Thursday, 7 March 2019

9 Irish whiskeys for Saint Patrick's Day 2019

Saint Patrick depicted in a stained glass window
Saint Patrick depicted in a stained glass window at Saint Benin's Church, Ireland
Picture: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Emerald Ile's National Holiday is approaching fast. Saint Patrick's Day is a celebration of the heritage and culture of the Irish people who spread across the globe. 17 March is the death date of the Christian missionary Saint Patrick who converted the Irish pagans to Christianity. One of the symbols he used to explain the Holy Trinity to them was the shamrock. The shamrock (and everything green) became the symbol of Saint Paddy's Day and by extension of Ireland itself.

I selected 10 Irish whiskeys, pot stills, single malts, blends and single grains, to make the most out of Saint Patrick's Day. Let's pour a whiskey. With an e!

1. Jameson Irish Whiskey

Jameson Irish Whiskey
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

I usually kick off this list with the special edition from Jameson for Saint Patrick's Day. It's is the classic Jameson with an haute-couture jacket. Alas, after the 2019 redesign by the people from Pond Design, there does not seem to be a special edition. So it's just the usual triple distilled blend of pot still and grain whiskey with no fancy frills. Price: €28

2. Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Picture: The Whisky Exchange
The Sexton Irish Single Malt is one of these brands that's profiting from the current Irish whiskey boom. It is a sourced whisky (from Bushmills?) packed in a fancy bottle with a goth-style logo. The whisky matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Price: €37

3. JJ Corry The Flintlock Irish Whiskey 16YO

JJ Corry The Flintlock 16YO
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

This small batch whiskey takes his name from JJ Corry, an Irish whiskey bonder from Kilrush. Chapel Gate Whiskey calls it their first true Bonder's Blend. This 16YO whiskey was drawn from three ex-bourbon casks. Price: €116

4. Red Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 15YO

Red Spot 15YO
Picture: Mitchell & Son

2018 marked the revival of one of Ireland's legendary whiskey brands: Red Spot. After reviving Green Spot and Yellow Spot, Mitchell & Son brought back Red Spot, a 15YO single pot still whiskey. The names originated from the practice of marking casks with a certain colour to identify its ageing potential. Price: €115.

5. Lambay Blended Irish Whiskey

Lambay Blended Irish Whiskey
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

This brand of Irish whiskey matures on the privately-owned Lambay Island, a few miles off the Dublin coast, and this blended whiskey was finished in casks from Cyril Camus, owner of the cognac house Maison Camus. Price: €42.

6. Method & Madness Virgin Hungarian Oak Finish

Method & Madness Virgin Hungarian Oak Finish
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

The micro-distillery from Midleton released this peculiar cask finish in 2018. The single pot still whiskey matured in ex-bourbon casks en was finished for 11 months in Hungarian (Quercus petraea) Virgin Oak casks. Price: €89.

7. The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey

The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey is a creation by the Dublin Liberties distillery and the New York Dead Rabbit Saloon cocktail bar. This 5YO blend of malt and grain whiskies matured in ex-bourbon casks and was finished in virgin oak casks. Price: €48.

8. Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition

Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

Jameson Caskmates is a collaboration between the Irish whiskey brand and the Franciscan Well brewery. The brewery could use some casks to mature stout beer before returning them to Jameson who used it in the Caskmates project. There is also an IPA edition. Price: €32.

9. Proper No. Twelve

Proper Twelve
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

Another new Irish whiskey brand and one that has been promoted by MMA fighter Conor McGregor. Some claim it was co-created by him. I'd say he tied his name to it to drive sales of a basic blended whiskey. You want a real season to buy a bottle? $5 of each case sold goes to first responders organisations. Price: €34.

What's your preferred Irish tipple for Saint Paddy's Day (or any random tasty dram day)? Let me know in the comments!


Friday, 22 February 2019

Rumour: Ardbeg Traigh Bhan

Ardbeg Distillery is planning a new (pricey?) release with an age statement called Ardbeg Traigh Bhan. It is a small batch 19-year-old single malt matured in American oak and oloroso sherry casks.

The whisky is named after Traigh Bhan beach, also known as the Singing Sands of Islay.

Ardbeg Traigh Bhan

Identity Card Ardbeg Traigh Bhan

  • Official bottling from Ardbeg Distillery
  • 19-year-old single malt Scotch whisky
  • Matured in American oak and oloroso sherry casks
  • Alcohol: 46.2% ABV
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan back label

The back label reads:
The Singing Sands is the local name for Islay's beautiful Traigh Bhan beach. For this captivating place has white soft sands that sing beneath your feet, a hum that ebbs and flows with Islay's winds and tides.

This rare, small batch 19 Year Old Ardbeg has tantalising notes of PINEAPPLE, gentle TOFFEE and LIME SHERBET on the nose, with a sweet and sour mouthfeel of smoked CHILLI CHOCOLATE, PAPRIKA and chocolate cream. Aromatic WOOD SMOKE resonates through the long finish.

