Continuing my miniature series are a pair of releases from across the pond with links to Ireland.
Great Wagon Road Distilling in North Carolina play homage to their Irish roots with Quinn’s Barrel Rested Poitin while Canadian company Seagram’s at one time used to own Bushmills Distillery.
So how did I find them?
Quinn’s Barrel Rested Poitin, 45%
Golden brown in colour, slightly darker than Seagram’s. A pleasant sweet fruity nose, suggestive of sherry influence. Smooth, oily mouthfeel with good depth of flavour. Luscious mouth watering finish, reminiscent of fruit pastilles.
A tad sweet for my palate – but a very entertaining tipple!
Turns out this poitin is made with organic barley & wheat – which perhaps gives the sweetness? – & is rested in new oak barrels.
Really enjoyed this one!
Seagram’s VO, 40%
Pale straw. Grainy sweet caramel. Quite light. Mild & mellow palate. Hints of tingling spice on the finish.
An easy drinker livening up on the rear.
Seagram’s are now part of the Sazerac group who only recently announced their purchase of the Lough Gill Distillery in County Sligo.
A classic Canadian blend.
For my palate Quinn’s provided a richer & more entertaining tipple.
Which one would you choose?
My samples were purchased from Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder here.
I received this lovely looking duo of ryes courtesy of Axiom Brands – many thanks.
Being a self confessed rye head WhistlePig loomed large yet had always eluded me.
Now was my chance to try them out.
First the controversy.
To begin with WhistlePig didn’t distill their own rye. They bought a load of Canadian Rye destined to be used in blending, shipped it across the border & finished it to WhistlePig’s own requirements at their Vermont Farm.
Having built up a bit of a following & brand recognition they latterly distill their own rye made from grain grown on the farm, aged in oak trees from Vermont & cut with water from the farm well.
Some folks have a problem with this.
To me it makes sound business sense being able to sell sourced product before your own matures. It also allows experimentation & a growing knowledge in handling the spirit in advance of committing even more money into building a distillery.
But what really interests me is how it tastes.
So let’s go!
WhistlePig 10 Year Old, Straight Rye, 50%
Very marginally paler than the 12yo.
Classic peppery rye spice on the nose yet balanced & nuanced with the decade in oak.
A powerful rye hit on tasting. The balance has gone as rye spices shine through with added tannins in the mix leading to a long lasting dry finish.
A no nonsense take no prisoners brute of a rye.
WhistlePig 12 Year Old, Old World Rye, 43%
Can I detect a slightly darker hue to this one?
The rye spices have taken on a more rounded, almost perfumed nose. Makes me want to jump in!
Softer on the palate, even creamy to begin with, before it reminds you this is a rye with that classic dry peppery spice slowly growing in intensity.
A more balanced & complex rye that benefits from it’s ageing in Madeira, Sauternes & Port Casks.
The ‘in yer face’ honesty of the 10 or the complexity of the 12?
Both have their good points – but on balance – the Old World 12 piques my interest the most.
The novel triple cask approach adds depth & variety to the classic rye canon.
Flying in from a town whose tallest building is the 12 story Sheraton Hotel – staying in a 9th floor hotel room held a certain appeal.
Sadly the views I expected were obscured by even larger skyscrapers that we couldn’t see the tops of despite craning our necks through the permanently closed bedroom window.
Welcome to New York!
I still harboured high hopes for the hotel’s 14th floor roof top bar – Vu Bar – quietly enjoying a few drinks with a panoramic view of downtown NY below.
A cold blustery windswept veranda overlooked by even taller buildings was the reality. Well – it was March – and the building that dominated all – including our bedroom window vista – was in fact the Empire State Building!
The bar had a lovely collection of whiskey to sample however & a friendly bartender in Emilio.
I started with Maker’s Mark 46. It’s a mainly corn based bourbon with some wheat & barley in the mash bill which imparts a relatively soft, smooth & sweet overall experience to the taste despite it’s 47% strength. It goes down very easily – but didn’t really do anything for me & my penchant for bolder flavours. It definitely is a better dram than the standard Maker’s Mark which I tasted earlier on in the day though.
The darker colouring & slight dry spice on the nose indicated a high rye content in this 50% bourbon which was much more agreeable to my tastes.
Emilio mentioned a sister bar on the opposite side of the street – so the next evening after a busy day sightseeing & an enjoyable tasty meal washed down by the amusingly named Kloud lager – which had a lovely malty flavour – in a local Korean restaurant – we headed up to the 17th floor Cloud Social bar.
The views were far more impressive from up here. It would certainly make for a cool place to hang out on a warm summers day – but with temperatures below zero & a light dusting of snow it was back into the bar area for some warming whiskeys after a few snaps.
Again I was pleasantly surprised by the array of whiskeys before me. One that took my eye was Lot 40.
Now I’d heard great things about this Canadian Rye so on spotting a bottle I just had to try it.
