Drinking in Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and Teeling Whiskey

Howdy, everyone. Just back from the British Isles, where I spent nearly two weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland, two of the lands whose names are inexorably linked with the world of whiskey. This is the second of two travel pieces on major drinking attractions across the pond — this one focusing specifically on the city of Dublin.

Ireland boasts a handful of distilleries, but they are spread all around the island and visiting them takes quite a bit of doing. We devoted our time in Ireland largely to Dublin (with one day trip to the countryside by bus), but you can do a lot of boozy exploration without having to venture far from the city center.

In addition to a wealth of pubs and whiskey bars, Dublin boasts at least three attractions dedicated to drink. I skipped one of them, the “Old Jameson Distillery,” which is really just a museum and not a working still. Locals regard it as a tourist trap, so I focused on these two spots, both of which I heartily recommend visiting.

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is the home of Guinness, and the Guinness Storehouse is the mecca for all fans of this archetypal stout. Yes it is chock full of tourists. Yes it is still well worth visiting.

The Storehouse is part museum, part experience, located adjacent to the brewery itself, which is a massive sprawling area that spans a couple of city blocks. Inside the Storehouse you’ll access a multi-story tour about how Guinness is made, and your ticket will also get you at least a pint or two of Guinness to enjoy while you’re making the rounds. The top floor, called the Gravity Bar, boasts panoramic views of all of Dublin. It’s extremely crowded, though; better to spend your time in the bar two stories below, where you are taught how to pour the perfect pint — and get to pull one for yourself to test your skills.

True enthusiasts will want to upgrade to the Connoisseur VIP experience, which comprises a 90-minute tasting of all of Guinness’s major versions worldwide, including a history lesson and a deep dive into the company that you won’t get from the standard tour. After the tasting, you’re set loose behind the bar — and when it’s all over you get to pick your favorite bottling to take with you on the road. Feel free to take it up to one of the three restaurants and enjoy it with your lunch — the Beef and Guinness Stew was one of the best I had during my time there.

Bottom line: Whether you like Guinness or not, don’t miss this experience.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Jack Teeling is an official Friend of Drinkhacker, and his distillery — the first to operate in Dublin since 1976 — just opened for visitors in May. Teeling Whiskey Company is still building out its tourist experience, but visitors are welcome to take a brief tour and taste some of the company’s products. At present, everything Teeling is bottling is sourced from other distilleries, but you can watch new-make spirit being produced now. Eventually this juice running from these stills will comprise the core of the Teeling product line.

We had a private tour with Jack and master distiller Alex Chasko, where we tasted Teeling’s standard lineup — widely available in every bar in Dublin — and some of its very rare limited edition releases. My hands-down favorite: The 26 Year Old Single Malt, which is finished in white burgundy casks for three years, an elegant whiskey that showcases the delicacy of Irish by infusing it with florals, gentle heather, and light citrus fruit notes. The fragrant, white flower finish almost makes you forget about the €450 price tag.

Also on hand at the tasting was one of the first bottlings of Teeling’s new Single Malt Single Cask offering. Seven different casks are being bottled — with different wood types and different age statements — and I managed to bring one home for a formal review. Stay tuned — and make sure you tell Teeling I sent you if you drop by.

Don’t miss the first part of this travelogue… Scotland!

Travel: Touring Scotch Whisky Distilleries in Speyside, Scotland

The trouble with drinking whisky in Scotland is the regret you experience the moment you get home. No matter how long you spend there and how much you purchase, by the time you get back to the States you wish you’d tasted and brought home more than you did. The vastness of malt whisky options available to residents and visitors to the UK is impossible to overstate. Even the humblest of pubs is likely to have 100 or so bottles on the shelf, a few of which you will never even have heard of. At major whisky meccas like Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and inns in the heart of Speyside, it isn’t unusual to see 500 Scotch whiskies on the back bar — or rather jammed into every corner of the place. Each night at the Quaich bar in the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside I got to ogle whiskies, just sitting on shelves next to the armchairs, that retail for $4000 or $5000 a bottle. Of course, it’s the ones I was able to sample that I will remember forever.