Source: Colas Public Registry

Entries from the TTB Public Registry (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) are a fairly reliable source for upcoming new whiskies. Although not all entries make it to the market. There’s always the possibility a brand decides not to launch a whisky, even if the label has been approved. Until the distillery sends out a press release, this whisky should be considered a rumour…

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Big Fat Feis Ile Releases List

The popular big fat list of Feis Ile - The Islay Festival of Malts & Music - special releases returns!

Ardbeg Drum

  • Official bottling(s) from Ardbeg Distillery
  • Alcohol: 46% ABV (regular release) or 52% ABV (Committee release)
  • Matured in ex-bourbon casks, finished in American ex-rum casks
Ardbeg Drum Committee Release
Ardbeg Drum - Ardbeg Committee Release

Ardbeg Drum
Picture: Colas Online

Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood

  • Official bottling from Laphroaig Distillery
  • Alcohol: TBD (51.9% ABV?)
  • Matured in ex-bourbon, quarter and oloroso sherry casks
Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood Original Cask Strength
Picture: Colas Online

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

The independent bottler SMWS already has plans to bottle a 10YO Caol Ila for Feis.

SMWS 53.286 - Salt strewn on smoky marmalade (Caol Ila)

SMWS 53.286 - Salt strewn on smoky marmalade
Picture: Colas Online

Source: Colas Public Registry

Entries from the TTB Public Registry (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) are a fairly reliable source for upcoming new whiskies. Although not all entries make it to the market. There’s always the possibility a brand decides not to launch a whisky, even if the label has been approved. Until the distillery sends out a press release, this whisky should be considered a rumour…

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Armorik Sherry Finish

Picture: Distillerie Warenghem
Armorik whisky is produced by Distillery Warenghem in Brittany. They claim to be the first French distillery to bring a whisky and later on a single malt to the market.

The distillery dates back to 1900. Léon Warenghem started distilling l'elixir d'armorique, a liquor containing extracts from 35 plants. His son introduced numerous flavoured liquors such as mint and cassis. In 1983 they started working on the concept a whisky Breton.

Today we'll focus on an entry from the core range. The NAS Sherry finish is bottled at 40% alcohol and serves as an introduction to the brand. It is widely available in French supermarkets.

Identity Card Armorik Sherry Finish

  • Official bottling from Warenghem Distillery, Bretagne (France)
  • NAS French single malt (some sources say 4YO)
  • Maturation in ex-bourbon casks, finished in sherry casks
  • Alcohol: 40% ABV

Tasting notes

Colour: Gold. Fast legs reveal a thin texture.

Nose: Lots of candy, dates and raisins. A whiff of triple sec (Cointreau). Cinnamon and juniper berries. Sweet malt and vanilla. Burnt sugar, dried apricots and almonds.
With water: Caramelized malt, Werther's Original caramel candy. Cinnamon and liquorice candy. Dusty cardboard, oatmeal, oranges and dried mandarin oranges.

Taste: Caramel and oak. A soft and silky mouthfeel. A tiny pinch of pepper with raisins and blue grapes. Even a faint hint of smoke. Honey, nutmeg and brown spiced biscuits or speculoos.
With water: Liquorice candy and/or liquorice root. Salted caramel and buttery nut cake.

Finish: Warm sugar and brown spiced biscuits.

This is a fairly generic whisky from Armorik. There's nothing wrong with it, but it does not excite either. Given the price point, it's a decent daily driver. I've got nothing more to report on this except that I've heard some very good things on their higher strength single casks. So this won't be my last Armorik...

Sample: This Armorik came from a bottle share with a colleague at work coming back from Brittany.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

R&B Raasay While We Wait First Release

R&B Raasay While We Wait First Release
Picture: R&B Distillers

The Raasay Distillery from R&B Distillers was initially part of a diptych dreamed up by Alasdair Day. The Borders distillery has been (temporarily) shelved, but the Raasay distillery is up and running. The first youngster-whisky is to be released somewhere in 2020.

In the meantime, we already got a taste of things to come with the While We Wait whiskies. This single malt is a blend of unpeated and lightly peated malt whisky from the same unnamed distillery. The liquid was finished in Tuscan red wine casks.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

R&B Borders First Release

R&B Borders First Release
Picture: R&B Distillers
R&B Distillers had very big plans in 2015. They wanted to build not one, but two distilleries. One was to be located in the Scottish Borders and another one on the Isle of Raasay. The Raasay Distillery is already producing and will release their first whisky in 2020. The Borders Distillery was to be located in Peebles, but the whole project has been shelved to focus on the Raasay production unit.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Douglas Laing Big Peat Christmas 2018

Big Peat Christmas 2018
Picture: Douglas Laing
Douglas Laing's Big Peat annual festive bottling this year shows our trusty fisherman dressed in Santa Claus outfit, ready to descend a chimney on “his” island home of Islay. The Christmas Edition is a cask strength version of the classic Islay blended malt.

