Whiskey has always been a journey of exploration for me. An exploration of tastes, styles & presentations.
Irish Whiskey travels all over the world. Some of the spirits produced in those countries consequently finds it’s way back to Ireland – like this baijiu.
Which I choose to explore.
Baijiu is mainly a sorghum based distillate produced in China. It has a long history – possibly longer than whiskey – and is as diverse too.
For a more detailed account I’d recommend the ScienceDirect.com article by clicking on the highlighted link.
This S100 bottle is a popular seller in China – & happens to be found in Dublin via Asia Market.
The bottle itself is very catchy – unlike anything I’ve encountered in the whiskey world. A cutesy childlike image probably doesn’t sit well with age appropriate rules – but may have assisted sales in China.
The liquid is clear & colourless – much like our indigenous poitín.
The nose isn’t too dissimilar either – but more of a sweet & sour thing going on.
Sweet from the sorghum I presume & sour as in a new make kind of way.
The palate is light & refreshing. A wonderful mouth coating effect gave way to a depth of wholesome flavours that pulled me in.
Their sourced 12 Year Old Single Malt – ahead of their own distillate maturing – captured me with it’s bold yet clean design & cool bottle.
The liquid inside didn’t disappoint either.
A warm smooth & inviting start with a slight smoky hint of charred casks developed into a silky mouthfeel which slowly morphed into a gorgeously dry finish.
A great start to the show.
Their Spiced Irish Rum also tempted me.
The Guatemalan sugar cane mollasses are imported into Ireland, fermented, distilled & matured by Black’s to produce an Irish Rum.
Now rum isn’t my speciality – but this had an invitingly pungent nose of earthiness, smokiness, sweetness & spice. The taste followed in this style & was a far more entertaining tipple than I expected.
Thumbs up all round for Black’s entry into the distilled spirits market.
Rye River Brewing happened to be nearby with their ever enthusiastic beer ambassador Simon. Now we happen to know each other prior to his latest rise to beer fame & he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me sampling a Rye River special brewed for the show.
It also wasn’t difficult to go on a slightly wavering tour of the festival – perhaps taking in more than we would have done individually – but having a great time nonetheless.
A newcomer into the market for Ireland this historic and extremely popular Chinese spirit often catagorised as ‘baijiu‘ is an area I’ve yet to venture into.
Gorgeously garishly attractive – both the bottle, stall design and uniformed – as well as informed – staff had me trying to get my head round the sorghum & wheat base, 9 distillation production technique and new taste sensations.
It has the nose & appearance of a poitin – yet the taste was something else. At 53% it was warm, inviting, softly sweet yet earthy & unusual. I’d have been tempted to buy a bottle to explore further – but on hearing the price – this is a premium product with a premium price tag I was informed – I made do with another sample that still had me yearning for more! One to watch as they say.
Knowing my predilection for darker, heavier beers Simon guided me to Clifden based Bridewell Brewery. Along with their core range a limited edition duo commemorating the historic first flight across the Atlantic by Alcock & Brown resulted in highly enjoyable & very satisfying Navigator Transatlantic Brown. The Pilot Amber Ale of Alcock wasn’t too bad either!
Yes, yes and yes! – is all I can say. Suits me sir!
A few other beers were had – some enjoyable – others not so – before Simon went back to work – and I back to whiskey – Pearse Lyons Whiskey to be precise.
Now I thought I had a reasonable handle on the fast moving Irish Whiskey Scene – obviously not when confronted by three age statemented Pearse Lyons offerings!
Turns out the original core range of 4 has been revamped, rerecipied & rebranded!
Gone are the non age statements, chunky bottles & keyhole like labels – in is a sleeker, leaner shared brand identity with a slightly higher 43% ABV. Also gone is the Cooper’s Select – grab it while you can!
The names & colours remain the same – with Original now a 5yo & Distiller’s Choice a 7yo. Founder’s Reserve was already a 12yo.
