Monday, 14 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask Single Malt 2007

I wrote yesterday about a "new" Teeling single cask, single malt whiskey bottled exclusively for Irish Whiskeys, an online retailer in Germany. I slipped up a bit there because that was, in fact, released last year. I didn't document it then so better late than never.

What I should have been writing about is their actually new, just released, single cask, single malt Teeling. It was double-distilled in 2007 and matured in an ex-bourbon cask until 2014. Mareike Spitzer, the company founder, selected the cask herself.

324 bottles have been produced, at 46%, without chill-filtering or colouring. It sells for €49.
Nose
Wood, apricot, marzipan, apple, cream.
Taste
Wood, vanilla, citrus, oily, fruit.
Finish
Very long with intense woody notes.

Photo courtesy of Irish-Whiskeys.de

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Teeling Single Cask 11 Year Old

Update: this was, in fact, released last year (though it's still available). I meant to write about this Teeling single cask, single malt.


A new Teeling whiskey has surfaced in Germany last year. It's a single cask, double-distilled, single malt bottled exclusively for Irish-Whiskeys.de, an online seller of Irish whiskey based near Frankfurt.

Distilled in August 2001, it matured in a bourbon cask for almost 12 years, until July 2013. It is bottled at the cask strength of 57%. It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured.

Tasting Notes (from IrishWhiskeys.de):
Nose
Vanilla, peach, apricot, grass, oak.
Palate
Oily, intense fruit, sweet vanilla, oak, subtle hints of pepper.
Finish
Long-lasting, intense.
It sells for a very reasonable €65 and can be shipped to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

Photo courtesy of IrishWhiskeys.de

The Irish Whiskeys company was founded by Mareike Spitzer in September 2011 when she found it hard to find a good selection of Irish whiskeys in Germany.

I asked Mareike when her interest in whiskey began. She tells me her husband was quite the fan which piqued her curiosity so, at a whiskey show in Frankfurt in 2008, she sought out something mild and sweet. She found it in Jameson Gold which, to this day, remains one of her favourites (it's one of mine too!).

Mareike toured Ireland recently, meeting with distillers old and new like Slane Castle, Cooley, Teeling, Bushmills and Glendalough. While here she enjoyed some of the best spirits this island has to offer, including Teeling's 26- and 30-year old single malts, and 15-year old cask strength, sherry-matured Bushmills malt.

Irish-Whiskeys.de is an online-only vendor but you can meet them in person at various whiskey shows this year: Whisky Herbst in Berlin, Whiskymesse Rüsselsheim, Aquavitae in Mülheim and Whisky & Tobacco Days in Hofheim.

Their catalogue is pretty comprehensive and up-to-date. I spy some other exclusive bottlings, some whiskeys that aren't available in Ireland, and some labels I don't even recognise. It's already a great selection but Mareike aims to keep expanding it and to add more single cask bottlings, in particular. There will be another of these soon, perhaps by the end of this month.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Teeling 26- and 30-Year Old Vintage Reserve Single Malts

I think I first heard of Teeling's Vintage Reserve collection at Bloom last year. The 21-year old Silver Reserve was on the way, to be followed, Jack Teeling told me, by the Gold and Platinum Reserves. I recall it because that is when I learned, to my surprise, that platinum is a more valuable metal than gold.

Teeling, more au fait with the metal markets than I, have dubbed their new 26-year old single malt "Gold Reserve" and their 30-year old, top-of-the-range whiskey, "Platinum Reserve". The 30yo will set you back about an ounce-and-a-half of platinum, or €1,500 (wow!); the 26yo will lighten your purse by a mere half-ounce of gold, or €475.

The Gold Reserve is 26-year old single malt, doubled distilled in 1987 and matured for the most part in bourbon casks. Alex Chasko, TWC's master blender and distiller, says that the whiskey hadn't quite gelled so he moved it for the final 15 months to white Burgundy casks, a wood choice hitherto untested on Irish whiskey, never mind on such old and rare spirit.


It was a brave move but it worked. I've tried this whiskey a couple of times and it's a stunner. For what it's worth, in my opinion, this is one of the best Irish whiskeys you can walk into a shop and lay your hands on today, at any price. It is limited to 1,000 bottles, at 46% ABV.

The Gold Reserve hits the spot for me but some might plump for the 30-year old Platinum Reserve instead. This is a rarer tipple, with only 250 bottles released, again at 46%. It's just the one ex-bourbon cask, double-distilled in 1983. I sampled it on the same night as I tried the Gold. On another occasion it would have been the highlight of the evening. But that Gold...


