Bushmills 16

Next up on our tasting menu was Bushmills 16.  This distillery, famous for a wide variety of products including the legendary Black Bush, has had a license to distill spirits in Ireland since 1608.  Our host indicated that Bushmills produces single malts only and explained that the older whiskies (over 10 years) are the finest examples of Irish distilling.

The Bushmills 16 is bottled at 40% abv after waiting for sixteen years in bourbon and sherry casks.  Yes, the whiskey is aged separately in two different types of barrels, then mixed together in equal parts before being poured into port pipes for aging for another several months.

This “three woods” whiskey is a deep amber colour, showing the influence of the port casks in both colour and nose.  A wonderful aroma of sherry, honey, and pomegranate tingle the sense.

On the palate, the juicy texture conveys nuts, dried fruit, honey, and warm oak.

The finish is satisfyingly complimentary to the nose and palate.  Here, we’re got some grape without too much of the sweetness.  This is a dry finish that leaves behind impressions of port all the while keeping a strong whiskey personality.

Overall, this is a fine whiskey.  It builds off a strong start and continues to satisfy well into the long finish.  I recommend a bottle for all occasions.  Priced at $83 at the SAQ in Quebec, it’s comparable if not better than most whiskies in the price range.  Note that as of this writing, Ontario and New Hampshire do not carry Bushmills 16, much to the detriment of the inhabitants of these fine regions.



Redbreast 12

After the Green Spot, we were given a tasting of the Redbreast 12. The Redbreast 12 is produced at the Midleton distillery, Ireland’s largest distilling complex. The name comes from the fact that Gilbey’s, a wine merchant, would age the whiskey in their empty casks. When mature, the whiskey looked a sort of brownish red, like a robin’s breast, hence the name.

The whiskey, bottled at an even 40% abv is now matured in sherry casks and aged 12 years.

During the tasting, I indicated that the nose reminded me of vanilla and banana, sweet cinnamon, and caramel topping.

The palate was exquisite, balancing nuts, dried fruit, ginger, and sherry. I found the consistency was oily, but pleasant.

The finish was long and strong in oak, leather, smoke, coffee, and tobacco. Quite sophisticated.

Overall, this is a fine whiskey and a delight to taste. I would definitely recommend a bottle for your collection. Some folks at our tasting thought there was some liquorice in there, but I didn’t catch that quality.

I would consider this to be a reasonable purchase given the quality of the whiskey at the price of $65 in Quebec at the SAQ, $62 in Ontario at the LCBO, and $64 in New Hampshire.


Jameson 18

Next in our series of Irish whiskey tastings came the Jameson 18. Jameson is produced at the Midleton distillery in Southern Ireland. This is the most popular brand of Irish whiskey, easily found in establishments all over the world. This expression of the Jameson, a brand not known by this reviewer for outstanding quality, features a disappointing 40% abv. I would have expected something a bit higher at this level of premium positioning.

My tasting notes describe the nose as being light with jam and dried herbs accentuating a grainy introduction.

On the palate, I deciphered sweet fruits mixed with spices, roasted nut, and a hint of mint at the very end.

The finish left me with grapefruit and a certain sensation that I struggled to identify. Almost like jalapeño with black pepper.

Overall, a zesty whiskey that feels quite juicy. I heard some people say it was oily and thick, but I wasn’t able to detect those qualities in this entry to Jameson’s line of whiskies. I think it’s worth a try, but I would have trouble calling this a regular dram. At the price of $120 in Quebec, $110 in Ontario, and $114 in New Hampshire, I know you have better options for your money.


Green Spot

Following the tasting of the Knappogue Castle 12, our Irish whiskey tasting experience in San Antonio consisted of a taste of the Green Spot. Our host explained that this was a whiskey made using malted and unmalted barley using a single pot still.

Single pot stills are common to Irish whiskey. In fact, pot still whiskey used to be a very popular form worldwide.

The name Green Spot comes from the colour of the paint the distillers would use to mark the casks to indicate the age of the whiskey. There were other colours used and marketed under names such as Blue Spot and Black Spot.

We were told the whiskey used to make Green Spot is aged between 7 and 10 years. The whiskey is aged in new and refill bourbon casks as well as sherry casks. This whiskey may be hard to find, I have certainly not seen it in Quebec, Maine, or New Hampshire.

Now on to my tasting notes. I found the nose to be strong on lemon with a light floral element. A hint of sherry became noticeable after a second whiff and more distinct notes of berries on a third.

The palate was strong in honey and lemon, the sherry simmering somewhere in the background. The flavour slaps you in the face though, so be ready for it. An impression of mint crossed my mind at the time. It feels like a stronger whiskey that its 40% abv content.

The spicy finish does not overstay its welcome and balances out a unique taste experience.

A nice whiskey overall, worth a bottle for your cabinet it you can find it.


