dewar’s Signature Edition / A- / mild, citrus-infused

Douglas Laing The Premier Barrel – Highland Park 1996 13 Years Old / A

Douglas Laing Big Peat – Islay Vatted Malt / A- / great balance for such a  peat bomb; some sweetness here (a blend of Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, and Port Ellen)

Douglas Laing Double Barrel 10 Years Old – Highland Park + Bowmore / A- / nice combo, again good balance

Glefiddich 21 Years Old / A- / on the mild side

The Glenlivet Nadurra / B+

The Glenlivet 21 Years Old / B / marsala tasting, funky – hard to believe this is from the same distillery as the 25 Year Old

The Glenlivet 25 Years Old / A / still an amazing whisky

Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Year Old / B+ / finish seems off

Glenmorangie Signet / A- / a little more wood influence here

Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or Sauternes Cask 12 Years Old / A / much better this go-round; not much Sauternes intensity but the sweetness is stronger than I’ve encountered before

The Glenrothes Vintage 1994 / B+ / quite smooth, sugary

The Glenrothes Vintage 1998 / B+ / much like the 1994, a touch more youthful

Highland Park 12 Years Old / A- / an old standby, like the interplay of sweet and smoke

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+

Longmorn 16 Years Old / A / a dark horse; where has this been hiding? nice body, great balance

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old / A-

Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single malt / C+ / off

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 50.42 / B / 18 year old Bladnoch; big grain elements

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 125.48 / B / 12 year old Glenmorangie; mild

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 27.90 / A- / 10 year old Springbank

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 127.9 / B+ / 9 year old Port Charlotte; overpowering with smoke

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 71.33 / A- / Glenburgie (age unclear)

Suntory Yamazaki 18 Years Old / A / perfectly balanced Japanese whisky

Suntory Hakushu 12 Years old / B+ / the newest Japanese whisky to land on our soils, shows light peat, evergreen notes; aged at altitude

Usquaebach Old -Rare Superior Blended Scotch Whisky / B+ / touch of wood; easygoing

Usquaebach 15 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky / B / bit over-wooded

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

WhiskyFest remains the whiskey enthusiast’s festival to beat. With hundreds of whiskeys, it is a mad dash for all sorts of great stuff — if only you can find it in the scattered auditorium and muscle your way to the front of the line. Don’t worry, you can do it, and even though the 2011 installment of this awesome event had more than its share of no-shows from the advance whisky list — Isle of Jura Shackleton, Tomatin 30 Year Old, Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac, the entire Usqueabach table — there were so many amazing whiskeys here it is hard to complain.

Favorites were unilaterally from the private bottling companies, including Duncan Taylor’s killer 36 Year Old Lonach Blend, Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old — all that time in ex-sherry butts — and maybe by new favorite whisky ever, Samaroli Evolution 2011. Notes on all of these follow, plus comments (however brief) on everything else I sampled during the evening.

Thanks again to Whisky Advocate (nee Malt Advocate) for putting on such a terrific show (and inviting me).

Scotland

Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A+ / this Rome-based private whisky bottler was a fave at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and this bottling was a revelation; a vatting of whisky stocks dating back to 1957, it is incredibly supple, complex, and impossible to put down

Samaroli Glenlivet Top Class 1977 / A- / amazing elegance

Samaroli Linkwood Top Class 1983 / B+ / bit tougher

Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / B+ / rich and chewy

Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / has an edge to it

Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / B+ / surprising sweetness

Auchentoshan Valinch / B / hard finish

Auchentoshan Bordeaux 1999 / B+ / sweetness up front leads to a rough finish

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old / B+ / my fave of the Auch line, better balance

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve / B

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage / B / big nougat notes lead to a strange, funky finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt 25 Year Old / B+ / almost American in styling, sweet finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt Decades / A- / a vatting of 5 decades’ worth of whisky; complex and lots of fun

Isle of Jura Superstition / A- / nice balance with the peat here

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old / B / big grain notes, exotic

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+ / finished in sherry, which adds just a touch of citrus to standard Laphroaig’s peat and iodine; interesting but could go farther

Gordon & MacPhail Benromach 10 Year Old / B / young but charming

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Port Finish 10 Year Old / B+ / nice mix of smoke and sweet, needs more aging

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Year Old / A-

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old / A / spends all 21 years in sherry casks, an amazing whisky, deep and rich (by far the darkest Scotch I saw all night)

Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 30 Years Old / B+ / a bit over the hill, wood-wise

Compass Box Great King Street / A- / a masterful blended whisky

Springbank 14 Year Old Manzanilla Cask / B+ / big olive notes

Springbank 18 Year Old / B+ / not feeling it tonight; too much of a coal character

Kilkerran WIP 3rd Release / B+ / like Kilbeggan, Kilkerran is doing releases as its whisky ages; at 3 years old it is young but exciting, lots of promise ahead

Duncan Taylor Banff 35 Year Rich and Rare / A / amazing fruit and wood here, lovely finish

Duncan Taylor Lonach Blend 36 Year / A / cinnamon and apple pie, all sorts of fun

GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament / B+ / curious wood and spice notes

GlenDronach 15 Year Old 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #2045 / B

Macallan 18 Year Old / A-

Highland Park 25 Year Old / A- / musky finish

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 / B+ / finish delves deep into grain character

Bruichladdich Octomore 3/152 / A- / the new “most peated” whisky in the world, actually quite pleasant and not the bowl-you-over dram I was expecting; more like a barbecue than a smoke bomb

Ardbeg Corryvreckan / A

Ardbeg Alligator / A- / Ardbeg’s latest, aged in ultra-charred oak barrels; the wood really does battle with the peat here, giving it a curious but less enthralling character, I think

Ireland

Redbreast 12 Years Old / B+ / really woody kick; the reputation exceeds the whisky

Redbreast 15 Years Old / B+ / not terribly different

United States

Bardstown Riverboat Rye Whiskey / B / a younger version of Redemption Rye

Bardstown Temptation Bourbon / A- / good sweetness, balance

Bardstown Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon / A / intensely rye-focused, and intensely alcoholic; not released (the company is hoping for 2012)

Koval Lion’s Pride Spelt Whiskey / B+ / aged 2 years; not bad, lots of grain character

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old / A- / love the rye kick; probably better since it was poured by Jimmy Russell himself (picture below!)

George Dickel Barrel Select / A- / nice rye going on here

Not Whiskey

Frapin Cognac VS / A- / 4 years old; surprisingly clean for a $49 Cognac

Frapin Cognaac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A- / big nose on it, great citrus and sherry finish

Frapin Cognac  VIP XO / A- / quite similar to the Fontpinot

Frapin Cognac Extra / A / 75 years old, extremely complex, mellow, and lingering

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Selection des Anges / A- / beautiful, smooth

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Cigare / A / not smoky, and in fact not as big a body as you’d expect with a name like that; very well crafted and lush; drink with or without a cigar

Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo Barrel #2 / A / a killer, and the only tequila here; lovely chocolate finish

Review (and Update): Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey

Clontarf Classic Blend has been rebranded and upgraded to Clontarf 1014, named now in honor of one of Ireland’s most famous battles (the Battle of Clontarf, as it were) — and released just in time for a 1,000-year anniversary.

As for the whiskey, nothing seems to have changed since the old version. My notes — light body, honey, light malt notes, nougat — are largely the same as when I last reviewed Clontarf, although this time around I’m feeling some clear citrus character. Short finish, mild sweetness. Bit of heat on the back end, but overall it’s a really easygoing whiskey, even for Irish.

Sure to be huge 3 years from now!

B+ (same as the old) / $24 / clontarfwhiskey.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2011

The San Francisco Belle was packed but the crowds were manageable at this year’s San Francisco Whiskies of the World event. With much more room to move around than last year’s cramped fest, lots more seating, and plenty of whiskey, guests seemed to be having a great time, myself  included. Who knows what venue will host WotW in 2012, but if the organizers (and new owners) continue to put this kind of care into crafting the affair, it’s certainly going to be worth the price of a ticket.

I spent this year’s event tracking down — almost exclusively — whiskies I hadn’t tried or which were new on the market. (As much as I enjoy it, how many times can I stalk the Glenlivet booth?) You may not know some of these names, but more than a few are worth memorizing (especially that Amrut Intermediate Sherry, my favorite spirit of the night). Grades and tasting notes follow.

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo, San Francisco, 2011

Scotch

McKinnon Glen 35 Years Old Cask Strength  / A- / a fine blended Scotch, but the story is more interesting — a USAF serviceman bought into a share of Ben Nevis Distillery’s new make spirit in 1971, then it went out of business; the stock languished in storage until 2006, when 484 gallons were bottled for sale; this is literally all of it, and Sam Perrine is trying to hawk it all himself: 70 bottles of cask strength and 953 bottles of 80 proof whisky!