Soft ,sweet, hardly any spice. A very smooth easy drinking bourbon style of whiskey.
Not what I was expecting at all from this 43% rye. What I experienced bore no resemblance to the reviews I read before or after – so I just don’t know.
To counteract my disappointment I went for a Knob Creek Rye.
The full on rich dry peppery spice bowled me over after my previous drink. In fact it was almost overwhelming after the soft sweetness of Lot 40 as my palate struggled to come to terms with that lovely rye punch I crave in this full on 50% whiskey.
If anything – I think the Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon – with it’s initial rich vanilla & caramel notes flowing through to a lovely balanced rye spice – came out tops for the 4 whiskeys I tried out up in the clouds of New York’s rooftop bars!
One of the joys about travelling to a different country (Australia in this example) is not just tasting the award winning single malts that are produced there – of which there are plenty – but also sampling some of the everyday blends, brands and bourbons not normally found in my home market of Ireland.
My musical interlude comes from a giant of Australian music – and in the context of a wedding – the response is ….I do.
The wedding itself – our reason for travelling in the first place – took place in The Willows on St Kilda Rd. Arriving early to the venue for a pre-event drink we were politely refused entry and sent around the corner to a nearby cafe/bar. Unlike in Ireland where the wedding venue would gladly have you in before and after the event – in Australia the custom is to strictly adhere to the booked times. Que sera sera.
At the nearby Hunters Kitchen we were warmly greeted and soon furnished with a tasty snack of warm olives and bread together with a lovely wine for herself and a whisky for myself.
Now my default position would be to go for an Aussie whisky – but as there wasn’t any on offer – the next best thing I could see was a familiar brand but an expression I hadn’t come across before and isn’t generally available in Ireland.
I’d found the standard Canadian Club a tad sweet with a soft rye spice finish. I expected a bit more punch off the 12 year old but it didn’t seem to deliver. Smoother and more complex notwithstanding – the extra years didn’t provide a knockout dram.
Back at the wedding – a lovely union between a Tullamore lad and a Melbourne lassie – the drinks flowed, speeches were made and food & festivities abounded. Again the whisky menu was rather limited but I had to try a Cougar to celebrate the coming together of two wonderful people!
A fairly standard bourbon experience was enjoyed – nothing out of the ordinary here – but on talking to a few of the other guests I did think this bourbon was very much a local brand.
My suspicions proved correct the next day when I called in at the local Liquorland store for a chat with the friendly and helpful staff. Just the same way as Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and others do here in Ireland – Coles, Woolworths and others do in Australia. They order up bourbon, gin, brandy or whisky and bottle it under there own brand names. I even found an article on it here
Curiously Cougar is bottled at 37% – which is allowed under Aussie rules. Jim Beam is also at 37% whilst Jack stays at 40% – so check the ABV of your favourite brand before you buy as it may not be the same strength as back home.
I came across a few other of these home brands on my travels.
Whilst doing the Great Ocean Road a few weeks later we stayed in the lovely town of Port Campbell and enjoyed a hearty and enjoyable meal in the local hotel of the same name.
A whisky accompanied the meal – and another ordered at the bar for good measure. It wasn’t too bad. Just a standard Scottish blend by the name of McAllister. Inver House Distillers seem to be the origin of this Australian brand.
I did spot an Irish whiskey in this segment too by the name of Finnlaigh. There shouldn’t be any surprises in reading the back of the bottle that Cooley were responsible for the distilling! John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk may soon be the new source. I didn’t get round to sampling this expression.
Now I wouldn’t be expecting star quality out of these brands. Many of them are price sensitive. They can often be very good value however and some have gone on to be quite highly rated in competitions so I’m quite happy to give them a trial run when I can.
Even in our last few hours on Aussie soil I still managed to come across another. We stopped off at The Savoy Tavern for a farewell bite to eat before catching the SkyBus at Southern Cross Station.
A lack of an Aussie single malt had me searching for an alternative which I found in a Jim Beam Rye. Didn’t I mention I like a rye now and then?
A sweet mellow initial taste morphs into a warm spicy finish. Nothing too complex here -especially as it’s only a 37% release – but very enjoyable nonetheless. I’m looking forward to a potential release in Ireland!
Whilst enjoying or meal – I did notice a sales rep approach the bar to try and push some whisky brand. Curiosity got the better of me and I enquired after the rep had gone what the brand was.
‘Pure Scot’ came the reply, ‘a Scottish blend made at Bladnoch for an Aussie company’.
It got me thinking.
How long will it be before a sales rep comes into a bar in Ireland pushing a brand called ‘Pure Oz’ to ride the surf of the growth and quality of Australian whisky?
Judging on my experiences of tasting Aussie whisky – it may be sooner than you think.
O’Connell’s on Eyre Square is handily situated a stones throw from the railway station and my train home.
The outside of the premises looks like an old shop with the large open window at the front allowing a view into the bar inside.
