Monday, September 2, 2019

Irish Whiskey Tasting

The line up of Irish drams.
Our August tasting was another member-led event, and James took us through six different drams from a country often associated with whiskey - yes, with an e - and which is enjoying something of a resurgence. It's been a long time coming: after the industry in Ireland was devastated by prohibition in the US, the number of distilleries was reduced to a tiny handful throughout much of the last century, although, as in other places, plenty have opened recently with more on the way.

Green Spot
The first drink we tried was from the biggest and one of the longest established Irish distilleries, Midleton, best known as the home of Jameson's. It was a bottle of Green Spot Chateau de Barton wine finish, produced for the family-owned wine merchants Mitchell & Sons. Indeed, this is the first single pot still Irish whiskey to be finished in Bordeaux casks.

This had quite a dry taste on the palate, in fact it put some of us in mind of a dry wine, which I suppose is not entirely surprising. There was a sort of spicy, cereal type thing going on as well. Green apples were another tasting note we picked out. If anything it was perhaps a little harsh, although while some drinkers liked it, others weren't so thrilled. It's 46% and is yours for £57.

Aldi 26yo Irish Reserve
Our second whiskey of the evening was one of the older spirits that sometimes turns up briefly in Aldi at a very affordable price, before becoming considerably more expensive through secondary selling online. Dubbed 'Irish Reserve', the 26yo is believed to originate from Bushmills in County Antrim, on the basis that it is probably the only Irish distillery with the sort of stock available for this kind of product.

This was smooth and gentle, but if anything a little bit forgettable. Tomato was one of the more unusual tasting notes, along with a bit of fruit, maybe fruity boiled driving sweets. It's 40% and cost £40 during the period of time in 2017 when it was on the shelves, but you might have to pay treble that on an auction site today. It's not worth that much, but it was decent value at the original price.

Egan's 8yo single grain
On we went to another old name in Irish whiskey - Egan's - which closed as a stand alone brand in 1968 in the face of competition from its larger rivals, but has recently been revived by descendants of the family. James had picked out an 8yo single grain for us to have a go at.

Again a gentle drink on the nose and the palate, although it seemed to have a bit more going on than the previous whiskeys. Buttery and creamy was one suggestion, but there was also a certain sharpness too, which might seem like a contradiction but is perhaps the sign of a more interesting drink. There was also a feeling that it could do with a few more years, so it'll be interesting to see future expressions from Egan's. This particular bottle is 46% and costs £55.

Lough Gill Athru 14yo
After a half-time break to recharge our beer glasses, dram four took us out to Sligo in the west of Ireland and the new Lough Gill distillery, which is currently releasing expressions from elsewhere before it reaches the stage of being able to make its own stuff. The bottle we had was a 14yo called Athru, matured in a combination of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso casks.

This had a silky feel to it, and an interesting mix of tasting notes emerged, including burnt tyres and old fruit pastilles (no specific word on which flavour, though). Some suggested it was better with a little water. At 48% and £128, a general consensus was that this was again another good bottle, but probably not worth that kind of price tag.

West Cork Peat Charred Cask
James is known as one of the club's peat monsters, and so he finally indulged both us and himself with a bit of smoke on dram number five. The West Cork distillery is another newish player in the market, although it has been around since 2003, and 2013 on its current premises. James had selected their Peat Charred Cask finish, part of the Glengarriff series, the name relating to a local forest used as the fuel source for the smoking.

It's a no age statement bottling and, despite the hint of smoke at the end, this didn't quite pack the punch some drinkers had anticipated, suggesting that it might be a younger expression. At 43% and just £35 a bottle, it's certainly excellent value, and that price point virtually led to all out cheering in the room. A great bargain.

The Cadenhead's
Finally, it was a familiar Scottish name, in the form of the independent bottler Cadenhead's. The bottle had an unusual history: originally from the Cooley distillery in Louth, it got moved to Scotland roughly halfway through its 27-year spell in a barrel. To get it you have to go on the Cadenhead's warehouse tour, so it's not widely available.

And more's the pity, really. This got almost universal acclaim from the room. Tasting notes included tropical fruit and barbecue on both the nose and the palate. We liked it very much! It's 53.4%.

To nobody's surprise, it was the Cadenhead's which triumphed in the dram of the night voting. So much so we didn't bother counting all the hands, while the West Cork was a strong second.

Thanks to James for selecting and presenting such a great range of Irish whiskeys, to all members and guests who attended a fully-sold out tasting, and to everyone at the Briton's Protection for hosting us once again.

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