Review: The Pogues Irish Whiskey

POGUES_BOTTLE_FRONTThey may have the second most famous name in Irish rock ‘n’ roll, but The Pogues are certainly the most notorious. Known for their hard-partying lifestyle in the ‘80s and ‘90s – many of their songs are specifically about drinking – it only makes sense that The Pogues would get their own Irish whiskey brand.

The only problem: The Pogues are now, in part at least, sober. The Daily Beast has an amusing interview with Pogues co-founder Peter “Spider” Stacy, who hasn’t had a drink in 17 years but who was tasked with selecting the ultimate whiskey that would become The Pogues trademark spirit. Made by West Cork Distillers, Stacy describes multiple rounds of tastings (or at least nosings) with his bandmates and says, “Eventually, the one we went for has, I am led to believe, a smooth peatiness.”

It is worth noting that The Pogues Whiskey is not peated.

So what do we have here? All told it’s a young but fairly traditional Irish, made of a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys, bottled in a completely black decanter.

The nose is classically Irish and nostalgic: fresh barley, light honey notes, and a little brown butter. The palate offers few surprises, with lots of toasty, roasted grains, a touch of cloves, and just a little vanilla. The body is very light — almost extremely so — which is of course what most Irish whiskeys are known for, but with The Pogues it’s almost thin to the level of cheesecloth. Pale gold in color, it certainly looks the part, too, a gossamer experience that might fly away if you blew on it hard enough. The finish is quick, almost absent; what’s there focuses on dusty granary notes.

All in all, it’s fair enough as a gimmick whiskey, but nothing anyone would write a song about.

Póg mo thóin!

80 proof.

B- / $33 / thepoguesirishwhiskey.com

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof

1776_RYE_BARREL_PROOFIt’s been three years since we’ve heard of anything new from the James E. Pepper 1776 line of bourbons and ryes, but now the Georgetown Trading Company is back with a new addition to its rye, a cask strength expression.

The 15 year old expressions of 1776 are also bottled at cask strength, but this one, formally known as James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof, is a barrel proof expression of the standard rye, which is currently made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled with no age statement. It is distilled for 1776 in collaboration with the Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana (via Pepper’s production agreement and own supplied cooperage, the company says).

This is a racy, spicy whiskey. The nose offers cayenne and cracked black pepper, burnt (burnt black) sugar, licorice, tobacco, and barrel char. The body is full of youth, which is both a good and a bad thing. Chewy and bready on the body, it’s full of that red pepper heat and pungent green herbs. Some rubberiness here and there, along with a bitter and drying character on the finish. That said, the rye benefits from water as expected, although this brings out more lumberyard overtones along with, at last, some sweetness.

If you like your rye bold and fresh, Pepper 1776 at barrel strength will likely serve you well. For me, its youth is a hindrance, unable to give it the austerity it needs to stand up to all that alcohol.

117.2 proof.

B- / $38  / jamesepepper.com

Review: Coldcock American Herbal Flavored Whiskey

COLDCOCK Herbal Whiskey bottle_whitebackground

Coldcock is the first product from Rick and Sarah Zeiler, marketing veterans of Sidney Frank, the company that made Jagermeister a hit. For their first trick, the Zeilers have gone with a tried-and-true formula: The twentysomething shooter, a category they know a little something about. Alas, many have tried and only one has succeeded at dethroning Jager from its perch in the last couple of decades. Can Coldcock, a 3 year old Kentucky bourbon flavored with herbs and bottled at 35% abv in a black bottle with a fist emblazoned on it, succeed where so many have failed?

Let’s see.

The nose is initially hard to place — brandied cherries come to mind, along with anise and some bitter roots. Over time, the nose becomes a bit salty and sweaty, which I don’t mean in a good way (if there was any confusion). On the palate, the spirit is both sweet and savory in fits and starts, offering an initial rush that runs through the gamut of sweet stuff: simple sugar, Maraschino cherry notes, cinnamon rolls, and gingerbread. It takes a moment, then the “herbal” part of this whiskey comes into focus. Unfortunately that part of the experience is rather flat, with the character of an old canister of dried herbs, dull anise, cooked vegetables, and vague root beer notes.

Coldcock ultimately feels awfully confused about what it wants to be. The most successful aspect is when it tries to be a lightly sweetened, fruit-flavored whiskey with baking spice overtones. But when things extend into the truly “herbal” world, the whiskey loses its footing. I get that Coldcock doesn’t exactly want to emulate Jagermeister (or Fireball) but by landing right in the middle of these two, it may have trouble pleasing either side.

Also it has “cock” in the name.

70 proof.

B- / $20 / coldcockwhiskey.com

Review: Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey

hochstadtersCooper’s Spirits’ Hochstadter’s brand has been gaining notoriety for its Slow & Low “rock and rye” product, but the company makes more whiskey than just this. Witness Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye (also known as Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye and Hochstadter’s Straight Rye), a beautiful blend of five straight ryes sourced from various stills in the U.S. and Canada (aged 4 to 15 years old), and vatted together then bottled unfiltered in Philadelphia.

Light and fragrant, this is one of the prettier ryes you’ll find on the market. The nose offers notes of pink flowers, caramel, and rye-heavy cloves, some chocolate, and just a touch of barrel char.

