It’s that time of year again when preparations for the Irish Whiskey Awards – to be held in Dingle Distillery on October 17th 2019 – begin with an invitation to members of the Celtic Whiskey Club & Irish Whiskey Society along with other industry representatives to attend a series of blind tasting sessions to select the winners for the evening.
Having taken part for a number of years these sessions give a wonderful insight into the current Irish Whiskey scene – provide a chance to meet up with fellow whiskey fans – and test your palate to find the whiskey that suits!
2018’s entrants were both varied, enjoyable & to my palate at least – great quality.
Breaking with previous protocol – no categories were given – so you could only guess if you were having a single grain or single pot still simply by what your palate told you – and I often guessed wrong!
The following are the results of my 2018 blind tasting.
Irish Blends Under €60
This is usually one of the most hotly contested categories with the largest entrants – and biggest sales!
My scores (out of 100) were rather tight – ranging from the low 70’s to mid 80’s. Out of 25 blends – average scores were 77. I only gave 4 marks of 80 and above.
Joint 2nd winners were; Hyde 8 Year Old Single Grain Cask Strength & Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength.
Again a small field of only 4 with a varied selection of entrants. The low average of 77 reflects a certain ‘works in progress’ as to the quality – and age? – of product coming exclusively from the newest whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye & Pearse Lyons Distillery Reserve Cask Strength came in joint 2nd.
I find it reassuring to note some of the same names keep cropping up in my winning choices; Teeling, Hyde & Dingle for example. And it should come as no surprise I enjoy a dash of peat – along with a good bourbon cask matured whiskey. Although if a finish is required port & sherry seem to do well!
I raise a toast to congratulate all my winners – and the actual winners on the evening here.
Looking forward to see what 2019 brings!
Many thanks to all at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for organising the tasting sessions as well as the awards ceremony itself & the bottle images above.
Dublin Whiskey Tours offer a variety of guided pub walks highlighting the history, culture and sampling the present day flavours of Irish whiskey expressions. Depending on which type of tour you choose, there are also some tasty food pairings too!
I happened to be the lucky winner of a prize draw from the excellent Irish Whiskey Magazine when I took out an annual subscription at last years Whiskey Live Dublin event. This gave myself & a fellow friend a day out in Dublin to sample some amazing Irish whiskey.
Dublin Whiskey Tours have a visually attractive & informative website through which up to 3 different types of whiskey tour can be easily booked and paid for.
My prize turned out to be the top level Deluxe Tour which includes tasting 5 premium Irish whiskeys accompanied with carefully selected food pairings in 2 of Dublin’s finest whiskey bars.
The starting point of our trip was the wonderful Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau St. I’ve happily selected a number of tasty whiskey treats from the extensive & varied range they proudly display in the groovy curved window on several occasions, so it’s charms are very welcome.
You,ll have to indulge me here, but everytime I mention Nassau St, a song pops into my head!
Our tour guide Justine shortly joined the 2 of us to begin the proceedings.
We were expecting a few others but as the festive season had just finished business was quiet. Tours are normally limited to 6 or 7 during busy periods to allow guests to chat, contribute & openly share their whiskey experiences
It wasn’t long before our first whiskey appeared before us.
Starting with one of the historical single pot still survivors of a time when whiskey distilleries didn’t bottle their own produce but instead sold it off in bulk to grocers & bonders to mature & bottle. Mitchell & Sons are the original creators of both Yellow Spot & Green Spot whiskey and are still going strong today! Sadly they are no longer able to store & mature their whiskey in the heart of Dublin so Irish Distillers – who supplied the original spirit – now do that at the Midleton Distillery carefully adhering to Mitchell & Son’s requirements.
The malted & unmalted barely used for a single pot still whiskey imparts a richer, oilier mouthfeel which is evident in Yellow Spot. A rich fruity taste from the sherry casks and ex-bourbon cask maturation definitely make this expression a flag bearer for Irish whiskey and sets a high standard for the rest of our tasting tour!
Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old arrived shortly after. This is also a sherry finished ex-bourbon cask matured whisky but in this instance a single malt. Justine informed us it is distilled in Bushmills Distillery for Castle Brands – an American based drinks company whose founding father owned the actual Knappogue Castle near Quinn in Co Mayo.
Using only malted barley this single malt had a lighter cleaner feel than the Yellow Spot. I found it also lacked a bit of punch by the 40% chill-filtered presentation. We did have a little chat with the friendly bar staff who informed us despite experimenting with 46% non-chilled filtered expressions regular Knappogue Castle drinkers were somewhat put off by the cloudy appearance of fatty acids when water or ice is added to the drink.