And so it is that I return to you, my bags stuffed with liters of whisky but my heart left in Scotland, following a pilgrimage I’ve wanted to make for the better part of a decade.

Visiting distilleries in Scotland isn’t difficult, but you’ll want to plan your trip carefully to make the most of your time there. With this post, I want to share some tips and advice if you decide to venture to see Scotland’s stills for yourself, along with commentary about each of the distilleries I visited.

For starters, unless you have a week or more to spend here and can cover multiple areas, you’ll want to pick a region to focus on. For some, Islay and its smoky malts is the place to be — and I’m told there’s really nothing else at all to do there except drink whisky. For others, its Speyside, which is where I spent four solid days.

Speyside is a great choice for visiting for a lot of reasons. First, some of the best whisky in the world is made here, so you’ll have endless opportunities to sample lovely malts. Second, the central location makes it relatively easy to get to. (Fly into Aberdeen, then drive about 80 minutes.) Third, and most importantly, Speyside boasts about half the distilleries in Scotland. From a base in Craigellachie, you’re about 15 miles from 40 or 50 distilleries, and more if you venture 25 or 30 miles away.

Not all distilleries are open to visitors, so keep that in mind when planning your trip by researching them in advance, and many require you book in advance if you want a tour. Don’t overlook this step, as you don’t want to venture 5000 miles to Scotland only to find out that the tours for the week are all booked.

Lastly, and this is where I blew it a little, note that many if not most Scottish distilleries shut down for a month or two in the summer, usually starting in early July. This is called the “silent season,” and it’s a period when the distilleries are repaired, upgraded, cleaned, and otherwise worked on. The stills can’t operate during the silent season, so many are indeed very quiet. That’s not that big a deal — you’ve see one mash tun, you’ve seen ’em all — but the bigger problem is that with all that construction you often can’t even venture into the stillhouses or other parts of the distillery because they’re closed off as a safety precaution. Despite all that, July is still a heavy tourism month for Scotland and most everyone is still operating a tour of some kind even during the shutdown. Just bear in mind you might not see everything you could if you were there, say, in the middle of winter.

As I mentioned above, we chose the Craigellachie Hotel as our base. This is a lovely place to stay — though the Wi-Fi is pants — with a perfect location, nice rooms, and solid dining in the Copper Dog restaurant below. The breakfast options (included) are amazing — and nothing beats a full Scottish to prime the pump before heading out to the distilleries. The Quaich Bar makes for a perfect nightly ritual, too.

So let’s get on to the distilleries. Here they are, in the order I visited them.

The Glenrothes

The Glenrothes is not open to the public, so it’s perhaps not fair to start here, since you can’t actually visit. But Ronnie Cox really set the stage for a memorable time here, treating us to a tour of the Rothes House — the spiritual home of parent company Berry Bros. and Rudd (literally, the town minister used to live there) — plus lunch and an in-depth tour of the distillery. Capped off by a deep dive into the Glenrothes spirit archives, our time included discussions about the geology and history of Speyside, a stroll through the (no longer haunted) Glenrothes cemetery, and even the raising of the U.S. flag in honor of my visit. I couldn’t have asked for a better host than Cox, and he really set a high bar for the other distillery visits we had in store.

Cardhu

Cardhu was a last-minute addition to our trip after some scheduling hiccups at another distillery, but it was a nice one to visit because it was actually up and running. Cardhu mostly ends up in blends, not single malts, but the tasting did include three single malts from the distillery, each made in a slightly different style. Higher-end tastings are available for an additional fee. The nosing challenge (where you try to ID what’s in a series of sealed containers) is particularly fun.

Aberlour

Aberlour’s tour was one of the more unique ones, with a distillery that includes a look at some rare parts of the facility, including the funky biologically-powered tanks that process the waste product from the stills and turn it back into water which can be returned to the river. The tour is concluded with a very nice, sit-down tasting that lets you sample the full range of Aberlour products, including distillery-only releases.

