I can’t help feeling single grain whiskey is still trying to escape the slur Messers Jameson x2, Roe & Power attached to it back in 1879 labelling the category as ‘Silent Whisky’ in their anti-Coffey-Still publication ‘Truths About Whisky’.
The iconic ‘Striding Man’ logo gracing bottles of Johnnie Walker Whisky is an apt inspiration for the title of this very highly researched & entertaining book by Nicholas Morgan.
Boldly striding across the centuries Johnnie Walker has witnessed many ups & downs as well as twists & turns within the whisky industry.
Originating in 1820 from a Kilmarnock grocers shop specializing in blending tea, Johnnie Walker went on to take full advantage of the Coffey Still to blend whisky.
By 1878 the business was expanding massively to cater for demand while both the Highland Malt & the big 4 Dublin Whisky Distilleries mounted a campaign to prevent ‘silent spirit’ being labelled as whisky.
By 1890 Scotch was outselling Irish – up until then the biggest & most reputable whisky sold worldwide – and has done so ever since.
The book chronicles that period of growth for Scotch – blended whisky in particular – as well as many other escapades the Striding Man encountered along the way
A Long Stride is a wonderful read for anyone wishing to grasp the historical complexities & choices made by previous generations that currently shape the whisky industry today.
It certainly makes me ponder how decisions being made now – often echoing those of the past – will shape the future.
Whatever tomorrow brings the Striding Man – & latterly Striding Woman – will certainly be found playing a key role.
The pursuit of all things whiskey takes me down many unexpected paths – like reading a book on Conor McGregor!
As the figurehead for Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey – now the 4th biggest selling Irish Whiskey in the world according to International Wine And Spirits Research (IWSR) – a greater understanding of the person behind this spectacular achievement drew me in.
Written by award winning journalist & author Ewan MacKenna – who has followed Conor from his 1st UFC victory in 2013 to the present day – it’s a no holds barred account of the Notorious phenomena.
In creating the Notorious character, Conor indulged in unorthodox tactics both in – and often more publicly – outside the ring. Trash talking before fights descended into racism, misogyny & xenophobia mirroring the ‘strongman alpha male’ attitudes of politicians like Putin, Trump & Bolsonaro. Despite projecting an anti-establishment aura – they are all part of the new establishment which has usurped the former incumbents.
The 13 second knockout of José Aldo in 2015 propelled Conor to the top of his sport & amassed a huge fan base.
Despite his off ring antics – which are fully explored in the book – Conor leveraged his position to gain lucrative sponsorship fees & appearances at subsequent UFC fights.
Ewan locates the cult of Conor among other sporting icons. Their dedication & determination to get to the top, their struggles to stay at the top & their inevitable decline afterwards.
Conor’s Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey was eventually released in late 2017 & immediately achieved record sales. Perhaps it’s a way to extend his career as a public figure after losing to Khabib in his last UFC fight in 2018?
Conor’s entry into Irish Whiskey certainly upset the establishment.
To launch a celebrity based brand with no distillery by such a vulgar character was greeted with derision & scorn. No one seemed to even contemplate the success it would engender.
Now placed at number 4 – behind Jameson, Tullamore & Bushmills – Proper Twelve outsells established brands like Kilbeggan, Paddy & Redbreast & leaves for dust newcomers like Teeling, Dubliner & JJ Corry.
It marks a major change within Irish Whiskey circles where the status quo of established names has been disrupted & the hegemony of ‘premiumisation’ is challenged.
For the most part the Irish Whiskey community is ignoring these changes.
It’s interesting to note Irish Whiskey also poured scorn & ignored a previous disrupter.
His name was Aeneas Coffey with the patented continuous still.
In doing so Irish Pot Still Whisky lost the lead they had & Scotch took over with blended whisky.
Ironically the current rise of Irish Whiskey is mainly being fuelled by the very same blended whisky – this time spelled with an ‘e’ – of which Proper Twelve is making such a large contribution.
Sometimes I wonder if the Irish Whiskey community is ready for success.
There are various interpretations of ballyhoo on the web, publicity, frivolity or fun. They can all be distilled to one attractive package for me however.
An Irish Whiskey released by the Connacht Whiskey Company of Ballina, County Mayo. There isn’t much information on the very attractive black bottle with distinctive embossed silver labelling – but a trip to their website here reveals a bit more.
A single grain Irish Whiskey made with a 93% corn 7% malted barley mix distilled in a Coffey still at one un-named Irish whiskey distillery. Connacht haven’t been around long enough to release their own whiskey – yet – so this sourced grain is made elsewhere & finished in port casks at Connacht’s own facility.
Grain whiskey doesn’t have the allure of it’s stablemate malt – which is a pity. Grain is the very backbone of the modern whiskey industry. Up to 90% of all whiskey sold worldwide contains grain as part of the mix in blended whiskey. Showcasing the best grain whiskey has to offer is always welcome in my book.
Pouring a glass it quickly becomes apparent this is an extremely pale whiskey. A decent amount of legs are also present. Both signifiers that no added caramel nor chill filtration have been used in this expression. Very commendable.
