As it’s National Bourbon Day I thought I’d celebrate by cracking open a bottle that’s been sitting in my cupboard for some time.
When I first bought this bourbon I knew nothing about it.
My original impression was that as it has a large 8 emblazoned on the label it must be a step up from the 7 on a bottle of Jack?
And on eventually getting round to a tasting – it certainly did satisfy my palate more.
A lovely golden hue complete with decent legs graced the Túath glass on a pour. Being a ‘straight‘ bourbon guarantees no added caramel in the mix.
Soft and gentle on the palate to begin with, the flavours & heat slowly grew in intensity giving a good showing of vanillas & sweet caramel mixed with darker hints of tobacco and a lovely growing spice towards the end.
For me the finish was the best bit.
The spiciness – suggestive of a decent rye percentage in the mashbill – slowly dried out leaving a gentle prickliness in the mouth – which I enjoy.
Being an entry level bourbon – Benchmark is appropriately named as it does provide an exceedingly pleasing drinking experience from which other bourbons can be compared.
Only after I purchased this bottle did I find out it’s part of the Buffalo Trace portfolio from Kentucky.
Interestingly it shares the same mashbill as Buffalo Trace itself – along with the more aged Eagle Rare & George T Stagg offerings!
The only differences are the time spent in the barrel – they are all virgin american oak remember with the same char level – and which part of the rickhouse they were stored in during maturity.
Having tasted the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old 2017 release at Whiskey Live Dublin – it would be folly to compare the 2 bourbons – but you can appreciate the solid foundations of the young Benchmark that with added maturity grew into the stunning Eagle Rare 17.
But then my local O’Briens only stocked Benchmark!
Continuing my exploration of the constant development of whiskey brands are a pair of Kilbeggan Single Grains.
Now Kilbeggan Single Grain didn’t start out with that name. It first appeared – at least in my world – as Greenore Single Grain.
Greenore is a port on the Carlingford Peninsular in County Louth not far from the Cooley Distillery where these spirits are distilled. The original name far more accurately represented the geographical source of the whiskey.
Greenore Single Grain came in a range of age statements. All with the same bottle design as the relabeled Kilbeggan Single Grain miniature before me. The new name brought in a commonality across the range reflecting the showcase distillery at Kilbeggan itself.
It also tasted exactly the same – if my memory serves me right.
Matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels the 8 year old single grain has a light nose – as expected – but a welcome amount of flavour on the palate. Soft vanillas & caramel dominate with a teasing soft spice to round off this very easy drinking offering.
The latest incarnation sports a freshly redesigned label, a new bottle design, a boosted 43% ABV and a bit of a recipe change too!
The nose is richer!
Which reflects both the extra strength along with some sherry finishing too.
I must admit to enjoying this new offering – even if the age statement has been dropped.
It’s still quite a light whiskey – yet the sherry casks add a degree of depth & flavour to the experience without losing the core character of the single grain. The sweet vanillas & caramel have been augmented by fruity elements giving a more rounded & complex feel.
Single grains are often overlooked – which is a pity.
These are both very enjoyable easy going exemplars of this style of whiskey.
I won this lovely bottle of whiskey courtesy of the Celtic Whiskey Club and Walsh Whiskey themselves – very much appreciated.
Celtic Whiskey Club is an open invite whiskey club organised by the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin. You can follow the link to their website.
Whiskey samples are sent out regularly – both Ireland & abroad – to members who are then invited to participate in tweet tastings. Drinking whiskey with others – even at the end of the internet – is far more entertaining.
On this particular occasion – a double bill Writers’ Tears release from Walsh Whiskey – 2 participants won a bottle each. I happily obtained the Double Oak – my preferred choice.
So how was it?
A gorgeously warm ‘Bear Hug’ of a whiskey with dark sweet cherry notes contrasting with gentle prickly oaky spiceiness. Cue video!
Double Oak is a blend of single pot still & single malt whiskeys finished in a combination of ex bourbon & ex cognac casks to give it that deep dark sweet character with plenty of warmth & added spice.
Along with other Writers’ Tears releases Double Oak is presented at 46% with non chill filtering allowing the full flavours to shine.
Another fabulously tasty release from Walsh Whiskey.
When your country estate already pulls in a substantial amount of visitors to the stunningly ornate gardens with magnificent views of Sugarloaf Mountain behind.
