Review: Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old (2017)

This is our third go-round with Knappogue Castle’s entry-level bottling, a 12 year old Irish single malt. (See also 2010 and 2014 reviews.) The labeling has changed since our last encounter — but judging from our review, not much appears to be different inside the bottle since ’14.

Some fresh thoughts follow.

Quite malty on the nose, the cereal notes settle down to reveal some dusky cloves along with notes of baked apples, giving it a lively dessert-like character. The palate remains on the youthful side, but the spice is more up front here, with notes of orange peel, coriander, and more cloves leading toward a bolder mid-palate that hints at coconut and pineapple. The finish remains grain-focused, but not overwhelmingly so, with enough sweetness to temper would could otherwise be rather bready.

80 proof.

B / $42 / knappoguewhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old

Looking for an Irish whiskey that tastes like it could be from Scotland? Tyrconnell’s 16 year old single malt is just the thing to do the trick. It helps of course that it’s a double-distilled, single malt whiskey with ample age on it — all from bourbon barrels — and that it’s bottled with a bit more alcohol than usual, at 46% abv. Like all Tyrconnell releases, this limited edition bottling is made at the Cooley Distillery.

The nose is rich with toasty cereal notes and a surprising amount of fruit — so much so that I thought there might be some sherry cask aging involved. While some orange notes are present, on the whole it’s less citrus and more stone fruit, with big apple aromas and a healthy vanilla component. On the palate, the whiskey is lush and incredibly drinkable, with loads of malt leading to a bold melange of spice, vanilla, and a squeeze of orange peel. The finish features cola notes, plus some chocolate to take you the rest of the way into dessert.

All told: Beautiful, rich, and a pleasure to drink.

92 proof.

A / $100 / kilbeggandistillingcompany.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

San Francisco’s WhiskyFest seemed as popular as ever this year, kicked off with the stampede to the Pappy Van Winkle booth that always marks the start of the show.

As always, there was plenty to enjoy at this year’s event — both new expressions and classic old friends ready for tasting. Here’s a full rundown on everything I tried.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

Scotch

Alexander Murray & Co. The Monumental Blend 18 Years Old / B+ / a touch hot for a blend
Alexander Murray & Co. Braes of Glenlivet Distillery 1994 21 Years Old / B+ / bold, spicy, with lots of oak
Alexander Murray & Co. Strathmill Distillery 1992 24 Years Old / B+ / lots of nougat, more granary note than expected; citrus on the back end
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1990 26 Years Old / B+ / earthy and unusual, big wet mineral notes
Alexander Murray & Co. Linkwood Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / a bit simple
Alexander Murray & Co. Glenlossie Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / old bread notes dominate
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1988 28 Years Old Cask Strength / B+ / overpowering sherry, but ample fruit
Bruichladdich Black Art 5 / B / sugar cookie dough, lots of vegetation
Laphroaig 25 Years Old / A+ / drinking absolutely gorgeously today, smoke and sweetness in perfect proportions
Tomatin 1986 / A- / bold cereal and malt notes, challah bread; cherry on the back
The Macallan Classic Cut / A- / the first cask strength Macallan in the U.S. in four years; bold and punchy; honeyed
Compass Box Phenomenology / A- / a mystery blend of five whiskeys; Compass Box will reveal their identity at the end of the year; this is a soft, lightly grainy whiskey with ample honey notes
Compass Box No Name / A- / this one is 75% Ardbeg, but the peat is light and quite floral; a really fun one
Highland Park Fire Edition / B / heavy grain and punchy alcohol today, not my favorite tonight
Highland Park Ice Edition / A / a massive step up, gently minty and cereal-infused; soothing
BenRiach 25 Years Old / A- / lemon is heavy on this light bodied 25
Shackleton Blended Malt (2017) / B+ / the third edition of the Shackleton is unrelated to the bottlings that Richard Paterson pulled together; this is a much cheaper blend in simpler packaging; for what it’s worth, it’s soft and simple inside, too, without much complexity but easy to enjoy
Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / fully firing, lush with fruit and toast notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask Finish / B / 25 years old; 17 of those years in Bordeaux casks; bold and spicy, but the finish is off
Bowmore 25 Years Old / B / lots of potpourri and perfume here, overly floral on the finish

Bourbon

Elijah Craig 23 Years Old / A- / drinking well, lots of wood and baking spice folded together
Stagg Jr. / B / over-wooded, with licorice and cloves; really blown out (don’t know the release number)
W.L. Weller 12 Years Old / A / a classic wheater, with ample butterscotch and toffee; really worthy of its praise
Calumet Farm Single Barrel / B+ / a big undercooked for a single barrel, somewhat thin
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley 2017 / B+ / corn and barley only; very gentle with the smoke, understated but with a true, fruity complexity; full review in the works
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition “Al Young” / A / gorgeous, a vanilla powerhouse; a favorite of the night