Macallan

Macallan is in the midst of a massive expansion. In two years there will be a whole new visitor’s center here. Our visit to the estate began with lunch at Easter Elchies House, a historic home on the property that you can find on the label of Macallan whiskies. After lunch, a tour takes you through every aspect of production — and includes a very well-done museum-style exhibit on the various types of wood that the distillery uses. For whisky newcomers, consider Macallan as an excellent first stop in order to aid with education. Following the tour (sadly, photos were off limits in many buildings) we sat down to a private tasting that started with the Fine Oak 21 Year Old and went deeper from there. Macallan saved the best for last, though: A sampling of the 1979 Gran Reserva, a long-off-the-market bottling that spent 18 years in first-fill sherry casks. This beautiful but incredibly intense whisky really showcases what sherry aging can do, and it was the perfect way to cap off the day.

Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich is a massive operation, with 47 warehouses full of whisky on the property. Our tour guide, Fergus, led us on a private tour of the facilities — again, some areas off limits and many with no photos allowed — which included some fascinatingly fun times. A stop at a warehouse to try to identify — simply by smelling the casks — which of three whiskies was in an ex-sherry barrel was much tougher than you think, and the chance to see Glenfiddich’s Solera vat, from which its famed 15 year old is drawn, was a unique experience. Of course, a major highlight of the trip was dropping our own “dog” into our choice of Glenfiddich barrel — first-fill or refill, sherry or bourbon — to bring home our own, bespoke, single-cask selection. We ended the day at Glenfiddich with a tasting of rare bottlings, including the 21 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum Cask, the red wine barrel-finished Age of Discovery (third edition), and the oddball 26 Year Old Excellence. Very different whiskies, and each memorable in its own way. Again, a highly recommended tour especially for newcomers to Scotch.

Benromach

All good things must come to an end, and we wound up our time in the Highlands at Benromach, which is about 30 miles north of the heart of Speyside, near the Moray Firth on the coast. Benromach is younger and smaller than all of the other distilleries we visited, and it operates under the ownership of famed indie bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. We dropped by on the road to the city of Inverness, the gateway to Loch Ness. Benromach was a great place to stop because it was in production, there are no crowds, and unlike the distilleries in the heart of Speyside, it uses a bit of peated malt in its production. This was a very casual tour — we asked for an expedited visit due to a time crunch — but the staff was friendly and accommodating and really distilled the operation well despite our shortened visit. We’ll have a full review of the newly released Benromach 15 Year Old in short order.

Thanks to all my new friends in Scotland for taking care of us ugly Americans! See also our coverage of drinking in Dublin, Ireland.

Review: 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

1792 Sweet Wheat Bottle

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon has long been a well-respected but widely overlooked part of the Buffalo Trace stable, which is understandable since it’s made at its own facility, Barton 1792, quite a ways away from the thriving Buffalo Trace headquarters.

But BT is breathing some new life into 1792 with this, the first of what is planned to be a series of new, limited edition expressions of 1792.

1792 Sweet Wheat is a wheated bourbon, aged eight years at the Bardstown facility. (The standard 1792 uses rye.) Fret not about flavorings or added sugar. There’s nothing overly “sweet” about the whiskey beyond the house style of the whiskey itself; the sugars are derived from standard barrel aging the same way they are in any other straight whiskey.

1792 Sweet Wheat starts off not with sugar but with lumberyard notes; the nose is surprisingly forward with wood, tempered with tropical notes and a touch of peach. On the palate, it’s not especially sweet either, offering notes of tinned fruit, coconut, cinnamon, ample vanilla, and some gingerbread notes coming up the rear. There’s ample wood structure here, giving the whiskey some tannin — and tempering the sugars — which is actually a bit of a disappointment considering the name of the spirit. Give it a little air and things open up in time — the chewy cinnamon bun of a finish is worth waiting for — but otherwise there’s not that much to get too excited about.

91.2 proof.

B / $33 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon 22 Years Old

BB22_BOTTLE_NOGLASS_White

When we first reviewed the entry-level Blade and Bow a few months ago, we noted that a second expression existed with a whopping 22 year old age statement. It wasn’t available to us at the time, but now we’ve obtained samples and can cover it in full.

