If anything – Irish Whiskey is late to this social media led personality trend – and I’d be more worried if there wasn’t an Irish celebrity wanting to get involved.
Right from the beginning however – even before it’s release – I posted a piece with the headline ‘We need to talk about Conor’ and got the following response;
“No we don’t”
Kind of sets the tone for what followed when Proper Twelve was launched.
“It’s barely legal”
Well at 3 years old it is legal.
Funny though – that issue never came up when punters were outbidding each other to get hold of ‘barely legal’ Dingle or Teeling whiskey when it was first released.
Then comes the condemnation.
“Heavily adulterated with caramel”
Yes there is added caramel – it says so on the label. Caramel is a legally allowed additive both within Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky. The same criticism can be levelled at virtually every Jameson product, Bushmill bottle, Johnnie Walker whisky and many others as they all contain caramel. Why single out one offender?
Then you start to get to the heart of the matter.
“See, Bono’s doing it right….he’s supporting the build of an ACTUAL distillery!”
Since when did you need a distillery to build a brand?
The Spot whiskeys started out from a grocers. So too did the best selling Johnnie Walker. Many a big brand of today began as non distillery producers – it’s a well trodden path.
And then you get plain old bias.
“I have no intention of ever trying it.”
Which is probably just as well – as blogger after blogger lined up to do a hatchet job on the liquid. The best described the whiskey as;
Now in all probability Proper Twelve was distilled at Bushmills for the malt content and Midleton for the grain. There is no law in either Irish or Scottish rules stating you must name the distillery which made the blend.
So effectively the same teams that make all Bushmills product – from the White Bush blend to the lauded 21 Year Old Single Malt – as well as the folks that make all the Jameson, Powers, Paddy’s & Midleton products have somehow dropped their standards to allow ‘toilet cleaner’ to be made in their stills, stored in their barrels and blended in their tanks?
I don’t think so.
What I found on tasting was a very easy going, approachable blend with a slight charred cask influence and a hint of spice.
It sits very well among the other Irish whiskey blends out there.
But then what is getting people irate – from what I can see – is not really the whiskey – it’s the man behind it – Conor McGregor.
The idea that a somewhat colourful & controversial kid from Crumlin can just swan in with his millions and release a whiskey that has the whole world talking – buying – and drinking – is obviously too much to bear .
It upsets the cosy consensus that assumed ‘premiumisation’ was the way to go – or that ‘transparency’ is key.
For a whiskey that sold out 6 months worth of stock within a matter of weeks – I think it just proved there was a vast untapped market out there waiting to be filled. It’s a marketing master stroke and something of a social media phenomenon.
But of course – when all else fails – slag off the customer.
“There are just enough rednecks and hooligans out there that will actually make this crap a success.”
I find it ironic that those who criticize Mr McGregor the loudest seem to descend to his level of pre-fight ritual lambasting.
Which is a pity.
As Mr McGregor and his Proper Twelve brand have just pulled off a massive publicity stunt that is getting Irish Whiskey instant worldwide recognition and potential sales far beyond anything that has gone before.
It is without doubt my Irish Whiskey of the year 2018.
All quotes in italics are from social media posts by various whiskey fans. They are by no means the only ones. I have chosen the milder variety.
Sir Edward has spent so much time in his adopted French estate he has imbued a rich dark mahogany colour.
The heavy sweet caramel overtones suggest it is not natural.
Sir Edward also seems to have given up the cigars – or perhaps even the Gauloises – as despite saying Smoky on the attractively designed label – I could only pick out the merest hint of peat to give some character to this otherwise inoffensively smooth yet basically bland blended offering.
I was slightly disappointed – but at only €12 for a 1 litre bottle – and a very well presented bottle at that – the fact Sir Edward is actually pleasantly palatable is probably a plus.
As well as having a good array of local craft beers, gins, wines & chocolates – they also do whisky – mostly Scotch. (I should add the wines are definitely from further afield.)
Not having tried any GlenDronach before – I was intrigued by their peated expression.