Other Whiskey

John & Allisa’s 2 Month Aged Tennessee Whiskey / NR / this is a preview from the as-yet-unnamed Tennessee distillery that Sazerac got when it purchased the assets of Popcorn Sutton; it’s always fun to taste near new-make, but today it’s all corn, all the time; try us again in 4-6 years
Westland Distillery Peat Week 2017 / B+ / soft for a “peat bomb,” with minty notes on the back end and some stewed prunes
WhistlePig Boss Hog IV: The Black Prince / B / way overoaked, antiseptic at times; full review of this is coming soon
Bushmills 21 Years Old Single Malt / A- / very heavy maltiness, big body, lots of heather and a lovely depth

Cognac

Hennessy Cognac Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 / A- / 18 months in virgin oak, then 10-20 years in used casks; a wood-forward, domineering blend with tons of dried fruit to fill the palate

Review: Bushmills Single Malt 21 Years Old Irish Whiskey

If you haven’t already noticed, whiskey prices are going up across the board, particularly for older single malts. The record for a single bottle price at auction exceeded six figures just last year (a Yamazaki from Japan, no less), and there’s still no sign we’ve hit the ceiling. Even readily available older single malts, like the Macallan 18, have started creeping steadily north, and if you’re seeking to splurge on a bottle that’s old enough to drink itself (that’s 21 years, for those who’ve forgotten), you will typically have to fork over multiple hundreds of dollars. Thankfully, there are a few exceptions to this trend, one of which happens to be a single malt made by the oldest distillery in the world.

The venerable Bushmills Distillery received its grant to distill in 1608, so you’d assume they know a thing or two about old whiskey. Their 21-year-old offering, the oldest in their standard line-up, is aged for a minimum of 19 years in Oloroso Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks before being vatted and then finished for a further two years in Madeira wine casks. A fortified wine hailing from a small Portuguese archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is aged deliberately in a hot island climate to achieve unique dark fruit and caramel notes. While not as common as bourbon or sherry casks for finishing, Madeira is growing in popularity with whiskey-makers, and it’s easy to see why with the Bushmills 21 year.

The pale gold color of most Irish whiskeys tends to immediately set my expectations for a lighter, often less flavorful spirit, so it’s refreshing to see a healthy dose of darker color, closer to amber, in the Bushmills 21 year. The nose also evidences a rich, deeply flavored spirit with notes of stewed dark berries, buttered toffee, and vanilla bean. The palate holds true to these promises with a sizable body for something triple distilled. All that barrel finishing has added honeyed layers of clove and cinnamon, sweet prune, dark fruit jam, and caramel. The finish is exceptionally long with lingering notes of oak and raisin. This is delicious stuff at any price point, but in a world of six figure whiskies the comparatively meager price of admission on Bushmills 21 makes it even harder to beat.

A / $120 / bushmills.com

Review: Slane Irish Whiskey

Remember Slane Castle Irish Whiskey? Of course not. Brown-Forman bought the brand a few years ago, and even then it was hard to find in the U.S. Now it’s been relaunched, rebranded — the “Castle” is now gone, leaving just “Slane” — and a distillery of its own is being build in Ireland.

The current version of Slane is a whole other animal than the old Slane Castle. This one is a blend of malt and grain whiskey — not single pot still, it seems — that is then split up and aged in three different types of casks: Virgin new oak, heavily toasted and lightly charred; oak formerly used for American whiskey; and used Oloroso sherry casks. There’s no age statement on the bottle.

Ultimately all that adds up to a drinkable, if somewhat muddy spirit. New oak is very rare in Irish whiskey, and here you can see why: It really dominates the experience. On the nose, it’s big and grainy, with bold lumberyard notes and a dusky edge of charcoal. Some lighter fruit notes hide out in the background, but they have trouble pushing through the burlier aromas that dominate.

On the palate, wood remains dominant, though here it is filtered through notes of heavily roasted grains, walnuts, cloves, and some orange peel. The overall impression is not one typical of Irish but something closer to blended Scotch, though the finish does offer a hint of honeycomb and lavender that would be unusual in something from Ireland’s neighbor to the east.

80 proof.

