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

Review: Tipperary Irish Whiskey – Knockmealdowns and Watershed

Tipperary is a county in Ireland — just east of Limerick, northeast of Cork — and it’s also an Irish whiskey brand, one which our friends at ImpEx recently added to their stable of imports. Tipperary, like many American craft distilleries, is currently releasing limited editions of sourced whiskey while it gets its own production up and running — with the spin of cutting it to proof with water from its own family farm. These two releases — the first Tipperarys to be available in the U.S. — are both sourced from a tiny number of casks.

We tasted both; thoughts follow. Both are 94 proof.

Tipperary Boutique Selection Knockmealdowns 10 Years Old – “The first of our Limited Edition Mountain Range, “The Knockmealdowns” is created from only six casks, matured in Ireland for 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels. The whiskey is cut to 47% with water from Ballindoney farm in Tipperary, owned by our co-founding family, the Ahearns.” Gentle on the nose, with delightful notes of ginger and cinnamon atop a simple, caramel-heavy aroma. On the palate, the whiskey keeps things straightforward, folding some red pepper into the mainstream notes of brown sugar, caramel sauce, and toasted marshmallow. A bit of heat creeps up on the back end — along with some herbal and heather notes. A solid sipper that is at once classically Irish while also a bit elevated above the usual fare from Eire. A- / $90

Tipperary Boutique Selection Watershed – “Only six first-fill bourbon casks are chosen for each batch of Watershed, carefully selected for quality by our Malt Master, Stuart Nickerson. After being cut to 47% with our Ballindoney water, we number every bottle individually, so each one is special.” No age statement on this one. Much more grain heavy, with notes of wheat crackers and coal dust on the nose. The palate doesn’t stray far from this construct, with notes of cracked barley and lumberyard leading the way to a finish that is spicy but relatively devoid of fruit. B- / $63

tipperarydistillery.ie

Review: West Cork Irish Whiskey Black Reserve and Barrel Proof

West Cork, still a new distilling operation in Ireland, is already out with two limited releases, both of which we were excited to put to the test. These whiskeys mark the rollout of new labels for West Cork, as well, so don’t get too confused…

West Cork Irish Whiskey Black Reserve – Indeed, quite dark in color. This is a blend of grain and malt whiskey, finished in “double charred first fill bourbon casks” for six months. This is a burly Irish, with a slightly sweet but woodsy, nutty, and floral nose. The body takes things elsewhere, with lots of barrel char and coal dust right at the start, giving the whiskey a coarse and throat-scratching character. This whisks away the bulk of the sweetness, mopping it up with burnt wood and match heads, and leaving on the back of the throat a very dry character reminiscent of licorice and the essence of a burning leaf pile. A curiosity, and a study in what happens when delicate Irish whiskey gets punched around by the barrel. 86 proof. B- / $37

West Cork Irish Whiskey Barrel Proof – Here, two whiskeys — a grain whiskey and a malt whiskey — are aged, blended (2:1 grain to malt), and further married in bourbon barrels. It is bottled at cask strength. This is, again, a bit of a rough and tumble whiskey. The nose is scorching — dark brown/almost blackened sugar notes with a vegetal backbone. On the palate, notes of liquid coal, wood embers, mushroom, and tar all come together in, much like the Black Reserve, a very non-Irish fashion. What lingers on the finish is molasses, some hints of blackberry jam, black tea, pepper, and a quickly vanishing essence of dried flowers. Weird stuff. 124 proof. B / $57

westcorkdistillers.com

Life in a Post-Bourbon World: Predicting the Next Big Thing in Booze

It’s no secret that bourbon has been the It Spirit for a good few years now. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how pretty much no one saw it coming. One needs to only look at the vast amount of supply shortages today to see just how unprepared most of the market was. Here’s a fun exercise. Go into your local store and ask them if they have any Weller, Eagle Rare, or even Very Old Barton. Their thousand yard stare, coupled with the nervous tick in the corner of their eye will tell you all you need to know about the current state of things.