The new whiskeys are available initially only in Ireland at Dublin airport and the Celtic Whiskey Shop but they will eventually find their way to select international markets and travel retailers.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Centenary Series Whiskey Collection

Things were really kicking off a hundred years ago. As if the excitement of a front row seat to World War I wasn't enough, some in Ireland chose the war years to violently oppose British rule. A limited uprising was succeeded by a successful war of independence and then a civil war. We'll be commemorating blood-soaked centenaries for years to come.

That same period also feels like the birth of the modern era. There were long-distance telephone calls, cinemas, Model T Fords, cubism, general relativity and quantum theory. Aviation milestones were coming thick and fast since the first powered flight only a decade earlier.

The Irish Whiskey Collection at Dublin and Cork airports has selected five events from this period - one for each year from 1914 to 1918 - to commemorate in whiskey form:

  • 1914: James Joyce's collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published.
  • 1915: Hugh Lane, great patron of the arts in Ireland, died when the Lusitania was sunk.
  • 1916: WB Yeats's poem of the same name was written.
  • 1917: John McCormack recorded Keep the Home Fires Burning.
  • 1918: Constance Markievicz was elected to Westminster. She refused to take her seat, choosing to join the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin instead, where she became the first female government minister.

Five casks of single malt, double-distilled in 1988 have been set aside in the Teeling Whiskey Company's warehouse. They were selected for their balance of spice, fruit and wood, according to Alex Chasko, TWC's whiskey wizard, who rates them as "some of the best casks we have in the warehouse".

Each year one of these ex-bourbon casks will be bottled at 46% for sale at The Loop in Irish airports. There will be 250 bottles of each. Collecting all five is an opportunity to track the maturation of some very old Irish malt from 25 to 29 years old. "There is still loads of life left in these casks with a very exciting flavour profile", says Alex.

The 2014 Centenary whiskey was released in March. A 70cl bottle goes for €395 (or €295 Duty Free). That sounds expensive but Teeling's recent 26 year old Gold Reserve will set you back €450. I wouldn't often say this, but I've tasted the Gold Reserve and it's worth it. It is a "wow" whiskey. I haven't had the opportunity to try the Centenary yet but Alex tells me people have the same reaction to that.

Official tasting notes:
Nose
Sweet full body nose with mango, tropical fruit, cracked pepper and apple notes to the fore. 
Taste
Spice and ginger gives way to jam fruits and toasty well-balanced oak dryness. 
Finish
The tropical fruit returns with lychee, strawberry and bubblegum in force.

The events of almost a hundred years ago - independence and Prohibition, in particular - were disastrous for the Irish whiskey industry and almost killed it off. A century later, with the industry in rude health, we can remember that time more fondly and offer a toast to some of the inspiring figures who helped shape a brand new nation.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The tortilla revolution

This is going to seem very like a story about tortillas, rather than whiskey. Think of it as allegory.

According to Philip Martin, owner of the Little Ass Burrito Bar in Dawson Street, we don't know tortillas in Ireland, or even in Europe. The real deal is a corn tortilla (by corn, I mean maize), not the wheat imposters that we have latched on to. And the corn must have been nixtamalized first, which means steeping and cooking in limewater. This increases its nutritional value and improves flavour.

Philip Martin. Photo courtesy Blanco Niño.

Philip, who is a connoisseur of Mexican cuisine, has not been able to source authentic tortillas in Europe. So he is going to make them in Dublin, and ship 'em continent-wide. The part of this story that caught my eye is that these will not just be Irish-made tortillas. They will be properly Irish, made from Irish-grown corn.

Whoa, back the corn truck up there... corn grows in Ireland? I assumed it didn't because we import corn from southern France to make grain whiskey. It's combined with malt or pot still whiskey made from Irish-grown barley to produce all of our famous blends. I guessed that corn requires sunny climes to prosper.

Turns out that's only true up to a point. By choosing an appropriate early-maturing variety and taking into account soil, exposure and aspect, you can sow and reap maize quite successfully in Ireland. It's not going to be sweetcorn (though there are a few farmers pulling that trick off in low volumes every year) but it makes a good animal feed. And it can make corn flour.

Talking to Philip, I learned that corn has become quite a conventional feed crop in Ireland in recent decades. It calls for some quite technical farming - taking the temperature of the soil and using plastic to warm it up for planting, for example. But Teagasc and the universities have been throwing science at the problem for some time and have figured out what works on this island.

Corn tortillas. Photo courtesy Blanco Niño.

Blanco Niño, Philip's company, plans to be making tortillas by June (though not from Irish corn this first year, I think, it being too late to plant). The tortilla revolution will be crowd-funded. It has already met its basic funding goal but there is a week left to swap cash for equity, with full voting rights.

