As it’s National Bourbon Day I thought I’d celebrate by cracking open a bottle that’s been sitting in my cupboard for some time.
When I first bought this bourbon I knew nothing about it.
My original impression was that as it has a large 8 emblazoned on the label it must be a step up from the 7 on a bottle of Jack?
And on eventually getting round to a tasting – it certainly did satisfy my palate more.
A lovely golden hue complete with decent legs graced the Túath glass on a pour. Being a ‘straight‘ bourbon guarantees no added caramel in the mix.
Soft and gentle on the palate to begin with, the flavours & heat slowly grew in intensity giving a good showing of vanillas & sweet caramel mixed with darker hints of tobacco and a lovely growing spice towards the end.
For me the finish was the best bit.
The spiciness – suggestive of a decent rye percentage in the mashbill – slowly dried out leaving a gentle prickliness in the mouth – which I enjoy.
Being an entry level bourbon – Benchmark is appropriately named as it does provide an exceedingly pleasing drinking experience from which other bourbons can be compared.
Only after I purchased this bottle did I find out it’s part of the Buffalo Trace portfolio from Kentucky.
Interestingly it shares the same mashbill as Buffalo Trace itself – along with the more aged Eagle Rare & George T Stagg offerings!
The only differences are the time spent in the barrel – they are all virgin american oak remember with the same char level – and which part of the rickhouse they were stored in during maturity.
Having tasted the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old 2017 release at Whiskey Live Dublin – it would be folly to compare the 2 bourbons – but you can appreciate the solid foundations of the young Benchmark that with added maturity grew into the stunning Eagle Rare 17.
But then my local O’Briens only stocked Benchmark!
If you manage to build your distillery the next issue is warehouses to store the new make distillate for the required 3 years until it becomes whiskey. Great Northern Distillery are still on the hunt for storage after their plans were knocked back in County Louth.
Teeling looks outside Louth for €20m whiskey warehouse
If you manage to overcome these hurdles – yet more await.
What are you going to call your whiskey?
A certain well known Dublin personality had hoped to call his whiskey ‘Notorious’ – but there happened to be a beer already on the market with that name.
What else could I do but pop down to my local O’Briens to purchase a few for tasting?
O’Hara’s are one of the original craft beer makers in Ireland. Founded in 1996 they were ahead of the pack and have grown with the times. Now a major player in the craft beer market they produce a varied range of porters, lagers, ales & IPA’s – as well as opening a bar in Kilkenny.
Their Notorious Red IPA is an amalgam of 2 popular styles of beer.
Red Ale is a relatively light ale usually showing a reddish hue. Notes of malt, soft caramel with a gentle smoke from the roasted malts often used coming through too.
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give the original definition – is the hot ticket in the craft beer world. The high hop content displays varying degrees of bitterness ranging from fresh citrussy summer notes to deeper almost woody pine flavours.
I must admit my palate is not a fan of IPA – the bitterness puts me off – but I do enjoy a Red Ale now and then.
So with that caveat in mind – how did I find the Notorious Red IPA?
A decent Red Ale ruined by the hoppy bitterness.
I did reach out to a self declared IPA fan – in the interests of balance – to get a view from the other side.
Dingle have been the darlings of the new breed of Irish Whiskey Distilleries.
Their initial limited release batches marked the beginnings of a rebirth in Irish whiskey and fetched both high acclaim – as well as high prices.
Not being a collector – I prefer to enjoy the contents of the bottle – I did not get involved in entering a lottery to purchase an expression at extravagant cost. Nor auctions to acquire the first bottle off the line.
I generally taste at whiskey shows, media events and bars.
If I’m impressed with what I’ve experienced – and when the cost is more affordable & easier to obtain – I might be tempted to purchase.
The initial bourbon cask matured Dingle’s did not tempt me.
They were young, fresh – even exuberant – single malts from a new company. But taste wise they followed a well worn path.
The PX finished single pot still did impress however. I gave it top spot in a blind tasting event over and above all the Middleton releases at the time. It was new, innovative and grabbed my palate’s attention long before it’s identity was revealed to me.
So when a port cask limited release for supermarket chain SuperValu hit the stores I hungrily hunted down a bottle to savour the contents.
No flipping for me.
Subsequent to that – a 3rd Batch release was announced. The Cask Strength offering is as rare as hens teeth, yet the Single Malt – again including port casks – was available in my local O’Brien’s and SuperValu stores.
Was this expression just a relabelled SV release?
I had to find out.
So the Dingle Duel was born.
In the left corner, the SV release, limited to 678 bottles. ‘A Marriage Of Port And Bourbon Casks’. As it says on the tin.
On the right. Batch 3 Single Malt. A far healthier release number & ‘A Marriage Of Bourbon And Port Casks‘.
Mmmmm. Not much to go on there then.
There is a slight difference in colour though.