Reports and predictions of the “bourbon bubble” bursting have so far been premature. It seems that—at least for now—for every one person who tires of the hunt, there are ten more ready and willing to take their place in line for the latest limited release. I’m not here to predict when that will end, because it’s already proven to be a pointless exercise. However, what can be a fun prediction is guessing what will follow bourbon as the almighty “next big thing.” So let’s take a look at a few spirits, and the reasons why they will — or won’t — usurp bourbon’s place at the top of the hype pedestal. For each of these four, we’re also including the all-important “Van Winkle Factor” — wherein we ask whether there is a singular product which will drive said hype train and become the bane of existence to liquor store employees everywhere.

1. Rum

For years now, rum has been talked about over and over again as being the next big spirit.

Why it Will Succeed:

Rum has a lot of crossover appeal to the bourbon fan. Many rums share a lot of the same flavor components with bourbon — vanilla, caramel, and good old-fashioned barrel spice — though with a slightly softer and sweeter side rum has the potential to appeal to an even broader audience. I have myself, and have heard many others refer to it as “summertime whiskey,” a product which delivers a lot of the same flavor notes but without the warming heat of whiskey. It’s easy and delicious. Plus, the rebirth of tiki drinks and island culture has pushed the importance of specific rum types into the minds of consumers everywhere.

Why it Won’t:

First and foremost, rum has an issue with age statements. Countries like Jamaica and Barbados require an age statement consistent with what most U.S. consumers understand, the age on the label is representative of the youngest spirit in the blend. But rum comes from so many places beyond those two countries, and in those countries age stating is much more vague. Two brands that represent this better than most are Ron Zacapa and Zaya. Ron Zacapa uses a solera aging system which puts a vague average of “23” on their entry level bottle. Zaya recently changed their bottles from saying “12 years” to now indicating that it is now a blend of 12 aged rums. It’s a clever switch of phrasing that makes marketing departments proud but makes many consumers roll their eyes. Also, and here is the obvious, rum has been talked about as the next big thing for quite a while and hasn’t really taken off. Maybe rum’s popularity as it is now is just where it is going to be. Maybe we have already reached peak rum and we are just fooling ourselves that it is going to keep growing.

Van Winkle Effect:

Does rum have that one big bottle? The one which people will wait in line for, the one which will inspire countless Instagram posts with jealous responses? It just might. The Caroni Rum Distillery has been closed or 15 years. Bottles still pop up from time to time from independent bottlers. This may be more of a correlation to a bottle of A.H. Hirsch than a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, but bottles of this rum seem to pop up and disappear quite quickly.

2. Mezcal

Why It Will Succeed:

Tequila’s funky, and smoky, compadre has been king of the mixology world for a couple years now. Not since the concept of “pre-Prohibition” have we seen such an obvious inspiration for so many new bars. In one Chicago neighborhood alone, I can count at least three new mezcal specific bars that have opened up in the last year. Yet it persists. A few weeks ago my social media feed was full of one friend’s picture of a mezcal flight, another drinking a mezcal old fashioned, and another commenting on the addition of a new bar a block from their apartment. All of this is without mentioning that mezcal has sotol and raicilla, new Mexican spirits, to bolster its rise in the same way that rye whiskey did for bourbon.

Why It Won’t:

The barrier of entry to mezcal knowledge is quite difficult for even the more advanced drinker. The variation on types of plants mezcal can use and the 8 different regions where they can all come from can create a dizzying combination of recipes and styles. While this is a wonderful thing for adventurous drinkers, it limits the amount of direct bottle to bottle comparison and debate over what is the best, which was a key component to the rise of bourbon. While mezcal may be the current king of the cocktail world, that hasn’t quite yet translated over into bottle sales.