Now GlenDronach are usually associated with sherry bombs – which many hold in high regard – but that reminds me of putting ketchup on your chips. I’m more of a brown sauce man myself – more spice, more bite & to my tastes at least, more flavour. So the peated bottle made it into my carry-on flight bag.
GlenDronach Peated is presented at 46%, non chill filtered and no added colouring, which is always a bonus. It’s still finished in sherry casks like it’s stablemates – peated malt being the difference.
The peat was actually quite muted on the nose. The sherried notes still came through – though with a bit of a spirity kick. Perhaps being a non aged statement there were some young malts involved.
The taste was quite crisp & clear – perhaps a little sharp – with more of that lovely soft smoky peat fire quietly mingling with those sweet fruity sherry elements. Rather than competing with each other – they came across balanced & co-ordinated.
A lovely dry mouth feel – I find characteristic of PX or Oloroso cask finishes – slowly faded at the end.
Just lacking that something special to make it stand out from the crowd.
Brazil is a big whisky drinking country. Not only was it once the 5th biggest export nation for Scottish whisky – it also produces it’s own versions.
After a recent economic crash in Brazil, Scottish Whiskey profits worldwide experienced a dip. You can read all about it in a Scottish Whisky Exports Review here.
Now a significant amount of that export order takes the shape of ‘bulk exports’. Simply put, this is tank loads of Scotch sent abroad where it is decanted, blended, bottled & labelled for the domestic market.
Often this process takes the form of added caramel, added spirits locally produced – referred to as ‘ethyl alcohol’ in a wonderfully informative report with the snappy title ‘Chemical Composition Of Whiskies Produced In Brazil Compared To International Products’ available here – and watered down to the legal minimum of 38%.
As my better half recently visited Brazil, my natural curiosity and intrigue to taste some of this ‘nacionais’ whisky was an opportunity too good to miss – so some bottles made it back to Ireland.
Now calling your whisky ‘Wall Street’ – and coupled with a bourbon looking bottle – sends out messages that run counter to the ‘Maltes Escoceses’ on the label. But this is no fake or phony whisky – this is an official Pernod Ricard Brazil bottle. So could there be some Glenlivet, Scapa or Aberlour in this blend?
The back label is also interesting. It lists a lot of information you don’t normally see on Scottish or Irish labels – ‘corante INS150A’ for example – and if you don’t trust the label – why should you trust the one on Glenlivet, Scapa or Aberlour? It’s the same company after all.
So what does it taste like?
Well my first problem was getting round the tamper proof bottle top. I’ve not encountered this device before and found it infuriating. Unusual methods were resorted to to get a decent pour!
Finally getting the whisky in a glass allowed me to inhale a cloying sweetness combined with a gentle grainy element.
The taste was surprisingly soft – I had been given dire warnings from an amusing vlog below – smooth & yes, sweet. No real strong flavours or character. Reminds me of a more gentle single grain. No sign of malt in this.
The finish was about the only ‘joy’ in this whisky as a pleasant softly warming burn on the palate hinted to the origins of this drink.
Overall it is an inoffensive, approachable easy drinking tipple that lacks any real bite, spirit or flavour that would grab my attention. The added caramel & ethyl alcohol have stripped the ‘Maltes Escoceses’ of any inherent character. It would make an excellent base for cocktails, adding coke, lemonade or ginger & lime to give it a bit more zing.
Having said that – as the average weekly income in Brazil is only about 135 euros – paying 10 euro for Wall Street as opposed to 23 for Jameson & Johnnie Walker Red – or even 91 for Glemnorangie Original – would soon concentrate your mind.
Ye takes yer money & ye makes yer choices.
I’m glad I chose Wall Street – if only to taste what other blogs shy away from.
My thanks to Iris for sourcing this whisky.
It has come to my attention there is a Wall Street Whisky in Vietnam of similar style to the Brazilian one. Diageo seem to own the Vietnam one according to a blog here.
Produced by West Cork Distillers for a 3rd party – this whiskey is a blend of Irish single malts & grain whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, NH.
An American rye whiskey made with predominately american rye grain in charred virgin oak barrels by the FEW Distillery, Evanstown, Chicago.