On the palate, the whiskey adds apple fruit to that caramel, sweet and tart, with just a bit of heat on the back end. Baking spices endure on a lengthy but soothing finish — the whiskey never comes across as overpowering or overblown. Rather, gentle florals continue to waft into your nostrils as the denouement reaches its conclusion, an appropriately gossamer conclusion to one of the best little ryes I’ve seen in a long time.

100 proof.

A- / $35 / hochstadtersvattedrye.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey 15 Years Old 2016

whistlepig 15At this point, it seems like WhistlePig is just going to age its rye forever, releasing a new whiskey each year until the earth burns up and all the whiskey evaporates.

I’m OK with that, as long as the results keep turning out as well as WhistlePig’s generally do.

With this 15 year old spirit, WhistlePig takes its foot a bit off the gas of exotic finishes, ultra-high proof releases, and weird meritage bottlings. This beast (remember this starts out as a 100% rye that was produced in Canada), now 15 years old by the time it hits the bottle, is also finished in a second barrel, but this cask is merely a second new oak barrel made from heavily charred Vermont White Oak harvested on the WhistlePig farm. The finishing time in the Vermont White Oak barrel is just 6 months. Also note that it is considerably lower in alcohol than past offerings: 92 proof vs. 100 proof for the original 10 year old.

The nose presents a quite heavy wood influence, as is to be expected from a second spin in a new oak barrel after 10 years of initial aging. Some black pepper, licorice, and coal dust give it both brashness and austerity. It’s surprisingly reserved in comparison to many other lighter, spicier ryes.

On the palate, WhistlePig 15 presents quite a different face. Sweeter than the nose would indicate, the rye offers a punchy, spice-infused caramel note, slowly moving into notes of dark brown sugar. As the initial rush of sweetness fades, the whiskey offers notes of baking spices, flamed orange peel, and a leathery character that shifts to one of rubber as the finish starts to dissipate. Some bright citrus notes appear here as well.

This isn’t my favorite WhistlePig release, but I like what the company is doing to push the boundaries of rye and show what increasingly well-aged stocks can do. Rye fans should at least give it a whirl.

92 proof.

B+ / $200 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask Irish Whiskey

The name speaks for itself: This lot of 576 bottles of 16 year old, completely sherry-cask-aged whiskey is the first ever single barrel bottling of the Irish single pot still classic, Redbreast. Here’s the gist, straight from the source:

Redbreast Single Cask offers a unique take on Redbreast’s full bodied flavour profile, renowned for its signature Christmas cake character – the result of a strong contribution from Oloroso sherry casks. With just 576 bottles available exclusively through The Whisky Exchange at the recommend selling price of £180, the rare expression is expected to become highly sought after by Irish Whiskey connoisseurs and collectors.

Barrel #30087, the butt that matured Redbreast Single Cask, was crafted in late 1996 at the Antonio Paez Lobato Cooperage in Southern Spain near Jerez, the world’s sherry capital. The cask was then toasted and seasoned with Oloroso sherry for two years at the Páez Morilla Bodega until early 1999, when the cask was shipped to the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, filled with Single Pot Still Irish distillate and laid in warehouse M15A until August 2015 – 16 years and 147 days later.

Only a handful of single casks are selected and bottled at Midleton each year, a process that is overseen by Head Blender Billy Leighton who takes pride in individually nosing each cask to make sure it is at the peak of maturation. Each single cask possesses its own unique flavour character that is inimitable; Redbreast Single Cask #30087 is bottled without chill filtration at 59.9% ABV and offers classic pot still spices with fruit and almond notes, a hint of vanilla and a balanced finish. Cask #30087 was selected by Leighton and The Whisky Exchange team from a choice of two Redbreast single barrel samples in March 2015.

We had the rare opportunity to sample this highly limited release.

The nose offers notes of coffee bean, strong tea, gingerbread, and a heavily nutty, aged sherry character. The body is rich and intense — a far more powerful expression of Redbreast than I’ve encountered to date — offering more of that deep, almost pungent oloroso sherry character, giving the whiskey a character not unlike a Spanish brandy.

That coffee character is what endures the most forcefully, layering on notes of furniture polish, caramelized banana, cloves, and dark chocolate. The finish is as big as everything that has come before, enduring to the point of being epic. Is it conceivable that it’s all a bit too much? You be the judge.

119.8 proof.

A- / $256 / singlepotstill.com

Review: 1792 Single Barrel Bourbon

1792 Single Barrel Bottle

Barton’s 1792 bourbon is on a line expansion tear lately, and it’s newest release is here: 1792 Single Barrel. Like Sweet Wheat and Port Finish, it’s a limited edition so grab it while you can.

Nothing tough to understand about this one: These are standard-production, single barrel offerings, with no other specific information provided. Naturally, only top barrels from Barton are selected for inclusion in this collection.

1792 Single Barrel is surprisingly racy on the nose, with notes of caramel apples, cinnamon, and some barrel char hitting the nose first. On the tongue, the whiskey explodes with sweetness, tempering the fruit with ample baking spice, brown sugar, and some tobacco character. The finish continues the theme of sweetness, tempered with just a touch of bitter cloves to add balance, along with a warming conclusion.

Nothing doing here: This is just good bourbon, plain and simple.

98.6 proof. (No lot/barrel information provided.)

A- / $40 / 1792bourbon.com