As tequila finishing is now a ‘thing’ in Irish Whiskey – see JJ Corry The Battalion & Killowen Experimental Series Tequila Cask – along with the fact tequila distillers Jose Cuervo own Bushmills – I thought an exploration of the category would be fun.
Tequila is a highly regulated spirit.
The governing body – Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) operate strict guidelines as to what is – or is not – allowed under the Official Standards of Tequila – or NOM – which are available at crt.org.mx
Jose Cuervo is the biggest selling Tequila brand in the world – stats from 2019 here.
The brands bottles are readily available in Ireland & I picked up their Especial Reposado for appraisal.
All tequila has to be made with the blue agave plant in Mexico.
If it doesn’t state ‘100% agave’ – like this especial – it must contain a minimum of 51% agave. The remainder can be made up of permitted additives; caramel colouring, natural oak extract, glycerin & sugar syrup for example.
This obviously effects the tasting experience.
So how did I find Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado?
Well – initially that distinctive pungenty earthy agave aroma greeted me – but it was overlaid by a sweet & slightly sickly caramel I dislike in many a whiskey.
The palate was very smooth & easy – just lacking a rich powerful earthiness – which is what I’m after in a tequila.
Only on the finish did those lovely agave notes resurface as it gently dried out leaving a peppery spice.
This is mass market stuff.
Simple, sweet, easy & smooth.
And it sells well.
It’s the equivalent of many a blended whiskey & exhibits the same sweet caramelly notes that – on my palate at least – hide the purity of the agave – or subtleties of the barley – depending on your drink of choice.
Just like whiskey – to get the better stuff you usually have to pay more.
Now I can’t say I’ve ever tasted the whiskey, but having sampled a few of the casks maturing at J.J. Corry’s bonded warehouse in Co Clare, I can appreciate the high quality of spirits being nurtured there.
Presented in a stunning handmade cut crystal decanter – along with an ultra deluxe hand carved ash cabinet too – The Chosen set the whiskey internet buzzing.
It puts Irish Whiskey centre stage – where it belongs.
One of the most innovative & interesting new whiskeys I managed to sample at the recent Whiskey Live Dublin event was a 10 year old grain finished in ex-Mezcal casks.
Mezcal might not be familiar to many – I only recently sampled one myself – hence I thought it timely to explore this drink.
Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. It has Geographical Indication status and must be made in Mexico.
Mezcal has a long history & tradition involving roasting pits to process the raw agave. The addition of agave fibres to boost flavour during fermentation and distillation in pot stills made of clay – at least for the highest grade of Ancestral Mezcal.
The Monte Alban before me would be an entry level Mezcal – it’s all I could find at my local store – and is produced in Mexico for the Sazerac group.
The nose is very pungent with heavy deep earthy notes complimented by a mere wisp of smoke.
Very smooth & approachable on the palate. The earthy aromas dominate in an oily mouthfeel which slowly dries out leaving a lovely ash laden quality on the long finish.
I found this a very satisfying and intriguing spirit.
One that pulls me in.
I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what Mezcal flavours come through in the final mix of the retail version Mezcal finished Irish Whiskey from JJ Corry.
One of the highlights of my whiskey year is being able to participate in the annual Irish Whiskey Awards blind tasting sessions.
There are no labels, no brands and no preconceived ideas of what particular expressions you like. Just row upon row of identical bottles filled with varying colours of the brown stuff for you to sample & score.
The only markings are the codes to donate which category the whiskey is in and it’s number.
I managed to make 2 out of the 3 judging sessions that were held in Dublin back in late August, early September. Only after the Awards Ceremony itself in October are the names of the actual expressions revealed – and it has thrown up some interesting results!
Confession No 1. I’m not a trained whiskey taster.
Simply by being a member of the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society you get an invite to the sessions. By taking part you very quickly learn to spot which expressions you enjoy – or those that you enjoy less – and mark them accordingly.
Whiskey tasting for me is very subjective. It’s about what I like and enjoy. I’m not judging to spot a winner or to stock a bar – it’s just down to me and my palate.
Now the only ‘control’ at the session is a gentleman who happens to score diametrically opposite to me – his top scorers are my bottom markers, and vice versa. This pattern has remained consistent for the last 3 years. Which is reassuring.
The first days judging consisted of Irish Blended Whiskey under 60 euro and blends 60 euro plus. It proved to be a very packed field.
Confession No 2. Despite only sipping a small sample, using the spittoon & drinking copious water in-between – I got rather tipsy towards the end.
The session ended up being a bit of a ‘speed tasting’ event simply to get through all of the whiskey! I did recover after however with a hearty meal & a calming cup of tea.
I had a clear winner in the blends under 60 – Hyde No. 6 Special Reserve.
Now I know there has been a bit of controversy with this brand as to whether they are simply bottlers or a distillery – but they currently source their spirit from a third party and from my experience in trying out a few of their expressions – they do a good job in finishing the product.