What a marvellous idea, eh? Philip saw a market for corn-based products and has matched it up with spare capacity on Irish farms following the forced demise of the sugar beet industry.

It seems to me that a gauntlet has been thrown down here. If tortillas can be Irish, surely Irish whiskey can be Irish, made of grain grown in Irish soil, in an Irish climate. Since distillers started importing French corn, research, experience and - perhaps - global warming have made maize a commercial crop in Ireland. Philip's collective of farmers would be just as happy to supply corn for alcohol as for flour so how about it? I'm just floating the thought.

In the meantime, if this article has you jonesing for good Mexican food in Dublin, here are a few leads. First, of course, Philip will fix you a tasty burrito at his Little Ass restaurant in Dawson Street. Check out the menu (pdf).

My neighbours, Lily and Alan, run an online shop that sells specially sourced Mexican ingredients. Lily will be showing how to make real corn tortillas, among other Mexican standards, at the upcoming Slow Food Irish-Mex Taco Night.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Irish Whiskey Association

I spied an original 1887 edition of Alfred Barnard's Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom yesterday.
The archivist from Irish Distillers in Midleton had brought it along to the launch of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) and it was very appropriate to the occasion. Barnard's tour is both a 19th century record of past glories in Irish distilling and an aspirational document for today describing an island dotted with dozens of world-renowned distilleries.

Eighteen whiskey companies have joined forces under the IWA banner to make sure that aspiration becomes reality. Most were represented at the launch, where multinationals mingled with micro-distillers and grizzled veterans gossiped with the young guns.

That itself is one of the main purposes of the new organisation: to diffuse knowledge among the member companies, and especially to the new market entrants. It's already happening and I have heard very nice things said about Irish Distillers and Bushmills, for example, regarding the generous help they have supplied to those setting up. I picked up a hard-won tip myself yesterday from Alltech's Jack O'Shea on burnishing copper stills; a myriad of such details contribute to the efficient operation and maintenance of a distillery.

The established companies' willingness to mentor the up-and-coming stems from, I think, a mix of altruism and a reasonable desire to see that the new players reinforce Irish whiskey's reputation for quality.

Bring it, Scotland

Nothing unites, of course, like a common enemy, and that enemy is... Scotland. I jest but we certainly envy their heft in the business. They shipped 93m cases of whiskey in 2013, compared to our 6.2m. If we want to take them on we have to band together to promote and protect the category worldwide. Scotland has an industry organisation that does this, namely the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA stalks the planet scrutinising bottle labels for illicit suggestions of tartan that might mislead the unwary into thinking they are buying Scotch.

Some IWA members have already felt the displeasure of the SWA. If I recall correctly, for example, Cooley once tried to use a local placename (Glenmore?) for a new whiskey. The SWA objected, claiming ownership over anything with 'Glen' in the name.

That was a stretch, perhaps, but one of the strongest defensive measures that the IWA can deploy is the Geographic Indication (GI) for Irish whiskey that is defined at EU level. The IWA is currently working on technical files to be lodged with the Commission that will nail down what does and doesn't qualify as Irish whiskey under this GI. Trade agreements between the EU and other countries ensure that our GIs are respected on other continents. I believe we can also look forward to the restoration of the term Irish Pot Still in law, which has been missing (and occasionally misused) since 1980.

Recruiting government

The IWA will also represent the whiskey industry's interests to the Irish government. This seems to me its most challenging task. The Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Simon Coveney, formally launched the association yesterday. He seems like a decent chap, genuinely batting for Ireland and Irish products abroad. I have long admired what Bord Bia - under his department - does for craft food producers and I understand they are now taking a greater interest in artisan spirits.

From the minister's speech, I took it that his interest in whiskey was export earnings, tourism and jobs. He understands too the benefit to Ireland's image from quality, craft products like whiskey. What I didn't pick up especially was an appreciation for whiskey as a drink.

It would be unreasonable to expect the minister to consume everything he helps promote but I wonder if anyone in government enjoys a measure. It's hard to imagine they do when they actively try to prevent Irish people drinking it. Every year, after the Budget, I describe the level of VAT and excise duty on whiskey as theft rather than tax. Only Monty Brewster with his millions can afford to throw his money away on decent whiskey in an Irish bar. It's fine, apparently, to send this demon spirit abroad to corrupt foreigners but Irish people are to be priced out of developing an appreciation for it.

It's sad that few in Ireland know anything about their native spirit and that even those who do take a whiskey often confine their explorations to Scotch. It does not help the export and tourism markets when the Irish themselves are such poor ambassadors for Irish whiskey.