Aberlour 18 Years Old / A / Aberlour’s best to date; a fine pairing with chocolate

Clan Denny 30 Years Old North British Single Grain Scotch / B+ / big spice finish, with a rough mid-palate

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 11 Years Old / B / lots of heat

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 19 Years Old / B / odd phenol notes

Douglas of Drumlanrig Glen Grant 25 Years Old / B+

Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 20 Years Old / A / excellent expression of older Macallan

Douglas XO Blended Scotch / B+

Edradour Port Matured / B

Glenglassaugh Clearac / B+ / new make Scotch; surprising depth; part of a series of “how it’s made” mini bottles that Glenglassaugh puts out (see next 3 reviews)

Glenglassaugh Blushes / A- / aged 6 months in red wine casks; really interesting

Glenglassaugh Fledgling / A- / 12 months in cask; another curiosity along the way

Glenglassaugh Peated / B+ / new make plus peat; you can really see how important peat is vs. wood in peated whiskys

Glenglassaugh 26 Years Old / A- / now leave Clearac in cask for 26 years and here’s what you get… working well, firing on all cylinders

Signatory Aberlour Cask Strength / A

Signatory Caol Ila Un-Chillfiltered 1999 10 Years Old / B

Signatory Highland Park 1991 18 Years Old / B+ / bizarre; a Highland Park with smoke on the palate; even the Signatory rep couldn’t explain this one

Other Stuff

Willett 6 Years Old Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / awesome young Willett, single barrel exclusively sold at Cask in S.F.

Four Roses Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / same deal as above; both knockout bourbons

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon / A-

Mickey Finn Irish Whiskey / B / because you knew someone was going to name a whiskey “Mickey Finn” eventually…

Goldrush Rye / C- / tough

Fog’s End Monterey Rye / C+

Amrut Cask Strength / A- / sweeter style malt from India

Amrut Cast Strength Peated / B+

Amrut Fusion / B / not my favorite fusing

Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A / Amrut’s finest, which goes from bourbon to sherry and back to bourbon barrels; a perfectly balanced mix

Cabin Fever Maple Whisky / B / yes, made from maple syrup; unbelievably sweet

Craft Distillers Low Gap Whiskey / C- / bizarrely fruity

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey / B- / big corn notes

Stillwater Spirits Wylie Howell Corn Whiskey / A / the best white whiskey I’ve ever had, hands down; 120 proof corn spirit, rich in flavor and not funk

Kuchan Alembic Brandy / C+

Review: Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey Line

“Do the Dew” doesn’t have to mean kicking back a half gallon of fluorescent green goop. It also means enjoying a dram of Tullamore Dew — the nearly ubiquitous Irish whiskey brand.

Tullamore Dew actually comes in four expressions, and while most whiskey fans have only had the “original,” we finally got the chance to try all four varieties. Here’s how they stack up, just in time for celebrating the Irish in you on this St. Patrick’s Day.

All are 80 proof.

Tullamore Dew Original – Simple, but clunky and chunky, it’s a creamy whiskey with notes of malt, honey, heather… and lots of charcoal. Drinkable, but uninspired. B- / $23

Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Reserve – More complexity in this spirit, aged in Spanish and American oak casks for 10 years. Still light of body, with a distinct maltiness — pie crust to the apple and banana notes present in the nose and on the tongue. The finish turns from pastry to sweetness, giving this more of a dessert quality to it — much more so than standard Tullamore. B+ / $34

Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve – More of that characteristic malt in this expression, and for good reason: It actually uses more malt in the recipe. Altogether Tullamore 12 Year is a richer and more Scotch-like whiskey, aged in Bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks and coming across with some sea spray and very lightly floral notes. None of that really measures up to the bread-like maltiness here, which lasts on the finish for a long while and leaves the palate with a bit of a thud. B / $43

Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt - Here we have Tullamore at its most Scotch-like, a single malt matured in four different casks: Bourbon, Oloroso sherry, Port, and Madeira. If you didn’t know any better, this could be a Scotch, though not a particularly great one. Sherry predominates (where are the Port and Madeira?), along with that malt character again. While it fills the mouth, the whiskey is easygoing and (as with most Dew) quite pleasant, but the finish lacks finesse and there’s just not much nuance in the body. B / $40

tullamoredew-usa.com

Review: John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey

After Jameson and Bushmill, most drinkers would be hard-pressed to come up with another Irish whiskey brand.