There were a further 7 expressions up to 2 points behind this top scorer & interestingly for me – all of them were from new entrants into the Irish whiskey scene. Whether they be actual distilleries or bottlers, the careful selection of casks to mature the whiskey in combined with skilled blending clearly appealed to my tastes.
Obviously my tastes are a little bit leftfield as the actual winner on the night – Jameson Black Barrel – didn’t grab me.
In the blends 60 and over I had a tie situation with 2 clear winners. Now usually I would re-evaluate the scores with a head-to-head tasting but,
Confession No 3. I just didn’t have the capacity for anymore whiskey!
The winners were JJ Corry The Gael,
and Pearse Coopers Select.
Again I picked out the next generation of Irish whiskey entrants and was not in line with the winner on the night – although JJ Corry did get a Gold Award.
The second judging session found me in better form. I had a meal during the tasting which meant I had the capacity to re-appraise any tie situation – which happened to occur in the first Irish Single Grain category.
My eventual winner in this enlarged field over previous years was Hyde 1916 Single Grain.
I’m not surprised by this choice – this whiskey grabbed me on first tasting it soon after it was released.
The whiskey that just missed out happened to be the recently re-recipied Kilbeggan Single Grain. And it goes without saying I didn’t pick the actual winner – Glendalough Triple Barrel.
Now the 14 entrants into the Irish Single Pot Still category represent to many the creme de la creme of Irish distilling. Midleton distillery dominates this field with their Redbreast, Powers, Spots & Midleton releases.
So what did I pick as my winner?
Dingle Single Pot Still. The only non Midleton product in the field – & I pick it out.
My only tasting notes are a brief ‘different’.
And that to me is the excitement of what the new Irish whiskey companies are bringing to the market – difference.
Having said that – this was also a tied category which required a head-to-head duel. The one that just missed out happened to be the Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest release. Now that’s another whiskey showing something different by being matured in Irish Oak barrels.
So would the final Cask Strength category give me a full house of winners from the new breed of up and coming Irish whiskey companies?
Now this release is also a single cask – but I don’t know which one I tasted. It’s also a sourced whiskey for John Teeling’s new venture in Dundalk – the Great Northern Distillery – whilst his own new make spirit matures.
So there you have it.
I may not be able to pick out the actual winners on the evening.
But I have an uncanny knack of picking out what’s new & exciting in the Irish whiskey scene!
Interestingly all of my winners are non chill filtered, all produced for or by new Irish whiskey companies and as far as I can ascertain – none have added caramel.
In a blind tasting situation all you are going on is ultimately the taste.
I believe I tasted the future of Irish Whiskey.
My thanks to all the staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for organising the judging sessions as well as the Awards night itself.
My thanks also to all the entrants who gave freely of their whiskey for the judging.
Welcome to their Dha Chasca Single Malt – exclusively released for the Musgrave Group of groceries.
It’s a sherry cask matured single malt finished in heavily charred bourbon casks – and it’s all West Cork Distillers liquid.
Originally founded in Union Hall & now based in Skibbereen – it should come as no surprise that a couple of the original West Cork team came from a fishing background. There is an emblem of a trawler proudly displayed on the simple yet attractively designed bottle labels to denote this.
Fishermen are a hardy lot. They have to be resourceful, adaptable & highly self-reliant on the open seas.
Couple those skills with a friend grounded in food research & development and you have the kernel of West Cork Distillers.
There was no fancy Frilli stills from Italy for these lads – nor a lengthy order time for Forsyth’s finest from Scotland.
These lads largely built their own kit! It may not be pretty – but it is effective.
West Cork Distillers have been quietly and industriously honing their distilling skills over the last few years. They have also invented & fabricated their own barrel burner to char the casks to their own specifications. And if you want to see it in action read the Whiskey Experts excellent blog on West Cork here.
Dha Chasca is one of a few recent expressions that only contain their own distillate – which attests to the journey they have taken in becoming a fully fledged Irish whiskey distillery.
There is a strong sherry note on the first sniff – mellowed by sweet bourbony notes of vanilla & caramel from the charring.
On tasting the warm notes of vanilla dominate to begin with. The dry sherry slowly makes it’s presence felt before a welcome hint of spiciness.
The bourbony notes fade to quite a dry mouthfeel with the spices tantalising & teasing the tongue as it slowly fades.
Unlike some of their earlier releases, Dha Chasca has no added caramel. This seems to mirrored in later West Cork expressions and could almost be a defining feature of the new generation of Irish distillers & bottlers. Teeling, Hyde, Pearse Lyons & JJ Corry have all eschewed the common practice of putting e150 in their offerings – unlike most of the multi-nationally owned established distillers.
Whether this trend will be the start of something more seismic – like the introduction of the Coffey Still in establishing blended whiskey – remains to be seen. It’s a move I’d be pleased to see growing & I welcome West Cork Distillers embrace it.
Despite what the industry says – I believe you can taste the difference.
The Dha Chasca is clean, crisp & fresh.
I suggest you get down to your local SuperValu or Centra to try it out for yourself.