This is not a problem I encounter as I generally take my whiskey neat, but would have preferred a higher strength variant for the added flavour & punch I felt was lacking.
Our time at Dingle Whiskey Bar concluded so still chatting away, we walked through the now busy Dublin streets a short distance to The Rag Trader on Drury St. The bar’s name comes from the historical importance of the textile trade to this area of Dublin and remnants of that industry are found in some of the fixtures & fittings within the bar.
Only opened in 2016, The Rag Trader was new to both myself and my whiskey companion who lives in Dublin.
On entering we were greeted by a quaint old fashioned fireplace complete with glowing fire – a gas fed faux fire to comply with clean air laws – which immediately had us remembering the old 1950’s style living rooms of our grandparents. I’ve used it as the heading photo at the top of the blog. A whiskey and a fire – luxury!
Our next whisky also had some fire!
Well not really fire. Beautifully pungent peat smoke on the nose follows through to a softly mellow balanced quiet ambers of a peat fire on tasting. Connemara whiskey from the Kilbeggan Distilling Co breaks all the mythical rules of Irish whiskey.
It’s very much peated.
It’s double distilled and
It’s very drinkable indeed!
It certainly holds it’s own when compared to the peated trio of Talisker, Laphroaig and Jura I enjoyed on a visit to Derry the previous weekend.
A welcome tasting tray of Irish crackers, Irish cheese from nearby Sheridans & some chocolates from Cocoa Atelier accompanied Bushmills flagship malt – the 21 Year Old. Full of complex flavours from the long maturation in a combination of ex bourbon, sherry & wine casks I initially found the 40% offering a little watery to begin with before the elegant finely balanced & delicate taste came through. Maybe the finely balanced soft flavours are just not my style as many a more extreme yet younger whiskey often grabs me.
We saved the chocolates for the final tasting.
And boy what a tasting it was!
The Redbreast 21 Year Old combination of a richer, bolder spirit as found in the single pot still production along with the 46% strength bottling ensured more pronounced notes of fresh fruits combined with a gentle spice finish which delightfully tingled on the tongue. The soft slight bitterness of the chocolates only enhanced this experience.
This effectively rounded up our Dublin Whiskey Tour on a high point – which after starting with the stunning Yellow Spot I didn’t think was possible.
We spent a very enjoyable & informative time with our host Justine. Exchanged whiskey tales from her time at Jameson Bow St Experience – along with many other non-whiskey anecdotes. Been talked through some excellent Irish whiskey expressions paired with lovely artisan food pairings as well as being introduced to the wonderful surroundings of 2 warm & friendly whiskey bars.
Despite this tour being a freebie, I think it’s good value if I’d paid.
The joy of whiskey is as much about the personal experience of drinking it as it is about sharing that joy with fellow drinkers in convivial discussion and a friendly & warm setting.
Dublin Whiskey Tours certainly provide the tasty whiskey,
The enjoyable company,
And the fabulous surroundings.
What more could you ask for?
My thanks to Irish Whiskey Magazine for picking me out of the hat in the prize draw, and to Dublin Whiskey Tours for my day out in Dublin.
Luckily for me The Dail Bar served food too as by now the effects of the whiskeys I’d previously enjoyed in the Galway Whiskey Trail pubs already visited was beginning to kick in.
A busy spot – especially now being early afternoon.
The combination of loud sports fans in one corner cheering on their teams – possibly the Spurs v Sunderland match that started when visiting Blake’s – and family groups sitting down for lunch in the lounge area in the other corner – left me perched on a stool at the bar from where I happily gazed at the 100 plus whiskeys on show pondering which one to go for.
This time I stuck lucky. Not only was my first choice available – it turned out to be a lovely little number too!
Now it may surprise some readers – but Scottish whisky does not have exclusivity to peated malts – far from it. Ireland has a few peated expressions – Connemara Single Malt is one of them. It has won many awards and is gaining in popularity over many of the more famous Scottish brands for it’s lovely peaty taste.
My choice today however was it’s lesser well known – and now discontinued – peated blended sister – Inishowen.
It had a delightful subtle yet sweet lightly smoked nose – perhaps a little grain influence here. A light floral character on the taste with a well balanced peated bite gave way to a satisfyingly long finish. A very impressive blend indeed. I’d be happy to put this up against some of the more popular Scottish blends – Inishowen would give them a run for their money. Pity it’s so hard to come by these days.
