It’s nearing Burns Night – 25th January – so I thought a bit of Scotch would be in order.
You could say Rabbie Burns is one of the first ‘celebrity’ endorsements of whisky – and he’s still going strong today.
My choice of whisky is one I rarely encounter – but the vivid yellow label & green bottle always stands out from the crowd & draws me in.
Cutty Sark has dual meaning.
Rabbie Burns poem Tam o’ Shanter – a tale about drinking & chasing cutty sark or ‘short skirts’ in modern terms – still resonates today.
There was also a famous tea clipper – Cutty Sark – which just happened to be docked in London back in 1923. Berry Bros & Rudd decided to name & launch their new Cutty Sark Blended Scots Whisky on the back of this.
Marketing – when you get it right – it works.
And it’s still working today.
I picked up this miniature in a local off-licence when I spotted it.
The colour is reassuringly pale. There is added caramel – common practice for entry level blends – but not too much.
The nose is rather soft & light – with just a hint of sooty smoke & sweet grainy vanilla.
A very easy entry on tasting.
Nothing very much in the middle – before that gorgeous smoke influence wafts in and just makes this blend sail!
It’s simple yet well balanced.
None of the up to 40 different – and ever changing – single malt & grain ingredients dominate.
The particular bottle I sampled is from Berry Bros & Rudd and presented at 43%.
The brand has since passed through the Edrington Group & subsequently been acquired by French group La Martiniquaise-Bardinet.
It’s a lovely easy drinking yet suitably smoky blend that certainly floats my boat!
Egan’s Whiskey are a 6th generation whiskey company based in the Irish Midlands town of Tullamore.
Back in their heyday of the late 1800’s Egan’s were a very successful business. The Head Office reflected the grandeur of the time – and still stands today as the Bridge House Hotel.
One of P&H Egan’s many businesses was purchasing whiskey by the barrel & finishing or maturing it to their own specifications. Then bottling, branding, distributing & selling it under their own name.
The Brewery Tap in Tullamore still has P&H Egan mirrors prominently displayed in the snug of this popular hostelry.
The current Egan family generation have recently re-entered this market with a range of sourced malts and single grain whiskey.
I happened to get an invite to a vertical tasting of their products back in the summer.
Both the Vintage Grain and 10 Year Old Single Malt I’ve covered before – and if you click on the links you will be guided to my findings.
The highlight of this particular tasting however was the Egan’s 15 Year Old Legacy Release Single Malt as introduced to us by Alison, Brand Ambassador for Intrepid Spirits who are handling the whiskey.
Aged exclusively in ex bourbon barrels – the Legacy Reserve is a marriage of several individual cask chosen by Egan family members.
It’s bottled at that magic number – 46% – which usually denotes no chill filtering.
The nose opened up with rich vanilla & caramel complimented by some deeper oaky notes from the years in american oak.
Beautifully smooth on the palate – I found the tannic flavours balanced well with the sweet vanilla – even developing into old leather notes.
Others at the tasting wondered whether there had been any sherry influence as they were picking up some fresh fruity notes too – but no – bourbon cask maturation was the sole influencer.
A complex medley of flavours danced around with a hint of prickly spice on the satisfying long finish.
Very attractively packaged in a rectangular bottle complete with plush wooden box containing Egan’s back story in a handy booklet – this is aimed at a premium market.
The liquid inside lived up to it’s lavish presentation.
One emerging market everyone is keen to get in on is Africa – Nigeria in particular.
With a population estimated at 200 million – making it the 7th most populous nation in the world – and an alcohol sales figure of 2.84 billion dollars in 2014 – who wouldn’t want to have a slice of that cake?
Indian whisky is to the forefront here – at least until Nigeria develops it’s own distilling industry.
India produces mass market blends usually consisting of imported bulk malt from Scotland – augmented with Indian grain – plus a dash of added caramel.
All the big players – Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, United Spirits & others all have their own particular brands in this category. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a few here, here & here.
They retail – in Lagos at least – for about €5 per 750ml bottle of Nigerian strength – 43% – whisky.
My latest acquisition – via my Nigerian correspondent – is Black & Blue Premium Whisky.
The name is entertaining.
A play on the successful Black & White Scotch mixed in with the premiumisation associated with Blue (a la Johnnie Walker Blue) – and the unfortunate association attached to ‘battered black & blue.
It’s not clear as to the origins of this brand.
The label has a London address – a rather drab office in Kingsbury NW9 – and oddly a phone number – which rang out when I called.
Oh – I think ROI in this instance means Republic Of India.
I’ve not yet encountered any Irish whiskey in this segment of the market.
So what does ‘the finest oak aged matured malt blended with Indian grain spirit’ taste like?
Well – there is a burnt quality to the nose. I couldn’t describe it as smoky or peaty – yet it’s rather attractive. Mainly as it dampened down the sweet caramel influence.
This followed through into the taste – which didn’t offer much regards depth of flavour or complexity – but it was smooth & approachable.
The burnt note returned on the finish – which along with the 43% strength left a decent degree of heat & warm feeling on the palate.
It certainly didn’t leave my insides black & blue.
Just pleasantly intoxicated.
Sure at only a fiver – what can you complain about!
If anything – Irish Whiskey is late to this social media led personality trend – and I’d be more worried if there wasn’t an Irish celebrity wanting to get involved.
Right from the beginning however – even before it’s release – I posted a piece with the headline ‘We need to talk about Conor’ and got the following response;
“No we don’t”
Kind of sets the tone for what followed when Proper Twelve was launched.
