Review: Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey

Redbreast Lustau

What a fun idea from Redbreast. For the tasting experience of Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, the distillery sent out three bottles: A bottle of classic Redbreast 12 Years Old, a bottle of the new sherry-finished Redbreast Lustau, and a bottle of actual Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sherry. In this way one can follow the creation of Redbreast Lustau pretty much from start to finish.

Redbreast Lustau is a permanent addition to the Redbreast line. Though it is officially a NAS release, it includes single pot still whiskey that is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 9 to 12 years. It is then finished in an Oloroso sherry butt from Bodegas Lustau which was crafted from Spanish oak, where it sits for an additional 12 months.

Now Redbreast has a long history with sherry casks; the 12 year old is aged in a variety of cask types (including both bourbon and multiple types of sherry casks). The finishing is a new spin — as is, of course, the loss of an age statement.

Tasting reveals a dramatic departure from the 12 year old expression, as Redbreast Lustau takes that classic, malty pot still character and gives it a serious spin. The nose is only slightly off from the expected, showing a stronger and more pungent orange peel note plus a nose-tickling pepper note to back up the malt, nougat, and toasty grains. On the palate is where things really start to diverge, the sherry giving the whiskey an intense nuttiness, along with notes of raisins and figs, again backing up that bold, malty body. The finish is lengthy, creamy, and spicy — all at once — everything building to a cohesive whole that is well worth exploring, age statement or no.

As for the actual sherry sample included here, well, I have no idea how people drink this stuff.

92 proof.

A- / $69 / irishdistillers.ie  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

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WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove, Redbreast Lustau, Glenmorangie Tarlogan, and Writers Tears Cask Strength, among others. Alas, none of these whiskies (and more) ever made it to the show floor. The Writers Tears broke in transit, I was told. The Lustau was sitting on the back bar, unopened and would only be served at the masterclass session. As for Dark Cove and Tarlogan, well, no one seemed to know a thing. They just weren’t there. Making matters worse, more than once attendees complained to me that vendors had long ago run out of certain whiskies, only to have me tell them I’d just sampled the very same spirit minutes earlier.

I can’t and don’t fault the festival for these issues — and I hope it was just bad luck this year — but I also can’t help but feel disappointed to have left without trying all of these spirits.

Anyway, I did manage to suss out a few new and unusual bottlings, including some all-stars, though I opted not to stand in the 150-person strong line for a sip of Pappy Van Winkle this year. Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

Scotch

Glenfiddich 26 Years Old / A- / a classic expression of old Glenfiddich; malty and biscuity, with a sugar cookie finish
031Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength Flagon / B+ / a 57.1% abv release of this vatted malt; bold and herbal, with lemon peel notes
The Deveron 12 Years Old / B- / Dewar’s-owned; restrained to the point of being muted on the palate
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B / quite malty, rough around the edges
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old / A- / a classic, but surprisingly sweet, its maritime note dialed down; just a touch of smoke on the back
Wolfburn Aurora / B / chewy with woody overtones; a bit youthful
The Macallan Reflexion / B+ / a $1200 monster from Macallan, aromatic with dried fruits, but a bit hoary on the back end; I’d have trouble mustering up this kind of coin
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / always worthwhile, rich and malty with plenty of dark fruit notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask / B- / not getting much wine character; restrained and thin at times
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old / B- / heavy with grain, much more youthful than expected
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old / A- / notes of burnt bread and biscuits; lots of malt and wood influence
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / highlight of the show; remarkably gentle but studded with golden raisins and a lovely simple sweetness
Alexander Murray & Co. Dalmore 15 Years Old / B- / oddly smoky, dull on the finish
Alexander Murray & Co. Benrinnes 19 Years Old / B / malty, with big nougat notes and some savory spices
Alexander Murray & Co. Monumental Blend 30 Years Old / B / rounded with ample grain character; somewhat grassy

American

Westland Garryana / B / a bruising whiskey, smoky with meaty, pork rind notes; full review in the works
Wild Turkey Decades / B+ / ancient Wild Turkey, and it tastes like it – wood on top of wood
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch 16 / A- / Port notes shine here; very sweet but drinking beautifully now
Parker’s Heritage Collection 24 Years Old Bottled-in-Bond / A / another highlight of the show that I’m looking forward to reviewing in full; initially surprisingly fruit, which fades to a drying finish with notes of camphor
Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon / B+ / finally a chance to see what the fuss was about, which turns out to be tons of wood and some toffee notes; not even a hint of the sea

033Japanese

Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / smoldering with burnt sugar and lingering sweetness; sultry