I like to see a variation in the colour of the whiskeys I drink. It foretells of the different smells, flavours & overall drinking experiences to be enjoyed.
FEW came out the darkest – reflecting the use of charred virgin oak casks. There was a jump down then to the paler duo of PrizeFight & Brothership with Sunken Still coming in with an almost pale yellowy hue.
Brothership kicks off with a soft barley sweetness before developing muted rye spice. PrizeFight comes across with a more fresher, clearer nose & an equally enjoyable spice. Sunken Still has a wonderfully aromatic floral bouquet whilst FEW delivers a classic peppery rye punch.
The soft smooth delivery of Brothership quickly develops into a lovely rich dry spice. PrizeFight has a cleaner palate with a slightly less intense rye spice.
Meanwhile the Sunken Still’s fragrant bouquet flows through into a wonderful cornucopia of taste on the tongue with a rich dry spice that is simply divine. Beautiful.
The FEW doesn’t disappoint either. To start there is that caramel/vanilla bourbon like feel followed by an almost classic rich peppery spice that tingles & teases as it drys the palate.
PrizeFight’s lovely spice fades slowly, only marginally beaten by the warmer, drier spice of Brothership. FEW lasts the longest whilst Sunken Still manages that dry floral spice right to the end.
What stands out to me is that whilst having no rye grain in the original mix – the rich dry spicy notes of a decent rye whiskey still come through in the PrizeFight whiskey simply by it’s time in the ex-rye casks. It may lack the overall dry mouthfeel of a true rye – but it certainly makes a worthy addition to the rye cannon.
Brothership benefits by the addition of a real rye whiskey in the mix which heightens the rich dry rye spiciness on both the taste & finish which is not initially apparent on the sweet barely nose.
The FEW could almost set the benchmark of what a good rye whiskey should be. A straight forward crisp peppery spice with a marvelously long dry finish. Superb.
Sunken Still adds something extra to that dry spice by giving it a floral display of flavours.
For taking rye whiskey the extra mile – Sunken Still from Belgium comes out tops in this taste-off.
FEW from America comes in a close second
The Irish-American hybrid that is Brothership follows closely behind – leaving Ireland’s PrizeFight bringing up the rear.
I would commend PrizeFight for being able to hold it’s own among such worthy competition in that they all contain rye in their original mix.
It just goes to prove the powerful influence the maturation in wood has to the overall taste.
I happened to be in Scotland over the Bank Holiday weekend & used the opportunity to visit a whisky distillery.
Kingsbarns Distillery is the dream of local lad Douglas Clement who was frequently asked during his golfing caddie days if there was a local whisky distillery to visit.
At the time Fife – despite being the spiritual home of golf as represented by the St Andrew’s Links Course – as well as the spiritual home of Scotch whisky – well, at least the earliest written record as represented by the ‘8 bolls of malt‘ ordered in 1494 from nearby Lindores Abbey – had no whisky distilleries.
Well at least no sexy & sleek single malt distilleries.
Because in Cameronbridge Distillery – which happens to be the largest in Europe – I would argue Fife has the spiritual home of blended whisky.
Originally founded in 1824 as the Haig Distillery, it used the newfangled invention called the continuous still – as designed by Stein & later improved upon by Irishman Coffey – to produce gazillions of gallons of grain whisky. This heralded in the rise of blended whisky which underpins & fuels the wealth of the whisky industry today.
Cameronbridge still produces gazillions of gallons of grain whisky to this day, but like most giant grain distilleries with their industrial style of production, it is out of bounds for whisky tourists.
Kingsbarns Distillery is definitely not out of bounds.
It’s whole premise in fact could be interpreted as a visitors attraction that happens to produce whisky.
It’s early days for that whisky yet however.
Only opened in November 2014 with the first barrel of new make being filled & registered in March 2015 – it can only legally be called whisky in March 2018.
In the meantime there is a lovely delightful Spirit Drink to sample as part of the very informative & enjoyable tour.