“It’s barely legal”
Well at 3 years old it is legal.
Funny though – that issue never came up when punters were outbidding each other to get hold of ‘barely legal’ Dingle or Teeling whiskey when it was first released.
Then comes the condemnation.
“Heavily adulterated with caramel”
Yes there is added caramel – it says so on the label. Caramel is a legally allowed additive both within Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky. The same criticism can be levelled at virtually every Jameson product, Bushmill bottle, Johnnie Walker whisky and many others as they all contain caramel. Why single out one offender?
Then you start to get to the heart of the matter.
“See, Bono’s doing it right….he’s supporting the build of an ACTUAL distillery!”
Since when did you need a distillery to build a brand?
The Spot whiskeys started out from a grocers. So too did the best selling Johnnie Walker. Many a big brand of today began as non distillery producers – it’s a well trodden path.
And then you get plain old bias.
“I have no intention of ever trying it.”
Which is probably just as well – as blogger after blogger lined up to do a hatchet job on the liquid. The best described the whiskey as;
Now in all probability Proper Twelve was distilled at Bushmills for the malt content and Midleton for the grain. There is no law in either Irish or Scottish rules stating you must name the distillery which made the blend.
So effectively the same teams that make all Bushmills product – from the White Bush blend to the lauded 21 Year Old Single Malt – as well as the folks that make all the Jameson, Powers, Paddy’s & Midleton products have somehow dropped their standards to allow ‘toilet cleaner’ to be made in their stills, stored in their barrels and blended in their tanks?
I don’t think so.
What I found on tasting was a very easy going, approachable blend with a slight charred cask influence and a hint of spice.
It sits very well among the other Irish whiskey blends out there.
But then what is getting people irate – from what I can see – is not really the whiskey – it’s the man behind it – Conor McGregor.
The idea that a somewhat colourful & controversial kid from Crumlin can just swan in with his millions and release a whiskey that has the whole world talking – buying – and drinking – is obviously too much to bear .
It upsets the cosy consensus that assumed ‘premiumisation’ was the way to go – or that ‘transparency’ is key.
For a whiskey that sold out 6 months worth of stock within a matter of weeks – I think it just proved there was a vast untapped market out there waiting to be filled. It’s a marketing master stroke and something of a social media phenomenon.
But of course – when all else fails – slag off the customer.
“There are just enough rednecks and hooligans out there that will actually make this crap a success.”
I find it ironic that those who criticize Mr McGregor the loudest seem to descend to his level of pre-fight ritual lambasting.
Which is a pity.
As Mr McGregor and his Proper Twelve brand have just pulled off a massive publicity stunt that is getting Irish Whiskey instant worldwide recognition and potential sales far beyond anything that has gone before.
It is without doubt my Irish Whiskey of the year 2018.
All quotes in italics are from social media posts by various whiskey fans. They are by no means the only ones. I have chosen the milder variety.
It’s been well over a year since I first went out to purchase this whisky.
The idea of a budget supermarket branded single malt appealed to me. I had to find out for myself what it tasted like.
Inadvertently I walked into the wrong German supermarket store and came out with Aldi’s Glen Marnoch instead.
Now in this segment of the market you have to accept chill filtering & added caramel. There is no provenance – nor terroir. There isn’t even a Glen Marnoch or Ben Bracken distillery – let alone an actual physical Ben or Glen of the same name to visit. You get what you pay for – entry level single malt.
The Glen Marnoch Islay was fine – a decent hit of peat over a rather hefty dose of caramel.
I’d actually stopped looking for Ben Bracken.
It’s reach didn’t seem to make it across the Irish Sea – and there were far more entertaining bottles to bring back from the UK.
But when it appeared in my local Lidl store in Athlone – I couldn’t really give it a miss. If only to show no favouritism towards either store.
To kick off with there’s that dark ruby mahogany shade of added caramel – but on nosing – a refreshingly clean & clear smack of peat smoke greeted me.
I found it very inviting.
The initial taste was rather soft, watery & almost insipid – but then a big waft of peat just blows in and makes it sort of alright!
My peat baby is coming back to me!
The experience left a softly drying ashiness. Like a warm & cosy seaside fire rolling around on my palate.
I’d rate this higher than Glen Marnoch.
The caramel quota isn’t as pronounced – which allows a more powerful & peaty punch to shine through.
There isn’t much else.
It’s rather one dimensional.
But if like me you enjoy a smack of smoke in your glass.
The choice of which dressing to adorn your meal with to spice it up a little wouldn’t normally feature in a whiskey blog.
But then this is no ordinary ketchup.
Fitzpatrick’s Homemade Ketchup is the first – at least to my knowledge – to be infused with ‘just a splash of Irish Poitín’ in it’s ingredients.
I just had to try it out!
It’s available locally near it’s Cavan based homeland – and at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin – where I picked up a bottle before attending the wonderful Whiskey Live Dublin 2018 show.
I added a generous serving to my fish ‘n’ chips recently – well – it was a Friday – and it certainly made a welcome step up from my normal everyday condiment.
It’s more of a relish than a red sauce.
There are small chunks of tomatoes, onions & sultanas in the mix – which adds texture – together with a gentle sweetness – and a spicy tanginess – giving a welcome zest & flavour to my meal.
Quite what the ‘splash of Irish Poitín’ added to the well balanced mix I’m not sure – but there was a wholesome earthiness to the experience – and at only 1.5% content – it’s hardly going to intoxicate you.
A lovely tasty addition to the condiment canon!
I’ve certainly enjoyed splashing it all over my meals in recent weeks!