Van Winkle Effect:

Del Maguey’s Single Village series seems to be the obvious choice here. They were among the first to push mezcal as something more than just the thing with the worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle. Also they fully embraced the extra funk that is the pechuga style of hanging a chicken carcass in the still for some extra gameyness. To be honest though, mezcal is the current and future king of the cocktail world, but it will have a hard time transitioning into actual off-premise consumer sales.

3. Armagnac

Why It Will Succeed:

There is an old adage which states that all old punk singers become country singers. In the same way, all old whiskey drinkers become Armagnac drinkers. It turns out that while Cognac has been all the rage, it has had a southern neighbor which has offered more value for the money all along. While both Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies, the big difference lies in the use of the Baco and Colombard grapes. Baco is a big deal in terms of difference, it is a grape variety which can only be grown in the Armagnac region and can only be used for distillation. Also, Cognac opts for double distillation while Armagnac goes for single. Just think of Armagnac as Cognac’s rustic cousin. Only in this regard “rustic” means that bottles can be packed with complex and wonderful flavor.

Why It Won’t:

It certainly doesn’t help that the average consumer still has a hard time understanding what Armagnac is. Couple that with the fact that the TV. show Chopped recently referred to Armagnac as an “apple brandy” and you get the idea of the hill this delightful spirit needs to climb.

Van Winkle Effect:

There are stores you can walk into where you can buy a Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac which was distilled in 1865. Those types of stocks are extremely rare and should instantly spark the attention of any collector. Outside of that you have producers like Chateau de Laubade and Darroze, which have lots to offer that will happily turn heads.

4. Irish Whiskey

Why It Will Succeed:

Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest growing spirit categories in the world over the last few years — mainly because its sales started off so small. What has been a predominantly homogenized category is currently exploding with new offerings. Look no further than the style of single pot still Irish whiskey for a style of whiskey that is unique to the country that started it all. As well, there is no shortage of Jameson drinkers that are looking for something more premium and more unique. For ages all of your Irish whiskey came from one of four distilleries: Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills, and Kilbeggan. Since 2014 there are now 32 running and proposed distilleries in Ireland.

Why It Won’t:

Irish whiskey has a slight image problem. There are many consumers who have for very long looked at it as predominantly for shots. To many whiskey drinkers it can be seen as plain and boring. The heavy influx of new distilleries and producers putting out new and varying products is already starting to combat these attitudes, but it remains more a question of when change will take place.

Van Winkle Effect:

One need look no further than the relative disappearance from shelves of the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve to see how stocks of older Irish whiskey are becoming squeezed. Releases like the Redbreast Lustau Edition and the Midleton Barry Crocket Edition are helping keep the hype chatter up.

In Conclusion:

Here is the thing with bourbon. Seemingly every major bourbon distillery is expanding in some form, be it actual distilling space or simply just more warehouses to store more barrels. According to some reports, companies like Beam-Suntory are filling almost 500,000 barrels a year, which to us means only one important thing, the big producers don’t see an immediate end in Bourbon’s expansion. In fact they are looking forward to numbers that only continue to grow. And as younger distilleries across the country are able to start bringing new and more mature products to the market the demand will be there.

So yes, maybe it is poor form to say that the next big thing after bourbon is bourbon. But I’m OK with that. Because if it’s something else it will probably be mezcal, or rum, or Armagnac, or Irish whiskey.

Review: Bushmills Red Bush Irish Whiskey

For its latest trick, Bushmills is taking things as old-school as they get. Bushmills Red Bush is a NAS variant of the classic Irish whiskey, one that is aged exclusively in first-fill, medium-charred, ex-bourbon casks. Bushmills Original (aka Original Bush) is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. If you’re familiar with Black Bush and are curious what the difference is, that whiskey is aged exclusively in sherry barrels.

Like all expressions of Bushmills, Red Bush is 100% malted barley and is triple distilled. The use of nothing but American bourbon casks, according to the distillery, is meant to position the whiskey as something that bourbon fans new to Irish will find approachable.

