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’.
It’s that time of year when the great and good of the Irish whiskey world gather together in a celebration of distillation. This years event takes place in Tullamore with a visit to the new Tullamore Distillery and an awards evening in the Old Bonded Warehouse on October 20th.
As part of the process to pick the winners – members of the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Irish Whiskey Society were invited to a blind tasting of the competing expressions.
I made my way up to Dublin for the day to add my scores to the collective pot and found myself in a basement hotel room carefully laid out with 38 identical whiskey bottles – along with a half dozen barrel aged beers – to rate.
The bottles were arranged in their respective categories;
Irish Blends up to 60.
Irish Blends over 60.
Irish Single Pot Stills.
Irish Single Casks
Irish Barrel Aged Beer
The only way of differentiating them was the bottle code for scoring, the colour and the very subjective taste preferences of the judges.
All entrants have to be commercially available in Ireland in October. Other than providing the required sample bottles to The Celtic Whiskey Shop by the allocated date there is no entry fee and ticket sales for the evening are forwarded to charity.
I started with the entry level blends.
What struck me straight away was the uniformity of colour on display.This saddened me. The variety and differences in blended whiskey are what excite me – both visually and taste wise – yet presented here to all intensive purposes were 15 bottles of identical dark golden brown liquid.
My fears of added caramel were confirmed as in one expression after another the dominant – and at times overwhelming – note encountered was sweet. My poor scores reflected this disappointment. A few did have some pleasant fruit notes coming through together with a welcome spice. Some were rough – most were smooth – but there wasn’t much that excited me.
I expected a noticeable increase in flavour and quality in the blends above 60 category as experienced last year. Despite the average scores being slightly higher at 66 as to the former’s 63, that all important “more bang for your bucks” wasn’t forthcoming. At least the colour variation was more pronounced.
Oh dear! Perhaps my 3 weeks in Australia tasting some knockout single malts, ryes, bourbons and wheat whiskies had jaded my palate.
I moved onto the barrel aged beers.
Now I must admit to a benchmark brew in this style which all others are judged on. Trouble is – it’s not Irish! There was one dark beer that came out close however. It had a noticeable whiskey nose together with less carbonation giving it a more heavy feel – much to my liking.
I should point out my method here. Out of an average 3ml sample I possibly tasted and swallowed half. The other half ended up in the spittoon after having been swirled round the mouth for further evaluation. In between each sample a full measure of water was consumed to cleanse the palate and rinse the glass. I must have drank about 2 litres of uisce during the process. A hearty lunch and some hot tea also split the session in two and aided to my relative sobriety at the end of the day.
It was after that lunch I attempted la creme de la creme of Irish whiskey – the Single Pot Stills.
Using a combination of malted barley and unmalted barley in the mash, I was looking for – and happily found – the signature soft spice together with some rich fruity notes. The variety was much more pronounced in terms of colour, flavour profile as well as strength. I distinctly thought one entrant was simply a watered down version of another! The average scores rose to 73 for the packed field of 13 entrants.
Only in the big reveal on awards night will all my hunches be either confirmed – or more likely dashed. The new Redbreast Lustau release was rumoured to be in the mix somewhere. Was it one of my winners?
For me however – the best was yet to come.
The Single Casks had only 5 entrants. All scored highly with a 77 average and one stood out.
Fuller of flavour and richer in style, I dispensed with the spittoon to immerse myself in their beauty. My winning dram on the day happened to be the smokiest entrant and I fear I’m turning into a peathead!
A further sample of this expression went down equally delightfully as the first – well – I did have to re-check my initial scores!
The craic agus ceol was mighty during the session. Judges came and went but all added their penny’s worth to the growing banter and collective scores.
If you haven’t already joined either the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society – isn’t it about time you did?
The Irish Whiskey Awards 2105 were held at the fabulous new Teeling Whiskey Distillery premises in Newmarket Square, Dublin on the 15th of October.
The awards – which are now in their 3rd year – have quickly established themselves as the premier event on the Irish Whiskey scene. Most of the movers and shakers – new entrants and old stalwarts from within the industry – as well as bloggers – imbibers and whiskey fans from all round the world make a beeline for the highly enjoyable evening exploring the best that Irish Whiskey has to offer.
Organised by The Celtic Whiskey Shop – the awards choose their winners by a blind tasting panel made up of members from both the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Irish Whiskey Society. Samples can also be packaged abroad for members overseas. As a member of the former Club – I had an opportunity to take part in the judging process – read my blog here – and add my scores – along with about 200 others – to give the final results.
Sadly I prevaricated in booking a ticket for the show so they were all sold out before I made my decision to go.
Undeterred – I decided to hold my own Whiskey Nut Awards 2015!
Now these awards are based purely on my own preferences and in no way reflect on the prestige of the official awards. As not every category was tasted – my results are somewhat shorter – but they give an insight into my tastes as well as my ability to spot – or not as the case may be – a winning dram.