As a refresher, it’s a wholly different bourbon than the “base” Blade and Bow, but like the entry-level bottling it also exists primarily as an homage to the original Stitzel-Weller Distillery. The production information reads like this: “Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old Limited Release Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of whiskeys distilled at both the distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky. and the distillery historically located in at 1001 Wilkinson Blvd. in Frankfort, Ky. The limited release offering was most recently aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. At 92-proof, you can purchase a 750ml bottle for $149.99.”

At 22 years of age, this expression of Blade and Bow drinks like a well-matured — but not overdone — bourbon. Nosing the spirit, the sawdust and vanilla notes at the start are to be expected — but then things quickly push into citrus and peppermint oil. As it hits the palate, buttery caramel washes over the tongue first, followed by notes of cracked black pepper, crushed red fruit, and a touch of citrus oil — particularly evident on the surprisingly fruity finish. There’s plenty of wood throughout, but it’s kept in check. Plenty of heat, too, but it’s just shy of needing water to temper things. The finish is clean and inviting, and it demands continuous exploration deeper and deeper into the glass

Blade and Bow 22 Years Old is a limited edition expression that won’t be with us for long (and will likely command much higher prices than the one suggested below), but I’m not afraid to recommend that serious bourbon fans get to work seeking out a bottle for their collection.

92 proof.

A / $150 / diageo.com

Review: Westland American Single Malt, Sherry Wood, and Peated Whiskey

westland sherry woodAmerican single malt whiskeys get a bad rap, and that’s usually for a good reason: Many of them are borderline undrinkable.

Seattle-based Westland is trying to change that perception with it offerings, all single malts, and all produced in the style of their Scottish inspirations. Westland makes its whiskeys from five different malts, including a base made from Washington state barley. They’re clearly made with care and conviction — and watch out for the various single cask releases (generally bottled at cask strength) that hit the market periodically.

None have age statements. All are 92 proof. Thoughts follow.

Westland American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in new American oak casks. Surprisingly supple from the start, with a gentle nose of fresh malt and cereal, black pepper, a bit of lumberyard, and fresh mint. The palate is mild, again surprisingly so, offering notes of baking spices, especially cloves and ginger, then more wood and a butterscotch-driven finish. It drinks like a young Scotch, nothing over-complicated, but balanced and approachable. A nice surprise. B+ / $70  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Westland Sherry Wood American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in American oak casks used for Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry. This ought to be a killer combination, but the sherry doesn’t really elevate the spirit appreciably. Here the nose is overwhelmed by burnt sugar and toffee notes, plus a touch of scorched citrus. On the tongue, it’s surprisingly malty, almost chewy, with notes of graham cracker plus a mushroomy character on the back end. While the sherry element is tangible on the nose, it doesn’t really translate completely to the palate. B / $70

Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in a variety of used American oak and sherry casks. Modestly peated, this would be an appropriate introduction to this smoky style of whiskeymaking. The nose has a bit of a menthol edge to it, perhaps a remnant of the original spirit’s minty edge. The palate is mild with smoke, more barbecue than coal fire, with overtones of red fruit and cloves. The smoke lingers, but not for long, making for a pleasant and gentle winter warmer that doesn’t require an extreme amount of deep thought. B+ / $70  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

westlanddistillery.com

Review: WhistlePig “Old World” Rye Whiskey 12 Years Old 2015

whistlepig old world

Every year WhistlePig — the acclaimed 100% rye whiskey — puts out a special edition. For the last three of those years the whiskey has been a spin on the original WhistlePig, generally getting older every year and/or bottled from a single barrel. For 2015, WhistlePig has something different in store: A whiskey that’s been finished in a variety of wine barrels.