Cara Laing, Director of Whisky at her family’s firm, on the 2018 Christmas edition of Big Peat :
“You can expect a big, ashy, beachy, oceanic and smoky message in the bottle, all the way from the island of Islay. During the festive season, that chimney soot connection seems particularly appropriate, being the entry point of our gift-laden Saint Nick himself. Big Peat’s Christmas limited edition has become truly synonymous with the season, setting us up nicely as we prepare to celebrate his 10th birthday in 2019.”

Identity Card Big Peat Christmas 2018

  • Official bottling from Douglas Laing Remarkable Regional Malts
  • No Age Statement blended malt Scotch whisky
  • Alcohol: 53.9% ABV

Tasting notes

Colour: Light gold. Oily beads transform into thin and fast legs.

Nose: Sweet smoke. Smoked halibut. Preserved lemons and salty sea air. Wood stain mingling with earthy flavours. Wet moss, aniseed and fennel. Beef jerky. Pinewood and resin. White chocolate, pineapple and BBQ smoke.
With water: BBQ ash, salsify, butter and bacon.

Taste: Dry and tingling on the tongue. Wood smoke and violet (Hello Bowmore!). Aniseed and fennel seeds. Coriander and charcoal. Roasted pine nuts. Lavender, juniper berries and wine gums laced with peat smoke.
With water: BBQ fat and canned fruits.

Finish: Warm, smoky, peppery. Smoked paprika and juniper berry.

Douglas Laing Big Peat Christmas 2018

Big Peat's festive edition is a classic peat fest. I could elaborate on the subject but the message is fairly simple: make sure there is a Big Peat Christmas Edition under the Christmas tree.

This is classic Big Peat. Smoky and meaty but nevertheless well-balanced. Our fisherman in Santa attire will never give false promises: a shovelful of Islay single malts from Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg and (a teaspoon of) Port Ellen.

Bottle image & sample: Douglas Laing

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A Tasty Dram's 2018 Christmas Guide

A Tasty Dram's 2018 Christmas Guide

The first empty doors of the boozy advent calendars are popping up on social media, Christmas trees are decorated and people are inundating their followers with #whiskysanta wishes. That means it's time to start compiling the annual Christmas gift list for whisky geeks and occasional whisky drinkers.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Inverleven 1985

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Inverleven 1985

Tonight we'll dive into the second release from Gordon & Macphail's new-look Private Collection, a 1985 Inverleven.

The Inverleven Distillery was actually a distillery within a distillery. This compact distillery was built on the Dumbarton grain distillery site. The malt whisky produced on site was used in Ballantine's Scotch whisky. In 1956 Hiram Walker installed an experimental Lomond still at Inverleven.

Much of the distillery equipment was saved from demolition by a team of ten distillery workers from Bruichladdich. The Lomond still - nicknamed "Ugly Betty" is still in use at Bruichladdich to distill The Botanist Gin. The wash and spirit still were also shipped to Bruichladdich but were never used. Nowadays these stills work their magic in Mark Reynier's Waterford Distillery in Ireland.

Identity Card Private Collection Inverleven 1985 cask #562

  • Independent bottling from Inverleven Distillery, Dumbarton (Lowlands)
  • Gordon & Macphail Private Collection
  • Cask #562 - refill bourbon barrel - 130 bottles
  • 1974 vintage single malt Scotch whisky
  • Alcohol: 57.4% ABV
Dumbarton Distillery
Picture: Eddie Mackinnon - Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tasting notes

Colour: Gold in colour with a fat texture.

Nose: Roasted coconut. Sweet and soft. Honey, caramelised pineapple and demerara sugar. Popcorn and sweet apple. Lemon-cheesecake, Key lime pie, linseed oil, orange and candle wax.
With water: Somewhat dustier. Coconut and banana. Vanilla and brioche or sweet buns. Jamaican pepper.

Taste: A peppery start. Having a bite of an unpeeled red apple. Grapes. Coconut and mint versus coffee and caramel. A heap of dark cacao and muesli or granola with seeds and malt.
With water: Vanilla brioche with slices of banana and coconut. Creamy and sweet. Granola sprinkled with brown sugar.

Finish: A long and soft finish. Vanilla, sugar and wood with a touch of mint and heather.

I don't have any previous experience with Inverleven but it's a great start. When re-reading my notes on a 1991 Bladnoch from Malts of Scotland, there are some similarities in the tasting notes. Same region and the same type of barrel but Bladnoch was more widely available than Inverleven.  Solid quality whisky but it comes with a price tag.

Read the full background story on the Inverleven stills on Waterford Distillery's website.

Sample Disclosure: Samples of the new Private Collection were offered by Gordon & Macphail. Opinions expressed in this review remain of course my own.
Bottle Image: Gordon & Macphail Media Centre