My toasted ham & cheese sandwich also went down a treat as I dallied in the Dail. More customers came in to watch the rugby this time and I fell into discussion with a gentleman who originally hailed from the North but had to leave as he,
‘Knew too much’
whatever that means.
The conversation flowed on from that unusual statement and soon developed into the theory that all the recent terrorist attacks have been orchestrated a combination of the CIA and Mossad.
I asked how Jim was getting along with the new Corr’s album – but I don’t think he got the drift. Jim had been the butt of many a joke a few years ago when he started spouting his political views – thankfully he has now rejoined his gorgeous looking sisters in launching a new album. For my money – the old stuff was better.
A bit of banter ensued but despite me trying to refute his wild allegations it proved futile. So I tried a different tack.
Seeing that his team was narrowly losing in the Ulster v Saracens game early in the match – I suggested his boys were going to take a hell of a beating today.
‘Why are you so sure?’ came the reply.
”cos I’ve just rang my agents up North to sort it.’
‘What do you mean?’
At this I tapped my finger to my nose,
‘Ah well, as Devo once sang – I’m a secret agent man. It’s not just bombs we plant, we can fix matches too!’
The gentleman was not impressed and left me to my toast and tea – much to the amusement of the staff who informed me.
‘Once he gets started he normally doesn’t stop.’
I’m pleased to say that my agents followed out their instructions to the full. When I checked the scores a few days later – Saracens had demolished Ulster 37 to 11.
I wonder if there’s a conspiracy in that?
Get yourself down to The Dail – the craic is mighty!
This blog sends out congratulations to the very happy marriage and highly enjoyable ceremony of Paul and Shazan.
A uniting of two people from diverse backgrounds and countries whose combination is greater than the sum of their individual parts.
In attending the joyous event, I brought along something OLD for the occasion – and how older can you get than a specially bottled whiskey from the oldest working distillery in the world?
Like a good marriage – a good blended whiskey brings together diverse spirits – in this case single malt and single grain – that when combined bring about a happy taste experience. The flag bearing Kilbeggan Blend from the Kilbeggan/Cooley distilleries certainly does that in style!
Something NEW is the superbly redesigned Whiskey Shop at the Loop Dublin Airport. I felt like a little kid let loose in the chocolate factory! There was so much whiskey on offer I didn’t know where to begin. From what I can see all the Irish whiskey expressions currently on release were on display – along with a very impressive range of the big four – Scotland, USA, Japan and Canada. There were also some very welcome releases from World Whisky ie,, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, France and India to name a few. But what to chose?
Luckily – a representative from Walsh Whiskey Distillery was at hand with their very impressive range to sample. I spent a happy half hour sampling as well as being informed on the merits of each expression on offer.
First up was the Irishman Founders Reserve. This is the standard blend of the Irishman range but it is no ordinary blend! It is a combination of single malt and single pot still with no grain whiskey in sight that gives it a lovely spicy palate characteristic of a single pot still expression. I really enjoyed this tipple.
This was followed up by the Irishman Single Malt which is very smooth and palatable – so much so I’ve a bottle at home already.
The Irishman 12 yo Single Malt was an even smoother more complex dram,
and the Irishman Cask Strength certainly knocked the socks of me.
To finish off there was the delightful Writer’s Tears blend. A popular expression – again with a single malt and single pot still mix which gives it a punchy palate.
I’ve tried a few of these whiskeys before and found them very agreeable – but never back to back. I must admit the Irishman Founders Reserve impressed me the most on this occasion. Good luck to all at Walsh Whiskey in building their new distillery in Co. Carlow, based on my tasting experience – they have a bright future.
The BORROWED element came in the form of the wedding venue – The London Irish Centre in Camden Square, London. During the course of the festivities I acquainted myself with the fine array of Irish whiskey behind the bar and introduced a fellow guest to the delights therein. It’s a pity the range of Irish craft beer on offer wasn’t also represented at the venue.
Two sampling trays together with tasting notes were duly despatched to our table which included;
Connemara Peated Single Malt. An Irish peated whiskey that has picked up many awards in it’s time and another fine Kilbeggan/Cooley expression.
Green Spot. An historical Single Pot Still whiskey that is at the forefront of the rise in interest in Irish whiskey as well as being a survivor of a period when independent wine merchants bottled a distilleries spirit under their own label and specifications. A fine dram indeed.
