Irish Whiskey is never going to be the same again.
A new player has entered the market to potentially topple the reining champion.
Welcome to Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you couldn’t have missed the phenomenom of Mixed Martial Arts star Notorious MMA Conor McGregor & his exploits both on and off the ring.
You may also be aware of his plans to market a whiskey.
Well it’s out – Right Here, Right Now in yer local Tesco.
Now Conor doesn’t do things in halves.
Despite the bluster around ‘his’ distillery – the money is on Bushmills as the main source of this entry level blend.
He is certainly coming in BIG.
He is certainly coming in STRONG and
He is certainly entering into a market previously dominated by Jameson as a serious contender.
What else could I do but rush to Tesco to buy my own bottle & do a back to back taste test?
The Bottle. It looks big, it looks chunky, it’s green & is catchy enough. Jameson by comparison looks dated.
Colour. Proper Twelve comes out a slightly darker shade of added caramel. This is standard practice for entry level blends. Proper Twelve does appear to have more viscous legs in the glass however.
Nose. Both show that standard entry level caramel nose. Yet Proper Twelve has a hint of warmth to it – some charred cask influence? – which Jameson lacks.
Taste. Both are soft & smooth – Jameson is softer & smoother – but the little bit of body & warmth Proper Twelve exhibits – along with an enjoyable sprinkling of tingling spice – adds to it’s appeal.
Overall. Jameson is yer archetypal go-to easy drinking approachable blend. Proper Twelve is of similar style – yet for me has added depth, body & a little spice which gives it more character – which is only appropriate given the large than life character behind it.
Named after the Crumlin area of Dublin – D12 – Conor hails from – Proper Twelve has appeal far beyond the narrow confines of the whiskey world.
It opens up the Irish Whiskey segment to a mass audience – and it seriously challenges Jameson’s dominance of that market.
I wholeheartedly welcome that challenge and wish all involved with Proper Twelve future success.
Seeing as it’s Independence Day in America – and by a little twist of fate Britain also recently voted for it’s ‘Independence’ regarding the Brexit split from the European Union – I thought I’d celebrate/drown my sorrows – nothing like sitting on the fence on tricky subjects – by opening a few bottles of bourbon to try out the contents.
America is the biggest export market for Irish whiskey. In return we get the used bourbon barrels to mature yet more whiskey in – as well as easy availability of famous bourbon brands in our pubs and off-licences.
Now bourbon has a whole set of rules and regulations – like Irish Whiskey – which define how it’s made – matured and that all important mash bill – but I’l leave The Whisky Exchange blog here to explain all that.
To get the ball rolling I’ve started with the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 from Tennesse.
I did think of using a Bruce Springsteen track to accompany this blog – but given revelations from Jack Daniel’s themselves – perhaps Donna Summer is more appropriate?
Despite Jack being one of the biggest brands out there – I must admit to not liking it.
The combination of sticky sweet notes from the corn element together with a rough finish probably from the shorter maturation period leaves my palate a little strained. I can see why it’s usually drunk as a mixer rather than my preferred option of neat.
Undeterred I moved on.
Clarke’s Old Kentucky Straight Sour Mash Bourbon is a budget brand courtesy of the supermarket chain Aldi.
Surprisingly this brand warmed to me as the initial sweetness evolved into a lovely soft spiciness which pleasingly lingered on the tongue to give a long finish.
Given that Aldi sourced this bourbon from an unknown Kentucky distillery – there is no Clarke from 1866 – they’ve done a pretty fine job in my book. It’s also won some awards too – so don’t just take my word.
To be fair to other supermarket brands – and on the strength of Clarke’s Bourbon – I purchased Tesco’s budget bourbon by the name of Old Samuel.
Billing itself as ‘Aged Kentucky Style Blended Bourbon’ the label also declares
‘Product of the USA. Blended and bottled in the Netherlands’
Intrigued I checked out the bottler and uncovered Toorank – a Dutch distilling company which does a successful business importing bulk bourbon from USA – along with whiskey from Ireland and Scotland – to blend for third party customers.
My bottle has been open for sometime now and is going down fast as once again I found this an easy bourbon to consume. Not too sweet, a smooth body and pleasant finish.
