Arriving in New York City after a 7 hour flight, the first thing on my mind was a taste of American whiskey – and what better place to satisfy that desire than the eponymously named American Whiskey bar at 247 W 30th St.
Now I have to admit we had to push our way through the heavy throng of very loud & cheery office workers who were enjoying a post work drink before we managed to find an empty table at the rear of the bar. Even here we had to almost shout to make ourselves heard above the din – but were attended to very quickly.
Not being sure what to taste from a very comprehensive whiskey list – and being unable to view the bar (which I normally like to do) because of the crowds – I chose the Rye: Winter 2017 flight.
The presentation of the 4 rye whiskeys in Glencairn glasses set in a thick wooden tray complete with a tasting note card with room to leave you’re own notes on impressed me very much.
As did the very tasty burger & brussels when it arrived too.
Something whiskey bars in Ireland should emulate.
On my flight – which changes with the seasons – were 4 different ryes. In American terms this means they all contained a minimum of 51% rye grain in their mashbills to be legally allowed to be called a rye.
Kicking off the evening was Sagamore Rye from Baltimore at 83 proof.
This is a sourced rye for a new distillery that is currently being built in downtown Baltimore. It’s a blend of a ‘high’ and ‘low’ rye cut with water from the owners farm in Maryland and aged for around 2 years.
I found it had a very welcome strong rye kick with that dry spice making itself felt prominently. It’s youthful exuberance was refreshing – though lacked finesse.
Despite being softer & sweeter – it did morph into a rich dry rye on tasting & had a wonderfully long lasting rye finish. Part of the Wild Turkey range.
The final tasting was Whistle Pig 10 Year Old Rye at 100 proof.
Again I was expecting more – but what I got was soft, smooth & sweet. There was a slight rye kick but it faded far to quickly for me.
For my initial foray into rye I found the full on youthful kick of rye from Sagamore won out over the more refined & balanced age statement offerings.
Russell’s came in 2nd closely followed by Whistle Pig & High West at the rear.
Meantime the burger was going down well & the crowds were beginning to thin a little so another drink was ordered.
What else could I finish on other than Hudson Manhattan Rye? As I was happily sat in a bar in Manhattan near the banks of the Hudson River itself.
This too proved to be a heavy youthful rye hitter which was refreshing – but a bit of me preferred the surprising spice from their Baby Bourbon expression mixed with that rich bourbon mouthfeel. Something I’ll have to explore in more detail later.
Thankfully it was only a short walk a few blocks away to our hotel on W 32nd St.
American Whiskey was certainly loud – but the whiskey & food inside definitely made it an enjoyable experience.
I wish I could say ‘I’ll be back.’ – but as it’s about 25 years from my last US visit – somehow I doubt it.
Glassware was also on display at the Neat stand with their friendly crew of attendants who had a cool way of promoting the Neat whisky glass.
An identical sample of a whisky – in this case a Scottish blend by the name of Big Peat – was proffered in 2 whisky glasses for the discerning drinker to nose and compare.
It certainly helped that Big Peat is a blended malt from some of Islay’s finest distilleries including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen so a hefty waft of peat smoke was to be expected.
Now I’ve used the Neat Glass for a few years at the Irish Whiskey Awards judging sessions and I have a few at home – but I can’t say I’m a convert.
The thistle shaped glass is made to concentrate the aromas at the centre of the opening without giving that alcohol burn often associated with a strong ABV percentage. So far so good. Big Peat certainly smelled like my kind of whisky.
The second glass was a more traditional tulip shaped offering as in the Glencairn – other brands with a similar style are available. This would be my ‘go to’ glass when at home and in this demonstration I’m afraid to say I got more of that lovely Islay smoke sensation using this receptacle.
I even did some research at home with another whisky and got a similar result.
What glassware you drink your whiskey out of is almost as hotly debated as what whiskey you actually put in the glass to begin with. It took me a few years to appreciate some of the smoky drams out there so it may take me a similar period of time to appreciate the Neat Glass.
Undeterred I asked for a cheeky sample of the wonderfully labelled Big Peat for a tasting.
