It’s not an order of flatpack furniture from Swedish retail giant IKEA.
It’s 3 quality whiskies from 2 of Sweden’s growing whisky distillery scene.
The samples arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Irish Drams blog here.
I’ve previously enjoyed a Mackmyra before – Edition 1 to be precise – so I was looking forward to more delightful flavours from these sample jars.
Box I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting before – nor will do in the future as the distillery has been renamed as High Coast Distillery after a legal dispute with Scottish whisky bottlers Compass Box. The sample before me was bottled as Box however – and I’m reassured the liquid will remain the same in the new livery.
Pity they didn’t call themselves Hygge – as I got a lovely warm & cosy feeling after drinking their Single Malt 2nd Step Collection 03.
At 51.3% it’s both strong flavoured yet delicate at the same time. A lovely dry ashiness permeated throughout the spice rich taste. Fabulous.
I may have tried the samples in the wrong order – as the Mackmyra Svensk Ek – Swedish Oak – failed to ignite my tastebuds as instantaneously.
At 46.1% it’s possessed of more subtle & smoother notes with a gentle spiciness mixed in – it may have been overpowered by the Box. One to savour at a later date.
What wasn’t overpowered was the Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask.
At 58.2% this was Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy!
Just my kinda whisky!
It said peated bourbon cask on the label. Yet I got ash.
Damp ash in a Swedish forest after a smorgasbord of barbecued meats and fish from the night before.
The wonderfully oily beginning assaulted the palate with flavours dancing all over the place before drying out into a fantastically ash laden & long lasting finish.
If it possibly could have gotten any heavier – I’d have cut it up into chunks.
Now you could go onto both Mackmyra & Box websites to read up all about the transparency, terroir & provenace of these whiskies – but when they taste this good – it’s only icing on the cake.
I’m happy to let my tastebuds tell me all I need to know.
The Chinese know a thing or two about the art of distillation. The biggest selling spirit drink in the world is baijiu – sorghum is the usual ingredient – although other grains can be used – and has been made in China since the late 11th Century.
Young Chinese are also looking westwards for their inspiration – as shown by this Chinese Hip-Hop group Higher Brothers.
So when some enterprising Chinese company decides to make whiskey – it should come as no surprise.
I present to you Goalong Liquor Special Small Batch Whiskey.
The bottle is suitably attractive in a gothic almost heavy metal style. There is also a smidgen of flowery sales patter on the front – as well as more on the entertaining website here – quite how much you wish to believe is up to you – whilst it’s in Chinese on the back.
I’d be happy for someone to translate for me.
Despite a quick internet search – I couldn’t find anything resembling a Chinese Whiskey Association – there are plenty of baijiu rules however – so I did what I normally do when presented with a bottle of whiskey. Open it – drink it – and let my palate tell me whether I enjoy it or not.
To begin with – the dark colour suggests added caramel – which is a common feature for entry level blends worldwide – but on the nose I didn’t get that sickly sweet cloying sensation.
I got a very muted caramel sweetness with a slight burnt note and a soft woody aroma – and then nothing.
There was an almost total absence of anything else – no sweet grain or earthy barley to pull you in.
The taste was exceptionally – and rather surprisingly – very soft & smooth. No rough edges here. Just an easy going delivery that again lacked any depth or flavour characteristics to give it body.
This rather ’empty’ experience finished off with a slight warming to the back of the throat as if to remind you about the 40% alcohol content – otherwise you could down a fair few of these without knowing.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience. In fact I found teasing out what this whiskey does contain very enjoyable – but my conclusion is that it’s mainly a domestic product.
It reminded me of a New York made soju I had once. Soju is a Korean style of rice based distilled spirit similar to baijiu. I found it rather novel – if a little lacking in character.
There is a world of whiskey out there waiting to be drunk.
I certainly enjoyed my chance to taste some Chinese Whiskey.
My sample was kindly procured in China by my Asian Correspondent.
Transparency is a bit of a buzz word in whiskey circles these days.
Everyone says they are in favour of it.
I’m not convinced.
It makes no difference what is or isn’t written on the label – it’s the contents that count.
You can have a whiskey that tells you everything you’d like to know; who made it, how it was distilled, barley variety used, cut points and so on – yet it just might not suit your palate.
Conversely you can have a bottle that simply states ‘Whiskey’ – and tastes fabulous.
Obviously knowing why one whiskey tastes better than the other can only be determined by some of the information given in the first example – but if it’s not provided – does that colour your tasting experience?