Redbreast 12 yo. A smooth, oloroso finished single pot still that clearly shows why it has won awards upon sampling a dram and,
Crested Ten. A favourite tipple of mine at home. Crested Ten has the honour of being the first whiskey Jameson sold under it’s own label in 1963 as opposed to the route of selling to independent bottlers as shown by Green Spot above, It’s a blend of single pot still and grain whiskey with some ageing in sherry casks which give it a more complex finish than the standard Jameson blend. Well worth looking for.
In this taste off – Redbreast clearly shone through with it’s smooth and complex taste with a long finish.
During the speeches a toast was raised to those absent from the ceremony. This constituted my BLUE element and what better to toast those departed than a shot of Wild Geese – a whiskey named after The Flight Of The Earls in 1607 but also to represent the long history of Irish emigration. Over 150 years ago the boats carrying people would have been the Irish fleeing famine across the Atlantic rather than Africans fleeing conflict in the Mediterranean today. I just wish that the compassion, care and help that Irish emigrants received then would be replicated for the modern day emigrants.
Wild Geese is another range coming out of the Kilbeggan/Cooley distillery and the dram I had proved to be a very smooth balanced dram. It’s a pity I don’t remember which expression it was but it came in a rectangular bottle so I’m guessing it was the Rare Blend release.
To wrap this blog up – what better than to toast the happy couple with a glass of Amrut Fusion whisky. A perfect blend of Indian and Scottish malts married together to create a very enjoyable and tasty dram.
Although Shazan is originally from India – the analogy falls with Paul as he isn’t from Scotland (although one of the guests was) – but nonetheless – their marriage is a perfect blend of two cultures coming together in unity.
Apart from the fact that Islay is visible from the Antrim coast – and depending on which way the wind blows – pleasant smells may also be experienced.
And in Connemara, Ireland has it’s own award winning peated whiskey to challenge those of Islay.
That was until now.
Would it excite you if I said the former CEO of Bruichladdich was opening a distillery in Waterford?
After Mark Reynier’s successful turn around in the fortunes of that Islay distillery – the sale of Bruichladdich to Remy Cointreau – and the continued rise of whisky sales – is it any wonder he was on the lookout for a new venture?
Following on from the Scottish acquisition of Tullamore DEW – Waterford now seems to be the happy recipient of the rise in Scottish whisky popularity.
There are as many expressions of whiskey as there are people that drink and enjoy it, let alone the myriad of ways that it can be drunk.
Being a bit of a purist, I like to drink my whiskey neat – or at best with a little dash of water to bring out the aromas and flavours – especially so with ABV above 46%.
My ability to detect smells and taste isn’t as refined as what it could be – but I’m learning! Therefore I can’t profess to be an expert or give an unbiased assessment of the whiskeys I drink as others do. My personal preferences will no doubt shine through so I’ll explain my whiskey rating table – and show some examples too.
Whiskey Nut Ratings
A+ – Astounding
A – Awesome
B+ – Above average
B – Average
C – Awful
A+ This Knappogue Castle 2000 Single Malt Marsala Cask is a fine example of a dream whiskey. Rich strong spicy aroma followed through on the taste, with a long finish. At 46% a dash of water opens up the flavours even more. A delight.
A Penderyn Red Flag. A lovely story. A lovely whisky. Another fine example of a single malt finished in madeira casks.
B+ Now the B category by default will contain the bulk of blended whiskeys, single malts of no stunning distinction and any other combination of basically a decent drop of the good stuff. B+, as with this hard to get hold of Michael Collins Blend, a now discontinued Cooley product, is a very fine blend with a slight spicy aroma and taste. This raises it above the bar to gain a + symbol. Worth tracking down!
C Nowthis is where it gets a little rough. Despite Clan Campbell being a very popular whisky in the European market, it’s not sold in Scotland. Ever wondered why? I tried it on a visit to France along with a few other whiskies. The tasting panel of 2 rated this one least favorite. Now there were other similar blends on the panel. Label 5 actually scored a B, but then it’s main ingredient malt is from Glen Moray – which I like.
I have got a bit of a problem rating peated whiskey. I generally don’t like it. At the Irish Whiskey Awards 2014, Kilbeggan released a 22 year old single Connemara peated whiskey and a 21 year old Kilbeggan blend. I loved the 21 year old but the 22 was lost on me. Ardbeg’s Uigeadail came as a bit of a surprise when I sampled it at an airport recently therefore. Ardbeg is considered a heavily peated distillery, but despite having a heavy peaty aroma, the Uigeadail taste was pleasantly spicy and fruity. I may have just been converted!
If you find yourself enjoying the same expressions as me, and sharing my dislikes, we’ll get along just fine. Just remember my bias when I post a review!