Knappogue Castle

My recent introduction to Irish whiskey began with a brand called Knappoogue Castle. The vintage in question was the 1995 edition, bottled at 40% abv. Before sharing my tasting notes of this single malt, I think it best to discuss some background to this label.

The owner of Knappogue castle began keeping casks of Tullamore in his personal reserve in 1951. He would bottle it over time and distribute to those he cherished most. The last of Tullamore casks were bottled in 1987. The tradition appeared to be over, until his son began bottling product from the Cooley distillery in the 1990s. More recent bottling a originate from the Bushmills distillery.

The colour of the whisky was a very clear yellow. The legs ran quickly and thin.

The nose exhibited the characteristics of pear and honey.

The palate was strong on pear, the spices giving it vibrancy and the citrus creating a juicy texture. Some citrus also appears in the mix. As the tasting continued, I was able to make out some serious roasted nuts.

The finish was very long, but still satisfying. Bitter cocoa is the best I can do to describe the final impression of this whiskey on the finish.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this whisky. It may not be at the same level as the Scottish malts of similar age, I was told this was a 12 year-old whiskey, but it is quite enjoyable as a daily after dinner dram. Worth a look if you’re in the market.


What is Irish whiskey?

I recently participated in a tasting of Irish whisky in of all places San Antonio,Texas. This experience lead me to explore the long and tragic history of Irish whiskey making in the hopes of better understanding the product I tasted and plan future purchases.

Irish whiskey-making on a commercial level is thought to have originated in the early 1600s. However, the industry would not reach its peak until John Jameson started distilling large quantities of the stuff in the early to mid 1800s, producing high quality whiskey for mass consumption. Unfortunately, the industry peaked around the middle of the 1800s and never fully recovered due to a series of socio-economic factors that created conditions unsuitable for Irish producers. In the early 20th century, it was still the preferred whiskey in the Unites States until prohibition ended all Irish whiskey imports into the country.

Only in the 1980s did production start to recover and today a small number of distillers produces all of Ireland’s whiskey. There are nine distilleries in operation in Ireland. These include the well-known brands from Middleton (e.g. Jameson, Green Spot), Bushmills, and Cooley (e.g. Connermara, Locke’s). In addition to these older distilleries, there are a number in construction or who haven’t yet had time to age their product, such as Alltech and Dingle. These new players are hoping to benefit for the resurgence in interest in whiskey of all types.

Whiskey from Ireland comes in several forms. Grain whiskey is made from unmalted barley in a continuous still. This is usually mixed with malted barley to creat a blend. A blend is a mixture of grain and malt whiskies. For Irish whiskey, this means blending the grain product with a pot still product. A pot still product can be made by distilling malted barely in a single pot (single malt) or by using malted and unmalted barley in a single pot. The latter is also known as pure pot still whiskey. This style is unique to Ireland.

Having explored the background and types of Irish whiskey, I will dedicate some space in the near future to reviewing the whiskey I tasted during my time in San Antonio.


Whisky Showdown! Glenlivet 12 vs. Nikka Taketsuru 12

I have already pitted the Yamazaki 12 against the Glenlivet 12 and, more recently, the Yamazaki 12 against the Nikka Taketsuru 12. It is now time to taste test the Glenlivet 12 against the Nikka 12. This is a battle for third place within this group as the Yamazaki was the winner in both of the aforementioned showdowns.

The Nikka is a Japanese classic, bottled at 40% abv but packing a lot of flavour into its 12 years. The Glenlivet is a longtime favourite Scotch of both casual and experienced whisky lovers alike. The latter is also bottled at 40% abv.

Both look similar, though the Nikka hints more at amber than gold.

On the nose, the Glenlivet’s unmistakeably soft, sweet hues prove to be a nice welcome. However, the matchup is clearly in the Nikka’s favour as its bolder aroma of fruit, vanilla, honey, and citrus shames the Glenlivet into submission.

On the palate, the Glenlivet’s trademark sweet apple flavours provide much needed warmth on a cold winter’s day. The Nikka’s flavour profile differs significantly. It’s a deeper, darker taste that fills the senses with some of the same basic traits of the Glenlivet but mixes these with oak and nut. The Glenlivet is obviously sweeter overall but the Nikka is more complex. The Nikka has a more grainy texture as well, while the Glenlivet is smoother on the tongue. I enjoy both for their respective merits and I’m finding this tough to call. If forced, I would give a slight edge to the Nikka.

The finish on the Glenlivet is acceptably long and fruity. The Nikka is smokier, contains more oak, and dark nuts. I pick up some faint pineapple notes deeper into the finish with the Nikka. The length of the finish of the Nikka is about the same as the Glenlivet.

Overall, without considering the relative costs of the two whiskies in question, I prefer the Nikka by a small margin. The Nikka is much more interesting on the nose and the finish but both have pleasant tastes despite their differences in this regard.