However – there is a different style of transparency raising it’s head now. It’s called the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – in Ireland anyway – which is currently being discussed in the Dáil. Read more here.
What it effectively means is clear and unambiguous labelling outlining the health dangers of alcohol consumption on every bottle.
If this blog is deemed as ‘advertising’ then it too will also have to carry a health warning.
That’s pretty clear and transparent isn’t it?
Having said that – the great tasting whiskey you had last week will still be great – whatever has to be printed on the label.
I wonder which type of transparency has most chance of making it into law?
Irish Whiskey is never going to be the same again.
A new player has entered the market to potentially topple the reining champion.
Welcome to Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you couldn’t have missed the phenomenom of Mixed Martial Arts star Notorious MMA Conor McGregor & his exploits both on and off the ring.
You may also be aware of his plans to market a whiskey.
Well it’s out – Right Here, Right Now in yer local Tesco.
Now Conor doesn’t do things in halves.
Despite the bluster around ‘his’ distillery – the money is on Bushmills as the main source of this entry level blend.
He is certainly coming in BIG.
He is certainly coming in STRONG and
He is certainly entering into a market previously dominated by Jameson as a serious contender.
What else could I do but rush to Tesco to buy my own bottle & do a back to back taste test?
The Bottle. It looks big, it looks chunky, it’s green & is catchy enough. Jameson by comparison looks dated.
Colour. Proper Twelve comes out a slightly darker shade of added caramel. This is standard practice for entry level blends. Proper Twelve does appear to have more viscous legs in the glass however.
Nose. Both show that standard entry level caramel nose. Yet Proper Twelve has a hint of warmth to it – some charred cask influence? – which Jameson lacks.
Taste. Both are soft & smooth – Jameson is softer & smoother – but the little bit of body & warmth Proper Twelve exhibits – along with an enjoyable sprinkling of tingling spice – adds to it’s appeal.
Overall. Jameson is yer archetypal go-to easy drinking approachable blend. Proper Twelve is of similar style – yet for me has added depth, body & a little spice which gives it more character – which is only appropriate given the large than life character behind it.
Named after the Crumlin area of Dublin – D12 – Conor hails from – Proper Twelve has appeal far beyond the narrow confines of the whiskey world.
It opens up the Irish Whiskey segment to a mass audience – and it seriously challenges Jameson’s dominance of that market.
I wholeheartedly welcome that challenge and wish all involved with Proper Twelve future success.
I don’t normally do press releases – but I’ll make an exception for this one.
The long awaited & hotly tipped Conor McGregor Irish Whiskey is here with the name Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
This is the full statement below.
IRELAND, 17 September 2018 – Eire Born Spirits today announces the launch of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Champion and one of the world’s most iconic athletes, Conor McGregor, is the founder, chairman and majority owner of the company. McGregor is proud to introduce this exciting Irish whiskey to the world, launching in Ireland and the United States, with further expansion in 2019 and onward. McGregor, being the perfectionist that he is, took a detailed, time-intensive approach to creating his whiskey.
Numerous Irish whiskey makers sought McGregor’s endorsement over the years, but as a true born and bred Irishman, he did not want to simply endorse an Irish whiskey. Inspired by his pride for Ireland and his love of Irish whiskey, McGregor wanted to create his own whiskey that would match his high standards and make his country proud.
For years, McGregor developed the brand under the project name “Notorious” through which came the foundation of what was to eventually become Proper No. Twelve. It became a longer and more complicated project than originally expected, so McGregor turned to the world’s oldest whiskey distillery, located in Ireland, with a proven history of quality whiskey making. He met David Elder, esteemed master distiller, previously of Guinness, and together they took painstaking measures to bring the whiskey to fruition. “We created close to one hundred blends and ultimately selected what we knew was the one and only proper whiskey blend. We took the time to develop an incredible whiskey and I’m excited to share it with the world,” said McGregor.
Proper No. Twelve’s global launch expression is a blend of the finest golden grain and single malt. It is produced in an area known for its rich soil and pure spring water. Proper No. Twelve is complex and sophisticated yet smooth and approachable with hints of vanilla, honey and toasted wood.
“I come from a place called Crumlin, in Dublin 12. It’s a place dear to my heart. It’s where I learned how to fight; it made me who I am today. It’s a place I’m still very much a part of every single day of my life. So, that’s where the name came from. It’s proper Irish whiskey and twelve is my hometown,” said McGregor. “Growing up on the streets of Dublin 12, I learned the values of loyalty and hard work. I respect other Irish whiskeys, but I am coming in strong, with passion and with purpose. I am the founder of this company and I am going to give it my all,” he continued.