At only 4 years old this is a young, fresh grain whiskey.
The nose is gentle & sweetly attractive. Soft vanillas combine with an enticing floral bouquet which probably emanates from the rather unusual – and possibly unique for a grain whiskey – port cask finish.
It’s very mild in the mouth. No rough edges here. A bit of corn influence, that sweet grainy lightness builds with deeper notes from the combined bourbon barrel maturation & port cask finish in a perfectly balanced mix.
There is no complexity here. A very easy, simple, smooth & eminently attractive grain whiskey that slowly fades to a pleasingly warm finish.
Whiskey as it should be.
Fun, frivolous, tasty, naturally coloured & non chill filtered.
It certainly floats my boat.
An album by Echo & The Bunnymen. Their song Bedbugs & Ballyhoo is the perfect accompaniment to this delightful grain whiskey.
When out and about I enjoy popping into bars I’ve not previously visited on the off-chance of finding a gem.
The Masonic Arms in the picturesque East Neuk village of Anstruther sits at the end of the West Pier and is more of a rough diamond.
It’s easy to get sucked into conversation in this character driven pub – both from behind the bar as well as in front of it – but the main attraction for me – aside from the gently warming fire – is a great selection of whiskies.
A plethora of single malt Scotch, the usual big brand blends, assorted Irish & some bourbons adorn the back wall.
My tipple of choice however was a local offering – Cameron Brig Single Grain.
Cameronbridge Grain Distillery was among the first to utilise the new technology of the Coffey Still back in the 1830’s.
Irishman Aeneas Coffey failed to find many backers in his native land for his controversial invention – yet the Lowland Scottish distillers took to it with gusto. They effectively kick started the rise of blended whisky which went on to ensure Scotch as the biggest selling whisky in the world.
Over 180 years later, Cameronbridge is still pumping out 120 million lpa (litres of pure alcohol) per annum – making it the both the largest and oldest grain distillery in Europe.
George Roe used to have the largest distillery in Europe – but he (and other Dublin distillers) campaigned against grain whisky calling it ‘silent spirit’.
It’s rather ironic George & his friends are no more – yet Diageo – who own Cameronbridge – are currently resurrecting whiskey distilling on the old George Roe distillery site in Dublin.
So what does this ‘silent spirit’ taste like?
Well being a bourbon cask matured single grain it has that sweet vanilla & caramel nose going on. I wouldn’t rule out added caramel too.
A soft smooth inviting palate with a pleasant depth left a gentle warm glow in the mouth.
Nothing special really. An easy drinking dram ‘hard to find outside of Fife‘ my fellow barmate informed me – along with the anecdote he often enjoyed it mixed with Scotland’s other national drink – Irn Bru.
I didn’t check the veracity of either statement – but did enjoy a quiet half hour out of the wet & miserable weather to raise a glass to Aeneas Coffey & the Irishman’s contribution to the rise of Scotch.
The Old Jameson Distillery Dublin has made a great tourist attraction out of what was once one of Dublin city’s biggest trades – whiskey distilling – but that trade succumbed to a perfect storm of prohibition, blended whisky, civil war and the rise of Scotch to eventually close in 1971 when Jameson and Powers of Dublin – together with Paddys of Cork – retreated, regrouped and amalgamated into Irish Distillers where all production moved to Midleton in County Cork – bringing to an end whiskey distilling in Dublin. That is until the opening of the Teeling Distillery of only last month!
Midleton continues to produce a fine array of whiskey to this day as part of the Pernod Ricard Group – The Old Jameson Distillery showcases Jameson’s contribution to the parent group – and what a fine contribution it is!
Chosen as a Strategic Premium Brand – Jameson has seen phenomenal growth in sales in the last decade to become Ireland’s leading whiskey brand – outselling the next brand – Bushmills – by a factor of 10. Even Lady Ga Ga credited Jameson on her Born This Way album!
Jameson Original is the flagship blend – ironic in that the Irish distillers reluctance to move to blended whiskey with the arrival of Aeneas Coffey’s new continuous still was one of the factors in the demise of Irish Whiskey – is a perfectly fine balanced – triple distilled – smooth Irish Whiskey – but there are many other expressions which the Old Jameson Distillery opens you to.
Built in the historical Smithfield area of Dublin – the first thing you notice on entering are the 2 massive Jameson bottle chandeliers – a lovely feature – I just hope the maker didn’t drink all the content before assembling the pieces!
There is also a Hobby Horse – an early type of bicycle – as used by John Jameson in the late 1800’s – attached to the wall – sure where else would you park yer bike?
The second thing you notice are the queues. Be advised this is a very popular tour so book in advance online. I didn’t originally book so missed out until another trip up to Dublin enabled me to sail to the front of the queue to start the tour within minutes of stepping off the train with my pre-booked ticket.
As whiskey tours go Jameson guides you through the history, manufacturing , maturing and the all important tasting of the aqua vitae.
What I liked about the sampling was the choice of 3 brands from 3 whiskey making countries representing the different styles each place has traditionally used to produce their spirit.