On tasting day there were 13 drinks categories of which 8 pertained to whiskey. I managed to score 5 of these whiskey categories along with a beer one too. My awards are therefore based on the results of those 6 tastings.
The Whiskey Nut Award 2015 for Irish Single Grain Whiskey
Teeling Single Grain came out a winner with 83 points.
There were only 3 entrants into this category and despite being familiar with the drinks I was unable to correctly identify the Teeling Single Grain from the Glendalough Double Barrel which came in only 1 point behind. This result is inline with my preference for an additional finish to the usual bourbon barrel maturation and clearly the use of Californian wine barrel ageing helped Teeling to pip the post.
The official winner was Kilbeggan Single Grain.
Teeling Single Grain
Kilbeggan Single Grain
Glendalough Double Barrel
The Whiskey Nut Award 2015 for Irish Blended Whiskey (60 euro or less)
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey came out tops in this packed field of 15 with 83 points.
There is an advert doing the rounds just now with a tagline of “Nose blind” . Halfway during this sampling I believe I became “Palate Blind” as I failed to spot the lovely rum finish of Teeling Small Batch nor the spiciness I enjoy in Powers Gold Label and St Patrick’s Oak Aged Irish Whiskey. Despite scoring well – Tullamore Dew Cider Cask also failed to register apple notes with me. Nonetheless Kilbeggan stood out from the crowd.
I was a little surprised by this win – but also proud as Kilbeggan is only a half hour away from me!
I did revisit this drink after giving it top marks and can only say that it is a deserving winner. I have obviously overlooked this lovely blend in my hunt for new expressions. Ironically it was this blend that ignited my passion for whiskey. A few years ago a bottle was purchased at Dublin airport enroute for a birthday party in France. The Kilbeggan went down very well with the assembled guests who all gave it the thumbs up. So sante to Kilbeggan!
The official winner was Tullamore DEW 12 Year Old which is also a local distillery to me.
Tullamore DEW Original
St Patrick’s Oak Aged
Jameson Black Barrel
Jameson Crested 10
Writer’s Tears Copper Pot
Wild Geese Classic Blend
Teeling Small Batch
Powers Gold Labe
Wild Geese Rare
Tullamore DEW 15 Year Old Trilogy
Tullamore DEW Cider Cask
Tulamore DEW 12 Year Old
The Quiet Man
The Whiskey Nut Award 2015 for Irish Blended Whiskey (60 euro or more)
Jameson 18 Year Old came out a clear winner with 92 points.
All 5 entrants into this category started their scores level with the winner of the previous tasting reflecting that a bit more money does indeed get you a finer whiskey – at least in this example anyway.
My acquaintance with this exquisite dram started at my Jameson Dublin visit and continues here. Unlike the beer world – where new entrants are bringing in tastes and flavours far superior to those of the established brewers – Midleton – where Jameson is distilled – continues to show the new whiskey entrants the benchmark they have to attain. A fabulous whiskey indeed!
The official winner was Midleton Very Rare 2015.
Kilbeggan 21 Year Old
Wild Geese Ltd Edition
Jameson 18 Year Old
Midleton Very Rare 2015
Jameson Gold Reserve
The Whiskey Nut Award 2015 for Irish Single Cask Whiskey
Celtic Cask 13
Unlucky for some – this Celtic Cask 13 stood out from a small field of 3 to come home with 83 points.
The official winner was An Pucan Teeling Whiskey.
Celti Cask 12
An Pucan Teeling
Celtic Cask 13
The Whiskey Nut Award 2015 for Irish Cask Strength Whiskey
Tullamore DEW Phoenix
Before anyone says I’m biased towards distilleries in my home county of Westmeath and close neighbour Offaly – as in this Tullamore DEW – I will again point out this was a blind tasting!
This expression won as it exhibited a bit more spice on the tongue which I like. 87 points.
It also was the official winner so I am “on trend” with this category.
Tullamore DEW Phoenix
Midleton Dar Ghealach
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength
The Whiskey Nut Awards 2015 for Whiskey Aged Beer
Independent Whiskey Stout
For years beer was my alcohol of choice. The darker – heavier and stronger the better. Independent Whiskey Stout takes me back to certain ales of my youth. It also gave the best whiff of whiskey both on the nose and palate which helped its way to be a winner with 80 points.
The official winner was O’Haras Barrel Aged Stout.
Independent Whiskey Stout
O’Haras Barrel Aged Stout
The Whiskey Nut Awards 2105 for Overall Irish Whiskey
Jameson 18 Year Old
Out of a total 63 whiskey samples I managed to score 32 on my judging day. This expression garnished the most points from that reduced field.
A comparison can’t be made with the official winner as it didn’t feature in my tasting categories.
So there you go.
Many thanks to all at The Celtic Whiskey Shop for organising the awards and a special thanks to all the distilleries who entered their expressions for the blind tasting.
My awards – my tastes – my preferences all laid bare.