Well, I’m going to tell you to check out John L. Sullivan.

This small batch Irish, named after the last bare-knuckled boxing heavyweight world champion, is distinguished by being aged in “single use” Bourbon barrels. Now, most Irish is aged in ex-Bourbon casks, but perhaps it’s the single-use factor that gives Sullivan a little more depth than others.

The results speak for themselves: Clear vanilla notes on the nose, then more vanilla plus some citrus on the tongue. Oak hits you on the finish, with nuts, and a little bit of spice — incense-like. A very satiny body brings this all together impressively. This is an Irish that is clearly in balance and, while relatively straightforward in the end, knows exactly how to make an impression. John L. Sullivan, put simply, has something that other entry-level Irish whiskeys are lacking. I call it sophistication. Which is strange, considering it’s named after a guy that survived 75 rounds in a boxing ring without any gloves.

A / $20 / johnlwhiskey.com

Review: Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Knappogue Castle has long shunned traditional age statements, instead vintage dating its whiskey with a year instead of telling you how long it’s been sitting around.

That is changing, as Knappogue is finally moving from vintages to age, in order, as the company says, to better communicate to the customer how old these whiskeys are. After all, “1998” could mean a whiskey that is 2 or 12 years old, depending on when it went into the bottle.

Knappogue 12 Year Old Single Malt is the first product under the new rules, and it’s a winner. The nose is strong and heady, belying the light yellow color that all Knappogue tends to have. The body is rich with malted grain, almost woody, with nutty caramel notes, before fading into a lightly flowery character with a touch of citrus on it. Some smokiness seeps in on the finale, which is otherwise clean and refreshing.

80 proof.

A- / $42 / knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: Danny Boy Irish Whiskey

The name is not entirely politically correct (see also here), but Danny Boy is nonetheless Irish Whiskey true and true.

Give Danny Boy — distilled by Cooley Distillery — a little time in the glass before you dig in: It’s got some heat that mellows after a few minutes with exposure to air. Your patience will be rewarded with a surprisingly easy spirit, a fresh and young Irish with grain character that is laced with apple and some caramel notes. Not a lot to it, really, but it’s nicely refreshing, leaving a touch of honey on the tongue.

Get going, the pipes are calling.

80 proof.

B+ / $22 / dannyboywhiskey.com

Recipe: The Corned Beef Collins

St. Patrick’s Day is always good for dozens of recipe submissions from companies hopeful to have their (invariably green) cocktails featured here.

None have come anywhere close to the audacity of Richard Blais’s concoction, which is reprinted here for your shock and awe. Cabbage water, people. Cabbage water.

Corned Beef Collins

1 ½ oz. Michael Collins blended whiskey
2 oz. Fresh sour mix
2 oz. Club soda
1 eye droplet of Corned beef extract (corned beef drippings from pan)
1 splash Cabbage water
Corned beef spices and cabbage oak aroma

Shake whiskey, corned beef extract and sour mix with ice. Pour into Collins glass and top with club soda. Smoke corned beef spice blend (bay leaf, black pepper, coriander, salt, mustard seed) with oak chips and present smoke suspended in covered, inverted glass. To serve, remove glass to infuse the air with the smell of corned beef and enjoy!


Review: Knappogue Castle 1994 Master Distiller’s Private Selection Irish Whiskey

We were lucky enough to land one of just 1,100 bottles of Knappogue Castle’s 1994 Master Distiller’s Private Selection Irish whiskey, a single malt Irish — hand numbered and signed by the son of the distillery’s founder, Mark Anders III.

Aged 16 years, it’s hard to imagine this whiskey spent that much time in cask. Very light in body, it’s a pale straw color with just a minimal hint of wood on the nose. Shockingly, the biggest flavor component here is apple — fresh apples, with a touch of banana and bubble gum, both traditional notes for Irish whiskeys.

The finish is light and moderately sweet, with a cane sugar character. Altogether it’s a classic Irish in keeping with Knappogue’s house style, and one that’s well worth seeking out if you can find it. 80 proof.

