The Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey Trinity pack is one of the most attractive & innovative designs I’ve come across in the whiskey world.
The three separate expressions that make up the complete Trinity come in individually designed bottles that fit into one another to give the impression of one complete bottle.
Neat! Or should that be Neat Neat Neat?
Clontarf Irish Whiskey – or 1014 to commemorate the Battle of Clontarf – is one of the brands developed by Castle Brands Inc. They are an NDP (Non Distillery Producer). Like many others – at home and abroad – they source their whiskey from an Irish distillery and add their own signature to the expression.
I’ve come across Clontarf before. Mainly in Aldi – at least in Ireland – but this Trinity pack I picked up in Mullingar’s Old Stand off licence. I did notice they have made a reappearance at the Loop Dublin Airport too when I last flew out.
So what is actually inside the attractive packaging?
There are 3 expressions.
The Clontarf Classic Blend.
The Clontarf Reserve and
The Clontarf Single Malt.
All are presented at 40%. Probably chill filtered with added caramel.
I’ve had the Classic Blend before. It’s the entry level blend. I found it a rather robust straight forward bourbon cask matured malt & grain blend with a decent nose, taste & a healthy bite to it. No nonsense stuff with a bit of character. It is what it is and I found it rather appealing for that.
The Reserve comes over a bit softer & smooth. More subtle and cultured yet lacking the attractive bite of it’s sibling. There is no age statement on any of the Trinity bottles – although I have come across a 10 Year Old Signature Reserve before. It had much the same taste experience.
The flagship of the Clontarf Trinity is the Single Malt. At least that’s what you’d expect.
What I found was a soft, even muted nose. A very approachable mellow malt with a smooth delivery together with a gently warming finish. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just found it lacking in character.
Rather oddly for this trio of whiskeys – my favourite would have to be the full tasting full on robust entry level Classic Blend. The vibrancy & honest character of this blend appealed to me over and above it’s more balanced & smoother siblings.
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
Mindful I’ve been bigging up the excellent Aldi 26yo Irish Reserve. In the interests of fairness & partiality I couldn’t leave out seeing what the other German retailer Lidl had to offer on the whiskey front.
The pre-christmas special on the shelves seemed to be their own label Dundalgan 10yo Single Malt – which I eventually got round to sampling.
Being a supermarket release – I’m not expecting ‘non chill-filtered’ anywhere on the label. Nor am I expecting any sense of provenance – let alone the name of the field or even the variety of barley used for the terroir.
What I am expecting to find is exactly what it says on the rather plain & simple label.
At 30 euro – what else would you be looking for other than the basic legal requirements?
Oh! It does add ‘aged in bourbon casks’ – but there is no mention of added caramel – (which is probably in there) – nor the distillery that made it – (Cooley would be my guess) – because it doesn’t have to. If you want that kind of information – buy something else.
On the nose it’s very inviting. Soft, smooth, the usual vanilla & caramel notes, whilst Mrs Whiskey found pleasant floral aromas with hints of orange & spice.
It didn’t disappoint on tasting either. A very easy mellow vanilla to begin with, hints of maltiness, followed by a lovely growing heat with just a dash of peppery spice to give it a lift.
A rather gentle medium finish rounded off this extremely pleasant & easy drinking single malt.
It doesn’t have the depth of the Aldi 26yo – but then it’s under half it’s age and 60% the price – and I certainly found the Dundalgan 10yo surprisingly enjoyable.
From Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, Bangor to Ballincollig whiskey fans went on a chase to find their prey. The chat sites lit up with where the whiskey was found. Success stories abounded & commiserations given to failed hunts.
Having previously commentated in a blog entitled ‘Irish Whiskey – Which Way Forward?‘ regarding the Irish Whiskey Industry essentially leaving this area of the marketplace free for Scotch – my question was firmly & positively answered in the affirmative.
Not only that.
When the reviews came in, many rated the Irish offering better than the 29yo Scotch.
I posed the question could Irish Whiskey deliver a suitable supermarket brand own label to compete in that category which hitherto was largely absent of Irish product.
I’m pleased to say Aldi 26 Year Old Irish Reserve has answered that question.
Irish Whiskey can deliver!
Irish whiskey is on the same shelves – in the same supermarkets – competing on the same level playing field with Scotch – and by all accounts – it’s winning!
Whiskey fans in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales are currently driving round to Aldi stores attempting to hunt down this elusive whiskey.
Ay Ay Ay Yeah! As this up coming Irish band sings.
My own local store in Athlone still didn’t have it 3 days after the advertised release date ! So to avoid disappointment I drove up to the next store in Roscommon to secure a bottle.
But then a few days of anxious nail biting that I wouldn’t get a bottle has to be put into perspective of the 26 long years this whiskey has spent maturing quietly in oak barrels before I finally managed to actually drink it.
Now I’d normally like my aged whiskeys to be non chill filtered with no added caramel & preferably at cask strength – but this attracts a three figure price tag. In the meantime Aldi release a 26yo at only 50 euro – so it’s 40%, probably chill filtered & probably with added caramel.
So is it worth it?
Now the nose is rather soft & delicate for such an aged expression. Just a hint of the depth of character with vanilla & soft fruits coming through.
Initially the taste is rather soft too, but slowly develops into a lovely rich and dry mouth feel which delivers a wonderfully warm tingling burn.