WhistlePig has been experimenting with a variety of finishing barrels for its rye for a few months; I’ve never tasted any of them but they are still available in very limited release. Old World (aka Old World Marriage) marks the conclusion of those experiments — and unlike the finishing barrel releases it is a permanent addition to the WhistlePig lineup. The finished release is a blend of finished whiskeys: 63% from Madeira finished barrels, 30% Sauternes finished, and 7% Port finished. The whiskies inside are not 100% rye but rather 95% rye and 5% malted barley. (These spirits are also sourced from MGP in Indiana, not from Canada, which is where the prior WhistlePig bottlings are produced.) There’s no information available on the length of the finishing — but the whiskey inside is 12 years old. Of special note: While the individual Old World finished whiskeys were bottled at 90 proof, this one hits the bottle at a slightly lower 86 proof.

The experience is considerably different from the standard WhistlePig bottling. There’s tons of astringency and heat on the nose here — that’s nothing new — but give all that a little time to blow off before diving in. What emerges are distinctly winey aromas coming directly from those barrel finishes. No surprise that the Madeira leads the way, offering those oxidized wine notes plus dark chocolate, salted caramel, and some pungent rhubarb character. On the palate, it’s easily drinkable without water, the whiskey offers a complex array of flavors that starts off with golden syrup and bright citrus (the Sauternes influence, perhaps), then fades toward roasted grains, chocolate (here comes the Port…), and the winey notes that the Madeira drives.

WhistlePig is a textbook rye, all grain, lumber, and baking spices, but this expression takes the spirit in a whole new direction. Definitely worth seeking out, even if you’re just curious from a novelty factor perspective.

A- / $130 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Tamdhu Batch Strength Single Malt Whisky

TAMDHU_BATCH_STRENGTH_HIGH_RESThe newly revived Tamdhu Distillery is back with its second expression, this time an overproof whisky known (curiously) as Batch Strength. Aged entirely in sherry casks (predominantly first-fill) for an unstated amount of time, it is bottled at cask strength.

The nose offers rich cereal, caramel, and notes of grilled fruits. On the body, heavy alcohol notes make an immediate impression before some fresh, sweet citrus hits the palate. Water helps considerably, bringing out clear notes of clover honey, orange juice, banana, and cinnamon notes. Some sweet breakfast cereal notes linger on the juicy finish. Without a little tempering, Tamdhu Batch Strength is a bit too racy for easy analysis, but when brought down to a more manageable level it starts to show off more of its charms. Definitely worth a look.

117.6 proof.

B+ / $90 / tamdhu.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #8 – Speyside 1991, Invergordon 1984, Balmenach 2007, North Highland 1995, Irish 2002, and Laphroaig 2005

exclusive malts

It’s quite a mixed bag in The Exclusive Malts’ latest batch, which includes a single grain release, two unnamed distillery releases and — a first for The Exclusive — an Irish whiskey release. With this batch I’m excited to announce that received the entire lineup to review, 6 whiskeys in total. Quality is all over the map. Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1991 23 Years Old – This mystery Speyside whisky was distilled in 1991, but no other production information is offered. It appears to be bourbon-cask-aged all the way, starting off with almost pungent boozy/grainy notes on the nose. Lightly medicinal on the tongue, the palate ventures into dense wood, a touch of coal dust, and some pastoral notes. Perfectly drinkable, but surprisingly simplistic. 102.6 proof. B / $160

The Exclusive Malts Invergordon 1984 30 Years Old – This is a single grain whisky, distilled in the Highlands near Dornoch Firth and aged in a refill oak hogshead. There’s lots of granary character on the nose with this one, then notes of orange peel, clove, and some occasionally intense lumberyard notes. The key component though, is the grain — racy, chewy, and full of cloves and allspice. It’s a hot whisky that takes some time to settle down, but once it does it reveals some charm. Whether that merits the supports the price tag is another question. 104.6 proof. B+ / $200

The Exclusive Malts Balmenach 2007 8 Years Old – Slightly pink, a clear sign that this is a Port-matured whisky. The Speyside-based Balmenach is primarily used for blending, so this is a real rarity. Unfortunately that doesn’t amount to a particularly special spirit; youth is still having its way with this bottling, which is heavy with granary notes and an almost musty, funky edge. Hospital notes mingle with raw wood notes, coffee grounds, and mushroom… a bit of a mess, ultimately. 105.2 proof. C+ / $79