So I'd like a champion for Irish whiskey at the cabinet table, advised and encouraged by the IWA, who can curb the worst excesses of the finance and health ministers and return the slow - inherently responsible - enjoyment of craft Irish whiskey to the Irish people.

The members

There are 18 founding members of the IWA: Alltech, Burren Irish Whiskey, Carlow Brewing Company, Castle Brands, Gruppo Campari/TJ Carolan, Beam/Cooley, Diageo/Bushmills, Dublin Whiskey Company, First Ireland Spirits, Glendalough Irish Whiskey, Great Northern Distillery, Irish Distillers, Slane Castle Whiskey, Teeling Whiskey Company, William Grant & Sons/Tullamore DEW, Walsh Whiskey Distillery, West Cork Distillers and Wild Geese Irish Whiskey. It is an all-island organisation.

Headed by Aoife Keane, it comes under the Alcohol Beverage Foundation of Ireland, itself part of the business group, IBEC. The founding chairman is Peter Morehead, moonlighting from his day job as Production Director at Midleton.

Irish Whiskey Association members celebrating the launch. Photo courtesy of the IWA.
There are some very familiar faces in that "family" photo, savouring a landmark moment in the renaissance of Irish whiskey. How many can you recognise?

It was a very enjoyable launch event (with tea and coffee the strongest drinks consumed!) that finished long before I had a chance to interrogate everyone. Besides catching up with some old friends of the blog, I spoke for the first time with Campari (who recently released Irish Mist Whiskey), First Ireland Spirits (makers of Dubliner Whiskey Liqueur, and recently acquired by Quintessential) and Burren Irish Whiskey (which wasn't on my radar at all but sounds very promising). I also note that Carlow Brewing Company (ie O'Hara's) is a member in its own right, separate from Alltech, whose stills they are hosting temporarily. Is that a hint of something exciting in the works?

The new association is a huge leap forward for the Irish whiskey industry. I congratulate Aoife and the founding member companies for making it happen and wish them continued success around the world with this greatest of Irish products.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Alltech First Principals - Whiskey by the Cask

It's a tantalising time for Irish whiskey lovers. New distilleries are filling casks day after day, but those casks won't leave the warehouse again for years. We won't entirely go thirsty in the meantime but we must nevertheless dig deep into our reserves of patience as the whiskey matures.

What might help is if we could each adopt a cask and look in on it every now and then to check how it ages, stealing a quick sip to make sure. Alltech is now offering exactly that chance, to snag one of three hundred young casks right now. They are inviting you to meet the Master Distiller, and to personalise a cask which you will then be able to visit every year to taste. All the details are in this document (pdf).

Filled casks waiting for you in Carlow. Photo courtesy of Alltech.

Alltech has been distilling single malt spirit since November 2012 in Carlow, though the plan is to up sticks to Dublin by June 2015. So far they have been maturing exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, though some of those may have tasted beer too (Alltech's American single malt, Pearse Lyons Reserve, is aged in casks that have previously held bourbon, then beer for a brief 6 weeks. That's a beautiful whiskey so I'm all for ex-beer casks). A little bird tells me there are sherry casks in Carlow now so you might be able to persuade the distiller, Jack O'Shea, to part with one of those instead. (Sherry casks are usually bigger than bourbon casks so you might have to chip in a few more groats for the extra liquid.)

Alltech has made an enormous impression on the whiskey and craft beer community in Ireland since they fetched up in Carlow with a couple of stills a scant year-and-a-half ago. They have the smartest, friendliest and most professional staff and are refreshingly open about their plans and ideas. They have hosted two huge conferences in Dublin that put potential brewers and distillers in the same room as still makers, maltsters, coopers, chemists, marketers, journalists and drinkers to network and trade knowledge.

I listened to founder and president of Alltech, Dr Pearse Lyons, exhort the attendees at one of those conferences to make something great and Irish, and sell it to the world. I watched him walk around the exhibition floor, meeting and talking to people, figuring out how he could help them, or do business with them. Things happen when you fall into Pearse's orbit. It's an enlightened way of doing business that I admire: growing the industry as a whole through cooperation and sharing, while competing by making great products.

Dr Pearse Lyons at the Alltech Craft Brewing & Distilling Convention, Dublin. © Alltech 2013

I don't know what Alltech's Irish whiskey is going to taste like when it's 5 or 10 years old. That's the risk of investing in a cask. Think of it, perhaps, as a bet on an accomplished company and a talented team.

I should mention that Dingle Distillery is still offering casks through its Founding Fathers programme. Dingle is another company with a fine provenance so what better way to hedge your liquid investments than by acquiring a cask from both distilleries.