First up was Jack Daniels – America’s No. 1 brand. I must admit I found this too sweet for my liking with very little finish. It’s a problem I have with most bourbon due to the corn used in the mash bill which imparts the sweetness – but rye bourbon has more bite so is much more up my street.
The Jameson delivered the familiar smooth tasty dram expected whilst the Johnnie Walker Black Label impressed me with the extra bite the smoky peat content delivered to the blend giving it just the edge to make it my best of the 3 on offer.
I don’t think Mr John Jameson would have been too disappointed as he was a Scotsman by birth – and being a canny Scot – he saw an opportunity in Irish Whiskey – much like Grant’s have done over 200 years later by buying up Tullamore DEW!
For an extra price – there is the opportunity to sample 4 of the Jameson Family Reserve Whiskeys. This is an excellent way to get to grips with other Jameson expressions which show a variety of ages, cask finishes and styles – all very fine drams making it hard to choose a winner.
Jameson Limited Reserve 18 year old – an excellent aged blend with sherry finished notes.
Jameson Gold Reserve – aged in new oak casks.
Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel – aged in heavily charred bourbon barrels and
Jameson Distillery Reserve – aged in Oloroso Sherry casks.
It was very hard to choose a bottle as they were all fine drams but I eventually went for the Distillery Reserve – partly as I’m a sucker for distillery releases – partly for the rich, smooth sherry notes coming through on the nose and taste which I very much like – and partly for the price – it’s hard to pay double the cost for a bottle you find equally as good a lesser priced one.
Anyway – I do have a soft spot for a sherry bomb – as long as it’s done right – and the Distillery Reserve certainly is a fine example of that term – Cherry Bomb as sung by The Runaways has a different meaning!
What’s good about this extra tasting session are the fellow whiskey fans you meet whilst imbibing the excellent drams. It’s not long before tales, tips and whiskey stories ensue. Have you tried this yet? Have you tried that? Where is your next distillery visit? You should go there……..and so on. It also helps to have added input into the nuances of wood finishes, cask strengths, ages statements ….. all the things whiskey buffs chat about. I hope Alice from Australia enjoyed her further immersion into Irish Whiskey!
Sadly glasses empty, folks depart for further whiskey adventure and sustenance is required. Thankfully the 3rd Still Restaurant is only a short walk upstairs where you can enjoy a fabulous meal whilst soaking up the atmosphere – as well as the alcohol! Before heading off on your next whiskey quest.
You won’t go far wrong making The Old Jameson Distillery your next whiskey visit. Just remember to book in advance. Linger a while to savour the history, fine food, good company, great craic and above all – excellent whiskey!
Irish Single Grain Whiskey is a bit of a rare breed. Malted barley in pot stills is the norm and has been for centuries – even after fellow Irishman Aeneas Coffey invented his new continuous still around 1830 which sparked the rise of Scottish blended whisky. He did offer it to his fellow countrymen first – but so tied to their superior product they declined – so Aeneas went abroad and the rest is history.
Blended whiskey – a mixture of both malted pot still and grain continuous still spirits – accounts for about 90% of whisky sales worldwide – so is nothing to be scoffed.
Grain Whiskey is generally seen as the inferior spirit in a blend and only a few offerings are available in Ireland or even Scotland.
Ireland had to wait until the 1990’s before it’s first single grain offering was released from the Cooley Distillery in Louth when it opened in 1987.
Released as an 8 year old – Greenore Single Grain has recently been re-branded as Kilbeggan Single Grain by the current owners of Cooley, Beam/Suntory. Other age statements are available; 6, 10, 15, 18, 19 and 21 but may be hard to find and/or limited release.
Grain generally needs longer in the barrel to absorb the flavours than malt. Greenore reflects that by being a mild tasting approachable whiskey not unlike The Glenlivet but very enjoyable nonetheless. Bottled at 40% ,mainly made from maize. B
Teeling Single Grain follows on from Greenore in more ways than one. Also produced at Cooley by the former owners under John Teeling, many of the team at that plant are now the main force behind the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. Innovation is almost part of the Teeling culture and finishing this single grain in Californian Wine Casks certainly does that in raising the aroma and taste of this lovely smooth whiskey. Bottled at 46%, non-chill filtered, no age statement – it’s no surprise that World’s Best Single Grain 2104 went to this expression. B+
Glendalough Double Barrel is another new player in the Irish Whiskey market. They certainly hit the mark with this expression. As with many new entrants waiting for their spirit to mature – Glendalough has sourced this product from a third party. I originally thought Cooley – but with a malted barley and corn mash I’m not so certain. The malted barley certainly adds a bit more depth to the taste and the olorosso finish only adds to the experience. One to keep Teeling on their toes! Bottled at 42%, no age statement. B+
A delightful trio of Single Grain Whiskeys to tempt you with their individual take on the silent spirit. All very good whiskeys too for a gentle evening drink. I’m finding it hard to decide between the Teeling or Glendalough as my favorite but think the latter just wins out with the fuller body – probably imparted by the barley content.
If you haven’t tried a single grain yet – now is the time!