If you manage to build your distillery the next issue is warehouses to store the new make distillate for the required 3 years until it becomes whiskey. Great Northern Distillery are still on the hunt for storage after their plans were knocked back in County Louth.
Teeling looks outside Louth for €20m whiskey warehouse
If you manage to overcome these hurdles – yet more await.
What are you going to call your whiskey?
A certain well known Dublin personality had hoped to call his whiskey ‘Notorious’ – but there happened to be a beer already on the market with that name.
What else could I do but pop down to my local O’Briens to purchase a few for tasting?
O’Hara’s are one of the original craft beer makers in Ireland. Founded in 1996 they were ahead of the pack and have grown with the times. Now a major player in the craft beer market they produce a varied range of porters, lagers, ales & IPA’s – as well as opening a bar in Kilkenny.
Their Notorious Red IPA is an amalgam of 2 popular styles of beer.
Red Ale is a relatively light ale usually showing a reddish hue. Notes of malt, soft caramel with a gentle smoke from the roasted malts often used coming through too.
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give the original definition – is the hot ticket in the craft beer world. The high hop content displays varying degrees of bitterness ranging from fresh citrussy summer notes to deeper almost woody pine flavours.
I must admit my palate is not a fan of IPA – the bitterness puts me off – but I do enjoy a Red Ale now and then.
So with that caveat in mind – how did I find the Notorious Red IPA?
A decent Red Ale ruined by the hoppy bitterness.
I did reach out to a self declared IPA fan – in the interests of balance – to get a view from the other side.
The connections with whiskey and the mighty River Shannon go back a long way.
You could say the Shannon provided the route into Europe for whiskey around 500 to 600AD when Irish Monks brought back the art of distillation from it’s Middle Eastern birthplace.
The earliest written record of whiskey – or aqua vitae as the original clear distilled liquid was known as – is found in the Annals Of Clonmacnoise – that great seat of learning situated on a bend in the Shannon just South of Athlone – written in 1405.
In the Annuls it mentions a certain ‘Richard MacGrannell Chieftain of Moyntyrealas’ who died at Christmas from a ‘surfeit of aqua vitae’.
It seems Ireland’s – or the world’s – troubled relationship with alcohol is nothing new!
Whiskey distilleries sprung up all round the Midlands area of Ireland in the late 1700’s early 1800’s. Athlone, Tullamore & Kilbeggan all had 2 whilst Birr managed 4! The proximity to a ready supply of power – the River Shannon & it’s tributaries – as well as waterborne transport of raw materials & produce and good farming ground were no doubt factors.
The recently held Shannon Festival in Athlone re-enacted those glory days with a delivery of kegs of porter & barrels of whiskey brought to the quayside door of Seans Bar by a pair of original Shannon Barges – 45M built in 1928 & 92E built in 1905 originally as Horse Boat 66.
A Tullamore DEW 12 Year Old Special Reserve – triple casked, triple distilled & triple blended – was heightened by some dark chocolate.
The surprise of the day however was a Kilbeggan distilled 10 Year Old bourbon cask matured Single Malt drawn straight from the barrel by Global Brand Ambassador John Cashman himself as part of the Connoisseur Tour which is held occasionally. Fabulous stuff! Full of flavour with a powerful punch from the 58% ABV. A drop of water accentuated the richness within.
The highlight of the weekend however was a whiskey cruise on the Viking Boat up the Shannon itself.
The Vikings were regular marauders up the Shannon. Clonmacnoise was regularly a target and it’s suggested the Vikings used nearby Rindoon as a base on Lough Ree to conduct their raids from.
Our boat party meanwhile were more interested in some whiskey.
Egan’s Vintage Grain started the session off paired with more of that lovely chocolate. Egan’s is a family concern with deep roots in the Tullamore area. The Bridge House Hotel in the town was built for P&H Egan – and is proudly displayed on the bottle label – who did good business in the area finishing whiskey sourced from several distilleries to their own requirements. The current generation are resurrecting that tradition with tasty results.
Kilbeggan Whiskey is a lovely soft, slightly sweet easy drinking blend which contains a measure of malt from the boutique distillery at Kilbeggan – only a half hour away from Athlone.