Now Dingle don’t do added caramel nor chilled filtration – so what you see is what you get – and the SV release was noticeably darker.
On the nose it’s clear these are 2 unique & individual bottlings. The port influence on the SV release is just more pronounced.
It seems Dingle fully mature in the respective casks to begin with and marry the results at a later stage. There must be more Port cask used in the SV release and for me at least – it is more enjoyable for it.
The port influence smoothed over the young bourbon cask matured spirit giving a rather warmer, richer feel. A lovely dry, prickly heat came through at the end too – which suited my palate just fine.
The youthfulness of Batch 3 shone through both on the nose and taste. That’s not to say it’s a bad whiskey – it is want it is – a young fresh even lively whiskey with a decent port cask dressing showing itself in a more balanced, subdued kind of way.. Others may prefer this expression.
Having both back to back was a very enjoyable way to taste two lovely new Irish Whiskeys.
I look forward to future releases and further developments from this fabulous distillery.
Oh! Dingle may be moving away from the cult collector status that has sustained it’s earlier sales and transitioning into more general purchases. This may not be plain sailing judging from the discounted Batch 3’s in my local store.
You’ve gotta hand it to Irish Distillers – the largest producer of whiskey on the island of Ireland – for constantly coming up with new & innovative expressions for our delight & delectation.
The very successful Jameson Original blend is by far and away the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world – but to be brutally honest – I find it rather bland & characterless.
The surprise hit of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition gave the Original blend a welcome dose of character by it’s final maturation resting in casks that previously held stout from the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.
This has led to further collaboration with craft brewers around the world with limited releases of Jameson Caskmates in various regions to add more flavour & depth to the Original blend.
The latest incarnation of the Caskmates series takes it’s lead from the hirsute hipster’s darling drink of the craft beer scene – IPA.
You could say it’s bigger than Hip Hop!
IPA – or Indian Pale Ale to give it the original title – is a style of beer characterised by the varying degrees of bitterness provided by the inclusion of hops in the recipe. It currently fuels the growing interest in craft beer with an explosion of new tastes, new flavours & new styles.
Jameson has taken a leaf out of the craft beer scene to age their latest Caskmate in IPA casks – also from the nearby Franciscan Well Brewery – to provide new tastes, new flavours & new styles to the whiskey world.
So does it work?
Well – the back story and the flavours in the Stout Edition had me hooked so on hearing O’Briens had a limited run of 2000 for a trial period – I was first in line for a bottle!
But what does it taste like?
The dark colour struck me first – perhaps I was taking the IPA influence a bit too much in expecting a pale yellow offering!
On the nose it was relatively soft with a hint of citrus, quiet nice actually.
The taste came over crisp & dry. The bourbon maturation notes faded quickly to leave a pleasant dry lemony tart finish.
Novel & intriguingly enticing.
The overall experience was of a well balanced blend with subtle flavours throughout – perhaps just a bit too subtle for me.
But the hint of hops at the end together with a sprinkling of spice won me over.
With it’s warm inviting open fire – dark wooden fixtures and furniture – mirrored whiskey displays and cosy snugs – you certainly feel at home in Blake’s Corner Bar.
From the impressive 50+ range of whiskeys on offer I chose a single malt from one of the new breed of Irish distilleries – Glendalough 7.
The Double Barrel Single Grain release from this Wicklow based distillery had impressed me and I’d added a bottle of Glendalough 7 to my growing collection by cashing in my loyalty card rewards at my local O’Briens off licence. Something I do on an annual basis now – a sort of whiskey Xmas present to myself. As that bottle still remains unopened – I thought now would be a good a time as ever to sample the expression.
This was a different taste experience to my previous 2 samplings. A lighter – sharper – even clearer mouth feel followed through with a hint of spice and a lovely warm finish. Being unadorned – a straight single malt flavour profile contrasted with the barrel finished and/or blended malts I’d had earlier. At 46% unfiltered the stronger alcohol content would explain the extra bite at the beginning of this double distilled single malt.
Let me indulge myself here – but careful now – this PiL video contains rude words – as is typical.
I paired this malt with a tasty burger and chips from the extensive dinner menu – being after 12 – I’d just missed the breakfast service of a Full Irish I originally wanted to soak up the increasing alcoholic buzz that was starting to make itself felt.
Blake’s was doing a roaring trade with other folks popping in for meals – teas or coffees – pints or drams in between their shopping. Some had even stopped by to watch the sport on the screens dotted around the premises.
As the Tottenham vs Sunderland match was about to begin – and not particularly being football mad – I finished up my meal – relished the last drops of Glendalough 7 – and drank the glass of water accompanying my burger to help stop me dehydrating from the whiskey intake.
I fired off a few snaps with the camera – chatted to the ameniable locals and bar staff before heading on to my next destination on the Galway Whiskey Trail.