Short of a back to back comparison with the old 42% versions I couldn’t discern what changes have taken place. It was admitted the Original had lost a little of it’s smoky character from the former Alltech Lexington Brewery & Distillery barrels. It also looks as if that facilities output has also had a rebrand – but I failed to make the Town Branch stall this time.
The newly rebranded Pearse Lyons trio all still taste very appealing & are attractively priced – yet I was somewhat surprised by the revamp – so much so I needed a break – and a pie – to recompose myself!
Pieman continue to be a favourite festival pie provider of mine. A roast chicken & sausage stuffing pie sated my hunger & calmed me down for the final push. It also allowed some entertaining chats & discussions with fellow attendees on the shared table spaces dotted around the hall. Hats off to the Tempted ciderist who won Best In Show for their gorgeously dry & balanced Tempted Strawberry Cider & explained the intricacies of the trade to me over our meal.
Conscious that time was limited to make the last train home – I found another barrel aged beer to sample at the Clocked Out stall.
Brett yeast seems to be a growing trend in craft brewing but I’m still not sure of the sour & funky taste even with this fine barrel aged stout. I did manage a quick catch up with the ever energetic Mr Guilfoyle whose rise in beer has been a pleasure to witness.
Scottish punk drink empire’s BrewDog stand earned a final visit. I knew they had a sourced whisky lurking under the counter waiting to celebrate Scotland’s win over England in the Six Nations which ultimately went to a draw.
Uncle Duke’s is a Cameron Bridge sourced single grain with American virgin oak maturation, no chill filtration & natural colour. Rich, warm & inviting with a lovely dry spiciness showing through the soft & smooth delivery.
A proud testament to the enduring legacy of Irishman Aeneas Coffey whose continuous still was adopted by Cameron Bridge back in the 1830’s – and is still going strong today – in a larger modern version – with wonderful results like this.
And with that it was all over for me – despite the growing crowds still entering to enjoy the evenings entertainment.
All I was looking forward to now was that hot cup of tea on the train home!
The Chinese know a thing or two about the art of distillation. The biggest selling spirit drink in the world is baijiu – sorghum is the usual ingredient – although other grains can be used – and has been made in China since the late 11th Century.
Young Chinese are also looking westwards for their inspiration – as shown by this Chinese Hip-Hop group Higher Brothers.
So when some enterprising Chinese company decides to make whiskey – it should come as no surprise.
I present to you Goalong Liquor Special Small Batch Whiskey.
The bottle is suitably attractive in a gothic almost heavy metal style. There is also a smidgen of flowery sales patter on the front – as well as more on the entertaining website here – quite how much you wish to believe is up to you – whilst it’s in Chinese on the back.
I’d be happy for someone to translate for me.
Despite a quick internet search – I couldn’t find anything resembling a Chinese Whiskey Association – there are plenty of baijiu rules however – so I did what I normally do when presented with a bottle of whiskey. Open it – drink it – and let my palate tell me whether I enjoy it or not.
To begin with – the dark colour suggests added caramel – which is a common feature for entry level blends worldwide – but on the nose I didn’t get that sickly sweet cloying sensation.
I got a very muted caramel sweetness with a slight burnt note and a soft woody aroma – and then nothing.
There was an almost total absence of anything else – no sweet grain or earthy barley to pull you in.
The taste was exceptionally – and rather surprisingly – very soft & smooth. No rough edges here. Just an easy going delivery that again lacked any depth or flavour characteristics to give it body.
This rather ’empty’ experience finished off with a slight warming to the back of the throat as if to remind you about the 40% alcohol content – otherwise you could down a fair few of these without knowing.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience. In fact I found teasing out what this whiskey does contain very enjoyable – but my conclusion is that it’s mainly a domestic product.
It reminded me of a New York made soju I had once. Soju is a Korean style of rice based distilled spirit similar to baijiu. I found it rather novel – if a little lacking in character.
There is a world of whiskey out there waiting to be drunk.
I certainly enjoyed my chance to taste some Chinese Whiskey.
My sample was kindly procured in China by my Asian Correspondent.