I’ve actually bought a few bottles of this Douglas Laing brand as presents over the years – especially their Xmas Specials – but by the time I visited the recipient the bottles were empty! – which says something about the quality of the liquid within.
Rather than being hit on the head by a lump of turf – as portrayed on the bottle – I was gently caressed by a short sweet note before being immersed in a beautiful peaty smoke which tantalised the tastebuds.
The finish was long and satisfying and would have tempted me for more if there wasn’t so many other drams waiting to be sampled at the show.
I’d like to wish good luck to all the Neat Glass crew. It can’t be easy converting die-hard tulip shaped glass fans like me to Neat – and many thanks for the Big Peat.
After visiting a few self proclaimed Whiskey Bars in my time – especially on the Galway Whiskey Trail – I did ponder what exactly makes a Whiskey Bar – as opposed to simply a bar that sells whiskey?
I’ve distilled my thoughts down to 3 easy to digest items.
Bars that don’t attain these items are not in my book Whiskey Bars – but they can still be thoroughly enjoyable places to visit and even have interesting whiskeys to drink!
So what elevates a bar into a Whiskey Bar?
Simply put – there has to be at least 50 expressions on offer.
Irish Whiskey releases available right now easily reach above 100. Add in a few discontinued or rare bottles and 150+ is possible.
Throw some Scotch and Bourbon into the mix and you’re into the 200+ territory. And I’ve not even started on India – Australia – New Zealand – Germany -France……
So yes – 50 is the bare minimum.
2 A Whiskey Menu
Bars can be crowded places. It may be difficult just getting served – let alone scanning the shelves for that prized Single Malt you’ve never tried before. A Whiskey Menu means you can browse the pages salivating at the tasty drams on offer knowing a glass of liquid gold will soon be yours.
Middleton has stolen a lead here.
It offers pubs a whiskey menu only featuring their releases.
Whilst this can often be a step up – I was very pleased when my local Radisson Hotel and Ritz Gastropub in Athlone first introduced this menu as the whiskeys on offer shot up to about 20 varieties – but really!
A decent Whiskey Bar will print up their own menu including a wide variety of brands – styles and countries together with tasting notes and possibly a brief history of Irish Whiskey for the icing on the cake.
3 Tasting Trays
A Whiskey Bar should offer a tasting tray of 3 or 4 small servings of whiskey for the customer to sample.
These can be a Single Grain – Single Malt and a blend for example.
Or a peated malt – a sherry finish and a rum finish.
The permutations are endless.
They can be from the same distillery – different distilleries or even different countries.
Whatever combination – the idea is to introduce the customer to the styles – tastes and variety of whiskeys out there. After they have sampled the tray they might have a better idea of which expression suits their palate and order up a standard serving to enjoy.
Whiskey can be a minefield for the uninitiated.
Tasting trays help both new and old aficionados develop their own understanding of the myriad of flavours found in a glass of uisce beatha.
So that’s my basic 3.
Anything less than the above is just a bar selling whiskey.
However many Whiskey Bars offer more.
4 Whiskey Glasses
When I was in Belgium recently I loved the way each beer came in it’s own style of glass. It may not have added anything to the flavour – but it did add to the occasion.
I think drinking whiskey is an occasion that also requires decent glassware.
To swirl the liquid around and release the aroma a circular shaped glass is a must. It can be stemmed like a copita glass – or without like a Glencairn. There are loads of styles about.
Sadly – a square tumbler just won’t do.
5 Whiskey Tasting Evenings
Whiskey tasting evenings are great fun. You don’t even have to be a Whiskey Bar to hold them. I’ve had a few very successful tastings in my house. But having one in a Whiskey Bar is even better.
And the ultimate crowning glory?
6 Own Brand Whiskey
Jack Ryan’s – The Palace Bar and An Pucan are a few bars that have raised the level of what it is to be a Whiskey Bar to the maximum.
They all have a whiskey expression exclusively made for them.
Where do you go from there?
I know where I’d go.
To the bar and order up a glass!
If you have a favourite whiskey bar that complies with the above criteria – tell me about it.
Freeney’s is another one of those lovely old bars that genuinely look like the modern world outside just passed them by. It didn’t pass The Jam by however.