A- / $99 / knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: Slane Castle Irish Whiskey

It’s not just a drawing on the label of this whiskey. There really is a Slane Castle. It’s even in Ireland, thank the stars.

Slane Castle Irish Whiskey is a new whiskey on our shores, and it’s now becoming available on the eastern seaboard. Created by the good folks at Cooley Distillery, it’s a young blend, traditionally crafted without peat and aged about four years in old bourbon barrels.

The result is a very young whiskey that’s still finding its legs: Lightly sweet, with strong grassy notes and solid wood on the finish. Not very complex, but easy to drink It’s a bit boozy up front, though, a sign of its immaturity and youth. Worth a try if you’re an Irish fan, but nothing you’ll go crazy over.

B+ / $30 / slanecastle.ie

Review: The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes Irish Whiskeys

The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes — in a million years I wouldn’t have come up with a name for a line of whiskey like this one.

This collection of four new Irish whiskeys (named after soldiers forced out of Ireland during hard times) all share a common DNA, but offer some subtle differences when put to the test.

The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes Classic Blend Irish Whiskey – This is a typical Irish blend, offering a clean spirit with a mild palate and minimal complexity. Perfectly palatable, it offers only hints of wood and nutmeg but finishes hot. Not a whole lot to it, but a decent Irish on the whole. 80 proof. B / $38

The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes Rare Irish Whiskey – A considerably smoother whiskey, with smoky notes and a big caramel body. Also hot on the finish, but with spicy layers that mitigate that considerably. 86 proof. A- / $50

The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Constructed of single malt, as the name indicates, this is the most Scotch-like of the bunch, a charcoal-inflected, massively malty Irish with a ton of woodiness to it. Peat character like this is rare in Irish. You’ll do better with a single malt Scotch but this isn’t bad. 86 proof. B+ / $48

The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes Limited Edition Fourth Centennial Irish Whiskey – Celebrating 400 years since the Wild Geese set sail, this is the top shelf expression from the Wild Geese, huge in its body, extremely malty, and with a good amount of citrus in it. The whiskey is mouth-coating, thick and viscous, with honey on the finish. I like it a lot. 86 proof. A- / $67

twgisah.com

Review: Irish Mist Liqueur

By my count the sixth whiskey+honey combo liqueur we’ve discussed on this website, Irish Mist is as old as the hills… but updated and rebranded for the ’10s. The new bottle isn’t going to wow anyone with its uniqueness (hey, flared base!), but what’s inside may do the trick for you.

Of all the honey-flavored liqueurs I’ve tried, Irish Mist is probably the mildest around. It’s Irish whiskey imbued with honey and “natural aromatic spices,” but the flavor is quite muted. A touch of honey, maybe some cinnamon and cloves, all on a very mild whiskey base. It’s kind of surprising that it’s a full 70 proof — but served on the rocks it certainly helps out with ailments of the throat (guilty!).

A bit expensive at $28 a bottle, by the by.

B / $28 / irishmist.com

irish mist

Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

Now appearing with a new (and really, only modestly different) label design (pictured below), today we turn our attentions to Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey, a surprisingly big brand in the Irish business that is a standard in Ireland but less commonly known stateside.

Very traditional, this light-bodied whiskey (the recipe inside is the same as before) offers medium gold hues and a good nose of vanilla. The body is surprisingly creamy, with a nutty vanilla character on the palate, some butterscotch, and an interesting, herbal finish. Overall, it’s simple and easy-drinking, fine on its own or with your favorite mixer. An excellent value, too.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / irishdistillers.ie

powers gold label irish whiskey

Review: Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey

We’ve looked at Michael Collins’ blended Irish before, and now we turn our attention to the distillery’s single malt, presumably a higher class of spirit and one which is winning lots of awards these days in spirits competitions.

On first blush, I found Collins’ single malt hotter than expected, with a distinct alcohol kick at first sip. Drinking it in, you’ll find serious malt the primary characteristic here, backed up with orange and sweet honey notes. Unlike most Irish whiskey, this one uses barley dried over peat smoke fires, giving it a lightly smoky touch, though it’s not really in the forefront of the whiskey. It’s quite a different experience than the blend, which is more stereotypically “Irish” in its composition.

Still, on the whole, this single malt is not overly complicated, despite being aged eight to 12 years in oak, though it’s nonetheless easily drinkable once you get past that initial blast of heat.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / michaelcollinswhiskey.com

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