Bottled at 63.5% this fresh, bright & clear raw whisky certainly exploded in my mouth with the high alcohol content. Yet it retained some subtle soft sweet barley notes which hinted at good things to come. Adding a drop of water only diluted the overall experience and I preferred the raw energy of the full strength offering.
All the barley used is grown locally with the water being sourced in an aquifer deep underground below the sandstone rock underneath the distillery itself.
Wemyss Malts – a long established & respected family of independent whisky bottlers & blenders also hailing from Fife – or should that be fae Fife? – are also behind the distillery. An eclectic array of their blended malts and single cask expressions are on display in the visitors entrance area.
Talking about Fay Fife – here she is singing her classic hit Top Of The Pops!
As part of the tour I sampled the Kiln Embers blended malt at 46%. A pretty little sweet smoke of a whisky.
I also bought a couple of age statement Peat Chimney miniatures – airport restriction friendly – for later enjoyment back in Ireland.
The Kingsbarns Single Malt however – when it is fully matured – will be a softer, fruity & floral bourbon cask aged single malt. Fife after all has no peat banks but is awash with lush fields of barley & fecund banks of wild flowers & shrubs which attract a rich bio-diversity of wildlife.
Even while sitting outside the well presented cafe – enjoying some locally sourced & produced fare – I was gently serenaded by Skylarks singing high in the sky above me accompanied by Pheasants rooting around in the hedgerows below.
As a visitors attraction Kingsbarns excels.
The long drive into the historic & carefully restored building from the main A917 road well serviced by the St Andrews to Leven 95 bus route. Views of the verdant countryside with the blue sea glimmering closeby. Friendly attentive uniformed staff both in the well appointed cafe & distillery. A highly informative tour that encompassed the history, geology, sights, sounds & smells of both Fife – as well as the process of whisky making itself.
I even surprised myself by correctly identifying a few of the interactive ‘aromatic world’ samples!
It’s no surprise that the joys of whiskey is a popular theme for many a singer – band – movie around the world.
A cursory scroll through the pages of YouTube throws up many interesting videos – tunes and snippets.
Kicking off in Ireland there is the world famous “Whiskey In The Jar” by Thin Lizzy. It’s a pity that lead singer Phil Lynott’s struggles with drink and drug issues ultimately led to his early demise.
A more traditional tone is set by Shane MacGowan – another person who has a long history of excessive alcohol consumption – and teeth to make a donkey proud. Talking of pride – “nancy” is a derogatory term for a gay man – but I’d like to state I’m proud to have played my part in making Ireland the 1st country to allow gay marriage – by a popular vote! Nancy Whiskey seems to be a song about the darker side of drink.
Drinking and it’s darker side is a universal theme as shown in this tune from Nigeria by Ice Prince.
Moving on to something a little heavier – rock music – where excess is the order of the day – a group of young Germans do a whole album of whisky.
Possibly not to everyone’s taste!
More mainstream rock is represented by this Southern group – Copperhead.
Which leads to Copperhead Road.
Which leads to Whiskey Friends – a lovely little video I enjoyed immensely!
If that’s all a bit too heavy – let Seasick Steve calm you down.
Moving on to a different genre of music – more contemporary and modern – Verse And Bishop.
And on to a different continent. I knew India was a big market for whiskey – as well as being a big producer too. Amrut Fusion being an award winning expression. But I was taken aback by the amount of popular cultural imagery around whiskey. Bollywood certainly does whiskey big style!
I must admit – the gratuitous use and objectification of the female body in this video was something I thought we had moved on from – but when my granddaughters pointed out recent tracks by Miley Cyrus – Britney and others – not to mention Madonna tracks from my youth – maybe it’s just me growing old. Rachana is walking a well trodden path.
Big dance routines seem to be the order of the day in this clip.
But I’ll wind up my Indian trip with this slightly comic track.
And move to Scotland – where Andy Stewart did cheeky songs for his career.
Not forgetting the film Whiskey Galore..The Daddy of a whiskey films. Loosely based on a true event.
Which is an apt spot at which to leave my brief look at whiskey in music – dance and movie.
I hope you enjoyed it.
Please send me your own favourites and suggestions – I had fun searching for the above!