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1995 20 Years Old – Another mystery malt, sherry matured from somewhere in the north Highlands. (Note that labels may just read “Highland,” not “North Highland.”) Rich with citrusy sherry notes on the nose, the nose here also showcases notes of walnut, coffee, and a not insignificant amount of tar. No slouch in the body department, the palate is pushy with notes of menthol, burnt orange, matchstick heads, and ash. There’s fruit up front — figs, plums, and citrus — but the fade in to this melange of more savory notes is quick and a bit unforgiving. 109.2 proof. B- / $135

The Exclusive Malts Irish Whiskey 2002 13 Years Old – Distilled near the northern border of Ireland at an unnamed distillery (which sounds like Locke’s/Kilbeggan based on the description). It’s quite a lovely expression of Irish, beginning with rich honey and caramel notes before delving headlong into butter toffee, butterscotch, and milk chocolate. There’s just a touch of grain on the back end, a nod toward the rolling hills of Ireland. Supple and sweet, this whiskey isn’t overcomplicated but it offers an intensity and richness that is rare in the typically light-bodied world of Irish. Cask strength certainly helps with that. Gorgeous. 108.4 proof. A / $106

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 10 Years Old – Last but not least, we close with young, peaty, cask strength Laphroaig. No surprises here, with gentle peat smoke and barbecue notes kicking things off on the nose, and a body that blends smoke with citrus, petrol, licorice, and dried herbs. Lots of character from the Laphroaig playbook here, but fans will find the high proof expression worth exploring. 108.4 proof. B+ / $146

impexbev.com

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from Nasa Liquor

Four Roses private barrel offerings are invariably fun to find and taste, and this selection from Nasa Liquor, a shop in Houston, Texas, is no exception.

This is an OESF Four Roses (20% rye, made with Four Roses’ “herbal” yeast), aged 10 years, 2 months. This is a slightly younger expression of the 2014 Single Barrel, which was an amazing release.

Nasa’s private selection is an amazingly sweet and surprisingly fruity expression of Four Roses. It starts on the nose: Butterscotch candies, candied apples, and vanilla caramels abound. More raw wood character emerges on the nose in time, and left in the glass for a while it will overpower the more dessert-like elements of the whiskey.

On the palate, the vanilla is astonishing at first, intense with notes of fresh creme brulee. Again, sip and reflect and you’ll find juicy raisin notes and some mint chocolate, particularly on the finish. It doesn’t drink especially hot, despite the barrel strength, but a touch of water does help to bring out more of the chocolate elements along with some cracked pepper notes.

There are more than a few similarities between this whiskey and the 2014 Single Barrel linked above, but that general bottling is a bit hotter and coaxes out a bit more wood on the back end. Kissing cousins, for sure, but both are great exemplars of Four Roses single barrel bottlings.

111 proof.

A / $59 / facebook.com/nasaliquor1

Review: Grand Macnish Six Cask Edition

Grand Macnish 6 Cask_btThis new blended malt from Grand Macnish includes whisky from six single malts — one each from the Highlands, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, Lowlands, and the Islands — and is designed to capture the very essence of Scotland in a single bottle. Note that this is a blended malt, with no grain whiskey in it. Most of Grand Macnish’s offerings are standard, blended whiskies.

On tasting, it’s quite a light style of whisky, malty on the nose with notes of sweet barbecue sauce, cinnamon, and lots of biscuity cereal notes. On the palate, very mild citrus emerges along with some butterscotch, chocolate, some raisin, and a touch of fig. The body is minimalistic, almost to the point of being watery, but it’s nonetheless surprisingly effective at getting its flavor across. The finish returns to the cereal notes, with just a wisp of smoke (hi there, Islay), coal dust, and heather.

Those looking for a complex whisky probably won’t find much of interest here, but for an everyday blended malt it has a lot more going on than you might expect.

80 proof.

B+ / $32 / macduffint.co.uk