The gently worn wooden panels along the bar have the imprint of many happy customers – the shelves gently sag with the weight of a wealth of whiskey – the open fire gently warms the lounge area – what is there not to like about the inside of this establishment?
As by now is a habit of mine – my original choice of whiskey was not available – well not in a glass anyway.
Michael Collins Single Malt is another one of those discontinued Cooley expressions that are out there. I previously polished off a bottle of the enjoyable Michael Collins Blend and was intrigued to find out if the single was equally as good.
Alas – they only sold it by the bottle.
Freeney’s doubles as an off-licence too – and despite being tempted – this expression is increasingly difficult to get hold of – I reminded myself there were another 4 pubs to visit on my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure and perhaps lugging around a full and fragile bottle of whiskey perhaps wasn’t the wisest thing to do considering my increasingly intoxicated state.
Again I scanned the shelves – trying to figure out which expressions were sold by the bottle and those by the glass – and spotted yet another Cooley brand – Irish Fiddler.
As the bottle looked half empty I was confident that a dram would soon be procured for my pleasure. Indeed it was – and in a Glencairn glass too – something which the more discerning whiskey bars provide and pleases me as well.
Irish Fiddler Whiskey turned out to be a fairly decent example of a soft – sweet Irish blended whiskey. The grain element wasn’t overpowering but then neither was the overall taste or finish. Another standard blend produced by Cooley for a third party – something the distillery excelled in under the tenure of John Teeling – just who is satisfying this market now?
The photos I fired off at this pub were a little off focus when I viewed them a few days later – obviously mirroring my deteriorating senses due to the lovely whiskeys I’d enjoyed.
Despite all that – Freeney’s is a bar I’ve visited before in my pre-whiskey love affair days – and is a bar I’ll certainly be going back to in the future.
The 2nd pub of my Galway Whiskey Trail adventure was only a short walk up Forster Street to the garishly coloured An Pucan bar.
As you can see from the photo above I actually got there before opening time – the train arrived about 10 past – so I took a few snaps before entering.
Before you ask – and I quote here;
“An Púcán” is actually a boat. It is a smaller version of the famous Galway Hooker or Bád Mór. It is about 30 feet in length and was used for fishing and hauling turf around Galway Bay, although they were probably used in other places as well. Nowadays they are pretty much pleasure boats and you can usually see some at the “Cruinniu na m Bad’ a local boat festival in Kinvara Co. Galway. I’ve heard it pronounced “un pookawn”.
A large roomy and spacious area greets you – along with the friendly staff – upon going through the yellow doors. The sheer amount of whiskey showing both behind the bar and in glass display cabinets along the whole of the opposite wall is overwhelming. An Pucan pride themselves in having over 200 expressions on offer.
Luckily I’d heard word through the interweb that the mysterious Craic & Divilment Irish Whiskey was in the house. My eagle eyes scanned the shelves and sure enough – there was the bottle – proudly showing the billy goat sitting quietly on the bar counter.
A glass was soon poured – and not just any glass either – a Glencairn glass I’ll have you know. An Pucan definitely take their whiskey seriously!
Some photos were taken of the golden liquid together with more questions which the staff helpfully answered before I ambled off to sit at a chair – fashioned out of used barrels no less – to enjoy the whiskey. Lovely. For a full review check out a previous blog here.
A further enquiry to the staff about whether I could take more pictures led to much cheerful banter and advice.
‘We have some expensive whiskeys you know – only 10,000 euro a bottle’
‘Ah’ I gulped ‘A bit beyond my price range I think’
Indeed it was WAY beyond anything I could afford – but if you’re in the market – it’s a Midleton VR 30th Anniversery Pearl Edition if you want it.
‘But you’d better hurry’
as Badfinger sang,
”cause it’s going fast’
could equally be applied to the smooth Craic & Divilment Whiskey too as it’s only a limited release.
Rare – discontinued – exclusive bottlings – Japanese – French – American – Welsh and even a pre-whisky whisky from the Puni Distillery in Italy could have enticed me to stay here all day.