When a 5 Star hotel graces your grounds along with 2 championship designed golf courses laid out in the beautiful Wicklow scenery.
Not to mention the history, tales and adventures contained within the walls of the grand 18th Century mansion of Powerscourt House itself.
What exactly would be the icing on the cake?
Well a single estate whiskey distillery wouldn’t go amiss now would it?
Discreetly built onto the old estate sawmill, Powerscourt Distillery is fully operational busily laying down casks of single malt Irish Whiskey to mature in it’s nearby warehouse.
The 3 resplendent copper pot stills – made by Forsyths – sit majestically in a modern clean & bright open plan space allowing visitors a close up look, feel & smell of the whole grain to glass process of whiskey making.
Noel Sweeney has brought his many distinguished years of knowledge as Master Distiller to Powerscourt overseeing the production of both single malt – as well as single pot still distillate – to this exciting distillery.
It will be a few years before Powerscourt Distillery’s own spirit is fully mature – but in the meantime a trio of whiskeys released under the Fercullen label – the old name for the lands Powersourt Estate sits on – are available.
Unusually in this instance Noel probably had a hand in distilling these sourced whiskeys from his days at Cooley & Kilbeggan Distilleries under a number of different owners.
Tours include a tasting of all 3 whiskeys in one of Powerscourt Distillery’s sumptuously laid out rooms.
The 10 Year Old Fercullen Single Grain Whiskey was offered first.
Now there aren’t that many single grains on the market – which is a pity – as this one shows up the light yet delicately balanced sweet & fruity flavours within a great single grain. Far from being silent there were notes of honey, citrus and a gentle woody spice too.
Very approachable & easy on the palate.
The attractively priced Fercullen Blend was a bit of a pleaser too.
It displayed a complex set of notes from soft fruitiness to darker oaky tannins within an extremely well balanced mix.
A blend you can happily sit back & savour.
The pride of place meanwhile went to the Fercullen 14 Year Old Single Malt.
Packing extra ABV at 46% – as opposed to the 40% of it’s siblings – the 14 Year Old had added depth & boosted character from the exclusively ex-bourbon cask maturation used in all 3 offerings.
When many a distillery relies on additional finishes to give the spirit a lift – Fercullen demonstrates the beauty of what to many is a simple standard of Irish Whiskey.
A very impressive range of whiskeys for a very impressive distillery.
The renewed & growing interest in brown spirits doesn’t just stop at whiskey.
Rum is also showing an increase in appreciation.
The enterprising Íon Distillery near Omagh, County Tyrone, is banking on this appreciation by producing a rum aged in whiskey barrels!
I couldn’t resist trying it out.
A bottle was promptly sourced via the fast & efficient KWM Wine & Spirits online store in Kilkeel.
Íon – meaning pure – combine the history of the past blended with a sense of people & place finished in a modern innovative twist.
Sugar cane molasses from the Caribbean are distilled in a ‘doubler style’ copper pot still, infused with spices, cut with locally sourced water & laid to rest in ex-bourbon barrels.
Ogham style markings – found on ancient stones around Ireland – are used as an attractive motif on the bottle – along with images of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley’s Castle – who possibly downed a few bottles of contraband rum in her time!
I poured a glass.
The lovely golden hued liquid gave off a gorgeously spicy bouquet of cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg over an underlying gentle toffee sweetness.
Light in body, the soft caramel notes gave way to a growing spiciness & warming heat in a smooth delivery.
The spices left an enjoyably prickly sensation at the end as they slowly faded.
More of a winter warmer to me than a summer sizzler.
Being a bit of a purist myself I couldn’t help wondering what the rum would be like without the additional spices which tended to dominate the more subtle flavours within.
However this is in contradiction to the latest trend which shows spiced rum to be the fastest growing category in this segment.
I first became acquainted with Mezcal doing a Level 2 Spirits Award at the WSET – Wine & Spirit Education Trust.
There is long and proud tradition of spirit production in Mexico that parallels that of whiskey manufacture in Ireland or Scotland. There are rules & regulations to get any spirit geek excited – and it certainly helps I was hooked immediately by the rich & complex flavours contained within the Mezcals I tasted.
Terroir is key to Mezcal.
Geographically protected to certain regions within Mexico & made with varietals of the long lived agave plant, Mezcal is the artisanal based small scale product to the mass produced sister spirit Tequila.
