Review: The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Ready for a new Irish that isn’t a special release of something from Jameson? Read on!

The Sexton is a made in the North Coast of Ireland (at Bushmills, surely, as the two brands have the same ownership, the company Proximo), and is made from a 100% malted barley mash that is triple distilled in copper pots and aged for four years in first, second and third fill Oloroso sherry butts. The master blender is Alex Thomas, one of few females employed in the whiskey world that are masters of anything (i.e. distilling or blending).

The bottle itself is also worth special note: It’s a squat, black hexagonal decanter (“sexton,” get it?) that is quite striking. Whoever gives out awards for booze packaging should take immediate notice of The Sexton.

As for what’s inside, perhaps owing to some of its unconventional production, this is indeed a rather unusual expression of Irish whiskey, even for a single malt. The nose is immediately a bit weedy, quite green and vegetal, but undercut with notes of savory spices — think rosemary, not cloves — and a slightly nutty, winey character. Give it some time, and the green character will fade a bit.

On the palate, the whiskey is more straightforward and quite charming. Bold nougat and spice notes round out a palate rich with nutty almond, toasty malt, and hints of cocoa powder, which linger far longer than expected. The finish sees some more of that winey character hanging about, which, along with the nutty elements, is the only real indication that this has been aged in sherry casks.

All told, this is an Irish that drinks more like a young single malt Scotch than almost any other Irish whiskey I can think of. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, well, is up to you.

By the way, that bottle may look cool, but it splashes pretty badly when you pour from it. Use caution.

80 proof.

B+ / $28 /

Review: Green Spot Chateau Montelena

It has been almost four years since we reviewed the original Green Spot and celebrated its arrival in the U.S., a single pot still whiskey which we lauded for its bold, balanced flavor. With time and universal acclaim, the makers of Green Spot have sought to offer new products. The last one, Green Spot finished in Bordeaux casks was quite nice, but didn’t really improve on the original whiskey. The newest product is this gem, made with Green Spot whiskey (which for starters is aged in ex-bourbon and sherry casks) that is finished for a year in Chateau Montelena zinfandel wine casks.

Tasting notes follow.

On the nose, this whiskey is identifiable as being born from the original Green Spot, showing banana, vanilla, honey, marshmallow, and cereal grains, but the zinfandel casks add some cherry sweetness which integrates well with the other notes. The palate is exceptional, offering fruity berries and honey that turn to dry marshmallow as the wood develops. Spicy notes assert themselves as the flavor progresses further, leading to a finish that is fairly long and shows off the chocolate malt balls that appear in the original. The whiskey finally fades without ever turning bitter.

Green Spot Chateau Montelena is a great spin on an already great whiskey, the use of zinfandel casks managing to add elements to the whole without disrupting the balance that marks the original Irish whiskey.

A / $95 /

Review: West Cork Glengarriff Series – Peat Charred Cask and Bog Oak Charred Cask

West Cork Distillers is a relatively little-known Irish whiskey producer (as of yet). Why might that change? Because, in addition to a baseline of Irish whiskeys, it also produces some oddball rarities, including these new limited releases: Glengarriff Series Peat Charred Cask and Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask are single malts aged in sherry casks that are then finished in special barrels that have been charred with a particular type of fuel, in this case, peat and bog oak (or, trees pulled out of bogs).

Wacky idea, but let’s here a bit more:

West Cork Distillers, in partnership with its U.S. importer M.S. Walker, has today announced the upcoming Limited Release of the Glengarriff Collection of Irish whiskeys. These special release whiskeys are single malts aged in Sherry Casks and then finished for 6 months in barrels that have been charred using fuel sources obtained from the iconic Glengarriff Forest in Southern Ireland. West Cork uses a proprietary charring device built by the distillery with the guidance of a local fifth-generation blacksmith.

Each of these two whiskeys will retail for $45 throughout the United States, and only 4,800 bottles are available. In Spring 2018, the Glengarriff series will add two new marks to the collection – Glengarriff Cherry Charred Cask and Glengarriff Apple Charred Cask.

We received both the Glengarriff Series Peat Charred Cask and Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask for review; thoughts follow. Both are bottled at 86 proof.

West Cork Glengarriff Series Peat Charred Cask – Moderately smoky on the nose, with a distinct peatiness. The palate is sherry-sweet and a bit cloying, chewy at times with notes of overripe fruit, banana, and a gummy but dust-laden texture on the back end. It’s like a young Islay Scotch that’s been blended up with some old applesauce, though from time to time, that smoke-meets-fruit combination works a bit better than you might think. B-

West Cork Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask – A light smokiness on the nose, with a heavy meatiness weighing it down. The aroma reminds me of a very young bourbon mixed with Islay scotch — which is to say, a bit weird. On the palate, the whiskey takes on the tone of country ham, slightly sweetened, with a sort of prune-like character at times. The finish is again smoky, almost ashy, with a drying earthiness that hints at tanned leather. Balanced it ain’t. B-

each $45 /

Review: Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition Irish Whiskey

It seems like just yesterday that Jameson’s first Caskmates release — an Irish whiskey finished in stout barrels — hit our desk. Now the second of the Caskmates line has arrived: Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition.

Before you get too carried away, know that IPA stands for Irish Pale Ale, though to be honest there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between that and a more typical India Pale Ale. And structurally, the whiskey is crafted in much the same way as the original Caskmates Stout Edition.

Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition is created using the same process established with Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition, the original whiskey and beer collaboration. Starting with barrels from the Midleton distillery, the local Irish brewery receives the propriety oak whiskey barrels to be filled with their local craft IPA. Once the IPA has imparted its crisp citrus notes, the barrels are sent back to Jameson to be reused to finish Jameson Original, creating Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition. As a result of time spent in the IPA barrels, Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition enhances the smooth taste of Jameson with a crisp, hoppy finish.