Irish

Redbreast 21 Years Old / A- / lovely pot still character, punchy yet balanced

Other

Dos Maderas Luxus / A- / a very high-end rum aged 10 years in the Caribbean, then 5 years in Spain in sherry casks; the results are extremely powerful with fruit and sweetness, notes of figs, raisins, and cherries

Review: Jameson The Cooper’s Croze Irish Whiskey

Coopers Croze Bottle Image 750ml

Wood is important in whiskey, and that’s why with this new expression, Jameson is highlighting the power of wood by turning its Head Cooper, Ger Buckley, loose in the warehouse. The goal, “to showcase the diversity of barrels at our Midleton distillery and the profound influence that wood yields. With knowledge passed down through 5 generations of his family, Ger selects, repairs, and maintains our treasured casks.” The croze (rhymes with rose), by the way, is the tool used to make the groove where the head of the barrel is positioned in order to seal it.

For this release, Buckley has collected a variety of whiskies aged in virgin American oak, seasoned bourbon, and Iberian (Spanish) sherry barrels. There’s no age statement or any other production information, but that wood treatment is wild enough on its own.

This is a drier expression of Irish, one of the least fruit- and sweetness-forward that I’ve encountered in recent memory. The nose gives up just a little — hazelnuts, dried thyme, and barrel char. A touch of sherry after some air gets to it. On the palate, there’s more of that roasted nut character, scorching notes of toasted wood staves, and some emerging vanilla at last as the woodier notes begin to fade. The sweetness remains elusive, and even the finish is drying, with notes of red pepper and cloves, and more dried savory herbal notes that tend to linger for far too long.

Even though the wood program is, to say the least, unique with this whiskey, I was expecting at least lip-service to traditional Irish in The Cooper’s Croze. What I got was something entirely different. The character is more like a young American whiskey, malt-heavy, with a heavy, heavy kick of new oak, rather unlike anything from the Emerald Isle. That wild departure may be a good thing, depending on your point of view, but for me, the heavy influence of barrel char was a real turnoff, and my suspicion is that the rest of you out there will have a similar experience.

86 proof.

B- / $60 / jamesonwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Egan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old

Egans-Irish-Whiskey

An old brand from the 1800s, Egan’s Irish Whiskey was revived in 2013 and is now making its way into the U.S. Its first product is this, a 10 year old single malt (sourced) “from the heart of Ireland.”

Let’s see how it fares.

The nose is initially a bit undistinguished. A bit heavy on ethanol notes, it shows influences of heather, green vegetables, and gentle cereal notes. The body brings the whiskey, and its Irishness, more to the fore. Malty cereal notes lead the way before a soothing, lightly earthy honey character take hold, with secondary notes of red pepper flakes, milk chocolate, and graham crackers. The finish echoes cereal, with some bright applesauce sweetness to close down the show. On the whole, it’s a classic Irish malt, through and through — though perhaps a bit too familiar.

94 proof.

B+ / $46 / eganswhiskey.com

Review: Jameson Crested Irish Whiskey

Jameson has long made a rare and special bottling called Jameson Crested Ten, which includes a lot of pure pot still whiskey along with some sherry cask-aged stock. While the distillery calls this “a little known minor classic,” the rest of the world is about to get to know it a bit better — or, at least, it’s newborn little brother, Jameson Crested.

As Jameson puts it, “Jameson Crested is a celebration of the first drops of whiskey that were bottled, sealed and labelled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, marking the moment in time in 1963 when Jameson took full control of the whiskey making process, from grain to glass.” (Until that point, Jameson was bottled by others who then sold it to consumers.)

Jameson Crested is a triple-distilled whiskey, mixing pure pot still and grain whiskey, and it is matured in both sherry casks and bourbon casks. I haven’t had Crested Ten, but Crested’s recipe clearly sounds like it was inspired by it.

Let’s give it a taste, shall we?

On the nose, the whiskey is rich and dense. It’s a little hot, but approachable thanks to a complex melange of aromas — roasted nuts, cloves, ginger, oxidized wine notes, orange marmalade, and a thick slathering of honey. On the palate, the pure pot still component comes through clearly, offering a malty character balanced by notes of citrus peel, coconut, and spiced nuts. Big and bold, the sherry influence lingers on the finish, which offers up notes of caramel and some light chocolate notes over time.

A complex yet soothing and well-balanced whiskey, Jameson Crested lies somewhere between the brooding intensity of Redbreast and the simple drinkability of standard Jameson. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a middle ground is surprisingly lacking in Irish whiskey today, and Crested fills it with impressive aplomb. I am sure I could (and will) drink this with regularity.

Also of note: Jameson is revamping its labels, and this is the first one out of the gate. Looks nice.

80 proof.

A- / $43 / jamesonwhiskey.com

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: 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

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