Tullamore DEW were represented by their entry bottling – triple distilled, triple casked & triple blended – which was paired with a slice of green apple. This was a new experience for myself and I found it surprisingly enjoyable.
The final pour of the day was a personal favourite of mine – Locke’s 8 Year Old Single Malt. Named after the well respected distillery manager – John Locke – who ran the business for many years and after whom Locke’s Distillery was known as.
This modern malt is now made at Cooley Distillery – the sister distillery to Kilbeggan – is double distilled & contains 10% peated malt. This adds a very pleasant soft smoke to the gentle oaky notes & leaves a wonderful dry mouthfeel at the end. Beautiful stuff.
With all this whiskey on board we rounded the cruise up with an impromptu ‘dance-off’ in a Father Ted caravan holiday style session to much hilarity & delight.
Spot prizes were awarded to the best performers – and it certainly was a performance at that!
If you’re looking for a bit of whiskey history – some excellent whiskey & food pairings – as well as having a bit of craic too – a cruise up the Shannon with Midland Whiskey Experiences is a must.
And after sampling whiskey from the oldest continuously licenced distillery in the World – Kilbeggan 1757 – why not continue the fun with a drink in Sean’s Bar – the Oldest Pub In Ireland circa 900AD – just across the road!
Out and about on my holidays in Southern France I did as many of the locals do and took a day trip into Spain for a spot of shopping, sightseeing, Spanish sausage & chips and a cold San Miguel.
The border is only about an hour away set in the stunning scenery of the Pyrenees mountain range.
Les is the first town you reach on the particular crossing I ventured on. What greets you on the outskirts of town is a car park full of French vehicles taking advantage of the cheaper tax regime on a variety of goods including fuel, tobacco and booze.
I eagerly browsed a couple of shops looking for some Spanish whisky – non was available.
There we’re some interesting American & Scottish offerings however.
How about some Buffalo Bill Bourbon?
Or perhaps William Peel, Black Vulture or even Sir Edward might please your palate?
These are only a few of the locally based brands that are widely obtainable in France or Spain – yet are rarely encountered in the country of origin.
Maybe you’d feel safer with more familiar brands like Jack Daniels, William Lawson’s or Ballantines.
Amidst all this liquid there was only one Irish representative – Jameson.
Where are all the new Irish Brands?
Where are all the locally branded & marketed French based Irish Whiskeys with fancy names like Green Dragon, Seamus Shaughnessey or even Shamrock Sile?
Now I realise this market is more about quantity rather than quality.
There are no pretentions to provenance and terroir is trodden underfoot with trollies laden with 4.5 litre bottles of your favourite whisky bound for a celebratory social occasion or party.
Yet even within this segment there are a variety of styles, tastes and prices.
I know Irish Whiskey is capable of producing a decent tipple at a bargain basement price – Irish Reserve 4 Year Old springs to mind – so why not here?
I have nothing against Jameson – but by my purely anecdotal browsings you’d be forgiven for being unaware of the explosive growth of Irish Whiskeys on the market.
Irish Whiskey is seriously under represented in this segment.
Apart from Jameson – it’s not even in the market.
I was a customer in that market. I bought a Scotch I hadn’t tried before. That’s a missed Irish opportunity.
Love him or loathe him – his expected entry into the Irish Whiskey market will certainly stir things up.
I look forward to tasting his new whiskey – as I do all new entrants – and see it as a marvelous marketing opportunity to push the entire category forward.
It’s interesting to note there were 2 whiskey related articles in the tabloid press recently. One concerned Slane Whiskey filling the first barrels from their own distillery at Slane Castle – famous for rock concerts.
The other concerned Conor McGregor’s recent instagram photo of himself in ‘his’ distillery. I say ‘his’ as it’s probably where he is sourcing the whiskey from. I’m not sure if even his pockets are deep enough to purchase a fully functioning whiskey distillery.
Both are pushing the segment forward and both ‘go beyond Irish Whiskey’ – to use a phrase coined by Jameson’s new boss Conor McQuaid. Both also have the potential to reach a far bigger audience than most new entrants.
Conor McGregor certainly has drive, ambition, passion and a great sales patter. Attributes necessary in launching a whiskey brand.
He’s also capable of dreaming big – and delivering on those dreams.
You couldn’t get much bigger than outselling Jameson Whiskey.
I won’t be watching the McGregor vs Khabib fight – but I’ll certainly be following the McGregor vs Jameson clash – and despite all the odds – I hope he succeeds.