While the original Caskmates was perhaps a bit of a letdown, without much of a clear stout character to differentiate it from rack Jameson, Caskmates IPA is a completely different animal. The nose alone is a wildly different experience: Immediately, notes of pine needles are just the start, as elements of bitter dark chocolate, grapefruit peel, raspberry syrup, and torched creme brulee all emerge from the glass. In time, some more floral elements percolate from this melange. None of this is typical of Irish whiskey, of course, and it’s indicative of the impact that time in the IPA barrel has had on the spirit.

The palate is actually less unique than the nose, with notes of rich honey syrup, lemon peel, and a straightforward hoppiness hitting first. As the body develops, so does a silky salted caramel character that folds a soothing element into an otherwise spicy attack. The finish is lightly hoppy, with notes of spicy black pepper, but also a supple vanilla caramel note that endures beyond them all.

Wow, what to make of this wild whiskey? It is incredibly, surprisingly complex, unexpected, and original — and yet it there’s a balance to all that indicates an impressive level of astuteness that went into planning and executing this unique barrel treatment.

Beer and a shot? Now you can get them both in one bottle. Well done.

80 proof.

A / $30 /

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish Irish Whiskey

Here’s an interesting variant from Tullamore D.E.W.: Cider Cask Finish, now available in the U.S. on a seasonal basis (in and around the fall — sorry, we’re a bit late with the writeup). Previously available in Ireland and Travel Retail, the D.E.W. folks say this is “the first whiskey to be finished in hard apple cider casks.” Seems impossible, but who really knows?

To produce Cider Cask, Tullamore D.E.W. small-batch ferments fresh-pressed Irish apple juice into cider in oak casks, before refilling the casks with its signature Irish whiskey. “As the cider ferments, the tart yet sweet notes infuse the bourbon casks, creating a layered complexity of nose and taste in the finished whiskey,” notes John Quinn, Global Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W.

The whiskey spends about three months in the finishing cask before bottling.

The results are pretty interesting.

For starters, the expected: Apples, and plenty of ’em. The nose has an applejack quality to it, lightly astringent with some hospital notes, a bit of dark chocolate, brown sugar, and a vague savory character lurking in the background. On the palate, the apples burst fully to life on the palate, starting with a rush of Red Delicious and slowly fading into more brown sugar plus a sprinkle of apple pie spices. As the finish builds, it’s malty and a bit doughy, but the spice element builds further, offering both cinnamon and a little red pepper. Give it some time to open up in glass and the fruit elements pop even more clearly.

Tullamore D.E.W. is consistently underrated, particularly in its special edition and age statemented whiskeys. Cider Cask is one of its more unusual — and particularly worthwhile — recent releases.

80 proof.

A- / $40 (1 liter) /

Review: Egan’s Single Grain Irish Whiskey Vintage Grain 2009

In 2013, Egan’s Single Malt hit the market as a new Irish whiskey brand. Now Egan’s is out with a second offering, a single grain. Unlike the Single Malt, Egan’s Single Grain doesn’t merely carry an age statement — this is an eight year old, though that’s not stated in exactly those terms on the label. Rather, it is vintage-dated, indicating both the year of distillation and the year of bottling, in this case 2009 and 2017, respectively. If things go according to plan, this will be the first in a series of vintage-dated releases.

Egan’s Single Grain 2009 offers a less familiar nose than most single grains, which can often be heavy with cereal and mushroom notes. This whiskey is actually much lighter, delicate with floral notes and a restrained cereal core, gently sweetened and lightly earthy, a complex web of aromas in what is normally a rather simple undertaking.

On the palate, again the experience is elevated over the typical single grain. The body is light on its feet and bright with honey notes and hints of green table grapes. As the palate develops, the granary character builds, but here those notes are sweeter than expected, with brown sugar and some lingering baking spice notes adding complexity. The finish is warming but not hot, just about perfect, actually, working wonderfully as a straight winter sipper that merits some serious exploration.

This is a huge surprise to be sure, but all told, it’s one of the best single grains on the market — from any region, and at any age.

92 proof.

A- / $45 /

Review: Jameson The Blender’s Dog Irish Whiskey

Jameson began its Whiskey Makers Series with last year’s lackluster The Cooper’s Croze (celebrating the impact of wood and the barrel on its whiskey) with this second release in the trilogy: The Blender’s Dog. For those not steeped in whiskey lore, the dog doesn’t represent a furry friend but rather a long copper tube that blenders use to dip into casks of whiskey to retrieve the spirit for sampling. Why is it called the dog? Because it never leaves your side, and it’s a man’s best friend, of course.

The Blender’s Dog honors Jameson’s Head Blender, Billy Leighton, though there’s no real information provided about how this release was blended any differently than standard Jameson (except that both bourbon and sherry barrels are used).

Nevertheless, let’s see if we can’t figure that out.

On the whole this is more expressive than your typical bottle of Jameson, differing in quite a few ways. Let’s start with the nose: Here we find a lot going on. Oily wood, a mix of fresh fruits, some floral hints, and a heavily-toasted grain note running through all of it. It’s engaging but surprising — a bolder approach to Irish than most will be used to.

The palate is effusive with fruit, right from the start. Bursting with citrus (lots of lime), banana, and bubble gum, it starts off sweet and builds on that with notes of orange and persimmon. As the palate develops, the whiskey runs to honey, then red raspberry, before leading to a surprising chocolate note that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The finish has more of a bite than I’d expected, slightly vegetal at times but decidedly Irish.

Good stuff.

86 proof.

A- / $70 /