The results are pretty much in line with expectations. The nose finds lots of toasty grains, butterscotch, walnuts, and hints of buttered popcorn — many aromas similar to what you’d expect to see in a bourbon, but more mellowed by the softer barley mash. The palate largely follows suit, though there are some initial citrus notes here that come unexpectedly, leading the way to notes of well-browned toast and chewy blondies, along with some furniture polish. The finish is marred by a bit of rubbery band-aid character and a sharpness that is at odds with the soothing front half of the experience, but on the whole the whiskey is at least worthwhile as a departure from the usual.

80 proof.

B / $22 / bushmills.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2017

With so many whiskeys out there to try, from distillers big and small, whiskey festivals can easily be overwhelming. WhiskyLIVE offers a good balance of options, showcasing industry heavy-hitters along with up-and-coming American (and several international) craft distillers. It’s small in comparison to events like WhiskyFest, in both attendance and vendors, so your options are a little more limited. The size, however, does remove some of the annoyance that can come with wading through crowds of people, many of whom are just looking for their piece of the only bottle of Pappy at the Buffalo Trace table.

There was no Buffalo Trace table at this year’s WhiskyLIVE in Washington, DC. In its place, however, were many standout offerings from craft distillers, including Smooth Ambler, Westland, and Sonoma County Distilling Co., as well as a few surprisingly good bottles from regions of the world not known (yet) for their whiskey.

Brief reviews follow.

Scotch

Craigellachie 17 Years Old / B+ / buttery and chewy with honey and anise on the palate
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / B+ / light for an older sherried whisky; warm cereal notes with raisin and citrus on the palate
Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / well-balanced with dried fruit and a little dark chocolate on the palate
Aberfeldy 21 Years Old / B+ / malty with a good helping of vanilla
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B+ / spicy for a 16 year old with cocoa and raisin on the palate
Talisker 18 Years Old / A- / a perfectly balanced single malt; notes of smoke and ginger with a subtle spice

Irish

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey / B+ / ex-bourbon- and oloroso-finished; a little hot with layers of vanilla bean and dried fruit
Glendalough Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old / A / a fantastic sipper; the ex-bourbon cask gives this one tons of caramel and toffee
Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old / A- / incredibly fruity with citrus and apple on the palate; a biscuit-like finish

American

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon / B+ / thin but flavorful for such a young wheater with notes of buttered popcorn and caramel sauce; looking forward to its older brothers
Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey / B+ / good heat with notes of caramel corn and toasted marshmallow
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old / A / the latest gift shop release; thick and honeyed; full of brown sugar and cinnamon with a great chew
Breckenridge Distiller’s High Proof Blend / B+ / molasses on the nose; spicy and oak-forward with subtle baking spice notes
Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016 / B+ / a little thin but well-balanced; sweet on the palate with dark red fruit, smoke, and faint sea salt
Westland Winter Release / A- / light but silky with good heat; smoked bacon, pepper, and red licorice on the palate
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old / B+ / hot for 110 proof; caramel apple and clove on the palate with a somewhat short finish
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey / B+ / bright red fruit on the palate and a nice, warming rye spice
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye 10 Years Old / B+ / minimal rye spice and very little heat; oily and fruity but with a lingering medicinal note I can’t quite place
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength / B- / grassy with loads of menthol and a drying finish; the youth really shows at a higher proof
Bainbridge Battle Point Whiskey / B / cereal nose; very sweet and a little hot with notes of mint and fudge

International

Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / A- / rich and flavorful; honeyed palate with great baking spice notes
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / B+ / balanced and enjoyable; classic peat smoke and sweet cereal
Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky / B+ / noticeably young but full of light sherry and bright citrus flavors
Lark Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength / A- / big for such a youthful whiskey; thick and sweet with wonderful notes of ripe peach and dried fruit
Nomad Outland Whisky / B+ / the Pedro Ximenez finish is all over this one with raisin notes and a little smoke

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