My final choice was bought from a well known internet whiskey site by the name of Flavair. Knowing my palate enjoys the more robust flavours and less sweet notes normally found in rye whiskey – I took advantage of an offer on FEW Rye Whiskey.
Bottled at 46.5% as opposed to the 40% of the others – this expression also bills itself as ‘handcrafted and small batched’ and hails from Chicago.
An initial sweetness soon gave way to a powerful spicy rye punch and a lingering dryness on the palate. Now this is more my thing!
Given a choice – I’d always go for a rye first. All of the admittedly very limited selection I’ve tasted so far suit my palate better than even the best bourbons.
It should come as no surprise then that FEW Rye comes out tops in my Independence Day tasting session.
Jack Daniel’s I’m afraid flunks – to use an American phrase.
Whilst in the budget bourbon category Clarke’s comes in second because of it’s soft spice followed closely behind by Old Samuel.
As regards pricing. Both Clarke’s and Old Samuel came in at 16 euro. Jack Daniel’s can be got from 25 whilst FEW starts at 70 – when you can get hold of it.
Clarke’s Bourbon wins as the best buy.
So there you go.
I thoroughly enjoyed my exploration into american bourbons.
Enjoy your 4th July – and remember – don’t drink too much.
Enjoy the tastes – flavours and good company – not the hangover.
Prior to the Beam/Suntory takeover of the Kilbeggan/Cooley distillery, it was the only independently owned distillery in Ireland. (This situation has altered again due to the many new entrants into the market). A number of brand names were dropped from the portfolio during the changing process which has led to exciting developments in the Irish Whiskey industry.
The 1st notable omission from the current line-up is Locke’s Single Malt.This is a fine example of a smooth tasting pot still Irish whiskey. The fact that the Locke’s family ran the Kilbeggan distillery for over 100 years through the ups and downs of the whiskey trade and that there name was synonymous with a good dram – it seems a startling miss out. For further reading there is a very informative book – “Locke’s Distillery, A History.” by Andrew Bielenberg, produced for the 250th anniversary of the distillery. Well worth getting hold off. I got my copy at the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society shop in Tullamore.
The main beneficiaries of the sale to Beam were the Teeling family. Brothers Jack and Stephen wasted no time reinvesting their share in building the 1st new distillery to be opened in Dublin for 125 years. I’ve been lucky to have visited it already. It’s a grand building and will produce some very fine whiskeys indeed judging by the Teeling releases currently out there which are all presently spirit made at Kilbeggan/Cooley. There is a must see documentary called “The Whiskey Business” soon to be screened on Irish TV on June 5th which follows the boys making their dreams come true.
Father John is also building a grain distillery at Dundalk – no doubt to supply his sons (and others) with one of the main ingredients for blended whiskey.
There are a number of other clients who previously sourced their spirit at Kilbeggan/Cooley who have gone on to develop their own distilleries.
Lottery winner Peter Lavery previously released the Titanic and Danny Boy whiskey brands. He is now behind the release of McConnell’s Irish Whiskey prior to the development of Crumlin Gaol in Belfast as a whiskey distillery.
Meanwhile – a whiskey I have tasted and enjoyed – Michael Collins – is taking a rather different approach. The Sidney Frank Importing Co is suing Beam for the cessation of it’s whiskey stocks!
There is also the rather unknown quantity of “own label” brands – supermarket chains for example -that would have got their spirit from Kilbeggan/Cooley. This is a major business – but often hard to get information on. The requirement is only to state which country produced the whiskey – not the distillery – but Kilbeggan/Cooley under Teeling supplied this lucrative market.
One example is O’Reilly’s Irish Whiskey which is available in Tesco’s. It has the Cooley Business address on the back. It is still on the shelves at present so whether stocks have been secured post Beam – or pre Beam – I don’t know. I’ve aslo not tasted it. But it is an example of the many different labels a distilleries output can end up in!
The above are only a small sample of whiskeys manufactured at Kilbeggan/Cooley during the time John Teeling was at the helm – 1987 to 2012. Many are no more – but some may survive. I certainly enjoy hunting them down and experiencing the differing tastes and styles on display – marvelling that they were all produced at the same distillery!