B / $30 / slaneirishwhiskey.com

Review: Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskeys – 14 Years Old and 16 Years Old (2017)

Once known for releasing only vintage-dated Irish whiskeys, Knappogue Castle switched to standard age statements some years ago. Today it continues to tweak its branding, labels, and other packaging details, and now we’re also seeing a few production changes. That said, in addition to some rare offerings, the core of the line remains a trinity of single malts, all triple distilled and aged 12, 14, and 16 years.

Today we look at fresh bottlings of the 14 and 16 year old whiskeys — last reviewed in 2014. Details on how production may have changed follow, along with fresh tasting notes for both.

Knappogue Castle Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey 14 Years Old – This whiskey has changed considerably in production in the last few years. It was once traditionally finished in sherry, but it is now a marriage of whiskeys, each aged 14 years in either bourbon or oloroso sherry barrels, then blended together. The bourbon is clearly the lion’s share of the blend: The whiskey is very malty on the nose, with notes of orange peel, melon, and some coconut behind that. On the palate, the sharp body offers a nutty, nougat-heavy core, with notes of chocolate, lemon, and plenty of lingering earthiness. The finish finds hints of tobacco and barrel char, giving this a more brooding, savory conclusion than most Irish whiskeys. Despite its relatively advanced age, this is a whiskey that still feels young — perhaps undeservedly so, to be honest. 92 proof. B / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Knappogue Castle Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old – This whiskey marks a more traditional approach (and has not changed since the last release); the spirit spends 14 years in bourbon barrels before being finished for two years in oloroso sherry barrels. Though only two years older, this is considerably darker than the 14, with a nose that is much more rounded and aromatic, showing heavily nutty notes, some oily wood, nougat, and orange peel — a greatest hits rundown of some of the most classic characteristics of older single malt Irish. The palate is rich and seductive, with both brooding wood and walnut notes as well as kicks of old wine, fresh herbs, grassy heather, and a squeeze of orange. There’s a sharpness on the back end, a reprise of well-roasted nuts, dense wood, and spicy notes of cloves, nutmeg, plus more of that old, oxidized wine character. Deep, intriguing, and soulful, today this is showing as a well-crafted whiskey worth seeking out. 80 proof. A / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: Method And Madness Irish Whiskey – Single Grain, Single Pot Still, and Single Malt

Method And Madness is a new brand of Irish whiskey that comes from Irish Distillers, particularly Midleton, where these expressions are born. The idea, across the board, is to take tradition and turn it a bit on its head — with all three whiskeys seeing a different type of wood treatment than the typical ex-bourbon barrels.

A bit more from the folks at M&M:

Method And Madness celebrates the creativity of our whiskey masters through the fresh talent of our apprentices. Taking inspiration from the famous Shakespearean quote, ‘ Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t ’. Method and Madness is designed to reflect a next generation Irish spirit brand with a measure of curiosity and intrigue (Madness), while honouring the foundation of innovation and experimentation grounded in the generations of expertise at the Midleton Distillery. (Method).

Without further ado, let’s look at the inaugural trio of whiskeys. They aren’t available in the U.S. yet, but soon enough you should find them at your favorite spirits merchant.

All are 92 proof.

Method And Madness Single Grain Irish Whiskey – This is a standard single grain whiskey — but it’s aged in bourbon casks before being finished in virgin Spanish Oak. Results are a bit iffy. The virgin oak — as it tends to do — does a real number of the delicate grain whiskey, impregnating it with an overwhelming lumberyard character (“pencil shavings” don’t quite cut it), with hints of coal dust and walnut shells. The finish sees some sweetness trying to peek around the edges, but it’s a fool’s errand. B / $40

Method And Madness Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – Single pot still (reminder: malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still) matured in sherry and bourbon barrels, then finished in chestnut casks. Chestnuts! This is a very exotic whiskey, driven in part by the pot still spirit and part by the wood treatment. There’s lots of spice on the nose that melds with floral notes and some vanilla cream. The palate is clean and silky, but it’s got a raciness that stuffs tons of vanilla candies, mixed flower petals, and ginger-led baking spice into the palate. The finish starts to feel a little busy, but some sherry-driven grip gives it balance. B+ / $65

Method And Madness Single Malt Irish Whiskey – This whiskey was distilled in 2002, aged in bourbon barrels, and finished in French Limousin oak. No age statement, but it’s roughly a 15 year-old whiskey. The nose immediately offers notes of salted caramel, dark chocolate, and fresh wood, but the body has that unmistakable honeycomb and hint-of-lemon-peel essence you find only in Irish whiskey, moving ever so slowly from gentle citrus to mushroom, with hints of spring onion and black pepper, and a fade-out of sandalwood. B+ / $69

methodandmadnesswhiskey.com

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