The 2 Mezcal Amores sent showcased the results of 2 different varietals of agave with the same production methods.
Joven in both these expressions means unaged.
With a spirit as pure and unadulterated as Mexcal – no ageing is required.
Espadín Amores – as suggested in the name – is made from the Espadín agave which must be used to make Tequila – but Mezcal can use any variety of agave.
There is no harsh abrasiveness to this spirit.
It gently warms & caresses both the nose & palate with a richness of flavours.
A gentle soft sweetness combined with hints of leather or even tobacco from the roasting used to prepare the agave swirl around in the mouth in a comforting snug.
Lip smackingly enjoyable.
Cupreata Amores was even better!
Made from the Cupreata agave which matures for 8 to 13 years before being harvested. This mezcal possessed a deeper – even darker – cornucopia of complexity to hook me in even further to the charms of this Mexican spirit.
There was a contrast to the almost muscovado dark sweetness at the start to a warming stewed note at the end.
Wild yeasts are used in fermenting – much like the popular Brett yeasts of craft beer fame – but without the sour tart results – funky perhaps – but not overpowering – just well balanced & enticing.
I had to have more!
No wonder there is a fan club as fanatical as whiskey has for this fabulous spirit.
It’s not very often you get to attend the launch of a whiskey in the Council Chambers of a local Town Hall.
But then this is no ordinary whiskey.
It’s a whiskey steeped with history, heritage & family.
A whiskey commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passing of Henry Egan.
Descendants of Henry gathered together outside his former house – now Tullamore Town Hall – not only to remember him – but also to revive the family tradition – Irish Whiskey.
The well respected Midland’s business of P&H Egan loomed large in Tullamore from the 1850’s right up to the 1960’s. Alongside whiskey blending, many other businesses were engaged in by generations of the family. A walk round the town showed the extent of the family’s influence with the current Bridge House Hotel being originally built as the main shop & head office for the Egan’s operations.
Offaly History do a blog detailing much information on the Egan family history in Tullamore here.
During the walk a bottle of Egan’s Whiskey was given to the owners of barge 42B. The very same barge P&H Egan’s had owned back in the day to transport goods to and from Dublin via the Grand Canal – the motorway of it’s day.
The highlight of the proceedings was undoubtedly the unveiling of Egan’s Centenary Irish Whiskey in the Brewery Tap Bar – also previously owned by P&H Egan’s as a brewery for their Ales.
The complete collection of Egan’s Whiskeys were laid out for an eager gathering of family & friends at the bar.
To start off the tasting, Egan’s Vintage Grain.
A gorgeously warm single grain presented at 46% & non chill filtered – as all Egan’s Whiskeys are – full of vanillas & caramel from the ex-bourbon cask maturation.
Egan’s Fortitude Single Malt.
Fully matured in PX Sherry casks this non age statement – NAS – offering didn’t excite my palate as much. There were more dark fruits present – and a lovely soft spicy dryness at the end – but it just missed the mark for me.
Egan’s 10 Year Old Single Malt.
Everyone at my table enjoyed this one!
Boasting a 47% ABV this single malt was easy on the palate yet bursting with fruity juiciness & gentle spices at the end.
Egan’s 15 Year Old Legacy Reserve.
A rare treat to encounter this lovely rich whiskey again. I particularly enjoyed the depth of character with dry oaky tannins, leathery & tobacco notes from the long maturation. It didn’t suit everyone though – as I found out by chatting to my fellow imbibers. A few of them happened to be Egan descendants themselves! Although not involved with the whiskey venturing Egan’s of the present day.
And then the glorious finale!
Egan’s Centenary Irish Whiskey – poured individually out of the first bottle ever to be opened by the Intrepid Spirits founder himself – with the elegantly displayed packaging showcased by the Egan’s First Lady of Whiskey too!
The nose was initially softer, cleaner almost – before the gentle subtleness of dark fruits opened up.
The taste was attractively warming. A smooth velvety mouthfeel with dark cherry fruitiness from the ex-cognac casks used to finish this blend.
A flourish of spice rounded off this fabulous whiskey.
A fitting whiskey to commemorate one of the founding Egan family members who built a successful business empire in the past.
A fitting whiskey to be enjoyed in the present.
And a fitting whiskey to toast future generations of Egan’s a long & prosperous involvement in the spirits trade.