Even although it was just after 11am – a few customers were chatting away. A woman over from the Aran Islands – the shuttle buses for the ferry must use the nearby depot -reminisced about when she used to come to the pub for all the dancing with the bands. The staff assured her there was still plenty of dancing and still plenty of live bands playing too.
‘Probably more suited to my daughter’s tastes who’s up here at college herself now. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her the stories of all the great times I had in here dancing’
‘Maybe yer daughter has already been in here enjoying the dancing as well’
‘I hope tis only the dancing she’s been enjoying’ came the reply coupled with a wicked smile and crackling laughter.
On 16th January 1920 the 18th amendment came into law bringing about 13 years of drought as prohibition of alcohol started in America.
On 16th January 2016 I loitered outside Garvey’s in Eyre Square, Galway on a cold damp Saturday morning waiting for the doors to open so I could down a warming whiskey as part of my Galway Whiskey Trail tour.
The plan was to have a glass of the uisce beatha in each of the 10 pubs on the trail – with the added bonus of each being a new whiskey for me! This proved to be a relatively easy exercise in terms of new expressions – but more problematic in terms of total alcohol consumption!
There was only one Galway Girl – like Steve Earl – I had eyes for however on that morning,
and it wasn’t Grainne – however much very nice she is. I had my eyes set on some Craic & Divilment – a new fun expression labelled as Buckfast Barrel Finnished Irish Whiskey.
The second pub I entered – An Pucan just round the corner on Forster Street – had just the bottle I was looking for and a dram was duly served in a Glencairn glass to boot!
Now I’m not one for doing a review – but for this I think I’ll make an exception.
The clouds that sweep in off the Atlantic deposit their rain on the Twelve Bens of Connemara. Percolating down through the quartzite rock and bogs the water makes it’s way into magical Lough Corrib before entering the sea in Galway City. Below Persse‘s Old Distillery the River Corrib foams and churns in the narrow rapids.
This is the Colour of Craic & Divilment.
Remnants of heather clinging to the rugged landscape. Salmon swimming in the Corrib. Vanilla from the bourbon casks also brought across the Atlantic. Sweet almost sticky notes from the tonic wine along with the monk’s damp habits from Buckfast Abbey.
This is the Nose of Craic & Divilment.
Rich, smooth, sweet and warming.
A whiskey finished in an additional barrel for extra flavour and taste can be ‘undercooked’ if by not having spent enough time imbuing the aromas in the wood the results are too subtle or weak to be detected.
An ‘overcooked’ finish can unbalance the whiskey drowning out and overwhelming the original spirit character. This is ‘Overkill’ and whilst the sadly departed Lemmy did a marvelous job of it below
Craic & Divilment did not go down this route and instead produced a finely tuned marriage of whiskey and buckfast tonic adding that je ne sais quoi to the dram.
As Dr Spock used to say; ” It’s whiskey Jim, But not as we know it” and he wasn’t referring to Jim Murray either.
This is the Taste of Craic & Divilment.
The long lingering finish allows you to close your eyes to follow the journey the rain makes across the Atlantic – down the Connemara mountains and bogs, into Lough Corrib and out into Galway Bay.
This is the Finish of Craic & Divilment.
But who said anything about finishing? Sure isn’t the bottle only just opened? Grab another chair there and get a few glasses. We’ll have a grand old time getting to know this delightful little beauty. Let’s get it started!
Who would have thought that an invitation to taste – sample and rate some of the best whiskeys that Ireland has to offer for the Irish Whiskey Awards 2015 ceremony to be held on October 15th in Dublin could end up being such an arduous task?
As Faith No More sang – We Care A Lot.
I maybe should have taken a leaf out of former President Clinton’s advice when it came to hard drugs – “I didn’t inhale”. Well I sniffed whiskey and swallowed. Pretty dam good it was too – but after about a 30 sample score for the day – it had the potential to be messy – which thankfully it wasn’t.
I would however recommend – both for my future health as well as anyone else who cares to indulge in these events – the correct use of the spittoon.
Sniff – Slurp – Swirl – Spit – Score.
For an informative and entertaining blog on attending whiskey events click here.
The particular event I attended was hosted by the Celtic Whiskey Shop who advised on the scoring method to be used.