Indeed O’Connell’s used to be a grocers – operating alongside the pub – which is still a feature of many a more traditional Irish bar. The grocery is long gone now – but a lovely patterned tiled floor remains to remind you of former times.
I’m surprised I could still hold the camera steady enough to capture a snap after all the great whiskey I’d had during my day on the Galway Whiskey Trail – and seeing as this was my last venue – I threw caution to the wind and went for 2 expressions from the fine array of bottles perched on wooden shelves behind the bar.
A Titanic was very quickly spotted with the friendly and informative staff giving me a brief lowdown on the heritage of this Cooley made discontinued brand.
As I’d previously met Peter Lavery – the brands owner – at the 2014 Irish Whiskey Awards – and turned down the Titanic in favour of Baileys Whiskey in Tigh Neachtain’s earlier – I loved the opportunity to plug the gap in my whiskey tasting experience.
Glass duly in hand I sat down below the front window on a long bench beside the growing number of customers to enjoy the lovely mellow and sweet – smooth tasting tipple from the Belfast Distillery Company. Such a delight. Pity it’s no longer around.
At times like this I do ponder if the mood and general wellbeing of the taster- as well as the ambience of the premises and conviviality of fellow drinkers – influences the resulting ratings given to any particular dram.
It wasn’t just the whiskey warming me to this lovely pub. The conversation was flowing too – and the heat was definitely on with warm air being pumped into the large bar area from under the bench.
You’ll have to excuse the musical interlude to commerorate the passing of yet another musical icon – Glen Frey.
O’Connell’s also boasts a more traditional lounge area at the back – along with a beer garden to compliment the rather unique setting of the front bar. I certainly enjoyed it. So much so that when I chatted to the staff and spotted a bottle of Crown Royal – I couldn’t pass it by.
Crown Royal Deluxe is the entry level blend from the now famous Canadian distiller whose Northern Rye expression is the Best Whisky In The World 2016 – according to Jim Murray. I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.
From the initial sweet aroma of the rye – the smooth creamy mouthfeel and complex taste together with the lovely warm finish – this is certainly a different flavour profile to the Irish whiskeys sampled before. I can see why Jim rates this brand and I’m sure I’ll seek out other opportunities to try it. I wasn’t disappointed!
A glance at the time roused me from my revelry. With less than 5 minutes before the last train home I hurriedly made my way to the station.
The ticket collector was already shouting out the imminent departure as I – and a few other stragglers – ran along the platform. I’d only got round to taking my jacket off before the train started rolling. Talk about cutting it fine!
At only half seven in the evening – I’d be having an early night – but considering my first whiskey was at half ten that morning – it would be welcome.
My Galway Whiskey Trail adventure was a wonderful experience.
So many pubs.
So many new expressions sampled and plenty more yet to taste.
So much help and advice from the friendly staff and so much craic from the customers.
I’d already walked passed the next venue of my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure earlier on in the day as I wasn’t exactly sure what it had to offer.
McCamdridge’s isn’t even a pub!
I know it more as a fine deli – cafe and classy restaurant where occasionally I’d meet herself – who is far more of a foodie than myself. She rates it very highly.
But my curiosity was pumped by my whiskey intake – or should I make that ‘Voodoo In My Blood’ – to enjoy a little musical interlude from the lovely Edinburgh based boys – Young Fathers – together with trip-hop heroes Massive Attack – currently on tour.
What greeted me inside was a very unexpected and impressive display of whiskeys for sale.
Turns out McCambridge’s is a rather fine off-license too!
A few of the expressions were unfamiliar to me. An interestingly old fashioned styled label proclaiming to be Egan’s from Tullamore took my eye – quickly followed by a bottle of Canadian Crown Royal bedecked in it’s trademark velvet bag – but I wasn’t here to buy.
“We do tastings as well.” the helpful staff member offered when he saw me looking.
Indeed they do.
A quick scan of the website reveals the whiskey tasting evenings are held upstairs in the restaurant. Sounds very inviting. Especially when those tastings are paired with the lovely food McCambridge’s is famous for.
They also plan to install a copper pot still style display where potential customers can try before they buy the excellent range stocked.
Now that’s my kinda shop!
A first class venue to purchase a bottle of that fine dram you tasted earlier in one of the Galway Whiskey Trail pubs.
I couldn’t count the number of expressions available – but there were plenty about.
After Jim Murray controversially gave a Crown Royal expression his top spot in 2016 – I don’t think the bottle I saw earlier will be on the shelf for long. Despite my whiskey soaked brain screaming BUY IT – somehow or other the voices in my head said NO – you’ll only drop it before you get home!
Conscious there was yet one more premises to attend – temptation was resisted.
Did I mention Heaven 17 played a blinding set at the Big Top in Galway a few years ago?
Obligatory photos were captured and the staff thanked for giving me the time for a little chat inbetween serving customers – even though I bought nothing myself!
I bid my farewell and headed off to Eyre Square for the final pub.