It’s in the long lingering finish that the whiskey begins to shine for me. Gently releasing the oak tannins, soft fruits with hints of vanilla & caramel from the decades in oak barrels – which I take to be ex-bourbon.
I went looking for the much publicised Ben Bracken trio of single malts recently released by Lidl – but inadvertently walked into Aldi instead!
What confronted me were not only 3 single malts – Islay, Highland & Speyside – but also a 12 Year Old Speyside as well as 2 double casks – one sherry finish & the other bourbon – all below £20.
As I’m a fan of bolder flavours I went straight for the Islay Single Malt to sample.
For the price – I wasn’t disappointed.
The nose was a pleasing mixture of Islay peat & muted caramelised vanilla notes.
For this category & price point, my assumed position is that caramel is added. You only need to look at some of the promotional photos of the different malts showing identical shades of golden brown for confirmation.
The taste was a bit of a non event. Soft, sweet, slightly watery & muted no doubt by that caramel – but after swirling it around in the mouth for a while, a rich peaty smoke surfaced into a pleasingly warming burn on swallowing which proceeded to develop a lovely long afterglow.
A very inoffensive easy sipping entry level malt whisky at an affordable price with just enough character to make it interesting.
I’m not sure which markets it will surface in the pan-european Aldi store area – but it will certainly fly off the shelves. It makes a decent everyday single malt for the drinks cabinet.
For good measure I compared it to another store brand offering. This time from the Co-operative Group.
The 8 Year Old Pure Malt is a blend of,
‘carefully selected choice malt whiskies from the Highlands Islands and Lowlands of Scotland.’
so says the label.
The same label doesn’t say caramel is added – but it has that same cloying mouthfeel which dulls any freshness or sharpness in the flavours on tasting. There was a little smoke – but not enough to rise above the morass of caramel & vanilla smoothness.
A rather muted dram in comparison to the smoky punch of Islay peat.
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.
Seeing as it’s Independence Day in America – and by a little twist of fate Britain also recently voted for it’s ‘Independence’ regarding the Brexit split from the European Union – I thought I’d celebrate/drown my sorrows – nothing like sitting on the fence on tricky subjects – by opening a few bottles of bourbon to try out the contents.
America is the biggest export market for Irish whiskey. In return we get the used bourbon barrels to mature yet more whiskey in – as well as easy availability of famous bourbon brands in our pubs and off-licences.
Now bourbon has a whole set of rules and regulations – like Irish Whiskey – which define how it’s made – matured and that all important mash bill – but I’l leave The Whisky Exchange blog here to explain all that.
To get the ball rolling I’ve started with the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 from Tennesse.
I did think of using a Bruce Springsteen track to accompany this blog – but given revelations from Jack Daniel’s themselves – perhaps Donna Summer is more appropriate?
Despite Jack being one of the biggest brands out there – I must admit to not liking it.
The combination of sticky sweet notes from the corn element together with a rough finish probably from the shorter maturation period leaves my palate a little strained. I can see why it’s usually drunk as a mixer rather than my preferred option of neat.
Undeterred I moved on.
Clarke’s Old Kentucky Straight Sour Mash Bourbon is a budget brand courtesy of the supermarket chain Aldi.
Surprisingly this brand warmed to me as the initial sweetness evolved into a lovely soft spiciness which pleasingly lingered on the tongue to give a long finish.
Given that Aldi sourced this bourbon from an unknown Kentucky distillery – there is no Clarke from 1866 – they’ve done a pretty fine job in my book. It’s also won some awards too – so don’t just take my word.
To be fair to other supermarket brands – and on the strength of Clarke’s Bourbon – I purchased Tesco’s budget bourbon by the name of Old Samuel.
Billing itself as ‘Aged Kentucky Style Blended Bourbon’ the label also declares
‘Product of the USA. Blended and bottled in the Netherlands’
Intrigued I checked out the bottler and uncovered Toorank – a Dutch distilling company which does a successful business importing bulk bourbon from USA – along with whiskey from Ireland and Scotland – to blend for third party customers.
My bottle has been open for sometime now and is going down fast as once again I found this an easy bourbon to consume. Not too sweet, a smooth body and pleasant finish.
My final choice was bought from a well known internet whiskey site by the name of Flavair. Knowing my palate enjoys the more robust flavours and less sweet notes normally found in rye whiskey – I took advantage of an offer on FEW Rye Whiskey.
Bottled at 46.5% as opposed to the 40% of the others – this expression also bills itself as ‘handcrafted and small batched’ and hails from Chicago.
An initial sweetness soon gave way to a powerful spicy rye punch and a lingering dryness on the palate. Now this is more my thing!
Given a choice – I’d always go for a rye first. All of the admittedly very limited selection I’ve tasted so far suit my palate better than even the best bourbons.
It should come as no surprise then that FEW Rye comes out tops in my Independence Day tasting session.
Jack Daniel’s I’m afraid flunks – to use an American phrase.
Whilst in the budget bourbon category Clarke’s comes in second because of it’s soft spice followed closely behind by Old Samuel.
As regards pricing. Both Clarke’s and Old Samuel came in at 16 euro. Jack Daniel’s can be got from 25 whilst FEW starts at 70 – when you can get hold of it.
Clarke’s Bourbon wins as the best buy.
So there you go.
I thoroughly enjoyed my exploration into american bourbons.
Enjoy your 4th July – and remember – don’t drink too much.
Enjoy the tastes – flavours and good company – not the hangover.