Sniff the whiskey – score out of 25 for aroma..
Slurp the whiskey – swirl round the mouth for taste – score out of 25.
Spit the whiskey out into the spittoon – score out of 25 for the finish.
Finally give another score out of 25 for overall impressions and balance.
Giving a total score out of 100 for each whiskey tasted.
I’m a bit apprehensive about scoring my whiskeys as such. I find tasting such a subjective and personal experience rather than the objective and clinical approach that judging should be. It takes a lot of the whiskey tasting fun out of the equation – but nonetheless I was here to judge so that is what I did – and it soon became fun too!
For the sake of uniformity all judges were given a NEAT glass each with which to sample the whiskeys. Now I’ve not encountered this glass before – I tend to use a smaller version of the classic tulip shaped Glencairn glass – whereas the NEAT has a more flat thistle shape to it – handy for printing a logo on the bottom? – NEAT claim it enhances the aromas as well as delivering a controlled sample across the tongue – I’d agree with the latter but uncertain on the former.
I should also say that all the whiskeys were sampled blind. They were presented in identical clear bottles with only the colour variation to differentiate them before tasting and an alphabetical/numerical code to match the score sheet.
My first category to try was the Irish Single Grains. As there were only 3 competitors in this field it probably isn’t difficult to guess which expressions they are. My scores reflected my previous encounters with these lovely smooth whiskeys and only a point separated the top two – but are my tastebuds up to guessing which particular expressions they were? All will be revealed on awards night!
My downfall occurred during the very large Irish Blended Whiskey under 60 euro with 17 entrants. I started here as it’s probably the most likely category I’ll buy regularly.
To begin with I eschewed the spittoon wishing to sample as many fine whiskeys as possible. It quickly became apparent that not all the blends were actually fine – some were – some weren’t – and I’d end up exceedingly drunk if I swallowed the whole taster. So never before have I thrown away so much whiskey. I should have brought along an empty bottle to decant the remains into – but I didn’t – and by the time I thought of it I was mildly intoxicated and couldn’t be bothered.
Anyway I soldiered on. My scores ranged from a poorly 64 up to a nice 83 with most being in the 70’s bracket which I would call grand – in the Irish meaning way. I can’t wait to find out who I gave my top mark to!
A hearty lunch was called for to soak up the alcohol together with a large glass of water. I ventured forth into Dublin city centre which was basking in the brilliant sunshine that had eluded Ireland all summer. Pity I was sequestered in a hotel basement tasting whiskey – hence the title of this blog!
Suitably refreshed I returned for more categories. The 3 entrant slate for the Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Beer lot started the afternoon proceedings gently followed by Irish Single Casks again with 3 offerings and then the Irish Blends over 60 euro.
There were also a few more judges about and discussion soon started comparing our experiences. I was reassured when 2 other judges also chose the same top scorer as myself for the Single Casks and in an interesting turnaround – my top scores were another judge’s bottom scores across 3 separate categories! At least there was consistency in our differing tastes and remarkably – our ratio of top to bottom scoring was also consistent! Perhaps there is something in an objective approach to scoring whiskey! I do think it has to be blind though as seeing the expression comes loaded with a whole set of previous assumptions and experiences of the brand.
Time was marching on however and aware I had a train to catch I resisted the large Irish Single Pot Stills category to go for another small field in the Irish Cask Strength Whiskeys.
Now I know I’ve expressed difficulty with cask strength before – how much or how little water to put in – but I had been encouraged by others that the entrants were very palatable and showed off their colours when tasted neat and I must state -neat, neat, neat is how I like my whiskey – cue another video.
Indeed loud music was how I was feeling with so much fine whiskey consummed – but after a dash for the train all I had on offer was my trusty ipod and some repetitive dance tracks to accompany my journey west. I felt devastated finding out there was no trolley service to quench my whiskey buzz. By the time I got home it was like the famous scene from Ice Cold In Alex – except it was the tea I was after!
So there you go. A day out judging Irish Whiskey. I’ll have to wait for the big event on the 15th October to find out not only which expressions I tasted – but which ones came out top in their class. Not only will it be a great showcase for the best in Irish distilling – but a test of my judging abilities.